Last New Year I was asked to preach at Hanney Chapel. Here is an adapted version of one of the points from that sermon:
Seeking God’s power for our good resolutions leads to our glory. 2 Thessalonians 1:12 tells us that we seek God’s power to fulfil our good resolves ‘so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him…’
So what glory are we talking about? It’s the glory we are promised in Heaven. It’s the glory found in Jesus. It’s the glory of an eternity in God’s presence, being made fully and finally like Christ and sharing in all that is his. What’s interesting is that Paul links, quite directly here, our future glory with the condition of our being made worthy by God fulfilling our good resolves. Let me put it this way, and potentially cause a sharp intake of breath in this well-grounded evangelical church: your future glorification – your position in Heaven, your becoming like Christ, your share in God’s riches – is, in point of fact, conditional.
Now, before you burn me at the stake, let’s just be clear on the condition. Our glorification rests on our reliance upon God’s power to fulfil our good resolves. Our good resolves are those desires that will make us like Christ. So our glorification rests on trusting that God will fulfil in us our desire to be made like Jesus.
Does that make our future salvation rest on us? Clearly not. Our faith is in Jesus Christ and his effective work on the cross for our salvation. But what salvation do we hope for? It’s our future glorification in Heaven, being with, and made like, Jesus. And so, it follows sensibly, the idea of faith in Christ alone for salvation entails a belief that God can and will make us like Jesus and raise us to glory. That is why Paul says it is those of us who rely upon God’s power through Christ who will be glorified.
So is our salvation guaranteed by God or is it based on our meeting certain conditions? Well, yes! Our sovereign God guarantees our salvation who, by his power, works in his people to make us a people who meet his conditions for salvation. God guarantees our salvation and then works in us to produce the right belief and obedience that marks out those who belong to him. He guarantees our salvation and works in us to produce the conditions required for salvation Namely, true belief in Christ and a will to be made perfectly like him. God is both the author and finisher of our faith.
That is why Paul can say to the Philippians: ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion’. God both begins the work of faith in us and carries it on until we are made perfect, causing us to meet the conditions required for salvation. This is how God guarantees our faith while, legitimately, setting conditions on it. He guarantees it by working in us to fulfil our good resolves and we are glorified by relying upon him to bring those good resolves to fulfilment.
For us, this carries lots of significant implications. But let me land on just three:
First, it means our guarantee of salvation is bound up directly with our belief that God can and will meet the conditions for salvation in us. God will give us a desire to come to Christ, he will give us a desire to obey Christ and he will give us the power to actually do those things. Our salvation is inextricably linked to our belief that God will work in us and bring us to glory.
Second, it means we are right to expect those who claim to be Christians to behave in ways that are fitting and appropriate for Christ. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. But, as the old saying goes, ‘the faith that justifies, justifies by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone’. God at work in us, though we receive salvation by faith alone, will inevitably produce a moral change. He gives us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. And, the clue’s in the name, he’s the Holy Spirit because he works in us to make us holy. Our works certainly don’t save us. But, as the apostle James say, ‘faith without works is dead’. But a faith that produces works is a living faith because the God who wills to work in us gives us both our faith and the power to obey him.
Works don’t save but the Bible is replete with the message that continued, unashamed works of sin will destroy us. As John Owen said, ‘be killing sin or sin will be killing you’. The people of God are marked out by the works of God because it is God who works them in us. How can almighty God dwelling within us not produce change? We can’t have the Holy Spirit in us if we aren’t, in some measure, becoming more holy, more like Jesus. So we can rightly expect God’s people to act in a fitting and appropriate Christian way, not because we’re special, but because those who belong to God are those who rely on God to work within them. And God at work in us fulfils our good resolves.
Thirdly, our glorification rests on our works of faith. As we rely on God’s power at work in us to make us like Christ, we are glorified. That means a living, saving faith will produce works in us by the power of God.
So if you want to be glorified in Christ, then we need that living, saving faith that comes only through him. So maybe make that one of your resolutions this year: to be resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.