by Mike Ratliff
6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:6-11 (NASB)
Earlier this week I listened to John MacArthur’s Sunday Morning sermon. In it he talked about the necessity of preaching the law and gospel and how not being obedient to this is being disobedient to the Great Commission and actually creates churches full of false believers. He gave a short history of how preachers have labored to try to remove the offense of the Cross along with not preaching about sin and the wrath of God so as to make becoming a Christian easy and more attractive to the lost. But, as I said above, all this does is create lots of false believers. He emphasized the vital importance of believers hearing and believing the truth of God. Even though it should be obvious to us, I believe we take for granted the veracity of Gospel. However, the Word of God, Sacred Scripture, makes it clear that those who belong to God believe His truth while those whose eternal destiny is Outer Darkness do not believe the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness. Dr. MacArthur stated throughout his sermon that the lost know the law of God because it is written on everyone’s heart. They know they are sinners. However, when we obediently preach the truth about their sin to them, they often respond in anger. However, that is the process God has given us that He uses to draw those He has chosen to hear the Gospel, believe, repent and come to faith.
8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 (NASB)
The word “truth” occurs twice in this passage. In both cases, it is the same Greek word, ἀλήθεια (alētheia). This word means “truth” as the unveiled reality lying at the basis of and agreeing with an appearance; the manifested, or the veritable essence of a matter. In this usage it refers to people refusing to believe “the truth” as revealed in God’s Word as it is spoken to the heart by the Holy Spirit. In other words, this “truth” is correct doctrine, which includes the Gospel. “Those who are perishing” refers to those who are not redeemed. They are not regenerate. They are not Christians even though they may indeed profess that they are.
Many years ago I assumed that this passage referred to Christians and reprobates in this contrast, however, I have since become firmly convinced that Paul was referring here to those in the visible Church who refuse to believe “the truth” and obey it. This truth is the genuine Gospel. Notice that God sends these people “strong delusion” so that they may believe what is false. He would not have to do that with reprobates would he? Of course not! The Greek words for “strong delusion” are ἐνέργεια πλάνη (energeia planë). This would be an effectual fraudulent teaching that is doctrinally oriented. The word πλάνη actually refers to a straying from orthodoxy. In other words, God is sending to those who hate the genuine Gospel a version of it that they love, but it is empty and those who do not repent of holding to it by believing the truth are damned. This delusion from God to those who hate the truth leads them to believe to be true what is false or a lie. The Greek word for “false” here is ψεῦδος (pseudos). We get our English word “pseudo” from this word. It means “falsehood” or “lie.” It is an appealing substitute for the truth, but it is not the truth. It appears far more appealing to the unregenerate than the truth. Therefore, in our day we have many forms of Christianity that profess to be genuine, but they are built on a foundation of sand, which is a lie that is enforced in people’s hearts by a “strong delusion” sent to them straight from God. Those given this strong delusion reject the truth, but believe the lie because it does not condemn them for their unrighteous behavior.
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. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (NASB)
These two verses are a wealth of instruction for Christians about the nature of genuine salvation. Paul uses this as a contrast to what those who love not the truth believe. In other words, all genuine Christians believe these two verses as the truth while the “pseudo” Christians reject them because they prefer the version of the Gospel that is a lie.
Genuine Christians are beloved by the Lord because He chose them as first fruits. God made the choice of whom He would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The KJV translates this part of the passage as, “because God hath from the beginning chosen you.” For what purpose did God choose them? He chose them “from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” This is a wonderful statement of what God actually does when He saves someone. They are “saved,” or rescued through a process that makes them holy. This process is empowered by the Holy Spirit as the one being saved believes the truth. The word “faith” in this passage is the Greek word πίστις (pistis). This word refers to a person being persuaded by the truth to the point that their faith is strengthened and their belief in the truth becomes unshakable. What did God use to draw His chosen into this process? He called them through the gospel, not the false gospel that those who love not the truth believe, but the real Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which begins with election and ends with glorification all controlled by God and done for His glory alone.
Effectual calling is the title of chapter 10 of the Westminster Confession (1647). The chapter begins:
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.
When God saves a person, He illuminates them, regenerates them, and transforms their will. This is His sovereign work effectually performed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the part of the Gospel rejected by those who love not the truth. They love the idea of their salvation being accomplished by the exercise of their Free Will, however, the Bible clearly teaches that no one can be saved this way.
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 (NASB)
This passage clearly tells us that it was God being merciful to those whom He saves by “making alive” those who are dead in trespasses and sins. He did this by His grace through faith. Notice that God did it all. This was not in any way accomplished by the exercise of an unregenerate Free Will. No, the will that we exercise that is to believe by the Grace of God is a regenerate will which is the product of the effectual call of God.
My brethren, never stop praying for the lost people around you that God will save them. Be bold in sharing the Gospel with all who will hear. Never forget that you were not saved because of your own works. No, it was God’s work from beginning to end to save His people. Also, never forget that we do not know who the elect are. Only God knows that. So share the Gospel with all and always be ready to give an account to those who are mired in man-made religiosity and call it Christianity. Come soon Lord Jesus!
Soli Deo Gloria!