Called in Christ
May 31, 2020 Speaker: Rodrigo Sanchez Series: In Him: How Our Union with Christ Transforms Who We Are
Passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:13–2:14
Called in Christ
This morning we start a new sermon series where we will be looking at some of the most important doctrines of the Christian church. Doctrine matters, brothers and sisters. The way you think about God and his work of redemption has practical implications for how you believe and how live. This morning we start with the doctrine of election.
Even the word, election, is controversial and has been controversial throughout the history of the church. The idea that God chooses who will be saved is horrifying to some. Election strikes people as arbitrary bigotry. And the impulse of many well-meaning Christians is to try to "defend" God from such misrepresentation. They have come to the conclusion that if the Scriptures do indeed teach that God chooses who will be saved, then God is unjust and unloving. It would be unjust for God to decide who will inherit eternal life before they are even born. And it would be unloving for him to condemn people to eternal judgment without giving them the chance to be saved. Their logic then, based on these assumptions, goes like this: God is just and loving and therefore the Scriptures do not and cannot teach God's predetermined election.
The main problem with this thinking is that the Scriptures very clearly do teach on God's election. Our text this morning is a point in case. Look there in the second part of v13, "God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved." Or think about Ephesians 1:4-5, which we read this morning, "[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world... he predestined us for adoption to himself." Which is another way of saying, he predestined us to salvation. These are only two of many passages in the Scriptures that say that God chooses people. The Bible clearly teaches something about election. The question is what does the Bible teach about it? How does the Bible's teaching on election affirm and advance the justice and love of God? And what difference does it make if we understand this doctrine rightly or not?
This morning we will look at three truths about the doctrine of election and how God's salvation of his people is explained in this doctrine. First, in the first part of v13, the doctrine of election teaches us that we are Loved by God. Second, in the second part of v13, the doctrine of election teaches us that we are Saved by God. And third, in v14, it teaches us that we are Kept by God.
Loved, Saved, and Kept by God.
We begin, in the first part of v13, where we see that the doctrine of election teaches us that we are Loved by God.
Loved by God
Notice that the main action driving the first part of v13 is that word there, "ought". "We ought," Paul says, to always give thanks. Other translations have something like "we can't help but give thanks" (NLT) or "we are bound to give thanks" (KJV). In other words, Paul, and by extension we, are bound, we are obligated to give thanks to God. To give him praise.
Why? Because of God's initiative and prerogative in the work of salvation. Notice the connection between Paul's action and God's actions in the rest of the passage. On the one hand, Paul is bound to give thanks. On the other hand, God chooses and calls. In others words, because God chooses and calls, Paul is therefore bound to give thanks to him. Our thanksgiving to God is the coming back full-circle of his salvation. God’s salvation is the choosing and calling of his people. His choosing is the foundation of salvation and his calling is the working out of this salvation. And it all ends in the praise of God. Salvation is of God, from God, and to God.
And Paul's giving of thanks is not partial but absolute. Notice that he says we ought to always give thanks to God. In other words, in God's economy of salvation there is no room for human boasting. If the work is thoroughly and completely God's, then there is not an inch of space for you and I to get any credit for it. We ought to always give thanks to God because salvation is always, in every case, and at all times, from God. As the Old Testament refrain goes, "Salvation belongs to the Lord."
We do not boast on our own effort, we do not thank ourselves for what we have accomplished. We give thanks to God, our boast is in him alone as we acknowledge his sovereign grace in our lives. A grace we did not deserve and could have never earn by our own merit. The doctrine of election says to us, “it is all grace.” From beginning to end, grace upon grace upon grace. And this electing grace, this before-the-foundation-of-the-world massive, at all times, grace leads to the praise of God. And also, it leads us to humility, brothers and sisters. The be chosen and to be prideful is an incongruity. Pride is a subversion of the gospel, because pride is the opposite of the humility that treasures underserved sovereign grace. Having your head stuffed with theological knowledge, and having your doctrine of election box checked, is of no profit to you if it doesn't lead you to treasure God’s grace in worship and humility.
Paul goes on to say that he gives thanks for these Christians because they are those who are "beloved by the Lord." The grammar of the word “beloved" here carries the idea of being the passive object of this love. In other words, they did not earn it but are simply loved by the Lord. But they are not merely loved in the past or merely loved in the present. They are both at the same time continuously. To be loved by God is an ongoing state in which you have been, are now, and will continue to be. So that the very identity of God's people is that they are beloved by the Lord.
The Lord, again, is the covenant name of God. And it makes sense for Paul to use this name here in the context of God's love for his people because God's love is always expressed in the context of his covenant relationship with them. To be beloved of the Lord is to be in covenant with God. And the thing that holds the covenant together is the love of God.
And it is this phrase, brothers and sisters, beloved by the Lord, that takes us to the heart of the doctrine of election in this passage. We usually think about election outside of the categories of covenant. We tend to think about election in almost a mystical or magical way. We have no tangible ideas to think about election. And part of the reason why is because election, in some ways, deals with the hidden eternal counsel of God. But be encouraged that the Scriptures are not given to the church so that we would search out the things that God has not revealed to us. Rather, the biblical authors are always pointing us to the objective reality of the revealed purposes of God.
When Paul writes about God's election, he has in mind God's salvation revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To be chosen by God is to be loved by him covenantally in Christ. We have been chosen "in Christ," Paul says in Ephesians. "In love [God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ." And "[God] has blessed us in the Beloved, in whom we have redemption." God's election is God's choosing of his people in Christ. You cannot understand the doctrine of election apart from the glorious reality that God's New Covenant people have been united to Christ through faith. Election is a Christ-centered doctrine. It is in and through Christ that we partake of God's New Covenant blessings. To be elected by God means to be chosen in his Son. In the Beloved we are loved before the foundation of the world.
And so, instead of making God an unloving, intolerant stickler, the doctrine of election is the floodgate that unleashes God's underserved love for us. If the doctrine of election teaches you anything, it teaches you that in Christ, you are more loved than you could have ever dreamed or imagined. Because of God’s sovereign grace, the unlovable has become the beloved of the Lord. Election is the security of God's love for those who are united to Jesus by faith.
Perhaps, this morning you need to hear this word. If you are in Christ, trusting in him by faith, God loves you, brother. God loves you, sister. Whatever you think makes you unlovable, whatever you think puts you outside the range of God's love, the Scriptures say that in Christ God's covenant love for you reaches all the way back before the world was made, and will continue forever unto eternity. As long as God’s purposes of election in Christ stand, so will his covenant love for his people stand.
To be chosen by God is to be loved by him in Christ. That is the first truth we learn from the doctrine of election. Secondly, in the second part of v13, election teaches us that we are Saved by God.
Saved by God
As we have seen, our salvation is established on God's covenant love for his people. And now, we see that God's covenant love is displayed and confirmed in their salvation. God’s covenant love is expressed in choosing for himself a people whom he will saved for his own glory.
Notice the second part of v13. Why does Paul give thanks to God for the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica? Because God chose them to be saved. They are the proof that God's hidden purposes are being worked out in and through Christ right now.
Paul describes them as the first-fruits of God's harvest. The idea of first-fruits comes from the Old Testament, in places like Exodus 23, where God commands his people to set apart the first batch of their harvest as a holy offering to him. The two ideas are that of being first, but more importantly that of being set apart for God, and in this case, by God. Paul uses this metaphor in other places to describe the first believers those places. In other words, these first converts are the first of many. They are a kind of down payment in the world as God's saving purposes in Christ are unfolding as he actively sets his people apart from the world for his own glory.
Salvation is much more than checking a box on a card, or walking down an isle, or repeating a prayer. Salvation is not something you do, but something that God accomplishes for you and in you by his own power through the work of the Spirit.
You have been chosen as the first-fruits to be saved, Paul says, through (or in) the sanctification of the Spirit and in belief of the truth. Spirit and truth. That's how Paul describes salvation here. And that's how God's election or choosing of his people is worked out. Election is not random. God doesn't flip a coin in the air to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. No, God's election is his active, personal, powerful, and merciful, inclination and commitment to save sinners. And he does this through the objective work of the Spirit as he sanctifies and sets a people apart unto salvation.
The Scriptures are very clear, that apart from God's active and merciful pursuit of sinners, we would all be condemned to eternal wrath because of our rebellion against him. In other words, left to ourselves, we would have never chosen God. We love sin and we love darkness. We are haters of God by nature.
Think about it, can you sanctify yourself? Can those who are spiritually death and enslaved to sin, choose to love and obey the truth about God? No, the idea that dead people can make themselves alive is foreign to the Scriptures. Lazarus couldn't come out of the tomb by his own power, and neither can you. If sinners would never choose God for themselves, then how would salvation be ever possible unless God chooses to save us. Election doesn’t teach that God gives the opportunity for salvation to some and not to others. Rather, it teaches that in his supreme mercy, the Lord saves the very people who have rejected him. He saves the un-savable.
Election is not arbitrary, it is not unclear. It is a certain reality. It is the definite work of God through the operation of the Holy Spirit. For God to choose someone is to sanctify him or her through the Spirit. To set him or her apart for God through conversion upon faith in the truth. Notice again, how Paul ties both together. Sanctification and belief in the truth. You will always find the Spirit in the Scriptures operating through the agency of truth. Unfortunately, all throughout the history of the church it has been our tendency to separate the two and to emphasize one over the other. But in order to be faithful to the Scriptures you must have both together. If you want to be a Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered, and Spirit-led church, you must be a truth-believing, truth-dependent, and truth-proclaiming church. It is through a Spirit/truth ministry that God accomplishes his purposes of election in the world.
If Midtown Baptist Church wants to be at the center of God's saving activity in redeeming sinners, we must carry on a ministry of Spirit-dependent gospel-proclamation. For it is through the gospel applied by the Spirit that God saves his people, setting them apart from the world as first-fruits that testify to God’s ongoing purposes of redemption in Jesus Christ.
And this takes us to our third truth about the doctrine of election. Election teaches us that we are loved by God, Saved by God, and finally, Kept by God.
Kept by God
In v14 Paul transitions to the second of God's actions in the passage. First in v13 God chooses. And now in v14 God calls. "To this [that is, to be saved in v13, to this, God]... called you through our gospel."
The Scriptures oftentimes speak of God’s calling his people; this is especially true in the book of Isaiah, for example, Isaiah 48:12, the Lord says to his people, "“Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last."
But notice here, how the Lord calls his people, it is through our gospel, Paul says. It is through the apostolic message concerning Jesus Christ. God uses means to accomplish his sovereign will. It is through the gospel that God calls sinners to salvation. Gospel ministry in the church is not an option, brothers and sisters. It is out Christ-given task.
God's calling is powerful, effective, and authoritative and it cannot be withstand. But the means through which his effectual calling is carried out can either be rejected or believed. It is not merely by hearing the message of the gospel that God calls his people, but through faith in the message of the gospel, or more precisely, through faith in the person and work of Christ.
The gospel which Paul and the other apostles proclaimed, which has been passed down to the church today, is the gospel concerning the Lord Jesus. It is the good news that the eternal Son of God humbled himself, being born of a woman in human flesh and bone. That he lived a perfect life of obedience to the will of God his Father, having committed no sin. That he died on a cross, giving his life as payment for sin and taking the wrath of God upon himself. That he was evidently dead and buried and that he took his life back up again and resurrected on the third day, victorious over sin and death. That he ascended to the right hand of the Father from where he reigns forevermore, and from where he has promised to come back again to judge the living and the dead.
Those who reject the apostolic message in their unbelief show themselves to be enemies of God. But to those who receive the gospel by faith, Christ has become "to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor 1:30). The gospel of Jesus Christ is the means God uses to call his people effectually, powerfully, and savingly through repentance and faith, as the Spirit of God applies the work of Christ's redemption to us.
Rather than quenching the need for evangelism and missions, the doctrine of election encourages the use of means to take the gospel to the ends of the earth because it is through the gospel that God accomplishes his purposes of election in Christ as he calls sinners to himself. Evangelism and missions exist because God’s eternal purposes of election exist. Election is the guarantee that God will use the means of proclamation we employ.
The doctrine of election teaches us that God chooses us in Christ and that he also calls us through Christ. God's election of his people is not direct but mediated through Christ who is himself the Chosen one of God. Isaiah 42:1, "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations." Picking up this passage in Isaiah, Matthew applies it, not to the church, but directly to Jesus and his ministry. It is only in Christ and through him that the church is rightly called the elect people of God. We are God's elect only in connection to Christ, who is the Chosen One.
Can you know that you are chosen by God? Yes, you can. Not by peeking behind the curtains into the hidden purposes of God. But by walking by faith in the Lord Jesus, in whom God has already graciously revealed everything you need for life, for godliness, and for assurance. Christ is the hidden mystery of God now fully revealed to his people in the gospel. Paul writes in Ephesians again about the stewardship of the gospel that was entrusted to him, "to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints… the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." What was hidden in the eternal counsel of the mind of God, and what was concealed in the Old Testament, has now been fully revealed to the church.
What is the mystery of God that was hidden for ages? It is not a list of names of those whom have been chosen, so that you can read the list and know if you are in it or not. The mystery is Christ, and not only that, but Christ in you. The mystery now revealed is that God has chosen a people for himself and has called them by his sovereign grace through faith to be united to his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the life that you now live you live by faith in Christ.
Finally, notice that God's calling is not provisional but certain and permanent. In other words, God doesn't initiate the calling and then leaves his people to figure out the rest on their own. No, brother and sister, God's calling is ongoing and active until "the obtaining of the glory of our Lord, Jesus Christ." God promises to sustain, to preserve, and to keep those who are his until they obtain eternal glory with Christ. And it is all through the gospel. The same gospel that saves you is the gospel that preserves you until the obtaining of glory. The gospel is not something you believe at the beginning of your Christian walk and then you shelf away. The gospel is the means by which God is keeping you right now. Brother and sister, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus as you hold fast to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. From election to glorification and everything in between, salvation belongs to God. He saves and keeps his people through faith in Christ.
As we end, there are two key ideas about the nature of God's election that we learn from this passage. Election is both a covenantal and Trinitarian reality. Election is covenantal, meaning that it is not an ambiguous reality. Election is God's covenantal choosing and loving of his own from before the foundation of the world. It is a gospel reality that is applied to God's people only in and through Jesus Christ as the covenant head of the New Covenant community.
And election is Trinitarian, meaning, that all three persons of the Godhead are involved in the work of choosing, calling, and keeping God's people. God the father initiates the covenant relationship by choosing his people. The Spirit sanctifies and sets God's covenant people apart. And the Son accomplishes their salvation through his obedient life and substitutionary death.
Brothers and sisters, the doctrine of election does not diminish the justice and love of God. Rather, this doctrine teaches us that in his justice, God has dealt with the problem of sin by calling to himself a people who are saved by grace through faith in union with Christ. God’s electing purposes in Christ have been accomplished in the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ and applied to us by his Spirit through repentance of sin and trust in the gospel.
If you are in Christ this morning, you are loved by God, you are Saved by God, and your are being kept by God through faith in Jesus. May the salvation of the Lord resound to his glory in the life and worship of his people forevermore. Amen.