Elect by God—and Responsible to Him

Elect by God—and Responsible to Him

I think that one of the most difficult doctrines for us to understand is that of election or of why it is that some are chosen by God for salvation in his Son—and some are not. And though I would love to say that this morning I’ll be presenting the solution to the mystery of election, I’m afraid I won’t. Instead my focus will be on what I believe Paul presents here to be the proper attitude we’re to have towards election, both ours and that of others.

As we noted last week, in this epistle Paul seeks to fan into flame Timothy’s faith, encouraging him to be bold in his service to Christ.[1] In this second chapter as well Paul is doing his level best to ground and buoy the faith of his dear spiritual son in some of the fundamental teachings of the gospel, telling him in verse 3, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” After some further words of admonition, Paul turns to the heart of his teaching beginning in verse 8. Once again, as was true in chapter 1, Paul makes clear that the focus of believers should ever and always be Jesus. He begins by telling Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.” Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, is what sets Christianity apart from every other religious belief system. For all other religious founders, when they died, remained dead. But only God in Christ, eternal Son of the eternal Father co-existing with the eternal Holy Spirit, was able to conquer death for he is life itself.[2] As God, Christ is life. Therefore death has no hold on him.

But this second member of the Trinity, knowing that his image-bearers would turn from him, determined before the creation of the world and in agreement with the Father and Holy Spirit, to enter that creation and save it by taking on human form in the person of Jesus. Notice how Paul goes on to acknowledge this point as well. After telling Timothy to remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, he adds “descended from David.” King David, being human, had human descendants. And Jesus was one of them. Both Matthew and Luke note this in recording Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew opens his gospel by tracing it back to Abraham stating, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:”[3] Luke goes even further tracing Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to “the son of Adam, the son of God.”[4] This mystery of our Savior and Lord being fully God—he is the eternal Christ or Messiah; and fully human—he is a descendant of Adam and David and was supernaturally and miraculously born by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit upon the virgin Mary,[5] is a key part of our confession as believers. For as one who was fully human, Christ Jesus was able to become our substitute and take our place on the cross; as one who was fully God, he was able to conquer death by means of his eternal life.

After asserting Jesus Christ’s full divinity and full humanity, Paul states starting at the end of verse 8, “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.” Isn’t it extraordinary to consider that the reason Paul was persecuted, “chained like a criminal,” was due to his proclaiming that God came to earth in the person of his Son, Christ Jesus, in order to save humanity from sin, the devil, death, and everything else that harms us?! You would think that humanity’s response to such wonderful news would be, “Hallelujah! Our God and Maker has provided a way for us to be reconciled to him so that we can know and love him and each other as he intended instead of being filled with indifference or hate.” And though there are certainly those who do respond in this manner, the mystery is why some do not and why others even go so far as to persecute God’s messengers as they did his prophets and his apostles. As we noted last week, Paul wrote this letter to Timothy from prison. And in 2 Corinthians 11 we find but one place in which Paul testifies to the suffering he has undergone for the sake of Christ:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?[6]

Paul endured all of these things for the “crime” of telling others about God who loved them so much that he entered this world of suffering in order to deliver and save us from it. And as a result of sharing the good news of God in Christ, he was now again suffering to the point of being “chained like a criminal” (verse 9).

Paul next goes on to turn a phrase when he states that though he may be “chained like a criminal,” “God’s word is not chained.” God’s Word is not chained for it cannot be held down by chains or anything else. Once it’s out, it begins to do its work by means of the Holy Spirit who blows where he wills.[7] In noting that God’s word isn’t chained Paul is echoing here what the prophet Isaiah also taught,

“…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.[8]

God’s word is not chained; it will not return empty; it will accomplish what our Lord desires and achieve the purposes for which he sends it forth. Therefore we, like Paul, are called to share that word with others that his Holy Spirit might work.

Having addressed the primacy of Christ and the primacy of his Word, in verse 10 Paul turns to those for whom Christ came and for whom his Word has become efficacious. He turns to those for whom his Word has accomplished the end for which it’s been unchained—namely the salvation of God’s elect: “Therefore,” Paul states, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” Now I have to pause here and ask: Does this statement strike you as being a bit odd? If Paul endured “everything for the sake of the elect,” that is, for those who are chosen for salvation, then why does he go on to say “that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus,….” In other words, the “may” makes it sound as though their election might not be sure or certain. How can both be the case?

I think that part of the answer lies in Paul’s deep desire to be used by our Lord Jesus to accomplish his purposes of salvation. For though God certainly knows those who are his elect; though God certainly knows who will respond to Christ’s Gospel of salvation, we do not. If we consider Paul’s own situation, who would have ever thought that someone who was actively persecuting and imprisoning Christians, followers of Jesus, would end up being part of God’s elect? Certainly those who knew him at the time didn’t. When those in Damascus heard him preaching in the synagogues after coming to faith in Christ, Luke states, “21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” Against all human expectations dear Saul, later to become Paul, turned out to be part of God’s elect.

And he understood that his election in and by Christ Jesus meant that God calls us to share his Gospel with all who will hear. For not having God’s omniscience; not being all-knowing as God is, we simply cannot know who will—or will not—respond to Christ’s offer of salvation. Therefore we’re called to bear witness to all concerning who he is in the hope that God’s Holy Spirit might quicken their spirit, might bring their spirits from death to spiritual life in Christ, as a result of our testimony, teaching, and living according to God’s Word and truth. And for Paul, any suffering that occurred as a result of his being Christ’s herald was worth it.[9] For no suffering is too great if it leads to the salvation of those for whom Jesus Christ died “with eternal glory,” that is, with the glory that will ever be ours in heaven.

As we noted last week, Paul knows Christ Jesus in whom he’s believed.[10] As he goes on to reflect here starting in verse 11, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;” This isn’t pious feel-good rhetoric. This is Christianity 101. As Paul writes in chapter 6 of Romans, “…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”[11] To believe in Christ is to die to our old sinful selves and, in union with him, to rise to our new holy selves. Again, Paul is not only writing this letter to Timothy from prison but he is also facing his own imminent death.[12] Yet Paul knows that our eternal life begins the moment we profess faith in Jesus Christ, eternal Son of the eternal heavenly Father, who, at the moment we give our lives over to him, seals and indwells us with his eternal Holy Spirit. At the moment we believe in Christ, we are united with him who is life itself, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is why we won’t experience death, even when we die. This is why Paul proclaims, “If we died with him, we will also live with him.” This is why Paul was so ready to meet his Savior and Lord.

In verse 12 we find part “b” of this “trustworthy saying” in a call for believers in and followers of Christ Jesus to persevere: “if we endure, we will also reign with him.” Coming to faith in Christ isn’t a one-time affair. Though many may remember the year and perhaps even the date they came to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus—my “spiritual” birthday is May 20, 1979!—our relationship with Christ is just that: a relationship. We don’t simply meet him and walk away, returning to our old way of life, never to think of him again. No, we meet him. And commit our lives to him. And daily take up our cross and follow him.[13] For he is the reason we are alive. He is the reason our earthly lives will continue once we die. Therefore we’re called to endure the challenges and trials we come across this side of heaven. And one of the rewards for doing so will be that of reigning with him. As the risen Christ revealed to John in his Revelation, “21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”[14] Or, as the trustworthy saying states, “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

Yet Paul goes on to provide a warning in “part c” of the “trustworthy saying”: “If we disown him, he will also disown us.” What Paul states here is reminiscent of what he exhorted Timothy in chapter 1: “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”[15] And as we saw, Paul himself went on to testify later in the same chapter, “11 …of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”[16] Not being ashamed of Christ and his Gospel is so very important for us. It’s a constant theme and exhortation for Paul. In the very first chapter of his letter to Romans he similarly testifies, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”[17] We must never disown Christ or his Gospel but are called to walk with him daily. For Paul to say, “If we disown him, he will also disown us” is a word of warning to believers against apostasy or the renunciation of Christ. It’s an exhortation to guard the pearl of great price which is the Kingdom of God[18] whose treasure can only be found in Jesus Christ.

But I think Paul may additionally be pointing out here that Christ is the only way of salvation to our heavenly Father.[19] Jesus used these very words of himself. After encouraging his followers to remember that not a sparrow will fall to the ground outside of our Father’s care and that even the hairs of our head our numbered therefore we needn’t be afraid since we are worth more than many sparrows,[20] he went on to state, “32 Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”[21] Therefore Paul’s point here may be that those who don’t acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord won’t be welcomed into God’s eternal family in heaven. The admission price into heaven is confessing our need and turning to the only one who is the gate for the salvation of the sheep.[22] And this is what drives Paul to proclaim the Gospel, that both Jew and Gentile might come to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. For those who reject him—those who disown him—will be disowned by God.

Finally, in verse 13, we’re provided with “part d” of the “trustworthy saying,” namely, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” With this I’m reminded of the father whose son was possessed by a spirit that robbed him of his speech, threw him into convulsions, and attempted to kill him. Upon bringing Jesus his suffering son the father asked him, “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” When Jesus responded, “Everything is possible for one who believes,” we’re told, “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” Jesus then commanded the spirit to leave the boy “and never enter him again.”[23] It’s important for us to distinguish between having doubt or going through a time of rebellion from flat-out disowning Christ Jesus altogether. To have doubt is natural and will not keep us out of heaven. As Jesus said to dear doubting Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”[24] We are part of those who have not seen—and yet have believed. And as those who have not seen, we, too, may have doubt at times. Yet when we do, we would do well to remember that the faithfulness of our heavenly Father, who remains faithful and cannot disown himself, means that as in the story of the prodigal son, even if we turn away for a time and squander our lives, the minute, the second, the moment we return home, our gracious Father in heaven will come running to us with joy and celebration because having been dead, we are again alive; having been lost, we are again found.[25] For “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”[26] Ultimately since God seals[27] and indwells[28] those who are his with his eternal Holy Spirit, nothing can separate us from his love.[29] “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” He cannot disown us.

And though this is true, this shouldn’t lead us to complacency. We must never take for granted the sacrifice God has made in and through Jesus Christ in order to save us. Our Lord Jesus’ sacrifice should result in our seeking to lead lives worthy of his amazing sacrifice. This is why Paul goes on to exhort Timothy in verse 14, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things.” God’s people need to be reminded often for we are a forgetful people. Isn’t this why we join together each week to worship our great and merciful Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Don’t we need regular reminders of his goodness and love? Don’t we need regular reminders that we are not our own but were made to know, love, and serve him and each other as well?

Additionally Paul goes on to say to Timothy, “Warn them”—that is other believers—“before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” A running theme throughout this letter is that certain ones who professed to follow Christ have turned away and are leading others astray in the process.[30] This is why Paul tells Timothy in the verses following our passage, “16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” As followers of Jesus let us use words to encourage and admonish others, not ruin and lead them astray.

Positively, Paul exhorts his beloved spiritual son in verse 15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” This is a charge we would all do well to heed:

to do our best to present ourselves to God as one approved;

one who has no need to be ashamed;

one who has correctly handled God’s Word, the word of truth.

Again, isn’t this why we gather each week for worship? To learn what God has disclosed in his Word? To encourage and help each other to heed and live out that Word? To discern God’s truth in his written Word by the guidance of his indwelling Spirit and the wisdom that exists within his body?

Dear brothers and sisters, as those who are elect by God, chosen before the creation of the earth,[31] we like Paul are called to “endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (verse 10). The attitude we’re called to have towards our election is gratitude for our relationship with our gracious and loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the attitude we’re called to have towards others is vigilance and perseverance that our kind Lord might use even us to point them to our Lord and Savior “Christ Jesus, raised from the dead, descended from David” (verse 8) to whom be all praise, glory, and honor now and forevermore.

Let us pray.

[1] See 2 Timothy 1:6–7:For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

[2] Luke 20:37–38: 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”; Mark 12:26–27: 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” [Luke and Mark are referencing Exodus 3:1–6: 1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.;John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

[3] Matthew 1:1.

[4] Luke 3:38b.

[5] Luke 1:30–35: 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

[6] 2 Corinthians 11:23b–29.

[7] This is another turn of phrase (the Greek word for spirit, πνεῦμα, -ματος, τό, may also be translated as wind) used by Jesus in John 3:7–8, 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

[8] Isaiah 55:8–11.

[9] 2 Timothy 1:11-12a: 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am.

[10] 1 Timothy 1:12b: I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

[11] Romans 6:3–4.

[12] See 2 Timothy 4:6: For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.

[13] Stated positively: Matthew 16:24–25: 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it./Luke 9:23–24: 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.; and negatively: Matthew 10:38: Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me/Luke 14:27: And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

[14] Revelation 3:21–22. See also Revelation 5:10: You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”; Revelation 22:5:There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

[15] 2 Timothy 1:8.

[16] 2 Timothy 1:11–12.

[17] Romans 1:16.

[18] Matthew 13:45–46: 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

[19] Again, as Jesus proclaims in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

[20] Matthew 10:29–31.

[21] Matthew 10:32–33.

[22] John 10:7–9:…Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

[23] This account is found in Mark 9:14–29.

[24] John 20:29.

[25] This parable may be found in Luke 15:11–32 along with the parables of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7) and lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) which make similar points.

[26] Luke 15:7 concerning the lost sheep; See also Luke 15:10 concerning the lost coin: “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

[27] Ephesians 1:13–14: 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

[28] 2 Timothy 1:14: Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

[29] See Romans 8:38: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[30] For example, 2 Timothy 1:15: You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

[31] Ephesians 1:3–6: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.