In 2 Timothy, Paul repeatedly charges Timothy with the ministry of the Word, urging him to suffer for the sake of the gospel. As I’ve been reading this book for the past couple of weeks, that charge has stood in sharp relief to my own life and to the life of those around me. Why in America are we so consumed with our own comfort? Why does it seem that anything is more important to us than the gospel?
Paul points out that our willingness to suffer is drawn directly from our theology — specifically, the doctrine of unconditional election.
2 Timothy 1:8-12
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do.
This is a doctrine that I used to hate because it stood opposed to my self-made concepts of who God was and how he should behave. I was shocked by the idea that God would choose some and not others for salvation. In an attempt to sidestep the clear scriptural teaching on this matter, I resorted to a common response: before the creation of the world, God looked down the tunnel of time and foresaw who would respond to his grace with repentance and belief; then, he chose the ones who would respond favorably.
This was nothing more than speculation, and it already stood on shaky ground because it has no scriptural support. It’s an invention of a desperate human mind. Moreover, it is contradicted by v. 9 above, which says that God did not call us to salvation “because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace.” Our election was not due to some action on our part. It was due entirely to God’s purpose, for God has a purpose in choosing some for salvation and not others.
If we really believed this, we would not have such a strong sense of entitlement in our churches. Deep down, we believe that in some way, we deserved to be saved. There was just something about me — maybe it’s because I was smarter than other people; maybe I was just more righteous than them. How lucky God is to have such a fine, intelligent man in his kingdom!
Appropriately, Charles Spurgeon mocked such a man-centered view of election with his “Arminian Prayer”:
Lord, I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists. Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not — that is the difference between me and them.
Rightly did Spurgeon call that “a prayer for the devil.” No one would be bold enough to say those things — instead, we imagine ourselves safe when we merely think them. Led by a high view of ourselves, we take our salvation for granted, abandoning it to pursue other trifles that are nothing but a vapor.
If there is something about me that brought about my salvation, then I am in some sense entitled to it. And if I am entitled to “life and immortality” (v. 10), then there is no reason to suffer for it. I’ll leave the suffering up to the other poor fools who aren’t as good as I am.
May God have mercy on us. We have neglected this doctrine for the sake of our own comfort. I pray that this teaching may soak into me, that this word may penetrate me to the core of my being, that I would always remember that I am saved apart from my own merit, ability, or wisdom. I pray that I may reject this entitlement mentality. I pray that I may gladly sacrifice and suffer for the God who has chosen me and loves me. O Lord, may you alone receive the praise for your great work of salvation!
In the light of this precious doctrine, let’s rejoice in the gospel of the power of God!