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It is written:
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,”. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
Our Calvinist friends maintain that this passage teaches that the Thessalonians were unconditionally elected to salvation before the foundation of the world.
Is this true?
First, the mention of their being chosen “from the beginning” could indicate that Paul is referring to the beginning of the missionary journey which started the church in Thessalonica. There is some evidence of this position through a textual difference in some of the manuscripts, as well as technicalities of the verbs that are use din the passage which may lend credence to this idea. This is a position which has been advocated by some commentators and is worthy of consideration. However, as we shall see, even if we take “the beginning” to mean “the beginning of the world,” this does not help our Calvinist friends.
Second, notice that this passage is emphasizing the fact that the Thessalonians had become “chosen” through these two means: by the sanctification of the Spirit and through their acceptance of the truth of God’s Word. When we accept the Word of God, we become the “chosen” as we are adopted into God’s family (the church) through baptism and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 3:26-27). This is also important to realize when we consider that Paul again is speaking here of the Thessalonians’ collective calling as the church (corporate), even though this calling is accepted individually:
“Some early textual sources read, ‘because God chose you as his firstfruits’, instead of ‘God chose you from the beginning’. The Greek word used is ‘aparkhe-en’ which means ‘firstfruit’ as in Romans 8: 23. In Today’s NIV, 2 Thessalonians 2: 13 reads correctly, ‘But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.’ In this verse, Paul is thanking God for the Thessalonian believers who were the firstfruits of those who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ in that city. As in Ephesians 1: 4-5, their election was corporate, for Paul wrote, ‘God chose you (plural) as his firstfruits to be saved’. How was their salvation brought about? Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and their believing in the truth of the gospel. It was not by unconditional election unto salvation. There were others in Thessalonica who were said to perish. They perish not because God ‘passed over others’ as Edwin Palmer commented, but as we read in the previous verses, ‘They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved… . and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness’ (2 Thessalonians 2: 10b, 12. Today’s NIV). They perished because they refused to be saved and wanted to continue in their wicked ways. It was their deliberate choice of refusal of the truth that resulted in their perishing. So then, Paul is stating that those in Thessalonica who believed the truth became the ‘elect’ or the ‘chosen ones’, corporately in that city, and those who refused to believe the truth, perished because of their unbelief. It was not due to unconditional election unto salvation that some were saved and that others were lost due to unconditional reprobation. Robert Shank wrote, verses such as the above, ‘simply reflect the fact that those who respond affirmatively to the universal call become in a particular sense “the called.” In like manner, those in whom God’s universal purpose of election becomes realized are spoken of as “the elect” in contrast with the rest of mankind. Reference to believers as “the called” and “the elect” does not in any way imply the positive, unconditional reprobation of other men. The corporate election of Israel to temporal privilege did not constitute the reprobation of the rest of the world, for the way always was open for all men to become proselytes and to share in the heritage of Israel. Furthermore, Israel was called to be God’s channel of blessing for all mankind. In like manner, the corporate election of the Church does not constitute any reprobation of the rest of mankind. On the contrary, the Church is to be the vehicle of grace and salvation for the world. The Israel of God comprehends all men potentially, and the election of grace may be realized in any man. “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none other” (Isa. 45: 22). The call is to all, and all who respond in faith to God’s universal call are “the called according to his purpose”’. 33”. (Jos Salins, Satan’s Big Lie: The Doctrine Of Predestination, 1745-1771 (Kindle Edition); Xlibris Corporation)
Third, as noted above, consider the context of this statement by Paul shows us a clear reason as to why some people are lost. He had been discussing the “man of sin” and in 2 Thessalonians 2 he describes clearly why would some perish.
2 Thessalonians 2:10-12-and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Do you see the contrast?
The reason why unbelievers perish is because they refused to accept the Word of God and thereby be saved; and the reason why the Thessalonians were chosen “for salvation” is because they had accepted the Word of God!
Finally, acknowledging that God chooses some for salvation, we need only ask: who does God choose to be saved?
This text makes it clear: God chooses that people will be saved who choose to submit to His Word and receive the cleansing of the Holy Spirit.
This passage does not help our Calvinist friends and their doctrine in the slightest.
So, what should we take away from this study?
First, the Thessalonians had become “the called” when they accepted the call of God through the Gospel (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:14)
Second, the reason why people will be lost is because they reject the truth of God’s Word.
Third, the reason why people are saved (or “chosen”) is because they have accepted God’s Word and have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. This reminds us that man is able to respond to God’s Word, since it has within it the power to save us (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
While Calvinists claim that this passage teaches unconditional election, we see that when it is considered in context, it teaches the exact opposite.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.