In the previous post we learned that suffering is the way to glory. I have to admit that I don’t like the sound of that. I would rather glory come by way of ease, comfort and fun.
This is precisely why Paul says what he says next in our ongoing study of 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17. But before we read what he says, think about the context with me. If the way to glory is through suffering, and we know that the Thessalonian Christians were already suffering, as we read in chapter 1, verse 4, it would be possible that the Thessalonians were thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this difficult life. I just wanted the golden ticket to get into heaven.” Paul knows that their faith could easily start failing if the persecution continued. So look at what he says in verse 15.
“Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions or teachings which I taught you when I was with you and in my letter to you.”
What teachings did Paul give them? We can read his first letter to the Thessalonians and find out some of his teachings. But know this: Paul did not make up his teaching out of thin air. He taught what was first taught to him, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that his followers are people who believe in Jesus and give their lives to follow him. We’re now getting back to what we read in verse 13, that we Christians are people who receive the good news, “through belief in the truth.” Paul’s teaching was the same as the apostles’ teaching, which was the same as Jesus’ teaching: a relationship with Jesus starts with believing in him. But a relationship with Jesus is far more than just belief.
To stand firm and hold to those teachings meant, for the Thessalonian Christians, that they would seek to apply the teaching of Jesus to their lives as they lived in Thessalonica. Don’t write that off as overly basic, because it is so, so important. Standing firm and holding to the teachings of Jesus, therefore, is not just believing the right things in our minds, it is also showing that we believe those teachings by the choices of our lives.
Jesus’ was not interested in just believers. Believers are people who think of their faith in terms of a theology quiz. God is real? Check. Jesus is God? Check? Jesus rose again from the dead? Check. But is that all Jesus desires of us? To get a high score on a theology quiz?
Don’t get me wrong. Believing those ideas, and others, is important. Jesus certainly invited people to believe in him, and yet also called us to be disciples. A disciple is a believer, yes, but one that actually lives like Jesus. I’m not saying that Jesus teaches we have to be perfect or he will treat us as failures. What I am saying is that standing firm and holding fast to his teaching starts with accepting ideas in our minds, but it must move on to making life choices that show we believe those ideas. That refers to the other phrase in verse 13, “the sanctifying work of the Spirit”. What is the sanctifying work of the Spirit?
Sanctification is the process of being made holy, of being set apart for God. In other words, sanctification is the process whereby Christians grow in their resemblance of Jesus. If you view yourself as standing firm and holding fast, but the people in your life do not think you resemble Jesus, that should be a reality check, or at least cause for you to do a deep examination of your life. This is why Paul will talk about the transformation that Holy Spirit brings to our lives. “In Christ,” he says, “we are new creatures, the old has gone, the new has come.” There is an obvious change taking place in our lives.
In other places, Jesus and Paul describe our lives as trees producing fruit. When the Holy Spirit is at work changing a person to be more like Jesus (which is the meaning of sanctification), and that person is allowing the Holy Spirit to change them, the good fruit of the Holy Spirit will out of that person’s life.
As Paul writes in verse 16, this transformation of our lives flows out of God’s heart for us. God wants what is best for us. Look at how Paul describes this in verse 16. Jesus and God love us, giving us eternal encouragement and good hope. Paul is saying that God wants us to have encouragement and hope, both now, in the midst of the difficulties of life, as well as eternally.
The result of this encouragement and hope, Paul concludes in verse 17, is that our hearts are encouraged, and we are strengthened to live the life of disciples of Jesus in word and deed. That is a wonderful promise.
Good deeds and words.
Think about that. Think about the relationality of that. God wants to be in relationship with us so that we are encouraged, so that we are strengthened, and so that we can live the lives he calls us to live, flowing with good deeds and words.