A BIBLICAL DESCRIPTION OF A NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIAN
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 6, 2019
13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 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. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
— 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, ESV
Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians is eschatological in nature, meaning it teaches sound doctrine concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ. Its second nature is soteriology, as is every book of the Bible, for behind every premise and promise in God’s word is God’s plan to save a people for Himself for all eternity. Eschatology and soteriology flow freely together in this brief epistle, as one leads us to focus on the other.
So far Second Thessalonians has secured for us a set of eschatological facts. Jesus Christ will come again, after certain signs and significant events have taken place, and it appears that such a stage has been set. We are waiting now for the appearance of the Lord, the second advent, not as a baby or a crucified man, but as the sovereign Lord and King of the universe, with a renewed heaven and earth in His hands. When He arrives, Christians will be caught up to meet Him in the air, along with the souls and bodies of saints who have believed before us (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff).
To qualify as one of the Christians who will be with the Lord in Heaven, you have to become a Christian and serve the Lord down here on earth. Many passages of Scripture help define who a Christian is and what a Christian does, but few do it as succinctly and completely as 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17. Let’s take a close look at only ones who can really look forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ.
A Christian is Saved
Christians love and non-Christians loath the idea of being saved. The spiritual meaning is derived from the physical concept of being saved from death, like a drowning man rescued by a sure swimmer, or an unconscious woman in a house fire scooped up and rescued by a firefighter, or a severely crippled accident victim pulled from the wreckage moments before it explodes. In all of these scenarios, the saved person cannot save themselves but have to be saved by someone who saves. Sinners cannot save themselves, but Jesus saves, by grace through faith in Him.
Christians are saved by God’s sovereign choice. Paul wrote, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved” (ESV), or a better translation reads, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation” (NASB). Whatever English translation you prefer, it is still God’s choice that leads to a person’s salvation. Jesus plainly told His first followers, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (ref. John 15:16). God chose every Christian to be born again before any Christian was born. Like the Israelites He chose through the Old Covenant (ref. Deuteronomy 7:6-8), God’s choice of every New Testament Christian is based on God’s love (ref. John 3:16; Ephesians 1:4). Since I am not endowed with the incommunicable attributes of God, I cannot explain why God would choose some and pass over others. But while no human can explain it, certain humans can enjoy it by submitting to God’s sovereignty, trusting His grace, and believing in His Son, Jesus Christ (ref. John 6:37).
Christians are saved (justified) by God’s gospel. “He called you through our gospel” describes the life-changing moment when a New Testament Christian is born again through the effectual hearing of the gospel and responds in grace induced repentance and faith (ref. Acts 11:18; Ephesians 2:8). Paul would later describe this to the Romans as being “justified by faith” (ref. Romans 3:28, 5:1), so that all sins are forgiven and righteousness is obtained. Justification, wrought by the Holy Spirit, necessitates sanctification, where the Holy Spirit remains.
Christians are saved (sanctified) by God’s Holy Spirit and Holy Bible. Salvation begins with justification but is sustained “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” If a person does not act saved, they almost certainly are not saved, because the Spirit of God and the word of God are always active in the true child of God. One inspired the other, and the Holy Spirit in you will inspire you to accept and obey the Holy word given to you. Sanctification is no easy street, but an upstream swim against the world until the upward call of Jesus Christ, which we have established is coming soon.
Christians are saved (glorified) by God’s promise of the second coming of Christ. Why did God choose you and justify you and sanctify you? To glorify you, “So that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (see also Romans 8:28-30). This has been God’s plan from the beginning. He chose, He created, we sinned, He saved, and He will consummate His relationship with the redeemed in an unimaginably glorious new heaven and earth, with Christ crowned at the center.
The second coming of Jesus Christ is going to be glorious, but the only people on earth who will enjoy it are the New Testament Christians, who have been and are being and will be saved. But how can you tell if a person is really a Christian? You can tell by their testimony times two. There will be a testimony of being saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and, there will be testimony of standing firm in the church and in the word that belongs to the same Lord and the same people of God.
A Christian Stands Firm
Christians are not only saved, they also stand. Apostates quit, but real Christians keep going and going and going. They go to church, they go to the Bible, they go to their knees in prayer, they go to serve others, and they go to the great rewards God has for us here and now while we wait for the greatest reward still to come, at the second coming of Jesus Christ.
“So then, brothers, stand firm,” says Paul, the authorized Apostle, missionary extraordinaire, and founding pastor of the church at Thessalonica. Saved people stand firm. They stand firm “to the traditions that you were taught” by Paul and the other Apostles, through apostolic preaching and the writings of what we now call our New Testament, “by our spoken word or by our letter.”
Christians take a stand in the church. God did not commission Paul to travel around the world and establish chicken sandwich restaurants that are closed on Sundays (He did, however, commission Truett Cathey to do so, and I praise the Lord for it!). He did not call Paul to start hospitals, homeless shelters, or food pantries (He calls others to do so, and I praise the Lord for it!). But of first importance for New Testament Christianity was and is the establishment of New Testament churches.
The tradition began by Christ’s Apostles was to call out Christians with the gospel and establish them in local groups or congregations or assemblies or churches. The design is to gather on the first day of the week for worship. Regular worship should include praise and prayers and preaching, offerings of material and spiritual commitments, baptisms at opportune times and the Lord’s Supper all the time. Orders of worship and frequencies of ordinances can be respectfully debated, but there is no debate that New Testament Christians take their stand in New Testament churches on the first day of every week (ref. Acts 20:7; Hebrews 10:25).
Christians take a stand in the word. New Testament Christians live by the New Testament. The Old Testament is the word of God, too, but we organize our churches and take our cues from the new and better covenant (ref. Hebrews 8-9). We hear it when we worship, read it in our homes, and we do our dead level best to obey it in our lives. We live by the law of the land, but should the law of the land ever contradict the plain teaching of the word of God, we will stand firm by the word. We live in a culture and enjoy its amenities, but where culture clashes with the word of God, we will stand firm by the word.
One of the first songs I ever taught my children to sing was “The B-I-B-L-E, Yes that’s the book for me, I stand alone on the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!” That’s not childish, that’s Christian, for Christians take a stand on the word of God.
Christians are saved and Christians stand. Furthermore, Christians serve.
A Christian Serves the Lord
Salvation gives us “good hope through grace.” Assurance of salvation which “comforts your hearts” comes through a lifestyle of obedience to God’s word. And both of these New Testament principles compel New Testament Christians to serve the Lord by serving others “in every good work and word.”
What constitutes a good work? In perhaps Paul’s most inspired statement on salvation, he declared we are “saved … not [as] a result of works … [but] for good works” (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10). The word for “work” literally means the expense of energy. Spiritually dead people, or lost people, have no energy to contribute to their salvation, which is why salvation is all of grace. But saved people, Christians, are spiritually alive and energized and able to contribute to the kingdom of God. It takes energy, spiritual energy, to gather for worship, work in the nursery, preach a sermon, prepare and deliver food to the needy, volunteer in a shelter, go on a mission trip, engage in an honest vocation, or do any of the millions of things New Testament Christians do for the good of others and the glory of God. Salvation is not by works but saved people work!
What constitutes a good word? I’ve been in churches where the theme song could be a twist on the old folk tune, “Where seldom is heard, and encouraging word.” God designed words to be packed with power, they can hurt you and they can help you. Christians use words to encourage one another, a vastly important and underrated role in the church. Perhaps the best good word of all, however, is the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, when shared by a Christian with a non-Christian. Just like a good cook wants to share her food with others, or a good tailor wants people to wear his clothes, a good Christian will share the good news of salvation with others so that others can know and share our joy at the second coming of Jesus Christ, which brings us back to the theme of 2 Thessalonians.
Christ is coming again and only saved people can look forward to His returning. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but salvation is never alone. New Testament Christians are saved, plus they stand firm in the church and in the word, plus they serve the Lord and others with works and words. This is a biblical description of a New Testament Christian.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org