Last night I was reading 2 Thessalonians while waiting for the sleep study technician to come in and hook me up for a good night’s sleep. Actually, it was a terrible night’s sleep full of weird dreams and frequently waking up to find I was still connected to a computer monitoring my sleep patterns and vital signs. Then today 2 Thessalonians 1 came to mind twice, though I couldn’t recall what I had read that seemed to stick with me somewhere in my subconscious. So I decided I better go read it again. It was then that I remembered the part that stood out to me when I was reading last night.
In teaching about the second coming of Christ, which the Church was looking forward to and we still look forward to now, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church:
When he comes on that day, he will receive glory from his holy people—praise from all who believe. And this includes you, for you believed what we told you about him. So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:10-12.
Three things stood out for me in this passage and the book of Thessalonians as a whole. First, Paul says the Thessalonians are included in those who will praise Jesus on His return because they “believed what we told you about him.” Consistent with his teachings elsewhere, and the words of Jesus Himself, belief in Jesus as their Savior and King is what Paul says ensures that the Thessalonians will be part of the saved on the coming Day of the Lord. There were no good works that they could do, or their goodness itself, that would secure for them a place in God’s kingdom. It is the same for us.
The second thing that stood out to me was how the “life worthy of his call” came after belief and was enabled by God. Paul asked that God give the Thessalonians (and us) “the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.” Good works and obedience are definitely part of the Christian life, but they do not precede belief in Jesus as Lord, and they do not happen because of our own ability or power.
The third thing I noticed was that the Glory and Honor because of the Thessalonians (and our) good works and worthy lives will go primarily to Jesus because it is His grace that makes it all possible. On the Day of the Lord we “will be honored along with him.” However, there is no indication that we will receive any honor before that time or on our own. We will be honored only because we have relied on Jesus.
I tend to be very methodical about things and in my thinking about problems and their solutions. Perhaps that is my legal training, or maybe it is just a gift from God. Because of that I see this simple, logical progression of the human soul from lost to obedient child of God:
- God the Father draws the unbeliever to His Son, Jesus our Savior. John 6:44.
- The unbeliever hears the call and believes in Jesus as his Savior and atoning sacrifice for his sins. John 3:16.
- The new believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Acts 10:44-47.
- The Holy Spirit works in the heart of the new believer to give him or her the desire to know God’s will and understand His Word, and the power to live a life worthy of God. 2 Thessalonians 1:11.
I know I’ve left out a lot of detail in this short list. And number 4 can take a lifetime of work. But that’s okay, because God is patient. He is much more concerned with a humble and contrite heart that desires obedience than perfect outward actions done to look good in the eyes of others. As Psalms 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'” John 6:29. All else is the work of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that all believers, not least of all me, will stop thinking we can live a life worthy of God on our own, and call on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to accomplish all of the good things our faith prompts us to do. Then Jesus will be glorified and honored, as it should be.