Years ago, Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. had a life-saving squad that assisted passengers on the Lake Michigan boats. On September 8, 1860, a passenger boat, the Lady Elgin, floundered near Evanston, and a ministerial student, Edward Spencer, personally rescued seventeen persons. The exertion of that day permanently damaged his health and he was unable to train for the ministry. When he died some years later, it was noted that not one of the seventeen persons he had saved ever came to thank him (Wiersbe, Vol. 2, p.114).
What distinguishes Christianity from every other religion in the world? Or to ask it another way, how is the Christian faith different from religions like Buddhism or Islam? I believe W.M. Clow correctly answered this question in his book, Cross in Christian Experience by asserting Christianity’s songs of thanksgiving as its unique feature. He wrote:
The great faiths of the Buddhist and the Mohammedan give no place either to the need or the grace of reconciliation. The clearest proof of this is the simplest. It lies in the hymns of Christian worship. A Buddhist temple never resounds with a cry of praise. Mohammedan worshipers never sing. Their prayers are, at the highest, prayers of submission and of request. They seldom reach the gladder note of thanksgiving. They are never jubilant with the songs of the forgiven (p. 278).
On the other hand, the Christian church is known for its jubilant songs of thanksgiving to God. The Christian life should be a thankful life.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, Paul feels a far greater compulsion to give thanks to God as he contemplates the blessings of salvation on the Thessalonians. In this passage Paul gives four compelling reasons for thanksgiving. I say they are “compelling” reasons because of what Paul says at the beginning of v. 13: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord.” The word “bound” that is used in this verse has the idea of “being compelled as by debt to do something.”
There are four compelling reasons that Paul gives for thanksgiving in these two verses and they are all related to our salvation in Jesus Christ. We are compelled to give thanks for the source, instruments, means, and goal of our salvation. Let’s read 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. Because of the Source of our Salvation v. 13b
“because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation”
The source of our salvation is nothing other than the electing love of God. Remember, Paul addressed the Thessalonians as “brethren beloved of the Lord.” The source of our salvation is found ultimately in God’s love which began in eternity past.
The Bible says much about this doctrine of election as the source of our salvation. Election can be simply defined as “the gracious purpose of God by which he chose all those who would be saved, before the foundation of the world, with no foreseen merit on their part.” In this passage it is offered by the Apostle Paul as the ultimate reason for thanksgiving. It is the spring from which all the other blessings of salvation flow and for this reason it is a compelling reason to give thanks.
The great Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon said,
Whatever may be said about the doctrine of election, it is written in the Word of God as with an iron pen, and there is no getting rid of it. To me, it is one of the sweetest and most blessed truths in the whole of revelation, and those who are afraid of it are so because they do not understand it. If they could but know that the Lord had chosen them it would make their hearts dance with joy.
Notice that we were chose “from the beginning.” I’m convinced the reason this phrase is included is so that we wouldn’t think our goodness is the reason for our election. It’s all of grace. Man’s efforts only pollute.
The Little Pigeon River’s headwaters (Middle Prong) flows out of the Greenbrier National Park Area and runs at an average speed of 1 1/2 mph with a depth of 1-5 feet until it meets the French Broad River in Sevierville, TN. Its source is a pure clean natural mountain water. However, it has been corrupted by man. The reason the water above and the rocks beneath are discolored is the pollution. God’s electing grace is the source of our salvation. Any attempt by man to take credit for our salvation only pollutes, but never contributes to grace.
Will you join with me, with the Apostle Paul and the saints of all ages in thanking God for His loving, gracious act of choosing sinners like me and you before the foundation of the world to worship Him?
Paul continues to give thanks . . .
II. Because of the Instruments of our Salvation v. 13c
“through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth”
God not only chose us to salvation, he also chose the instruments He would use to bring us to Himself. The key word here is “through.” It is through the sanctification of the Spirit which here represents the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating us. The word sanctification primarily has the idea of separation, here one is separated to God by the Spirit. What then follows in the order of salvation is faith “belief of the truth.” The work of the Spirit precedes the belief of the truth. Jesus said in John 3:5, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Rebirth or regeneration is monergistic, not synergistic. It is done by God and by God alone. A dead man cannot cooperate with his resurrection. Lazarus did not cooperate in his resurrection. Regeneration is a sovereign act of God in which man plays no role. After God brings us to life, of course, we certainly are involved in “cooperating” with Him. We are to believe, trust, obey, and work for him. But unless God acts first, we will never be reborn in the first place. We must also realize it is not as if dead people have faith, and because of their faith God agrees to regenerate them. Rather, it is because God has regenerated us and given us new life that we have faith. R. C. Sproul
Imagine a sculptor with a huge mass of unshaped, unlovely granite before him. He has chosen, for reasons known only to Himself, to use this unsightly mass to show his great skill. He picks up a hammer and a chisel and begins to knock away everything that doesn’t look like the sculpture he has purposed to make.
God is the sculptor, we are the ugly mass of granite. The hammer and the chisel are the instruments or tools that God uses to bring us to Himself. In the same way, the preparatory, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and our faith in the truth of the gospel are the tools or instruments that God has used in bringing us to salvation.
Won’t you join with me, with the Apostle Paul and the saints of all ages in thanking God for the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith?
Paul continues to list compelling reasons for our thanksgiving . . .
III. Because of the Means of our Salvation v. 14a
“Whereunto he called you by our gospel”
Paul had previously declared the response of the Thessalonians to the message of the gospel in 1 Thess. 1:4-5.
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
Here Paul states that the reason he knows that the Thessalonians are chosen by God is by the way they responded to the gospel which they preached. There is no salvation apart from believing the message of the gospel. There are some who preach the doctrine of election in such a way that they deny the need to preach the gospel to the lost. They have the attitude that if God has chosen who is going to be saved, he’ll do it without our help. The problem is that they are disobeying the clear teaching of Scripture which says to “preach the gospel to every creature” Mark 16:15.
We don’t have to choose between one or the other. We don’t have to choose rather or not we’ll believe what the Bible teaches about election and rather or not we’ll obey the command to preach the gospel. The reason we don’t have to is because Paul didn’t. They’re both together in these two verses. In fact, in 1 Thess. 1:4-5, the way one recognizes the elect is by their response to the gospel message. And in 2 Thess. 2:13-14, those who were chosen were called by the gospel.
Therefore Paul thanks God for the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the means by which sinners are brought into the kingdom of God. There is no other way. What Gospel does Paul mean when he says, “Our Gospel.” He certainly had nothing less in mind than what he declared in 1 Cor. 15. There he proclaims the gospel which he preached among the Corinthians, namely: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
For Paul there was nothing else to glory in “save the cross” (Gal. 6:14).
The Gospel is that Christ died for your sins, and that He is resurrected as the Lord of all. If you believe that simple message and repent of your sins you will have salvation.
Paul was also thankful . . .
IV. Because of the Goal of our Salvation v. 14b
“to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”
The purpose, the goal of our salvation is the obtaining of the glory of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” This doesn’t mean that Christians never have struggles. We do there is a battle against sin and Satan to be fought. We have at best an imperfect family resemblance. But, because we are sons there is an anticipation for a day when the imperfect family resemblance of this life is replaced with the perfect family resemblance when we see Him.
Some of you are discouraged today, the trials of this life have beat you down, but there is a hope that goes beyond this world. You may be frustrated with your growth as a Christian. I believe all “real” Christians are frustrated with their growth as Christians. Allow verse 2 to comfort you when it says, “it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”
From looking at the ugly root of rose can you predict the existence of a perfectly colored, velvet textured, perfumed rose? No, it doth not yet appear what it shall be. From looking at an acorn can you predict the existence of a great oak? No, it doth not yet appear what it shall be. From looking at a scrawny, fuzzy, awkward eaglet can you predict that one day it will soar with tireless wings upon the air, that it will defy the cyclone and scream at the clouds? No, it doth not yet appear what it shall be. From looking at a crawling, hairy, earthbound caterpillar can you predict that some day it will lift itself from the dust upon wings of multicolored beauty and make its home among the flowers? No, it doth not yet appear what it shall be (Roy Laurin). But “Someday the silver cord will break, and I no more as now shall sing; But O the joy when I shall wake within the palace of the King! And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story saved by grace; And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story saved by grace.
So let us give thanks for our election, let us give thanks for the work of the Spirit and the gift of faith, let us give thanks for the gospel and let us give thanks that “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.”