In other words, because we are justified before God by faith alone in Christ, we are secure enough to expend our lives in the cause of Christ. Heaven is secure. Now what? Let’s change things on earth. The finished work of Christ, and the completed aspect of our justification, liberates us for the ongoing work of sanctification and acts of love to serve others. Knowing ourselves secure in Christ, and empowered by his Spirit, unleashes us to speak good and do good in the world, rather than turn inward to constantly try to fix ourselves before God.
Ah, the week after Christmas. Depending on your line of work, these can be the most intense few days of the year. Or the deadest.
Some pack in their final time off before it disappears at year’s end. Others have their nose to the grindstone to hit year-end goals. All of us live in this curious in-between time, with the high feast day of Christmas now behind us and the prospect of a new year, and its psychological resets, just ahead.
Strange as this one week may seem on the calendar, we find here an interesting parallel to the Christian life we live for decades — with yesterday’s cheer feeding the present, and propelling us into the resolves and possibilities of tomorrow.
Christmas Behind, New Years Ahead
For Christians, the cheer of Christmas Day is not the thing itself, but our collective annual reminder that the thing itself actually happened and is just as true every day of the year, and every moment of the day, as it was two millennia ago. Christ came. God himself, in the person of his Son, dwelled among us, as one of us, and then died, rose, and ascended. The cheer of Christmas is not a single calendar day in 365 that ends at midnight. The cheer of Christmas is a fixed, objective reality for the Christian, every bit as true today as yesterday.
And we are called to live on. History, and our lives in this age, are not yet over. The decisive event has happened in the coming of Christ, and work remains to be done, in us and through us. New days come. New years come. And God calls us to build our lives — years that have not yet unfolded — on the cheer of Christmas. To bring that great unchangeable Christmas past into the present and live a different future because of it.
For such a week as ours is a simple and obscure New Testament blessing that marries the cheer of Christmas behind us with a catalyst for action in the days ahead of us. It’s an easy blessing to overlook since it’s tucked into the middle of the epistle, instead of appearing at the end.
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. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17)
Observe here how decisive divine action in the past fuels the engine of the present to energize new life — our lives — and produce fresh strength for the times to come.
The Father Loved and Gave
While the blessing bleeds into the future — for life yet to be lived — Paul can’t help but rehearse what God has already accomplished in the past. The divine genius of Christianity, which sets it off from every other so-called religion, doesn’t begin with to-dos, with the onus on us to perform, but with the great, unchangeable dones of the past. For Christians, the past is not just the past. The past, as it reveals the God who is, is power for the present, as he is present.
Paul has something particular to pray that “our Lord Jesus Christ himself” will do for us in the present, but he wants us to know that Christ won’t be going rogue to do it. He and his Father are working in concert, and in mentioning “God our Father,” Paul rehearses what is done, finished, accomplished, and unalterable: he “loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace.”
Your right standing with God isn’t owing to your doing but his. Long before he called you to anything, he loved you and demonstrated it in history, almost two thousand years before you were born. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). There is a priceless doneness to the Christian faith. “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). From the cross, Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). On his finished work, we come into relationship with God by faith alone, not by any action on our part.
Eternal Cheer, Solid Hope
Paul mentions here two dones in particular that are ours in Christ: eternal cheer (“comfort,” Greek paraklēsin) and good hope. The cheer that is ours, by grace, in Christ, is not fleeting. It is not temporal, thin, or cheap, but real, strong, never-ending, eternal. Its source is not in us, fickle as we are, but secure, outside of us, in Christ himself, who is not fickle but resiliently faithful.
And the hope that is ours, by grace, in Christ, is not a hope that goes bad, or might prove untrue. It is solid hope, good hope — hope that God will make good on. In a world teeming with thin, empty, deceptive, bad hopes, this one is good. It will not disappoint.
So, first, Paul accents the action of the Father, action that is nonetheless together with and in and through his Son. He loved. He gave. And these past graces have clear present implications.