Remember Your Calling
according to the power of God, who 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, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, (1:8b–10)
A fourth means for guarding against being ashamed of Christ is simply to remember our holy calling from our heavenly Father, who, as Paul has just declared, shares His divine power with His children.
These few verses are a study of soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, in miniature. The apostle was not, of course, teaching Timothy new truths, but simply reminding him of the cardinal, well-known truths of the gospel, truths that should motivate every believer to faithfulness, to courageous witness and living for Jesus Christ.
Remembering these truths and placing our confidence in the God who has given them enables us to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” (Col. 1:10–11).
Because of the power of God, we can say with Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). We can testify with Peter that we “are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). The all-powerful God who has saved us has equally sufficient power to keep us. If we were “reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10).
God’s power does not always manifest itself in our lives in obvious ways. When Paul had prayed three times that God would remove a certain affliction, “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet” him, God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7–8). Without hesitation or disappointment, Paul replied, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9–10).
Our loving heavenly Father is both willing and “able to keep [us] from stumbling, and to make [us] stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). In light of that truth Paul prayed for believers at Ephesus, where he had ministered faithfully for a number of years: “[May God] grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16–19).
God sovereignly designed salvation, and He sovereignly initiates, sustains, and completes salvation. He has forgiven us, justified us, and delivered us from sin and Satan, from death and hell. In every sense and in every tense—past, present, and future—God is our Savior.
That is a major theme in the pastoral letters. The Almighty is frequently called Savior (1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4), as is Jesus (2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13; 3:6). Likewise, the saving work of God in Christ is presented together in several places (1 Tim. 2:3–6; 4:10; 2 Tim. 2:8–10; Titus 2:11–14; 3:4–7).
The God who has saved us also has called us with, or to, a holy calling. Paul is not speaking of God’s calling unbelievers to repentance and salvation but of His effectual, saving call of believers, those who have been saved, to holy living and, ultimately, to eternal and perfect holiness (cf. 1 John 3:2).
Just as the Lord did not save us according to our works but by His grace, neither has He called us to live according to our works, but according to His own purpose (the plan) and grace (the means of operating the plan). Just as that inexplicable truth is the foundation of the saving gospel, so it also is the foundation of God’s sustenance of those He has saved. He will keep all the elect until they reach glory. Jesus made clear that the divine purpose, working through divine grace, would reach complete fulfillment. He promised,
All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And 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, may 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 6:37–40, 44; cf. Phil. 1:6; Jude 24–25)
God “chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4; cf. 1 Peter 1:2), that is, that we should live according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. Our destiny was determined and sealed before the world began. Because we now belong to Christ, we can praise and thank our heavenly Father that He has loved us, just as He has loved His only Son, “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). He has chosen us and loved us “in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11).
But this divine plan from all eternity only now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Most often in the New Testament (see, e.g., 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13), epiphaneia (appearing) refers to Christ’s second coming. But here it obviously refers to His first coming, when He abolished death.
Katargeō (abolish) literally means to render inoperative. It is not that death no longer exists or that believers are promised escape from it, unless they are raptured. But for believers, death is no longer a threat, no longer an enemy, no longer the end. Quoting first from Isaiah 25:8 and then from Hosea 13:14, Paul exulted, “When this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ ” (1 Cor. 15:54–55). “Since then the children share in flesh and blood,” the writer of Hebrews explains, “He Himself [Christ] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).
More than simply abolishing death, at His first appearing Christ brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. It was not until the Son of God became incarnate in Jesus Christ that God chose to reveal the full truth about eternal life and immortality. Bringing them to light means making them known. That is our area of expertise. We know the immeasurable reality of eternal, immortal existence. That also is our joy and hope in Christ.
1:9–10 / In a fashion typical of these letters, Paul supports his point with a semicreedal formulation, which gives a brief, and not necessarily complete, expression of the gospel, which is at the same time particularly adapted to the concerns of the present argument (see disc. on Titus 2:11–14 and 3:4–7). In this case the emphases are particularly fitting for one whose gift needs “fanning into flame” and who is being urged “not to be ashamed of the gospel but to take his part in the suffering.” (All of vv. 8–11 in fact are a single sentence in Gk.)
Having noted that Timothy’s taking his part in suffering can only be accomplished “by the power of God,” Paul emphasizes that this is the same God who saved us and called us, and that this saving act resided in God’s own gracious purpose … before the beginning of time, but was revealed historically as an expression of grace … through the appearing of … Christ, whose work in this instance is defined as destroying death and revealing immortality. Thus he braces Timothy’s resolve by emphasizing God’s sovereign grace and purpose to render death inoperative, and by insisting that this revelation resides in the very gospel for which Timothy is to “take his part in suffering”!
The formulation begins with a common theme in the pe: It is “God” who has saved us (see disc. on 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3–4; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4–5). In a typically Pauline fashion, such salvation also constitutes our calling (see disc. on 1 Tim. 6:12; cf., e.g., 2 Thess. 2:13–14; 1 Cor. 1:9, 24, 26; Rom. 8:28–30). God both initiated and effected salvation. In this case the call is qualified as (literally) “a holy calling.” This is a Semitic construction whose meaning is not altogether certain. It could be a dative of means, “with a holy calling” (rsv, nasb), because it comes from a holy God. More likely it is a dative of interest, to a holy life (cf. esp. 1 Thess. 4:7) or “to be a holy people” (cf. neb; cf. “called to be saints” or “God’s holy people,” 1 Cor. 1:2, etc.).
As in Titus 3:5 and elsewhere in Paul (e.g., Eph. 2:8–9), God’s saving act is based not on what we have done, but on his own purpose and grace. This is a thoroughly Pauline way of saying it (cf. Rom. 8:28–30), as are the descriptions of that purpose and grace that follow—although the stating of them is a bit convoluted. God’s saving us, Paul says to Timothy, is predicated on his purpose and grace, both of which, not just his grace, find expression (were given us) in Christ Jesus. Because he is a God of grace, he purposed our salvation in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (cf. Titus 1:2), but only now has it been revealed through the appearing (epiphaneia; see disc. on Titus 2:11, 13; 3:4; cf. 1 Tim. 6:14) of our Savior, Christ Jesus (cf. Titus 1:4; 3:6). For this very Pauline view of things, see the discussion on Titus 1:2–3 (cf. 1 Cor. 2:7–10; Eph. 1:4).
Finally, and especially significantly for this context of bolstering Timothy’s resolve to take his share of the suffering, Paul describes the effect of this “manifestation”: He has destroyed death (“rendered death ineffectual,” Berkeley) and has brought life and immortality (lit., “life and incorruptibility,” cf. Rom. 2:7) to light. As usual in Paul, salvation has an eschatological outlook. But the immortality that is yet to be is in a sense already ours, because in his appearing (incarnation), and especially through the cross and resurrection, our last enemy, death, has already received its mortal wound. So his word to Timothy is plain: “Be steadfast; rekindle your gift; take your part in the suffering; for we are already among those who have overcome death through Christ.”
All of this has been brought to light, Paul notes, through the gospel; and just as the mention of “the power of God” at the end of verse 8 launched Paul into this creedlike statement of God’s saving activity, so now this mention of the gospel will, as often before, prompt him to restate his own role in proclaiming that gospel.
God’s Gospel (verses 9, 10)
It is striking to hear Paul pass at once from a reference to ‘the gospel’ to the central affirmation ‘God … saved us’. For it is really impossible to speak of the gospel without going on in the same breath to speak of salvation. The gospel is precisely this, good news of salvation, or good news ‘of our Saviour Christ Jesus’ (10). Ever since the glad tidings of great joy were first announced on Christmas Day in terms of the birth of ‘a Saviour who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk. 2:10, 11), the followers of Jesus have recognized its essential content. Paul himself never wavered. In Pisidian Antioch during the first missionary journey he referred to his gospel as ‘the message of this salvation’. In Philippi during the second missionary journey he and his companions were described as ‘servants of the Most High God, who proclaimed to you the way of salvation’. And writing to the Ephesians from Rome he called the word of truth ‘the gospel of your salvation’ (Acts 13:26; 16:17; Eph. 1:13).
So here, as Paul writes about the gospel, the terminology which he has made familiar recurs, namely that we are saved in Christ Jesus by God’s purpose, grace and call, and not by our own works. For he is expounding the same gospel in his last letter (2 Timothy) as he expounded in his first (Galatians). His gospel has not changed with the passing years. There is only one gospel of salvation. And although both words ‘gospel’ and ‘salvation’ need today to be translated into terms meaningful to modern man, we have no liberty to alter the substance of our message. As we come to look more closely at the concise statement of God’s gospel which he makes in these verses, we shall see that he indicates its character (what it is), its source (where it comes from) and its ground (on what it rests).
- The character of salvation
We need to bring together the three clauses which assert that he ‘saved us’, he ‘called us with a holy calling’ and he ‘brought life and immortality to light’. For these make it plain that salvation is far more than forgiveness. The God who ‘saved’ us also and simultaneously ‘called us with a holy calling’, i.e. ‘called us to be holy’ (jb). The Christian calling is a holy calling. When God calls a man to himself, he calls him to holiness also. Paul has laid much emphasis on this in his earlier letters. ‘God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness.’ For all of us are ‘called to be saints’, called to live as the holy, the separated people of God (1 Thes. 4:7; 1 Cor. 1:2). But if holiness is an integral part of God’s plan of salvation, so is the ‘immortality’ of which he writes in the following verse (10). Indeed, ‘forgiveness’, ‘holiness’ and ‘immortality’ are all three aspects of God’s great ‘salvation’.
The term ‘salvation’ urgently needs to be rescued from the mean and meagre concepts to which we tend to degrade it. ‘Salvation’ is a majestic word, denoting that comprehensive purpose of God by which he justifies, sanctifies and glorifies his people: first, pardoning our offences and accepting us as righteous in his sight through Christ, then progressively transforming us by his Spirit into the image of his Son, until finally we become like Christ in heaven, with new bodies in a new world. We must not minimize the greatness of ‘such a great salvation’ (Heb. 2:3).
Where does such a great salvation come from? Paul answers, ‘not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ ages ago’ (9). If we would trace the river of salvation to its source, we must look right back beyond time to a past eternity. The apostle’s actual words are ‘before eternal times’, an expression variously rendered ‘before the world began’ (av), ‘before time began’ (jbp) and ‘from all eternity’ (neb).
In order to put beyond question the truth that God’s predestination and election belong to eternity and not to time, Paul uses an aorist participle to indicate that God actually gave us something (dotheisan) from all eternity in Christ. What he gave us was ‘his own purpose and grace’, a hendiadys for ‘his own purpose of grace’. His saving purpose was not arbitrary, but gracious. It is plain, therefore, that the source of our salvation is not our own works. For God gave us his own purpose of grace in Christ before we did any good works, before we were born and could do any good works, indeed before history, before time, in eternity.
We have to confess that the doctrine of election is difficult to finite minds. But it is incontrovertibly a biblical doctrine. It emphasizes that salvation is due to God’s grace alone, not to man’s merit; not to our works performed in time, but to God’s purpose conceived in eternity, ‘that purpose’, as Bishop Ellicott expressed it, ‘which was suggested by nothing outward, but arose only from the innermost depths of the divine eudokia’. Or, in E. K. Simpson’s words, ‘the Lord’s choices have their unfathomable grounds, but they are not founded on the innate eligibility of the chosen’. Thus understood, God’s purpose of election is bound to be mysterious to men, for we cannot aspire to an understanding of the secret thoughts and decisions of the mind of God. However, the doctrine of election is never introduced in Scripture either to arouse or to baffle our carnal curiosity, but always for a practical purpose. On the one hand, it engenders deep humility and gratitude, for it excludes all boasting. On the other, it brings both peace and assurance, for nothing can quieten our fears for our own stability like the knowledge that our safety depends ultimately not on ourselves but on God’s own purpose of grace.
Our salvation rests firmly grounded upon the historical work performed by Jesus Christ at his first appearing. For though God ‘gave’ us his grace in Christ Jesus ‘before eternal times’, he ‘manifested’ it in time, ‘now’, through the appearing of the same Christ Jesus, our Saviour. Both divine stages were in and through Jesus Christ, but the giving was eternal and secret, while the manifesting was historical and public.
What, then, did Christ do when he appeared and proceeded to manifest God’s eternal purpose of grace? To this Paul gives in verse 10 a double answer. First, Jesus Christ ‘abolished death’. Secondly, he ‘brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’.
First, Christ abolished death.
‘Death’ is, in fact, the one word which summarizes our human predicament as a result of sin. For death is the ‘wage’ sin pays, its grim penalty (Rom. 6:23). And this is true of each form which death takes. For Scripture speaks of death in three ways. There is physical death, the separation of the soul from the body. There is spiritual death, the separation of the soul from God. And there is eternal death, the separation of both soul and body from God for ever. All are due to sin; they are sin’s terrible though just reward.
But Jesus Christ ‘abolished’ death. This cannot mean that he eliminated it, as we know from our everyday experience. Sinners are still ‘dead through the trespasses and sins’ in which they walk (Eph. 2:1, 2) until God makes them alive in Christ. All human beings die physically and will continue to do so, with the exception of the generation who are alive when Christ returns in glory. And some are going to die ‘the second death’, which is one of the fearful expressions used in the book of Revelation for hell (e.g. Rev. 20:14; 21:8). Indeed, Paul has written previously that the final abolition of death still lies in the future, as the last enemy of God to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). Not until the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead shall we be able to shout with joy ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:54; cf. Rev. 21:4).
What is triumphantly asserted in this verse by Paul is that at his first appearing Christ decisively ‘defeated’ or ‘overthrew’ death. The Greek verb katargeō is not in itself conclusive, for it can be used with a variety of meanings, which must be determined by the context. Nevertheless, its first and foremost meaning is “make ineffective, powerless, idle’ or ‘nullify’ (ag). So Paul can liken death to a scorpion whose sting has been drawn and to a military commander whose army has been defeated, and can cry out with defiance: ‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ (1 Cor. 15:55). For Christ ‘has broken the power of death’ (ag, neb).
It is surely significant that this same verb katargeō is used in the New Testament with reference to the devil and to our fallen nature as well as to death (Heb. 2:14; Rom. 6:6). Neither the devil, nor our fallen nature, nor death has been annihilated. But by the power of Christ the tyranny of each has been broken, so that if we are in Christ we can be set free.
Consider in particular how Christ has ‘abolished’ or ‘nullified’ death.
Physical death is no longer the grim ogre it once seemed to us and still seems to many whom Christ has not yet liberated. “Through fear of death’ they are ‘subject to lifelong bondage’ (Heb. 2:15). But for Christian believers death is simply ‘falling asleep’ in Christ. It is, in fact, a positive ‘gain’, because it is the gateway to being ‘with Christ’ which is ‘far better’. It is one of the possessions which become ‘ours’ when we are Christ’s (1 Thes. 4:14, 15; Phil. 1:21, 23; 1 Cor. 3:22, 23). It has been rendered so innocuous that Jesus could even state that the believer, though he dies, ‘shall never die’ (Jn. 11:25, 26). What is absolutely certain is that death will never be able to separate us from God’s love in Christ (Rom. 8:38, 39).
Spiritual death has, for Christian believers, given place to that eternal life which is communion with God begun on earth and perfected in heaven. Further, those who are in Christ will ‘not be hurt by the second death’, for they have already passed out of death into life (Rev. 2:11; Jn. 5:24; 1 Jn. 3:14).
Secondly, Christ brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
This is the positive counterpart. It is by his death and resurrection that Christ abolished death. It is through the gospel that he now reveals what he has done, and offers men the life and immortality which he has won for them. Whether we should distinguish between the words ‘life’ and ‘immortality’ is not clear. They may be synonymous, the second word defining the first. That is, the kind of life Christ has secured for us, and now discloses and offers through the gospel is eternal life, a life that is immortal and incorruptible. Only God possesses immortality in himself. But Christ gives it to men. Even our bodies after the resurrection will share in this immortality (1 Cor. 15:42, 52–54). So will the inheritance which we shall receive (1 Pet. 1:4). On the other hand, as C. K. Barrett writes: ‘possibly “life” refers to the new life made available in this world, “immortality” to its prolongation after death’.1 Whichever way we take the words, both are ‘revealed’ or ‘brought to light’ through the gospel. There are many hints in Old Testament Scripture about a life after death, and a few bright flashes of faith, but on the whole the Old Testament revelation was what Bishop Moule called a ‘comparative dusk’.2 Now, however, the gospel has thrown floods of light upon the offer of immortal life through Christ’s conquest of death.
In order to appreciate the full force of this Christian affirmation, we need to call to mind who it is who is making it. Who is this who writes so confidently about life and death, about the abolition of death and the revelation of life? It is one who is facing the prospect of imminent death himself. Any day now he expects to receive the death sentence. Already the final summons is ringing in his ears. Already he can see in his imagination the flash of the executioner’s sword. And yet, in the very presence of death, he can shout aloud: ‘Christ has abolished death’. This is Christian faith triumphant!
How one longs for the contemporary church to recover its lost certainty about the victory of Jesus Christ and to declare this good news to a world for whom death is the great unmentionable. The Observer magazine devoted a whole issue to death in October 1968 and commented: ‘Far from being prepared for death, modern society has made the very word almost unmentionable … we have brought all our talents into use to avoid the prospect of dying—and when the time comes we may react with anything from excessive triviality to total despair.’
One of the most searching tests to apply to any religion concerns its attitude to death. And measured by this test much so-called Christianity is found wanting with its black clothes, its mournful chants and its requiem masses. Of course dying can be very unpleasant, and bereavement can bring bitter sorrow. But death itself has been overthrown, and ‘blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’ (Rev. 14:13). The proper epitaph to write for a Christian believer is not a dismal and uncertain petition, ‘R.I.P.’ (requiescat in pace, ‘may he rest in peace’), but a joyful and certain affirmation ‘C.A.D.’ (‘Christ abolished death’) or—if you prefer the classical languages—its Greek or Latin equivalent!
Such, then, is the salvation which is offered us in the gospel and which is ours in Christ. Its character is man’s re-creation and transformation into the holiness of Christ here and hereafter. Its source is God’s eternal purpose of grace. Its ground is Christ’s historical appearing and abolition of death.
Putting these great truths together, we seem to detect five stages by which God’s saving purpose unfolds. The first is the eternal gift to us in Christ of his grace. The second is the historical appearing of Christ to abolish death by his death and resurrection. The third is the personal call of God to sinners through the preaching of the gospel. The fourth is the moral sanctification of believers by the Holy Spirit. And the fifth is the final heavenly perfection in which the holy calling is consummated.
The sweep of God’s purpose of grace is majestic indeed, as Paul traces it from a past eternity through a historical outworking in Jesus Christ and in the Christian to an ultimate destiny with Christ and like Christ in a future immortality. Is it not truly wonderful that, although Paul’s body is confined within the narrow limits of an underground cell, his heart and mind can thus soar into eternity?
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 22–24). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 229–230). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (pp. 34–40). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.