This week in our study of 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, Paul writes that Christians are people who are saved. In the previous post we examined how we are saved from separation from God. In today’s post we try to understand how we are also saved for something. As Jesus taught it, we are saved to be his disciples who will live out the mission of his Kingdom in the world. Discipleship means that Jesus calls us to give our lives to him, to sacrificially serve him and his kingdom. That’s a very different story than what we Christians so often tell. It seems to me that we tend to focus on the saved from side of the story. We are saved from separation from God. That’s wonderful! But we are also saved for something. We are saved for discipleship, and disciples are learners from Jesus who strive to do what he did, up to and including dying for him.
You might be saying, “Joel, I don’t see any of that call to sacrificial discipleship in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.” Not in those words, you don’t. But look at the phrase in verse 14, “he called you…that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Share in the glory? What does Paul mean? At first glance, sharing in glory sounds really, really good. “Glory” is one way we talk about heaven. Is Paul just talking about glory in heaven? It is that for sure. We are saved from separation with God, and we are saved for relationship with him so we can experience his glory in heaven. But we’re saved for more than that. This is where the saved for part of the story gets dicey.
Think about Jesus’ pathway to glory. It is the pathway that first leads to crucifixion. Let’s not forget that. Christianity is cruciform, cross-shaped. Christianity is new life, but that new life is preceded by death. Jesus’ resurrected life requires a crucified life. The good news is not from old life to new life. It is from old life to death of the old life to new life. This is why Paul would go on to write in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This is why Paul will write in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead.”
This is why Paul will write in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Paul didn’t just make this up. He got this all from Jesus. It was Jesus who said, “If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross daily, die to yourself and follow me.” In other words, Paul was trying to live in line with Jesus’ teaching and actions. Paul wanted to do what Jesus did.
As a kid afraid of burning in hell, I didn’t understand that. It is hard for kids to understand that. But you and I aren’t kids. We’re adults. If we want to share in Jesus’ glory, we need to grasp the reality that for Jesus, glory only came through suffering. Glory only came through death.
So often we want a pathway to glory that involves no suffering. That’s just not reality, and it is not the way of the Gospel. No doubt, the Good news is truly good news! We have hope, we have the promise of eternal life and abundant life and glory. But let’s remember what it cost our savior. Let’s remember that it cost him death, and that it was our sin that he died for. Then out of profound gratefulness to him, we in turn say, “Thank you, Jesus! Just as you gave your life for me, I give my life to you.” That is the way to glory.