Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Call, Or To Be Called: Grace Found in 2nd Thessalonians

I recently had the very distinct honor to attend a small conference of around 100 men in the pastoral ministry where Dr. John MacArthur and Dr. Steve Lawson were both the keynote speakers. Dr. MacArthur has been a favorite of mine for many years now, so having the opportunity to meet him and listen to him teach from the Word of God in person was a special opportunity. Likewise, Dr. Lawson had a deep impact on all of us there in laying on us a sense of urgency to ‘up the ante’ in our preaching and worship ministries.
For any of you who are familiar with these men, the call to ‘up the ante’ was not to make a service more exciting, appealing, or modern, so to speak, but to make it more biblical. Dr. Lawson so wonderfully stated: “You cannot be too biblical. Whatever amount of Bible you use in your sermons…double it. Triple it!”
So much has been lost in the last few decades indicated by the Church’s waning dedication to the authoritative Word of God by buckling under the pressure of social, easy-believism as Dr. MacArthur detailed so well in “The Gospel According To Jesus”, perhaps one of the best books he has written.
The whole weekend just inspired me more to think like a Reformer in looking for the revelation of God in every single word of Scripture and to count it as authoritative over all else. With this said, let’s dive into 2 Thessalonians and see where God’s grace can be found in how he effectually calls us to Him for salvation. Let’s see what it is that God is telling us in the writing of Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica.
If you’ve read any of the earlier posts related to finding this concept of grace in the New Testament, then you know that we’ve discovered just how prevalent the doctrine of sovereign election comes through almost every book. Why study this topic? It is not to be hyper-Calvinistic because that would be wrong. It is to understand, though, what the Word of God says and in most of the NT books, God’s sovereignty, especially in salvation, is a backbone of the entire Gospel. This cannot be understated. I’ve said it before: if God were not sovereign then He would be no god at all.
We’ve gone through James, Galatians, & 1st Thessalonians so far and now 2nd Thessalonians is up next in chronological order. Reviewing my notes, I had counted six different mentions of the concept of sovereign election. Specifically, the Greek word for called, transliterated as kaleo, was used twice. We’ve seen this word before haven’t we?
It is used in our first reference, which is 1:11, but in a shorter form of kaleo, which is klesis, but the meaning is the same: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power…”
This verse is loaded from beginning to end with the overall utter dependence on God for everything. 1) God would make them worthy 2) of His calling 3) by His power. It is God who makes us worthy for His own gift of salvation in the first place and then He also empowers us to do good works afterwards. It is all through Him. Do you see the significance of this? Let us never forget how hopeless and helpless we are to do anything fruitful apart from His power and grace.
This letter is a lot like the first letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. It was very encouraging and commending, rather than corrective and condemning. The Thessalonians encouraged Paul greatly in their growing faith and love for the truth.
He says in this verse, “to this end…” What end? This indicates that we need to know what the preceding passage said. Verse 10 says, When he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
He had also just finished talking about how the justice of God would one day prevail and inflict vengeance on all who did not believe or obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his judgment would give relief to those like them who were being afflicted in persecution.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling…”
Here is where the word klesis comes in to show God’s sovereign calling to salvation just like we saw defined in the past few posts. By definition, it means to call by name, but more specifically can be meant as giving a name to someone, or for someone to bear a name or title.
The idea of God giving us a new name to indicate a newness in salvation is as old as the prophets and as new as the future. Pay attention to what Isaiah said in 62:1-2:
“For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
    and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
    and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
    and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name

    that the mouth of the Lord will give
Then in Revelation we are reminded of what is to come. This is remarkably beautiful:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (2:17).
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (3:12).
Fascinating, is it not? Let’s retrace our steps back to the verse. The Lord God Almighty is the one who makes us worthy of this amazing gift of faith to receive His grace by calling us by name and giving us a new one! We are, after all, a new creation as this same author, Paul, said to the Corinthians in his second letter to them. Wouldn’t becoming a whole new creation almost demand a new name? God thinks so. We are His now.
As Paul continues his letter to these dear children in the faith he comforted them by basically telling them he never said or wrote anything that Jesus had already come back. Apparently someone had spread that rumor and the Thessalonians were afraid it was true. Paul confirmed it was not and proceeded to explain the string of events that would preclude the second coming of Christ.
After saying these things and concluding, again, that all who do not believe will be condemned he says in verses 13 and 14, But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The point is clear. They were chosen. Remember, in his first letter he even said it was obvious they were chosen because the Gospel came to them “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4).

It’s important to see the difference between being chosen and being called. It comes down to a matter of timing in the whole scheme of things.  Ephesians 1 says that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. The choosing was done a long time ago. It was not done after you were born once God could see if He liked you enough to choose you. That would discredit and deny his sovereignty, by definition.

However, once you did finally come along, God called you. You are not born redeemed. You are born depraved. You can be elected, but not yet saved. God still has to call you to Him in order to fulfill his perfect will and purpose in choosing you before the world was created. It’s a divine process, divinely accomplished.

So, as our verse of discussion says, “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called [kaleo] you through our gospel…”

He chose us and then called us through the Gospel. This is so incredibly important. Too many churches do not believe that this is the only way to legitimately call people to Christ, in repentance, for forgiveness of sins.

Romans 10:13-14 says, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

The Greek word in this Romans passage for calling on the name of the Lord is not the same that we have seen of God’s calling us. The word is transliterated as Epikaleomai, which specifically means to call upon, blame, accuse, appeal to, charge something to someone, etc. In modern terms it could be like “calling someone on the carpet” or “calling someone out” for something.  It is not always negative, because it is used when we are making an appeal to someone, or calling out to someone. This is different than God calling (kaleo) us to Himself.

Now, if you are really perceptive you will notice that this word Epikaleomai has the word kaleo embedded in it. Both words are used for “calling”, but the different transliterations have different meanings, specifically.

What is really fascinating and most important in our understanding of these differences is that the word kaleo itself comes from the base word Keleuo, which means to command, or to order. Understand that when God calls someone to Him he is commanding it. It will happen. This is why when we see the word kaleo used it is always an efficacious call. The command will have the desired effect because it is God’s command and will.

On the other hand, going back to Epikaleomai, the epi indicates: at, over, against, across, etc. This is why the whole word means to call at, or call over to, or call upon the name of the Lord. Do you see these important differences?

Going back to the Romans passage, we see that God uses preaching as the means to explain the Scriptures to people, so they can hear the truth that will set them free. He uses people to spread the message. This brings the clarity to understanding missions in the context of what we know as Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace, which are other ways of distinguishing what was in the Bible all along. Just because God has chosen us, we still have an obligation to proclaim the Gospel so his elect can respond in the way he has determined. God’s method for evangelism is with his own revealed truth in Scripture. Use it!

In this verse, God’s chosen people are then called with an efficacious call, through the proclamation of the Gospel that draws people to Him. The initiation is always from the Holy Spirit and it is irresistible.

The next reference is in this same frame of thought that Paul has been in. It is only two verses later, so let’s read on to that point…

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”

Remember, the best way to understand grace and the best way to define grace is in God’s calling us to him. We would not have the capacity to believe in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection had it not been for God’s election.

This knowledge should instantly fill us with a sense of awe and wonder that fills us with unassailable joy. Knowing this, the Apostle Paul says, “God our Father […] loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace…” Eternal comfort and hope can only come through grace, the gracious gift that was given to us by Him.

Finally, in chapter three we see more of an indirect confirmation of what the writer knew to be true… that God is the one who enables us to glorify Him and live for Him in obedience. God is the one who makes us firm in our faith and steadfast in our obedience.

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:1-5).

Paul said that the Lord was faithful to establish them and guard them from the evil one. He prayed that the Lord would direct their hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. He knew where real perseverance came from. It was not from a human intellect or manly stamina. It was from the power of God.

Let us never underestimate the depth and breadth of the grace of God.

In His Sovereign Grip,