Few things are certain in this world. No doubt most people feel as if they can count on very little and so often the things upon which people do count seem to disappoint, dissipate, or disappear. Politicians renege on promises, spouses walk away, markets collapse, and a myriad of other disheartening circumstances rob persons of joy in this cursed world. Even the Pope backed up this week in the face of a Muslim firestorm of protest concerning his remarks on Mohammed and the spread of his religion by the sword. Again, it seems that persons can count on precious little.
Of course, the gospel of Jesus Christ is vastly different. The gospel is certain, solid, and can be counted upon both now and in eternity. When a person knows God, he/she can count on purpose, strength, and wisdom to face each day. The Christian can count on unchangeable truth, unconditional love, and unfettered power for life. When a person knows God through the Lord Jesus Christ, that person can count on much. Let's flesh this reality out a bit by driving down four stakes.
First, when a person knows God, he can count on an abiding relationship with Him. The church is "in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thes. 1:1)." It is comprised of people who are called out of the world and are now in spiritual union with God who is our Father by virtue of the fact that He has adopted us into His family through the atoning work of His Son. The church is also said to be in union with the Lord Jesus Christ as the Father and Son are on equal footing.
Thus, believers are in covenant relationship with their Father through Christ. No other relationship is more important, for this one relates to eternal life vs. eternal death. Practical implications may be gleaned as a result.
The first implication is that this relationship provides the identity one needs for purpose to pursue each day for the Lord. The Christian, because she is a Christian, exists to glorify God and enjoy Him each and every day. Christians have purpose in Christ.
The second implication is that this relationship provides the grace one needs for strength to live each day unto the Lord. Note Paul's Christianized greeting: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2)." The fact that salvation is by grace is a pervasive theme in Scripture. It is that grace from God that brings undeserving sinners into right relationship with Him. The peace that sinners now have with God is the result of God's grace.
At the same time, when Paul says "grace to you and peace from God," he refers to the fact that we must have God's grace and peace every day. It is God's grace mediated through the Lord Jesus Christ that we need everyday for sanctification. God's grace must be with us in an effectual way bringing us into submission to God's commands, conformity to His Son, and working in us joy in the Holy Spirit. The good news is that God's grace is indeed flowing to us every day.
The third implication is that this relationship provides the peace one needs for wisdom to rest each day in the Lord. We have peace with God, with others, and indeed within our own hearts as God's peace guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Those who know God receive a constant flow of peace from Him. Regardless of our circumstances, we can rest in Him.
Second, when a person knows God, he can count on a praying family by Him. Our brothers and sisters are both compelled and right to pray for us when they see God at work. Paul says, "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other." This statement is a strong affirmation that there is only one true and living God. The fact that we grow in faith and abound in love is owing to the work of God in our lives. Salvation, from start to finish, is of the Lord. It is God who convicts, regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies. Thus, thanksgiving is offered to Him.
Third, when a person knows God, he can count on an abounding growth from Him. That growth is exceeding in terms of faith toward the Lord and abounding in terms of love toward the saints. Christian faith is faith in God and not some nebulous faith in faith as is so often promoted by false teachers today. Christian faith always has an object: the person and/or word of God. Christian love is grounded in our brotherhood and our unified stand with one another and for one another in the face of trial and persecution. Our faith and love abound as God works in our lives. These dynamics enable us to rightly relate to God and others in practical ways.
Fourth, when a person knows God, he can count on an enduring lifestyle in Him. That lifestyle serves to make the believer an example to others as well as give him triumph over circumstances. Paul is joy-filled over the saints' faith and love, as he notes, so much "so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure."
Now, think about our hope. The fact that Paul boasts of these saints among the churches concerning their patience and faith in the midst of persecution and trial is tantamount to affirming their hope. The ability to bear up in the midst of great trial is grounded in hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. The phrase "patience and faith" could be viewed as a synonym of hope in that hope is the exertion of great faith with patient endurance while waiting upon and looking for, with great assurance, the promises of God to be fulfilled.
Implications may be derived here. The first implication is this: the fact that Paul boasts of the Thessalonians is not only a testimony to their patient endurance but also to their humility. They did not boast of themselves but Paul could boast in them for the glory of God as it was God who was working patience in them. Would to God that we would humble ourselves whether or not we are exalted by others. But, may we give cause for others to exalt us as we exalt Christ.
The second implication is that Paul boasted of the Lord's work among the brethren. He informed churches as to what other churches were doing in spiritual terms. He did not focus on numbers or programs. He focused on things like faith and love. That should be a lesson to us in regard to the types of things upon which we should be focused and the types of things we should hold out to others as exemplary. In so doing, not only is the focus upon the right things from a biblical perspective, but the emphasis is upon God's work of grace among His people as opposed to the ingenuity of man. Only God can bring about spiritual fruit.
The third implication is that the church of God will suffer. That does not mean she cannot have joy. On the contrary, joy is to be had in Christ. Our hope in Him enables us to endure the sufferings of a fallen world.
Those who know God can count on His consistent work in their lives regardless of inevitable, adverse circumstances. In that reality, beloved, we can rest. You can count on it.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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