Your Biography is Already Written

Tom Pennington 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14


Over the last 30 years or so it has become increasingly popular, for people who are still in their 20s and 30s and yet have achieved some degree of notoriety or fame, to write their autobiography. But I read this week about what has to be a new record. On August 10th, the Houston Press reported that 16-year-old pop singer, Justin Bieber, is finishing up his first autobiography. Is it just me or is 16 a little early to write your autobiography? Usually, a biography comes at the end of one's life and career, not the beginning, and it tells the whole story.

But as I thought about that this week, it occurred to me that if you are a Christian, regardless of how old you are, your biography has already been written. There are several places in the New Testament to which I could turn to see that biography sort of spelled out by the authors of the New Testament. But this morning, as we prepare our hearts for communion, I want to invite you to turn with me to 2 Thessalonians 2. 2 Thessalonians 2 and a passage that's maybe not as familiar to you but every bit as remarkable as the ones that are.

Let's look at it together. 2 Thessalonians 2, beginning in verse 13: "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. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word."

I want us this morning to really focus our attention on verses 13 and 14. But before we look at them, let me remind you of the context of those remarkable words. The Christians in Thessalonika were worried. They were worried about their future. They were worried because false teachers had come along and told them that the rapture Paul had described in 1 Thessalonians 4, the first letter they had received from Paul, had in fact already occurred and that the day of the Lord, the day of God's wrath against the earth, had begun. And they were confused and shaken, disturbed by this news. And so, Paul writes to encourage them and to comfort them.

He begins in chapter 2, here, by giving them a little lesson in eschatology, by telling them it can't be true that the day of the Lord has already come, because there's something else that has to happen first. A character called the "man of sin" has to come into the world and begin to express his rebellion against God. And Paul describes that in detail. So, he says, "Listen, it can't be true because that man of sin has not yet been revealed and the way he's described in Scripture - all of that has not yet come to fruition."

But then he moves on to a second encouragement, a second way to establish them in their faith. He says not only is it true that the eschatology isn't right for this to have happened, but it can't be true because of what God has destined you for. "Your future is certain", Paul says. "You don't need to fear." In fact, he tells them God has already written your biography.

But God's biography of your life is different than other biographies. You know, when most men and women write biographies or autobiographies, they focus on the circumstances that make our lives unique. They tell their unique story. But those life circumstances that make each of us unique are not the truly important ones. In fact, those unique circumstances are absolutely irrelevant to God. To God, the issues that are important in our lives are the ones we all share in common as Christians.

And here in 2 Thessalonians 2, to encourage the believers in the church in Thessalonika, Paul gives them a glimpse of their own spiritual biography. It's already written. And so is ours. We share the same biography with these first century Christians. It's very brief because, in God's biography of our lives, there are really only three great events, three great chapters that are important. I want us, as we prepare our hearts for communion, to consider those three great chapters in every Christian's spiritual biography.

The first chapter we could in title, "Chosen in Eternity Past". Chosen in eternity past. Look at verse 13: "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." Paul says here that he and Timothy and Silas, who were with him and whom he addresses at the beginning of the letter - they all thank God for the Christians in the church in Thessalonika. Why? "Because God has chosen you from the beginning". That is, God chose you before time. It's what he says to the Ephesians in Ephesians 1:4 when he says, "just as He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world..."

He's talking about election. Election is simply the biblical doctrine that, in eternity past, God chose those whom He would save. And that choice was completely unconditional, that is, there was nothing in you or in me that occasioned His choice. His choice had nothing to do with anything He saw in you or anything He saw in me. Like the Israelites of old, He loved us, as He says in Deuteronomy 7 because He loved us. That's the explanation. It's in Him. The reason is in Him.

Now, I preached six messages on election when we studied Ephesians 1:4 because of the controversial nature of that doctrine. If you're new to our church, you're uncertain about the doctrine of election, I encourage you to get the CD's or to go online and listen. But my goal this morning is not to defend election. It's rather to do what Paul does here, and that is to apply it.

Did you notice how Paul identified those whom God has chosen in verse 13? He says, "brethren, beloved by the Lord". The word "Lord" there a reference to Jesus Christ. Here's how it works. The Father loved you. He set His love upon you and chose you. And then He gave you to His Son as an expression of His love to His Son, as a love gift to His Son. And because of that, now the Son loves you as well. And He loves you so much that He came into the world and became one of us and offered Himself up for us. He died for us.

Believer, just meditate on this reality for a moment. Think about this profound truth. God, the Almighty, eternal being, the Creator of the ends of the earth and the universe has chosen, because of absolutely nothing in you, to set His love upon you - individually, personally, by name. And if you want proof of His love, just look at what He did when He chose you to be His own. You and I were totally unable to do anything to please God. We were unable to move toward God. We didn't fear God. We were, as we read this morning from Romans 3, constantly falling short of the standard of God's glory. And yet, He set His love upon us. I love that because it means we can be secure in God's love. If I didn't have anything to do with why He loved me to begin with, then I won't change it either. We can be secure in God's love because we were never the cause. The cause is in God Himself, in His sovereign purpose and in His unparalleled love.

And then, Christian, think for a moment about Christ's love for you. He, too, embraced you as the Father gave you to Him. And He entered this world. He became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, as Isaiah said. And He laid down His life for you as Romans 5 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." When you hated God, when you rebelled against God, when you lived your life your way, Christ died for you.

But why? Why did the Father choose us? To what end? Look at verse 13 again. It says, "God has chosen you from the beginning", that is, from eternity past for salvation, for our spiritual rescue. Question is: from what? To rescue us from, what? To save us from, what? Well, we could say from sin. We could say from sin and all of its results and that would be true. But here, in both of his letters to the church in Thessalonika, he especially emphasizes that God saves us or rescues us from His own angry punishment against sin. People don't like to think of God that way. But it doesn't matter. That's how God has revealed Himself. God is not only love and gracious, He... loving and gracious... He is also just, and He insists on obedience. And where there is disobedience, there is wrath and punishment.

Look over at 1 Thessalonians 1. 1 Thessalonians 1:9. Paul rehearses what happened with the Thessalonians when he came. He said, " turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus..." Now, watch how he describes Jesus at the end of verse 10: "...who rescues us from the wrath to come." Jesus is the One who rescues believing sinners from the wrath of God that is coming.

You know, that's really a frightening picture because basically it pictures God as being patient and patient and patient, appearing to put up with and tolerate sin. People who live in our world - they think God really doesn't care. They think God is never going to intervene. He's never going to do anything. They can live however they want and there's no repercussion, there's no punishment, there's no wrath. But God says, "The wrath is coming. It's as certain as tomorrow. It is coming." It's like God is storing up His righteous anger against man's sin and, someday, it will burst forth with all of its fury. But Jesus is the One who rescues us from the wrath that is to come.

You see it in chapter 5:9. Paul says, "For God has not destined us for wrath..." We're not going - those of us who've believed in Christ are not going to experience His wrath, but He's destined us "for obtaining salvation [rescue] through our Lord Jesus Christ." We'll be rescued from that wrath.

Look at 2 Thessalonians 1:7. Paul says the Lord Jesus is someday going to return and He "will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power..." But His saints will enjoy His comfort. God chose to rescue us, or let me put it differently, God chose us to rescue us from His own wrath against our sins.

Now, what results from that rescue? When God spiritually rescues you, when He moves you from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, what happens? Look at verse 13 again: "...for salvation through [literally, in] sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth." Those are two great results of salvation. When God saves a person, when He rescues a person from sin and its results, this happens.

And it's a contrast with the unbelievers found back in verse 12. Look at how He describes unbelievers in verse 12: those who will "be judged". And he describes them in two ways: they "did not believe the truth" and they "took pleasure in wickedness". He's talking about those at the end times, but it's true of all unbelievers of all times. They will be judged because they did not believe the truth and they took pleasure in wickedness. They rejected the gospel, they rejected Christ, and they took joy or pleasure in wickedness.

But notice the contrast in verse 13. In true salvation, there is a change in our character. Whereas before we took pleasure in wickedness, now the Holy Spirit begins to make us personally holy. You notice verse 13, "through sanctification by the Spirit". Instead of taking pleasure in wickedness, now, we're made progressively more holy by the Spirit.

There's also a change in our response to truth. Before, verse 12 says, "[we] did not believe the truth". In fact, verse 10 says we were deceived by Satan, "[we] didn't receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." That's true of all unbelievers. But when God intervenes, there's a change in our response to the truth. The Holy Spirit grants us true faith to believe. And from that point on, we receive the truth. Notice the end of verse 13, "faith in the truth".

This is what God does when He rescues us. He changes our character, He makes us progressively more holy, and He changes our response to the truth. Whereas before, we would not receive it. We rejected it. Now, we love it, and we believe it. The first chapter in our spiritual biography is that, in eternity past, God the Father chose to set His love upon us. And He decided to rescue us from His own wrath against our sins. Paul tells the Christians there in Thessalonika to be encouraged. God loves you and He demonstrated that love by choosing you for salvation.

Now, how did Paul know that they were chosen? How do we know that we're chosen? Look back at 1 Thessalonians 1. He tells us. 1 Thessalonians 1:4. He says, "knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you..." How did Paul know that? How did Paul know God had chosen those Christians in Thessalonika? Well, He explains. Look at verse 5: "for [because here's how I know] our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." You were fully convicted and fully brought to truth, to the faith of believing that gospel, conviction that it's true. And it bore fruit in your life. Notice: "You also became imitators of us [verse 6] and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers..." It changed their lives. They received the word of the gospel in such a way that it changed who they were. They turned (verse 9 and 10) from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. It revolutionized their lives and, therefore, it was clear they had been chosen.

Look over in chapter 2:13. He sort of embellishes this a bit: "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us [the gospel], you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus [that are scattered around] ..." "It changed your life. You believed it. And you believed it in such a way that you trusted it with your very life, and you obeyed it, and you responded to it. And that's how I know you're chosen", Paul says.

That's how we can know if we're elect. I love the way Charles Spurgeon puts it. He says, "Many people want to know their election before they look to Christ. But they cannot learn it thus. It is only to be discovered by looking unto Jesus. Look to Jesus. Believe on Him and you shall make proof of your election directly. For as surely as you believe, you are elect. If you will give yourself wholly up to Christ and trust Him, then you are one of God's chosen ones. Go to Jesus just as you are. Go straight to Christ. Hide in His wounds and you shall know your election. Christ was at the everlasting counsel. He can tell you whether you were chosen or not, but you cannot find out in any other way. Go put your trust in Him. There will be no doubt about His having chosen you, when you have chosen Him." So, the first chapter of our spiritual biography is that we were chosen in eternity past.

The second chapter is that we were rescued in time. Rescued in time. Verse 14: "...He called you through our gospel..." Election happened in eternity past, but it began to bear fruit in your life when at some point God called you through the gospel. Now, both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated "call" or "to call" are used in two distinct theological senses. On the one hand, the word call is used of an invitation to salvation. On the other hand, it's used of God's work in actually drawing people into a saving relationship with Himself. So, an invitation and God's drawing sinners to Himself. So, there are two different kinds of calls or calling. Theologians define them as the general call and the effectual call.

The general call is simply the proclamation of the gospel. Whenever a sinner encounters the gospel, whether he hears it, whether he reads it, whenever a sinner encounters the gospel, God is issuing a general call to that person to believe. In fact, the gospel is a command, isn't it? Repent and believe the gospel! It's a universal invitation. But it can be, in fact often is, rejected. A lot of people hear the gospel and say, "No, thanks!" That's the general call.

But there's also a second kind of call in the Scripture, theologians call the effectual call. That is, it is effectual. It accomplishes something. It effects something. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, describes the effectual call in this way: "It is an act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which He summons people to Himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith."

You want to see a picture of this effectual call? Look at Lydia in Acts 16. Act 16, and notice verse 14. This is the first convert in Europe. "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening [to Paul. There's the general call. As she heard the gospel, there was a general call. Everybody else sitting there heard it too. But there's something more in her case]; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." There's the effectual call. God was in the gospel Paul preached that day. And to many of the people listening, there was a general call but to Lydia, it was effectual. It actually drew her to the Lord.

Everybody called in this way will be saved, will be justified. In Romans 8, you remember, Paul says in verse 29 and verse 30 that "these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified..." Everyone called in this effectual sense will be justified.

There's a very helpful picture of what this effectual call looks like in one of the Greek words that's used to describe it. It's a Greek word found in John 6:44 - familiar passage. Our Lord says in John 6:44, "No one can come to Me [for salvation] unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." That word "draw" is a very interesting word. It's a word that's used eight times in the New Testament. It literally means to compel by irresistible force - unless the Father compels him by irresistible force. In fact, sometimes this word is translated drag. For example, in Acts 16:19: "But when her masters [of the little slave girl who told fortunes there in Philippi] saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged [there's our word draw. They dragged] them into the market place before the authorities..." Same word is used in James 2:8 (he meant James 2:6): the rich "drag you into court".

So, the meaning of John 6:44 is clear. No human being has the power or ability to approach Jesus for salvation unless - it happens only when the Father draws him, when the Father irresistibly compels him to come. That doesn't mean God drags you kicking and screaming to salvation. It means that He makes you willing to come. He makes you want to come. He changes your desires.

Unregenerate people are spiritually dead. They cannot submit to God. And so, it's understandable that a sinner who hears the gospel thinks, "Oh, wow! I'm ready to be out of here. This is irrelevant. This is boring. I don't need to hear this."

But sometimes, when such a person hears the message, something miraculous happens. Robert Grudem (he meant Robert Reymond) describes it this way: "Mysteriously, imperceptibly, he no longer hears simply the voice of the preacher. Instead, what he now hears is also the voice of God, summoning him into fellowship with His Son, and he responds to Christ in faith." Reymond says, "What happened? The Scriptures would say that God had effectually called an elect sinner to Himself."

Look back in 2 Thessalonians 2. Who calls? Notice, "He [that is, God the Father] called you..." And what means does God use for this calling? "He called you through our gospel". Why did He need to call us? He needed to call us to rescue us, to bring the spiritual rescue for which He chose us in verse 13.

Listen, if you're a Christian, this happened to you. The circumstances in each of our case may be unique. But somehow you heard or read the gospel. Maybe you'd heard it many times before but that day, God was in that gospel message calling you, drawing you irresistibly to Himself. And, at that moment, He rescued you. He gave you spiritual life. He produced genuine repentance and faith in your heart. He forgave your sin. He declared you forever righteous with Him. And He began the process of making you holy.

Maybe, as you sit here this morning, that's never happened to you. Listen, it can happen this morning. It may be that, as you hear the gospel this morning, God the Father is in that presentation of the gospel calling you to Himself. When you hear the fact that He is a righteous Creator who made you and made all things and has every right to tell you what to do, but you, like every other person, have rebelled against God your Creator. You've lived your own way. You've done it -what you want to do. And that sin, as the Bible calls it, deserves God's wrath and it is coming, as we read just a few minutes ago. You will someday stand before God and answer for how you have rebelled against Him. But God is not only righteous and just, He's also loving and gracious. And because He loves sinners, He sent His Son into the world to live a perfect life, to live the life you should have lived. And then to die, suffering His wrath against the sin of every sinner who would ever believe. But it doesn't stop there. God raised Him from the dead. And all of that doesn't become yours just because you hear it. It doesn't become yours just because you give some mental assent to it and say, "Yeah, I think that's true." It becomes yours when you respond and you have to respond by repenting and believing, turning from everything you know to be sin, and embracing Jesus Christ. Maybe you've heard that many times before. But this morning, even as I share it, God the Father is in those words, in the gospel drawing, you to Himself, making you willing, desirous of coming.

If you're a Christian, the first chapter of your spiritual biography is chosen in eternity past. The second chapter is rescued in time. The third chapter in our shared spiritual biography is that we were prepared for eternal glory. Look at verse 14: "It was for this He called you through our gospel [for what?], that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Listen, God chose us in eternity past. He rescued us in time. But that's not the end of the plan. There's another chapter in your biography that you haven't lived yet. Paul says here's the reason He called you through our gospel, and it wasn't about this life. It wasn't so you could have a better life now.

Listen, there are many Christians who live horrible lives of suffering and difficulty and trouble and persecution in this life, who live out hard circumstances and trials. God's purpose in choosing you and calling you and rescuing you wasn't just about this life. It was so that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul says. What does that mean? It means the splendor and honor that currently belong to Jesus Christ, someday, we will share with Him.

Let me be more specific. It means that we will share the glory of Jesus' kingdom. Look at 1 Thessalonians 2. 1 Thessalonians 2:12. Paul pleads with us and with the Thessalonians: "so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you [and what does God call us into?] into His own kingdom and glory." Or, we could say into His glorious kingdom. Listen. You have been chosen by God. You have been rescued by God. Not only so that you can be a part of Christ's kingdom here and now, but so that you can be a part of His glorious kingdom in eternity.

We will also share the glory of His perfect character. Not only His glorious kingdom, but His perfect character. Look at 2 Thessalonians 1:10. Remember when He comes, He's going to deal out judgment on unbelievers. But notice verse 10: "when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day..." How? He'll be glorified because, when we see him, John tells us, we will what? Be like him. We'll be like Him. He will be glorified in us because we will now bear the imprint of His own moral character.

Listen, you'll still have your own personality. But your person, your personality, will bear the imprint of the perfect moral character of Jesus Christ and that will bring Him glory. We will all be little reflections of His glory throughout eternity. We'll be like little mirrors reflecting the brightness of the sun and that will bring glory to our Lord.

We'll share the glory of His kingdom, we'll share the glory of His perfect character, and, lastly, we'll share the glory of a new body that's just like His. Look at Philippians 3:21. Start in verse 20. Paul says, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." Listen, we have been rescued, we have been chosen to bear the glory of even the body of Christ. We will have a glorified body like His body. We will share in His glory, the glory of His kingdom, the glory of His perfect character, and the glory of a new body that's just like His. Amazing!

That's what we were prepared for. Not for this life. This life is a wonderful gift. But it's just the front porch of eternity. It's just the prologue to the real story. The real chapter is still in the future. We were prepared for eternal glory. Those are the three chapters of our spiritual biography - chosen in eternity past, rescued in time, prepared for eternal glory. Those are the three great events from God's perspective. And, together, they are our spiritual biography.

So, briefly, what are the implications of knowing that? What are the implications of understanding that the end has already been written? Number one: give thanks to God. Look at verse 13. That's what Paul did for the believers there in Thessalonica: "But we should always give thanks to God for you... because..." Listen, you should give thanks to God for these things being true of you. You should give thanks to God for these things being true of the believers around you. Give thanks to God.

Number two: don't fear the future. The Thessalonian believers were fearing the future because they were all worried. "Oh no, what if we're going to face God's wrath? What if we're in the day of the Lord?" And Paul says, "Not going to happen!" The last chapter has been written and that chapter says you will share in His glory. Listen, don't lose heart. Whatever your circumstances here may be, however difficult they might be, God has already written your biography. And the final chapter shows you sharing the glory of our Lord in His presence.

Number three: stand firm in God's revealed word. Don't be shaken. Look at verse 15: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught..." Of course, for those believers, they heard from Paul both by mouth and by letter. For us, just by letter, just by the New Testament. He's saying hold on to what you've been taught by the apostles of Christ. Stand firm in that. Don't be moved from that. Hold on to the promises that are given to us. It's going to happen.

And, finally, pray. Pray that knowing your spiritual biography will strengthen you to live out the Christian life here. Look at verses 16 and 17: "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word." Pray that God would take the knowledge of your spiritual biography and give you staying power to do the right thing, to speak the right thing, share the gospel, live out the life of Christ here. When you sin, confess that sin, and deal with it. And keep marching on in the sanctification of the Spirit and faith in the truth because the last chapter has been written and you will share His glory.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are overwhelmed by Your goodness to us. We're overwhelmed by Your grace. Lord, to think that You would set Your love upon us in eternity past, before there was the universe, before there was anything but You, You thought of us by name, and You chose us for Yourself. You gave us to Your Son as an eternal love gift and He loved us and loved us so much that He came to give Himself for us, to purchase our redemption. Father, we thank You that in our lives, when we were dead to You and dead in sin and trespasses, You called us through the gospel. You drew us irresistibly toward You as we heard that gospel message and we believed because of Your work in our hearts, and You gave us new life. Father, we thank You that this isn't all there is but that You have prepared us for eternal glory. Lord, help us to lift our eyes from our circumstances here, whether they're good or whether they're hard. Help us instead, Father, to anticipate the day when we will share His glory. Thank You that all of that's made possible by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ that we celebrate even in the Lord's table now. Seal it to our hearts, oh God. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen!