Do Not Be Insecure
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2:13–14)
Paul’s fifth exhortation to eliminate fear of the future is to understand the great doctrine of salvation. With a few words, the apostle sweeps the reader across the vastness of God’s redemptive plan to affirm the believer’s security in that plan. Again, Paul’s intent is not pedagogical but pastoral. Those who reject the truth that believers are eternally secure cannot look forward with confident hope to Christ’s coming. To believe that Christians living in unconfessed sin when the Lord returns will go to hell can only engender dread and fear—especially since sinless perfection in this life is unattainable (1 Kings 8:46; Ps. 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; 1 John 1:8, 10).
But the Thessalonians did not need to fear they had lost or could lose their salvation, because God’s choice of them is irrevocable. Salvation began with God’s loving choice in eternity past and will continue until glorification in the future (Rom. 8:29–30). Jesus emphatically declared the utter impossibility that any of God’s elect should ever be lost:
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.… This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.… No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37, 39–40, 44)
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29)
That glorious truth caused Paul to always give thanks to God for the Thessalonians, knowing that they were brethren beloved by the Lord. In contrast to the unredeemed, who refuse to love and obey the truth, are those who willingly do both; in contrast to those whom God judges are those He redeems; in contrast to those who believe Satan’s lies are those who believe God’s truth; in contrast to those who follow Antichrist are those who follow Christ.
God’s work of salvation began with His sovereign, uninfluenced, undeserved love. That love was the basis for His election of believers (Eph. 1:4–5). God’s electing love is not conditioned on any merit in its recipients, as Moses reminded Israel: “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7).
Flowing out of God’s predetermined love is His sovereign choice of believers, whom He has chosen … from the beginning for salvation. God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4); He “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9). The redeemed are those whose names were “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8; cf. 17:8). For that reason, the New Testament commonly refers to believers as the “elect” (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27; Luke 18:7; Rom. 8:33) or the “chosen” (Matt. 22:14; Rom. 11:7; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1).
The doctrine of God’s sovereign, elective love has several practical benefits. It crushes human pride (Titus 3:5), since God gets all the credit for salvation. It exalts God (Ps. 115:1), as He receives praise for His love. It produces joy (1 Peter 1:1–2, 6, 8), as believers rejoice in their salvation. It grants unimaginable privileges (Eph. 1:3). It promotes holiness in the lives of the elect (Col. 3:12–13). Finally, and most relevant to Paul’s purpose in this passage, it provides security (Phil. 1:6).
God’s sovereign election of believers becomes operative in their lives through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. Sanctification is the work of the Spirit that sets believers apart from sin to righteousness (cf. Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Peter 1:2). This miracle starts at salvation and includes a total transformation, so that the believer is born again (John 3:3–8) and becomes a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). The sanctification that begins at regeneration does not, of course, mean that believers do not sin (see the discussion above). But it does ensure that those set apart from sin to God will lead lives of progressive sanctification, of increasing holiness toward Christlikeness (John 17:17; Rom. 6:1–22; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:16–25; Phil. 3:12; Col. 3:9–20; 1 Thess. 4:3–4; 5:23; 1 Peter 1:14–16; 1 John 3:4–10).
The human factor in God’s sovereign, loving election and regeneration is faith in the truth. Salvation is “by grace … through faith” (Eph. 2:8). It is those who “believe in the Lord Jesus [who] will be saved” (Acts 16:31). To the Romans Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Rom. 10:9–10). The truth that salvation is by faith in the true gospel permeates the New Testament (e.g., Mark 1:15; John 1:12; 3:15–16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; Acts 10:43; Rom. 1:16; 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 Peter 1:9; 1 John 5:1). The Spirit regenerates those who hear and believe the truth by granting them repentance (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25) and the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8–9).
The next element in God’s redemptive plan reaches back chronologically before the third. The apostle’s declaration It was for this He called you through our gospel refers, as always in the New Testament epistles, to God’s effectual call of believers to salvation (e.g., Rom. 1:6, 7; 1 Cor. 1:2, 9, 24, 26; Gal. 1:6; Eph. 4:1, 4). The gracious call of the Holy Spirit is irresistible (Rom. 8:30); the gospel is not merely words and facts but “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
All of those gospel realities lead to the ultimate goal of God’s redemptive plan—that believers may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1:10, 12). That firm statement of the security of salvation reveals that God loved, chose, called, and transformed believers for the purpose of eternally reflecting the glory of Christ to them and through them (cf. 1 John 3:1–2; Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:42–49; Phil. 3:21). Since no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2), nothing can separate believers from His saving love (Rom. 8:35–39).
Based on this sovereign scheme, there was no need for the Thessalonians to be insecure about their salvation, anxious about the Lord’s return, or fearful that they were in the Day of Judgment of the ungodly. They, like all believers, were not destined for judgment but for glory, for “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).
14 God has fulfilled his foreordained purpose by calling the chosen to this salvation “through our gospel.” The good news of divine truth conveyed through Paul’s preaching was the means God used to call these Thessalonian converts at a particular time. What God purposed in eternity was carried out in history, so that the future might bring them a share in “the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God’s design was to make them adopted ones who participate in Christ’s glory at the parousia (cf. 1:10, 12). As God’s purchased possessions, they will receive this matchless privilege. They do not earn it or in any other way acquire it for themselves. It is accomplished solely by God, as is everything else referred to in this context (vv. 13–14).
Effectual calling (v. 14)
‘Election’ is an objective reality: it is God making a choice, and God’s will is what matters. Election is his sovereign act in eternity past. ‘Calling’ is a subjective reality: it is personal; we respond to it and we hear it. It comes when we hear the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit (Jonah 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10). When the elect hear the gospel, it is accompanied with God’s grace to bring them to conversion. Election says that we are chosen in Christ from before the beginning of the world (Eph. 1:4); effectual calling, therefore, is the grace and power of God irresistibly drawing sinners to Christ (Rom. 8:30).
These are not abstract ideas; rather, they are very glorious and practical. There are two types of call found in the New Testament: the universal call and the effectual call. The truth of the universal call was demonstrated when the Saviour said, ‘For many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matt. 22:14). The effectual call comprise six things:
- a summons (to the elect sinner) into fellowship with Christ (1 Cor. 1:26–27)
- a call out of darkness into God’s light, new nationhood and special sonship (1 Peter 2:9–10)
- a call into eternal life (Heb. 3:1)
- a call to the ‘fight of faith’ (1 Tim. 6:12)
- a call to holiness (1 Thes. 4:7)
- a call to glorification (1 Peter 5:10; Rev. 19:9).
This powerful calling is the first initiatory act in the ordo salutis; by it we are summoned to faith in Christ and to repentance of our sins.
Glorification (v. 14)
Glorification is the final link in the chain of salvation (Rom. 8:30). Paul sees it as something flowing from the other essential elements in salvation, saying, ‘He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v. 14). When the gospel is preached, the call to come to Christ is given. This phrase ‘the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ reminds the Thesssalonians that, apart from Jesus Christ, there is no salvation and no eternal life. The church has no splendour or beauty other than in its union with Jesus Christ. With him as its King, it will share in the glory of heaven at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7–9).
2:14 / In verse 13 Paul spoke of God’s purpose—“he chose you.” In this verse he speaks of the execution of that purpose—he called you, where the aorist tense looks back to the time when the missionaries first visited Thessalonica and the call of God was heard in what they said (cf. 1 Thess. 4:7 for another aorist of this verb and 1 Thess. 2:12, 5:24 for the present tense). To this refers to the matter of the previous verse, which can be summed up as salvation “by grace … through faith” (Eph. 2:8). The means of that salvation (dia with the gen.), in terms of making it known to those for whom it was intended, was through our gospel, i.e., the gospel given to Paul and his companions to preach. It was, of course, “the gospel of our Lord Jesus” as far as its content was concerned, and in terms of its origin, the gospel of God (see disc. on 1 Thess. 1:5). Earlier, God’s objective in making his choice was “for salvation” (2:13). Here that same goal is in terms of “obtaining” the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (eis peripoiēsin doxēs; see disc. on 1 Thess. 5:9 and note for “obtaining” and 1 Thess. 2:12 for glory; for the titles Lord and Christ see note on 1 Thess. 1:1). In part, that glory was manifested (John 1:14, cf. also 2 Cor. 4:4, 6), but its complete unveiling awaits Christ’s return (2 Thess. 1:10). At his return, our own salvation will be complete; in Christ we are already God’s children, “but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2002). 1 & 2 Thessalonians (pp. 285–288). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Thomas, R. L. (2006). 2 Thessalonians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 476). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 McNaughton, I. (2008). Opening up 2 Thessalonians (pp. 56–58). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 Williams, D. J. (2011). 1 and 2 Thessalonians (p. 135). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.