Standing Firm in an Anti-Christian World

2 Thessalonians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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How are we to live in a world that is growing more anti-Christian by the day? By standing firm in what we have been taught and what we know to be true.

If you have a Bible, go ahead and grab it. We are going to be doing a little bit of backtracking into last week and we are going to be in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-17 tonight. The reason that we’re going back is because what we’re going to see is this great contrast between those that are mentioned in verses 9-12 with those that are mentioned in verse 13. Last week we talked about how all true believers endure to the end. Anyone that has been truly justified by the atoning work of Christ will cross the finish line and even though the race may be plagued with pain and affliction, we know that we’ll still win the prize. We spent most of our time last week talking about the Antichrist and what we can expect when this person comes to the forefront and while there is no guarantee that he is coming in our lifetime, we have seen in 2 Thessalonians and in other passages that the spirit of the antichrist and the influence of Satan is clearly in the world already. As we were closing last week, we started talking about how we can stand firm in our faith and we are going to expand on that tonight. This is a topic that we have spoken about before in the book of Philippians and spoke about as we went through the book of Acts but I want to spend tonight talking about the need to stand firm and how we can stand firm in a world that is becoming more and more Anti-Christian. I believe that we can learn quite a bit from history and I think that if you see the trajectory that our world and our nation is on, it definitely appears to be progressively more anti-Christian, anti-Church, Anti-Bible, and anti-family and I think anytime you see ungodliness reigning in history, there is always an attack on God and His people. This reiterates the great need of the present hour that we need Godly men and women to grab hold of the Gospel and run with it. We need Christian men and women like you that are willing to stand firm, willing to plant their feet firmly in the ground and refuse to budge. We need men and women that aren’t afraid to not compromise on Biblical truth. You’ve heard me say numerous times how indebted I am to Christian biographies and Church history because when I hear about men like Athanasius, or Martin Luther, or John Knox, or George Whitefield, men that stood boldly against the tide of the way the world was demanding them to conform, it makes me reflect on my own life and it makes me want to do more for the Gospel. I look at the lives of men like Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Thomas Cranmer, John Rodgers, David Brainerd, and Jim Eliot and what they suffered. These were men that died well and stood firm. Even Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest theologian, was kicked out of his church after 20 years of faithful service by a vote that was over 90%. Or I look at the 2,500 ministers that were forced out of their pulpits in England during the Great Ejection of 1662 and these were some of the greatest preachers to ever walk the face of the Earth, and I’m inspired. I look to these men and I realize, that I’ve never truly suffered. I’ve basically been ran out of a church but I’ve never feared for my life from the people of that church. I’ve never been locked in a dungeon for 500 days and then executed by being hung and burned like Tyndale. I’ve never had pieces of dead animals thrown at me as I walk to the next place that I’m going to preach like Whitefield. I’ve never been excommunicated and placed as public enemy #1 of the church like Martin Luther. In the grand scheme of things, none of us have suffered to this degree but the time may come where we may have to and like these men, like the great cloud of witnesses that is mentioned in the book of Hebrews, we need to stand firm in our convictions. We need to boldly make a stand for the faith and this means that we need to be a people that don’t bend to the issues of the time. This means that where the world assaults the truth of God, no matter where the battle may lie, that is the issue we must not hide from. Martin Luther said, “From the year of our Lord 1518, to the present time, every Maunday Thursday, at Rome, I have been by the pope excommunicated and cast into hell; yet I still live. For every year, on Maunday Thursday, all heretics are excommunicated at Rome, among whom I am always put first and chief...This is the honor and crown we must expect and have in this world.” If we are looking for a crown in this world, we won’t find it in Jesus Christ. If you want the treasures and crown of this world, you must lose Christ in order to gain it. How do we stand firm? How do we endure to the end in a world that is becoming increasingly anti-Christian? Let’s pray and then we will turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:9-17
2 Thessalonians 2:9–17 ESV
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits 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. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 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.

Comparing Verses 9-12 with 13

As you look at verses 9-12, you see a great contrast with the people that Paul mentions in verse 13. Paul refers in the first 4 verses on those that are perishing because they refuse to love the truth and God has sent them a strong delusion so that they may believe what is false and thus they are condemned in the eyes of God. These are people that don’t just tolerate unrighteous living, they find great pleasure in it. Paul is emphasizing in these verses that the unbelieving world is going the way of their master and as they continue on this path that they are on, they are barreling towards their own destruction. It’s a heartbreaking sight and this is the path of all mankind without Christ. Yet suddenly in verse 13 there’s a shift and we have to remember that just because our Bibles add subheadings and chapter divisions, the divisions themselves are not inspired by God but are there for our convenience. We need to read verse 13 in light of what comes immediately before it. Paul has just left a scathing review of the world, mankind, and Satan but in verse 13 we read, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Verses 9-12 speak of men that are perishing but the people of God are those that are saved. Verses 9-12 talk of those that refuse to love but verse 13 shows those that are beloved of the Lord. Verses 9-12 show men that believe what is false but verse 13 shows those that believe in truth. Verses 9-12 show those that find pleasure in unrighteousness while verse 13 stresses the progressing righteousness of the faithful. Do you see how just 5 verses can show the great contrast between believers and unbelievers? It’s not like there is a tiny difference between believers and unbelievers, they are polar opposites! Our desires are completely different and our paths are completely different! In order for us to stand firm in anti-Christian world, we need to first and foremost understand that we are different than the rest of the world. As a Christian, you should be standing out like a sore thumb in this world. Your life and your desires should be totally contrary to what the world desires. As the world rushes to obtain the prize of their disobedience, we are rushing to obtain the prize of our faithfulness and Paul mentions this in verse 14.

We’re Going for Glory

Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:14 “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I love that phrase, “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” and I love it for a number of reasons but I’ll just point your eye to 2 of them.
It reminds me of the prize
This verse reminds me of the prize. It reminds me of the One that I am going to. When I see that phrase, “Obtain the glory” I think of a man that is competing for a great prize. He has trained for months, he has pushed himself to his limits, he is running the race and he looks up and sees the trophy and as he sees that which he is about to obtain, it re energizes him to finish what he started. I see that the reward and prize of Heaven is not a dinky participation trophy, it is glory and it is not just a bright shining light, it is the very glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. As unworthy as I am, the fact that this is guaranteed to me as the fruit of my labor, is so sweet. Heaven is not heaven because it is better than hell. Heaven is not heaven simply because we will be happy there. What makes heaven so great is the fact that the glory which we Christians shall obtain, Jesus Christ Himself is there. Samuel Rutherford wrote, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.” Heaven is Heaven because God is there in the fullness of His majesty, love, and beauty.
It reminds me what I’m fighting for
This verse also reminds me what I’m fighting for. It reminds me of why I am willing to endure and it reminds me that the prize of my faithfulness is guaranteed. It reminds me that despite the brokenness that is found in verses 9-12, really 1-12, that God alone has the glory, God alone has the prize, and God alone holds secure that which I need the most. When you look at verse 14, do you recognize that God has saved you, that He has called you through the Gospel, so that you might possess that which truly lasts forever and that which will surpass all earthly treasures? As a Christian, remember what you are standing for. Remember who you are standing for.

Standing Firm on the Authority of God’s Word

So let’s get to the crux of the matter. How do we stand firm in an Anti-Christian world? Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” If we want to stand firm in our faith, we must stand firm on the Word of God. We must hold to the authority that is God’s Word. When Paul talks about holding onto traditions, he doesn’t mean that we do something in the hope that observing that tradition will save us. That was the problem with the Pharisees and that’s really one of the many problems with the Catholic church that they put such an emphasis on tradition. Really, what Paul means is that the practical and doctrinal traditions that they have received from the Lord Himself are to be followed. This means the traditions of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This likely means the traditions of the Church gathering together in worship, teaching, and prayer. Paul is not referring to traditions in the same way that the Pharisees looked at traditions. He isn’t advocating for things that are totally out of line with what the Lord says but is calling believers to do the things which God put forth for them. How do you stand firm in an anti-christian world then? You stand on that which is truly authoritative. You stand for Biblical truth. We need to remember what the Bible really is. It is the Word of God and it carries with it the authority of God Himself. Where the Bible speaks, God speaks. Remember what I’ve told you before, when it comes to the Bible, there are many applications but ultimately only one interpretation and that is God’s interpretation. We don’t get to what the Bible says and decide for ourselves what it really means. The Bible means what God wants it to mean. Should it not concern you that there are so many that claim to be Christian who say of the Bible the very words that Satan uttered in Genesis 3? “Did God really say…?” Yet, that’s how so many of us approach the Word of God! We say, “Did God really mean that” when it’s clear as day what God means in His Word. This book is not hard to understand. The problem of misunderstanding the Bible does not lie with the message or with God, it lies with those that are too blinded to see and understand the truth. The truths of God are not hard to understand, just hard to swallow. It is God’s interpretation that we must seek. This means that when it comes to what the world says, we must first ask ourselves, does this line up with Scripture? Is what they are saying lining up with what God has first put in His Word? We are not to flinch and hide from what the world teaches. We are to boldly stand for truth and perhaps no Christian made a greater stand for God’s Word than Martin Luther. Luther is famously attributed with saying this: “If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” You have to be all in to be a servant of Christ. You have to recognize the battle that you are facing. If you want to stand firm in your faith, you need to recognize that you may find yourself standing alone but the faithful servant of God is never truly alone. It was John Knox who said a man with God is always in the majority. Towards the end of Paul’s life, Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:16-18
2 Timothy 4:16–18 (ESV)
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Lord always stands with His people. The Lord has given us the Holy Spirit so that we may be able to endure every evil deed that the world throws at us and even death itself only brings us to the Heavenly Kingdom. Christians face death totally differently than the rest of the world. John Wesley said said of believers, “Our people die well.” As D.L. Moody, one of the greatest evangelists of the 19th century lay dying, his last words were, “Earth recedes, heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go. This is my coronation day. It is glorious.” Towards the end of my time in Georgia, one of the last lessons that I taught my students came from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 where Paul says
1 Corinthians 16:13–14 (ESV)
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
The reason that I shared these verses with them was because I knew the time was coming where I wasn’t going to be there to teach them anymore so I wanted to leave them with what I thought would be the best word that I could give them. I knew what was coming after I left, I knew that that which I stood for, the centrality of God’s Word in the lives of students, was going to be tossed out quicker than I was and sure enough, 4 years later, what I thought would happen seems like it is happening based on what I’ve been told. I think these words of Paul emphasize how we are to stand firm in an anti-christian age and we will end our time together tonight with these 5 words of warning and encouragement.
Be watchful
Paul says we are to be watchful. The best defense is sometimes the best offense. If you want to stand firm in this age, you need to know what to be watching out for. You need to be able to recognize sin as sin. You need to be able to look at where the world is going and recognize that it is going to a place that is beneficial to no one. When someone comes up to you and tempts you to sin, you need to be able to recognize what sin is and what it isn’t. As a Christian you should be able to spot sin and wrong from a mile away. One of the big themes that we have emphasized in 1 and 2 Thessalonians is that we are to be alert, we are to be watching for the day that the Lord returns and if we have our eye on that reality, we will also have our eye on that which the world is doing and where the world is heading.
Stand firm in the faith
We’re to stand firm in the faith. We need to hold fast to the Lord our God. We need to cling to the cross and that which saved us. Matthew Henry said, “A Christian should be fixed in the faith of the Gospel, and never desert nor renounce it. It is by this faith alone that he will be able to keep his ground in an hour of temptation; it is by faith that we stand; it is by this that we must overcome the world.” We need to nail our colors to the mast. Have any of you heard that saying before? To nail our colors to the mast is a saying that came from some of the great sea battles that would occur between England and France and whoever else England felt like fighting at the time. What it would mean is that as these 2 opposing ships would come near each other and they would just start blasting each other with cannons and when the captain saw the opposition coming towards them, he would tell someone on the ship to nail their colors to the mast. To nail their flag at the top of the center beam of the ship and this was the captains way of saying, there will be no surrender, there will be no paddling away in row boats, we will fight to the last man, and I will go down with the ship if it comes to it. Have you nailed the colors of your faith to the mast of your life? Does the world know that the truths of your faith, you will not compromise on? You hold fast to the Word of God and your authority comes from Him that has supreme authority? Are you willing to go down with this ship knowing that God will raise you up on the last day? Stand firm in your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Act Like Men
Next Paul says that we need to act like men. We need to be courageous. We’re not saved to be limp noodles. The world doesn’t need a greater number of cowards that are afraid at causing offense. The world needs men and women that are bold as lions! Men and women that don’t stumble at the first sign of trouble. Men and women that are willing to go the extra mile and are willing to offend the world in what they stand for. We’re to be mature, we’re not to act like children in the eyes of the world. We aren’t here to throw tantrums and play for participation trophies. We recognize that this world is going to hell quickly and we need to act like men. We need to be mature and present our views and our faith in a responsible and mature way.
Be Strong
We do all this by being strong. It’s one thing to recognize the need for courage and it is another thing to act on it. If you want to stand firm in an anti-Christian world, you need to be strong. Christianity is not for the fainthearted but let me encourage you in this way: your strength in the faith never springs from yourself. Your strength is an otherworldly strength. Your strength comes from God Himself. You can endure in this world because God Himself is empowering you. In Matthew 28:19-20 we see our orders and we see where our strength comes from.
Matthew 28:19–20 (ESV)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Our strength comes from our ever-present, ever-reigning, sovereign King.
Let all be done in love
Finally, I will just mention this in passing, one way to stand firm in an Anti-christian world is by having all that we do be done in love. May the love of Christ motivate us and drive us in all that we do and as we have our eyes set on the Kingdom of God and with a desire to love our neighbors and our enemies, we will be able to make a better stand in this world. I wish we had more time to spend in these verses and on this subject, of course if you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to run them by me before you leave tonight. Let’s pray together.
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