Why Hope? Grace!

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Peter wrote to the believers in Asia Minor that they should “always be prepared to give an answer to any one who asks them to give a reason for the hope that is in them” (1 Peter 3:15). That implies two things.

One is that Christians ought to be known as hopeful people. If an unbeliever watches you for a while and then asks about something, at least part of what he asks about should be your hope. Our hope should show. It should show in joy (Romans 12:12) and love (Colossians 1:4–5) and boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12) and endurance (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

The other thing that Peter implies is that there are reasons for Christian hope. It is a reasonable hope. It may have looked irrational when Abraham felt strong confidence that he would be the father of many nations even though he was too old and his wife was barren. But it was not irrational! There was good reason to hope. And we should know why we hope.

So the next two messages ask the question, WHY HOPE? Another way to ask the question would be, WHAT IS OUR HOPE BASED ON? WHAT IS THE ROOT OR THE FOUNDATION OF OUR HOPE?

What Is Our Hope Based On?

The answer in today’s text is very simply, the grace of God. Our hope is rooted in the grace of God. It is based on the grace of God. If God were not a gracious God, we would have no hope. We could cross our fingers. We could have strong desires and wishes. We could even perhaps decide, by sheer dint of will-power, to be positive thinkers and thus make the best of our brief and uncertain lives. But there could be no talk of moral certainty about good things in the future. There could be no confident expectation that all things will work out in a wonderfully happy way for us.

The foundation of that confidence — that biblical hope — is the grace of God. Let’s get the text of God’s Word before us. 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 says,

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

The phrase that we will focus on is the phrase, “good hope through grace.” The hope we have is a good hope. And it comes to us “through grace” or “by grace.” So when someone asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, one basic answer you can give is that you have tasted the grace of God. You have gotten your good hope through his grace.

Who Has This Good Hope Through Grace?

Before we examine this more closely, let’s make sure we know who this verse is talking about. Not everybody has eternal comfort and good hope through grace. Who is included in this verse?

Paul makes that clear in the first several words. He says, “Now may our Lord . . . ” So he is talking to people who have yielded to Jesus as Lord. And he goes on to say, “and God our Father.” So he is talking to people who trust God as their Father.

So the eternal comfort and good hope through grace are yours this morning if you have yielded to the lordship of Christ — that is, if your will is to do what he commands — and if you trust God with your future — that is, if you give all your anxieties over to him and rest in his love and care as your heavenly Father.

“Good hope through grace” is a gift for those who belong to Christ. But for those who do not obey Christ as Lord and who trust themselves rather than God, there is only a “fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries,” as Hebrews 10:27 says.

So when I speak of good hope through grace this morning, I am speaking first to believers who aim to follow Christ, but my prayer is that those of you who still resist his rule will come to see the wisdom in yielding to the Lord.

“Good Hope Through Grace!”

The phrase is very sweet, especially when you put it together with the one just before it: “Eternal comfort and good hope through grace.” I hope that you will memorize this verse and use it often to fan the flames of hope in your heart.

The phrase begs for two questions: What is good about our hope? And what is the grace through which this good hope comes? I think the best way to answer both those questions is to watch grace in action. What does grace actually do? As we watch grace in action, we will see what it is, and we will see how good the hope is that it secures.

The Steps in Our Salvation

To see it in action, let’s go back to verses 13 and 14 and see how each of the steps in our salvation that brings us to this eternal comfort and good hope is indeed a work of grace.

But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now let’s organize the steps of our salvation in the same order.

1. Chosen by God

First, verse 13, we were chosen by God for salvation: “God chose you from the beginning to be saved.” So the first step that brought us to our eternal comfort and good hope is the step of election — God chose us for salvation.

2. The Call of God in the Gospel

The next two steps in verse 13 are sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. But notice that verse 14 begins with the words, “to this he called you through our gospel.” “This” refers back to sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. So the call of verse 14 comes before the sanctification and the belief of verse 13.

So the second step in this text toward eternal comfort and good hope is the call of God that came to us through the gospel: “He called you through the gospel.”

3. Sanctification by the Spirit

Now we can go back to verse 13 and pick up the two steps we passed over. We’ve seen, first, that God chose us and then, second, he called us. And we have seen that the goal of his choosing and calling is our salvation: “God chose us from the beginning to be saved [or literally: for salvation].” But then he mentions two means by which we attain to this salvation. First, he mentions sanctification by the Spirit: “God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit.”

We attain salvation not as rebels against God, but as people who are being changed by the Holy Spirit. This change is called sanctification — the process of becoming holy or godly or righteous or loving, in short, the process of becoming like Jesus. So that is the third step that gives us eternal comfort and good hope: the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives making us more and more Christ-like.

4. Belief in the Truth

The fourth step, at the end of verse 13, is “belief in the truth.” “God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” No one is saved apart from faith in the truth of the gospel. We attain salvation only on the road of faith. All other roads lead to destruction. And no other roads lead to life.

But before we look at the fifth and final step toward eternal comfort and good hope, we need to correct a possible misunderstanding. I called sanctification by the Spirit “step three” and belief in the truth “step four,” as though they were sequential, as though the act of faith follows the process of sanctification. But that is not true. They are simultaneous. Steps three and four happen at the same time. Step three describes God’s side of the activity: sanctification by the Spirit. Step four describes our side of the activity: faith in the truth.

So it may be misleading to call sanctification step three and faith step four. They really happen together. Wherever the Holy Spirit is at work to sanctify, there is faith. And wherever faith is alive, there the Holy Spirit is at work to sanctify. There is just one road that connects our calling and our glorification: the road of faith which is also the road of sanctification. If you are on the road to glory, you are believing the truth of God and you are being sanctified by the Spirit of God.

5. Obtaining the Glory of Christ

That leads us finally to our fifth step of our salvation that secures for us eternal comfort and good hope, namely, obtaining the glory of Christ. Verse 14: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the goal of our salvation: sharing in the glory of Christ forever and ever.

Now let’s sum up the steps of our salvation that give us eternal comfort and good hope.

  • First, God chose us from the beginning to be saved.
  • Second, God called us through the gospel.
  • Third and fourth — let’s keep them together now — the Spirit is sanctifying us and we are believing the truth of God.
  • And fifth, all this is leading us to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The reason we have eternal comfort and good hope is that our salvation is a great work of God. He elected, he called, he sanctifies, and he preserves us for glory. This is the truth in which we believe and rest. This is an eternal comfort and this is a good hope. And I pray that you accept it for yourself and experience its sweetness.

Each of These Steps Are Gifts of Grace 

But what makes our eternal comfort and good hope so sweet is that it is through grace. Verse 16: “God loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace.” All the steps of our salvation are gifts of grace. We did not earn or deserve any of them. Let’s take them one at a time very briefly and show from the Scriptures that they are works of God’s grace.

1. Chosen According to Grace

First our election is an election of grace. In Romans 11:5–6 Paul is trying to show that God has not forsaken his people, Israel. Some are being saved through his ministry and in the end the whole generation will be saved. He compares his time to the time of Elijah when there was a faithful remnant who had not bowed the knee to Baal. He says, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace [literally: there is a remnant according to the election of grace]. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

That is the closest thing you have to a definition to grace in the New Testament. Grace is God’s disposition to elect for himself a people apart from any of their works. The first step in our salvation is God’s choosing us for salvation, and that choosing is by grace not works. When God chose us for himself, he did not base his choice on any works that we might do, but solely on the gracious counsel of his will. We did not deserve it or do anything to merit it. It was free. Step one toward our eternal comfort and good hope is indeed through grace — an election according to grace.

2. Called Through Grace

The second step of our salvation is God’s call. Verse 14: “To this he called you through the gospel.” In 2 Timothy 1:9 (in my Bible about five pages behind our text) Paul describes the basis of God’s call in our lives. He says, “God saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.”

What, then, was the spring of God’s call? When he came to us in the gospel and wakened us from spiritual death and raised us to life in Christ, where did that come from? Why would he do that for rebellious sinners like us? The answer in 2 Timothy 1:9 — “NOT by virtue of our works, but by virtue of his own purpose and grace.”

And Paul stresses the freedom of grace by revealing that God’s decision to call you to life was made ages ago when he contemplated you as a sinner clothed in the righteousness of his Son before the world was ever made. So the second step in providing eternal comfort and good hope is indeed through grace. We are chosen and we are called through grace.

3. Sanctified by Grace

The third step in our salvation is sanctification by the Spirit. Verse 13: “God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit.” Remember, sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ. It’s the day-by-day working out of what it means to be chosen and called by God.

In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul does a bit of self-examination in order to know where he stands with the other apostles. In verse 9 he says he is the least of the apostles because he persecuted the church. But then in verse 10 he bears witness to the work of God’s grace in his life since those horrible days: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.”

The word sanctification is not used here, but the reality of sanctification is described, namely, a persecutor of the church being transformed into a hard-working, obedient apostle. And three times in this beautiful verse Paul affirms that this transformation is owing not to himself but to the grace of God. First, he says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” Second, he says, “God’s grace to me was not in vain.” Third, he says, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.”

This is the way a saint ought to think and feel and talk about his sanctification. Your life is a work of grace. By God’s grace you were chosen for salvation. By God’s grace you were called to a life of holiness. And by God’s grace you are now being sanctified. No matter how hard you work — and you should work hard! — the lasting fruit of your labor is always owing to God’s grace.

And if our comfort and hope are in any way dependent on the transformation of our lives, that comfort is still an eternal comfort and that hope is still a good hope, because it is “not I, but the grace of God with me” that guarantees the progress I need in sanctification. So the third step in our salvation is indeed through grace.

4. Made to Believe the Truth Through Grace

The fourth step in our salvation is belief in the truth. Verse 13: “God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Is that belief a work of God’s grace? Indeed it is.

In Acts 18:27 we read about some of Paul’s travels. Sometimes you get deep insights into a man’s theology by the seemingly off-handed remarks he makes. Well, Luke is the inspired writer of this book and we get an insight into his theology in verse 27. He says, “When Paul had wished to cross to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed.”

How had they believed? How did you come to believe? Is there any true saint who can honestly say: “I overcame my rebellion against God”? “I took out the heart of stone and put in the heart of faith”? “I changed myself from a skeptic into a trusting child of God”? “I turned indifference into the zeal of faith”?

No. When the trusting child of God speaks the truth of God, he says, “By grace I overcame my rebellion against God. By grace the heart of stone was replaced with the heart of faith. And my indifference was transformed into the zeal of faith by the miracle of grace.” So the fourth step of our salvation by which we gain eternal comfort and good hope is indeed through grace — we have believed the truth by grace.

5. Obtaining the Glory of Jesus by Grace

And that brings us finally to the fifth step, which for none of us has yet happened — obtaining the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 14: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How can we be sure our salvation will really turn out in glory and not destruction? How can we know that our comfort is an eternal comfort and that our hope is really a good hope?

The answer is the grace of God. In the first chapter of this little book, Paul prays for the church at Thessalonica, starting in verse 11,

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we are finally glorified in Jesus Christ, and our salvation is complete, that too will accord with the grace of our God.

Grace from Beginning to End 

From beginning to end our salvation — our election, our calling, our faith, our sanctification, and our glorification — is a work of divine grace.

Let me close with this one exhortation. Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God. For he is a God of matchless grace. He elects by grace. He calls by grace. He sanctifies by grace. He sustains faith by grace. And he will glorify you by grace. You cannot earn it or deserve it or merit it. It is free. Believe it. Rest in it. Delight in it. And it is yours.

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