Eight Essentials for Christian Living - Ask Pastor John
Video from Desiring God
Today we look at one of John Piper’s favorite Bible texts on the Christian life. The text that I’m thinking of is 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12. Pastor John doesn’t talk about this text a lot, but when he does, you immediately sense its significance. He has mentioned it here on the podcast a few times. A while back, speaking of 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12, he said, “I encourage everybody to meditate on every single phrase in those two verses.” That was in APJ 1473.
And the text pops up on the podcast annually, in early January, whenever we talk about New Year’s resolutions. That’s because Pastor John calls it “the most important” text in the Bible on resolutions. That’s a claim he made in APJ 1415. And back in APJ 246, he called it “a theology of resolutions in two verses.” But this same text has year-round value because it offers us “eight steps of sanctification” (APJ 367) — eight indispensables for Christian living, as we see in today’s episode, in a great little sermon clip from 2012. Here’s Pastor John to explain 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12.
Let’s read these two verses again. “To this end” — and what he means by that in the preceding verses is “so that you will be able to marvel at the Lord when he comes.”
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good [or good resolve] and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, notice eight crucial things in those two verses.
1. Calling of God
There is a calling of God on and in every believer. Verse 11: “. . . that our God may make you worthy of his calling” — that is, the glorious destiny that he has for you, a destiny to be a part of his kingdom, and to be a part of and shaped by, glorified by, his glory. The easiest place to see that that’s what it means is 1 Thessalonians 2:12, which goes like this: “[We] charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
“Your calling is to be in the kingdom of God. Your calling is to share the glory of God.”
So, the calling of every Christian is that we will be destined — we are destined — and we’ll be there in God’s kingdom, and in his glory, perfectly someday. So your calling is to be in the kingdom of God. Your calling is to share the glory of God, as will be increasingly clear as we get to that part of these two verses. That’s number one, the calling of God.
2. Made Worthy of His Calling
There is a being made worthy of the calling. Verse 11: “. . . that our God may make you worthy of his calling.” So, that’s what God is doing if you’re a Christian. He’s making you worthy of his calling. Being made worthy of something doesn’t mean being made deserving of it — it means being made suitable for it, or being made fitting or appropriate for it.
If you know that the queen of England has decided to come and stay in one of the bedrooms of your house, your thought will be, first (probably), “I don’t deserve it, and the room certainly doesn’t deserve it,” which would be true. But what you mean by, “I must make the room worthy of the queen” is that she’s got the worth and the room needs some work. “I want to make the room suitable. I want to make the room fitting.” She’s already decided to come. It’s not about deserving her coming.
The Lord has put his favor on his people and said, “You’re going to be in my kingdom. You’re going to be my children. You’re going to be there glorifying me.” And then he goes about the business of suiting us out, fitting us for that destiny called being made worthy of our calling. That’s number two.
3. Good Resolves Fulfilled
There is a fulfillment, therefore — in the exercise of that being made worthy of the calling, there’s a fulfillment of our good resolves. Verse 11: “. . . that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every good resolve,” or “every resolve for good.” So, the Christian life is a resolving life. It’s a planning life. It’s a purposing life. It’s an intending life.
God has given every one of you wills. And he intends for you to use your will to make plans and purposes and designs and intentions and resolves, to do something right and beautiful and good every hour of your day. That’s why we have brains and wills, volition.
4. Power of God in Us
And the question is, how do those resolves become real — turn into deeds, get fulfilled? And that’s number four: by the power of God. Verse 11: “. . . that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.” So our resolves become works by his power, and he intends to get the glory for the fulfillment of our resolves. And that’s why he makes himself the giver of the power. The giver gets the glory.
If you did your resolves in your own strength, you would get the glory, and you should. And if you depend on him to fulfill your resolves with his power, he gets the glory, and he should. And that’s the way he set it up.
And so, how do our resolves become acts? How does the resolve to do a right thing and not do a wrong thing become effective? God’s power, that’s how. So, the Christian life is a life of supernatural power coming in, moving out, and giving us the ability to fulfill our resolves.
5. Works of Faith
How do we tap into this power? How do we avail ourselves of the power? How do we depend upon the power? By faith. Verse 11: “. . . that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every good resolve” — every resolve for good — “and every work of faith.” When God fulfills, by his power, a good resolve, it becomes a work of faith. That’s the way I’m taking the connection between fulfilling a resolve for good and a work of faith: the power of God enabling needs to happen.
When the power of God meets you in your good resolve, it meets you by making that resolve become a work called now a “work of faith,” which shows how you tapped into that. Got it? It’s a work of faith — you could call it a work of power, it’s true. He’s just bringing you into the picture now. He’s already said God’s power fulfills your resolves and turns them into fulfillment — that is works, deeds, acts. And then he adds, “And those acts are acts of faith,” which tells me exactly what my role is in availing myself of divine power to fulfill the resolves I have in life — namely, I must trust him. I must trust his promise to give me power tonight, to fulfill a resolve I have when I go home.
That’s what I have to do: believe him; trust him. That’s the plug into the power. The outlet and the electricity is his power. And the plug is my faith. I trust you — click — power. That’s what faith does: it gets in, and power flows through it. And God has designed it that way because, when you’re a little child leaning on God for power to fulfill your resolves, he’s going to get the glory, which is where we’re going in just a moment — in fact, not a moment, a second.
6. Jesus’s Glory in Us
In this text, the name of Jesus is going to be glorified. Now we’re at verse 12. When God fulfills our resolves through our faith and turns them into works of faith, Jesus gets glory. So, verse 12: “. . . so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.” So, when God’s power comes through your plug of faith and turns your resolves to do the right and to avoid the wrong into an act of faith, Jesus gets glory.
“All God’s power now, because of the cross and our connection with Jesus, is pouring on us for our good.”
Which must mean, since he hasn’t been mentioned yet in these two verses, that Paul is assuming that the power that he calls “God’s power” is power purchased and provided by Jesus, which is exactly what I argued for last week. When Christ dies, what he purchases for us is that God would now no longer be against us. His power is no longer devoted to our destruction, no longer devoted to our condemnation. All his power now, because of the cross and our connection with Jesus, is pouring on us for our good, not our destruction.
So anybody who knows the gospel — and I hope that last Sunday’s message hasn’t ceased to be real for you — would know that it’s so fitting that Paul would say here that Jesus’s name would be glorified. When God, by his power, comes into the life of imperfect people like me, who don’t deserve any help at all from him, and he takes my little puny, half-baked, vain resolves to do right, and he makes them happen to some measure of good, Jesus gets glory. That’s right. God gets glory too, but Jesus is named as the one who gets the glory. He purchased that awesome sanctifying event that enables us to fulfill our resolves.
7. Our Glory in Him
And we are glorified in him. So, he’s glorified in this process, and now it says we are too. So let’s read that again. Verse 12: “. . . so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.” So, as he purchases and provides the power by covering all of our sin and providing all of our right standing with God, we are being conformed into Christ’s likeness, because our resolves for good are being fulfilled by faith in that.
And the effect is that we too are becoming glorious with his glory. “We all . . . beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to the next” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And oh for the day when that will be complete, in the moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, when we shall be changed — saved to sin no more. Hasten that day.
8. All of Grace
All of this is according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus. End of verse 12: “. . . so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is all of grace — the grace of our Father and the grace of our Lord Jesus. The power that comes to us moment by moment to fulfill our resolves for good is the power of grace, the extension of grace.
Grace to Glory
So those are the eight crucial, indispensable, wonderful elements in verses 11 and 12. Let me try to sum them up. How do they work? Let me put them together in the order that they work instead of just the order that they come.
Paul ends with the beginning, right? At the bottom of the Christian life is grace, and everything moves up from that foundation. If there were anything we could do down here beneath this to get under it and make it happen, it wouldn’t be grace. That’s the meaning of grace. So grace is free, and it comes to us in our total undeserving, and it starts to do good things for us. And so, it’s all of grace. Grace is at the bottom of the Christian life.
And now, up from that grace, God’s power flows. And that power flows through your faith. If we were doing other texts, I could show you that the power, in fact, awakens that faith and then moves through it, awakens those resolves and then fulfills them. But all it says here now, which is all we’re going to talk about, is when you have a resolve to do right, and do good — to honor God, to love people, to kill sin — that resolve, if it gets fulfilled, gets fulfilled by the power of God.
And the way you tap into that power is by faith. And when you do, then Jesus is made to look glorious in your life, and you participate in the glorification of Jesus by becoming increasingly beautiful yourself — somewhat in this life, unspeakably in the life to come.