In Paul’s second letter to the believers in Thessalonica there is a passage that I’ve often pondered. While it’s mainly concerned with a description of a great apostasy the apostle predicted would occur before the second coming of Jesus, it includes a rather objective characteristic separating those who are saved from those who perish.
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10.
Paul might be considered politically incorrect by many today for even suggesting that individuals are on trajectories towards either being saved or perishing. But if his statement is truth, then, far from being pejorative or condemning, it can rather be seen as a loving warning. And if it is indeed truth he has written, disregarding or disagreeing with his statement may be nothing more than a fulfillment and confirmation of its predictions.
Some seem to see this verse (especially in its context) as describing a God who is trying to winnow out as many as possible so that only a few might be saved. But this would conflict with other passages that describe a loving God who is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9.
And as we look more closely at Paul’s words we can see it reveals just this kind of a God.
You see, if Paul had described those in the last days as being lost “because they did not receive a knowledge of the truth” we might be justified in blaming God of unfairness and exclusivity in the salvation of men. Not everyone has the same opportunities for knowledge. Some are educated, some are not. Some are brilliant, while others might be comparatively intellectually challenged. And many times the factors that dictate the amount of knowledge (about God, particularly) a person is able to obtain are completely out of that person’s control. The age of the world in which we are born, the family we are born into, our genetic makeup, educational accessibility and a host of other environmental factors are beyond our willful control. It simply would not be fair for God to allow some to be lost solely because they did not receive a sufficient knowledge of the truth.
But what does Paul describe the saved as having? The love of the truth. The beautiful thing about the love of the truth is that it is accessible to anyone, at any time, in any age. It matters not whether we are born into a royal family or a long line of paupers. Money isn’t a factor in receiving it, so whether we are flush with accounts or (still) facing hand-to-mouth hard times we may experience it just the same. Educational advantages, as positive as they may be, don’t increase our chances of having it, and in some cases may even hurt them. And intelligence? It’s not a factor in God’s plan to save us. Our proximity to, capacity for, or experience of the love of the truth is not proportional to any possible measurement of our smarts.
Why? Because the love of the truth is a matter of the heart — and there we all have equal opportunity. Despite the mystery of what the “heart” actually is, one thing is certain: made in the image of God we each have a spiritual component that transcends culture and intellect and material advantages and allows us to experience the divine. Yes, it involves decisions on our part to allow God to be a part of our lives, but each of us, in our own sphere of experience and ability, has the capacity of having a heart with the love of the truth.
And notice Paul’s carefully worded phrase indicates that the saved receive the love of the truth. It’s not something that we have to manufacture on our own or distill from our own vast accomplishments, but it is something that we receive. I’m so glad this is the case, because if we were to trust in our own merits, our own works, our own righteousness to obtain even the love of the truth, let alone salvation, we’d be hopelessly in trouble. The love of the truth is something we receive because it’s a gift that comes from Jesus. And it’s equally available to everyone, everywhere.
How do we enjoy it? We open our hearts to allow Jesus access. We choose to receive Him, who is the Truth (John 14:6), and our love of the truth will grow as our love for Him grows. No matter our backgrounds or advantages and disadvantages, none need perish without the love of the truth. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
What about your heart, my friend? Have you received the love of the truth?
Chester Clark is the pastor of Dalton Seventh-day Adventist Church