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Test of Sonship, NOT Test for Sonship

2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

This text has resonated with me over the last few months as I have considered why so many people work so hard to fight the sovereignty of God.  It’s texts like these that are completely misquoted that cause such a concern for the power of man in redemption.  Over the years I have heard this verse to be used to explain why someone must grow, learn and serve.  Although I think it is a good point, the “unsaid” assumption is that man people read this verse to say, “You will be approved by God if you work unashamedly in truth.”  Although there are many variations, this is one of them main teachings of this verse.  If one would take just a minute and look at the verse, even in English, it says nothing at all to that point.

First and primarily, the issue of man being able to be approved by God by any standards of works violates proper theology, doctrine and biblical exegesis.  Paul is exhorting Timothy to understand several things.  Let’s look at it:

  • Timothy, you are one who IS approved by God.  This is very clear in the beginning here that “as one approved [by God]”.  This is really not up for argument but is often overlooked by many who just read into so much of scripture what is not there, ultimately showing the depth of one’s worship and theological foundations.  The man or woman who is approved by God is simply approved by Him.  There is no part of man’s actions that give approval by God or any part of human will and service that gain favor in God’s eyes.  That being said, “one who is approved by God” will produce the fruit of God in their life and therefore “show” or “present” themselves in this manner.
  • So, “do your best to present” yourself to God as the approved one is a truer way to understand this passage.  In other words, the approved one, who is approved by Grace, should be diligent and willfully employed for the purpose of honoring and displaying God’s manifold wisdom in the power of the Gospel.  Those who belong to and are approved (justified) before God are the one’s who should work diligently to show and “give” or present themselves as a living sacrifice in the service of holiness and grace.  One who professes Christ but does not walk in the light is a liar according to John’s 1st epistle.

With that being said, a recall is in order to REMIND all that no man can commend himself to God through ANY means, but rather God commends the man because of His sovereign grace.  2 Corinthians 10:18 (ESV)18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.   Here Paul restates this truth.  It goes without saying then that the one who the Lord God “approves” or “justifies” then desires to display this approval by living out the work of God in his life.  So how is this done?

  • Diligent working, service and obedience is a good start.  But in this context, the primary realization is one who is NOT ASHAMED of the call or God, nor the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16).  The one who IS approved by God is the one who is bold, without shame, makes disciples and orders himself and his life under the gospel of Jesus Christ.  IN all ways, the believer understands that the great JUDGE of the universe has declared them “approved” and our hearts, in turn, are recreated to love the law and righteousness of God and to be diligent to stand before God with a short and few account in the power of God the Holy Spirit.
  • Not only is the believer who is approved (justified) by God bold but rightly handles the word of Truth.  The word of the living God.  The man of God (or woman) is orthodox, or has a right opinion of the truth.  Not only does the approved of God have the right opinion of the word, but the word aligns his life in step with the will of God and he does not distort or use the word for his own desires.  The person of God rightly handles the word and interprets the scripture in light of scripture, not in light of culture, tradition or prior learning.

An amazing reality of this text is the idea that the very thing it calls for, using the Word correctly, is one of the primary ways in which this verse is abused.  My prayer is that all God’s “approved” would be busy about the ministry to which we are called which is to be diligent to walk in the light of Christ, to be diligent to display God’s glory in all our ways and to do so while the power of the Gospel is the light of our path to unashamed living and suffering for His kingdom and His name’s sake.

As this text continues,

2 Timothy 2:15-19 (ESV)
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,
17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.
19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

we see that rightly handling the word of God requires a rejection of anything and anyone that stands against His truth.  But that is another post.

For His Glory Alone,

James H. Tippins

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