“God Discriminating” 2 Thess. 2:5-15 Nov. 5, 1995
In these verses, the Apostle Paul shows us a God who does what pleases him in heaven and on earth, whose arm no one can shorten and whose will no one can resist. The history of the world and of everyone in it is subject to him and unfolds according to his will. The moral government of the world lies in his hands.
And no more dramatic demonstration of that fact could be imagined than v. 11, where Paul does not hesitate to say that the unbelief of men, their stubborn refusal to see God’s hand in nature or to hear his Word in the gospel, is itself divine judgment against them and the will of God. And the living God does this for no other reason than to secure the condemnation and judgment of his enemies.
Paul’s view of history is not, as so many Christians seem now to imagine, that there is a contest in heaven and on earth between Satan and his forces and God and his, but that God is somewhat stronger and will eventually gain the upper hand. Paul had a much grander conception. God is an absolute sovereign. He holds heaven and earth and all that they contain in his all-powerful hands. His control is so complete, his rule so exhaustive, that even when evil spirits and men act in defiance of him they merely accomplish his purposes and bring their own history and that of the world inexorably to its foreordained conclusion.
We are not accustomed to thinking of God’s sovereign rule in this way: that he should send to the unbelieving a powerful delusion so that they would believe the lie instead of the truth. Indeed, the Holy Spirit could have left this piece of intelligence out of the Bible altogether and we could have found out about this later, in another world, when our minds and hearts were capable of seeing this truth without distortion and without offense.
The fact that God saw fit to disclose it to us — knowing full well the problems it would cause in the thinking of men, even Christian men, is surely important. It is no doubt necessary for us to hear such hard things about God’s rule precisely because otherwise we would not accept that it is as total and as absolute as it is. We must face the stark implications of divine sovereignty if we are fully and without reservation to embrace the truth of it or get the needed good from it.
Now, it is true, of course, that Paul is referring to the apostasy and rebellion at the end of the age — as we said last week –. But what God will do then, in blinding the intransigent and the rebels, the Scripture says in many places, he does as well today on a lesser scale. Jesus himself said, of the belief and the unbelief of those in his day: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The powerful delusion is already with us even if it will come with still greater power and a wider sweep at the time of the final rebellion.
It is also true, absolutely, that God sends this powerful delusion as judgment for their refusal to love the truth and be saved. The opposite of belief in the gospel is, Paul here says, “delighting in wickedness.” And that love of sin is an act of the will. It is deliberate. It is the true expression of the attitude of their heart. This is always the teaching of the Bible. This is the psychology of atheism and all forms of unbelief. People don’t refuse to believe — despite their protests to the contrary, despite their own deeply felt convictions to the contrary — because of a lack of evidence or because the gospel does not carry sufficient conviction. They do not believe because they love their sin and do not want to give it up: because they love the illusion they indulge that they control their own lives and are the captain of their own fates. This is what Psalm 14:1 means:
The fool says in his heart there is no God.
They are corrupt…there is no one who does
This is what is meant in Psalm 10:14:
In his pride the wicked does not seek the Lord; in all his thoughts there is no room
This is what Paul means when he says in Romans 3:11 that “there is no one that seeks God.” There are, of course, multitudes of people who imagine themselves to be seeking for God and ready to find him, who claim to be and who, at a certain level, believe themselves to be seeking the Lord, but, in fact, they are actually seeking only a God of their own liking and the true God and his true truth they resolutely refuse to acknowledge or to submit themselves to. “He came to his own — with miracles no less — but his own received him not.”
There is no doubt, I say, that everyone whom God blinds deserves that blinding and the delusion into which he or she is cast headlong never to escape.
But, that is not enough of an explanation for this powerful delusion sent from heaven, of course. Because left to himself the Apostle Paul never would have believed in Christ either and left to ourselves our rebellion would only have deepened until we too were sent from heaven a powerful delusion so that we too might believe the lie.
Paul does not go on to say to the Thessalonian Christians, in vv. 13-14, that they were different from these unbelievers whom God rejects because they were wise enough and good enough to receive the truth and embrace it with their hearts. No, he says that God chose them to be saved from the beginning and that he called them to belief in the gospel so that they might be saved. They did not make the difference; they did not escape their love of wickedness by themselves, by their own wisdom or their own effort. God delivered them! He made the difference and he alone.
And, of course, this is the teaching of Holy Scripture from beginning to end. Salvation is of the Lord! That is Paul’s doctrine and he puts it as starkly as possible here, as unmistakably and as bluntly and as boldly as possible.
Do you fully realize how unpopular such a view of God is and continues to become in our day? The idea that there is a God who rules over all, a personal God of majesty and sovereignty to whom all of us are entirely subject and whose control no one can escape is the most vicious heresy to the multitudes who embrace the orthodox beliefs of our culture.
I have just finished reading Philip Johnson’s new book Reason in the Balance. It is a splendid book, an account of the ascendancy of naturalism in our culture — the view that, effectively — for any real purpose — there is no God. The world and human life and history can be explained without him. If people want to believe in a God, that is fine. But no one should take that belief seriously. In our scientific age, we have made God superfluous; for science has proved that everything can be explained by natural forces alone. There is no need for God or for belief in him, though if it helps people as a kind of benign superstition, that is fine.
Now, it is perfectly obvious to me that, as a matter of fact, science has proved nothing of the kind. Johnson does a splendid job of demonstrating that the beliefs of the prevailing naturalism of our culture are just that — religious beliefs. They don’t rest on scientific evidence at all, and, in fact, are at many point and profoundly at odds with that evidence. Indeed, read Johnson and you will think, as I do, that such cultural orthodoxies as evolution and relativism — now so deeply ingrained in the thinking of our culture that they cannot be questioned — it is not allowed, it is not permitted to question them — are, in fact, powerful delusions that make otherwise intelligent people completely incapable of thinking objectively about the fundamental issues of human life, human origins, human morality, and the existence of God or about the evidence that bears on those questions.
We can look at evolution and see it for what it is, a desperate attempt — against all the odds and mountains of accumulated evidence — to evade the force of the evidence of nature, that there is a genius at work in its design and that the universe in its whole and all its parts
are forever singing as they shine,
the hand that made us is divine.
But try to get such folk even to listen with understanding to your criticism of evolution as an explanation of life. Prof. Johnson demonstrates with great effect how utterly the idea of naturalism has seized the minds of so many today and literally shut them off from even the serious consideration of the truth that we can see so clearly. They believe the lie and they believe it with all their hearts.
The multitudes in our land — both scientists and everyone else — should receive the truth about God and about Jesus Christ and the gospel warmly and embrace it with gladness, gratitude, and love, as anyone who has been given to see the truth and receive it knows. But they will not and God, in so many cases — even if we are not able to say in which cases — gives them over to their rebellion and sends a delusion so that they will not believe.
But this view of God that Paul paints here — majestic in his sovereignty — is not only utterly alien and unbelievable to our culture as a whole. Brothers and sisters, it is becoming increasingly unbelievable to many in the American church, even the evangelical church.
Pick up a book on God written by evangelicals recently and you are likely to hear about the vulnerability of God, of his voluntary surrender of his control over human beings, of his anguish at the mess his creatures are making of his creation but of his unwillingness to interfere for fear of trampling upon the freedom with which he endowed men and women. His great task, we read today, is as the empowerer of men and women who invite him to help them reach their full potential as human beings.
Do you fully appreciate the fact that this is not the way the Bible speaks of God. It is not the way the Bible ever speaks of God. It speaks of his compassion and his tenderness, of course it does. It speaks of his delight in the obedience and love of his people and his anger at the rebellion of others. But it never, ever, gives us to believe anything else but that God is always and absolutely the ruler of all that he surveys.
He is not only with us and in us, he is always over us. He is not only a friend and a shepherd, he is always, at the same time, judge, King, and Master. He not only has compassion on all, not only is his mercy over all his works, but he is against those who do wrong and is angry with the wicked every day. And, what is more, even in their wickedness, unbelievers do not escape his sovereign rule or his judgment.
Here is what the Bible says about the sovereignty of God — in contrast to the weak-kneed and pale affirmation of the divine nature in so much of contemporary Christian thinking. Listen.
“What [sovereignty in God is] is the right of absolute dominion…. So when we speak of the sovereignty of God, we mean his right to work all things after the counsel of his own will; to do what he wills with his own; that he has in reference to the whole universe the most absolute dominion and right to deal with his creatures just as seems good in his sight; to allow them to sin or to prevent their sinning; and when they have sinned, to allow them to perish or to provide salvation; and, if salvation be provided, to reveal it to one nation and not to another; to apply it to one person and not to another. Of course he has an equal right to determine their destiny on earth, whether it shall be civilized or savage, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, healthy or infirm, happy or miserable. The sovereignty of God supposes that the whole plan of creation, providence and redemption, was adopted on the ground of God’s good pleasure; that the carrying out of that plan in all its infinitude of details is determined by his absolute will. So that if it be asked why Adam fell; why salvation was provided for man and not angels; why that salvation was revealed at first to Jews and not to the Gentiles; why now it is made known to us and not to [others]; why you and not others are made partakers of this redemption; why one man is a noble and another a peasant; one sick and another well; one happy and another miserable; we have nothing to say but: ‘Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.'” [Charles Hodge, Princeton Sermons, in Bible, F14]
Is that not what Holy Scripture says about God and his rule? And is this not precisely the force of Paul’s daring prophecy here: that God will send a powerful delusion upon the minds of the wicked to ensure that they continue to believe the lie — even when that lie runs counter to all the evidence of the eyes and of the human conscience?
Now for those of us who have received the truth of God and know him as our heavenly Father, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth, the knowledge of God’s glorious imperium, his supremacy as the King of Kings, is wonderful, consoling, and thrilling. It makes us to love and fear him still more. It comforts us in the face of evil. Through the ages this truth, embraced in honest hearts, has made men and women humble and low before God and strong and unafraid before kings.
But what of those who have not believed? What of you if you have not believed the truth and embraced Jesus Christ in the gospel? Does it mean that, since you are not the captain of your soul and the master of your fate, that it is irrelevant what you do? That you do not need to heed God’s summons and believe in his Son and submit yourself to his rule?
No, that is not how God has ruled the world. It is not the way he has chosen to relate to man.
Listen: the angels were all individuals. They have no families, no children, no covenantal relationships as human beings have to Adam, their progenitor and head whose sin cast his entire progeny into sin and death. Those angels who rebelled, the Scripture says, were immediately and forever condemned. God provided for them no redeemer, no incarnation, no salvation, no forgiveness. How amazing it must be for the angels then to see God extending to these weak and common creatures, human beings, his love and his salvation. He remains entirely the sovereign of this matter of man’s salvation, it is true. But he calls on all men to repent and believe in Jesus and promises all who do so the forgiveness of their sins and everlasting life.
There is, of course, much that is a deep mystery here. And if you feel that you must have intellectual satisfaction, that all of your questions and all of your quibbles must be resolved, if you feel that you are not obliged to acknowledge God’s truth with all your heart until all the knots have been untied, I warn you, my friend, you will deserve to be judged and you will be, last seen straining to untie some particular knot. God does not have to explain himself to you or give an account of his ways. Nor will he. He has told you what is true and offers you his love. It is enough; it is more than enough; it is infinitely more than any of us deserves. And if we quibble because we do not understand why, in his absolute supremacy, he has chosen to do things in one way and not another, we are, in the most foolish and evil way, looking a gift horse in the mouth.
Even if — I will use Paul’s own stark way of thinking for the sermon this morning, so that no one will fail to miss his point — even if, I say, you had reason to believe that God was going to send you a delusion and give you over to the lie (Lord Byron once said that while Calvinism is true, he couldn’t accept it!), you ought still to be rejoicing as you yourself head to ruin — you should be glad that some were shown mercy, even if you were not. After all, you would be getting nothing but what you deserve and have chosen freely for yourself. You got your due. A kind and considerate heart would be glad that all others did not.
But, if you wonder about your standing before God and whether he will have you if you call upon him, ask him, pray to him, and do what is in your power. If you want to be sure that you are rejected of God and deluded in mind you can read pornography or the self-confident explanations of unbelievers. But, if you long to know God, look for him where he may be found, in church, in his Word, among his people, and at prayer. Jesus said, he who comes to me — that is, who really comes to me, on his knees, because of his sin — I will never drive away!