Are You One of the Elect?

Dr. Brian Allison

Are you one of the elect of God? Perhaps no other doctrine of the New Testament gives more comfort to the believer than the doctrine of divine election; and perhaps no other doctrine of the New Testament results in more anguish. This statement may sound contradictory; but I am not talking in riddles. This doctrine, experientially speaking, is a two-edged sword. If you are in fellowship with the living God and walking in His Spirit, then this doctrine is a source of great comfort, knowing that you are one of the elect; but if, on the other hand, you are living in disobedience and are not producing the fruit of the Spirit, being unconcerned about the way of holiness, then this doctrine can be a source of great anguish, if you claim to be a true believer. You can be quite tormented, wondering if you are one of the elect. I remember one of my former students from Tyndale College who had various spiritual and moral struggles in his life; and who, at that critical period in his life, was introduced to this particular doctrine. Consequently, he consistently and regularly sought me out, being plagued and tormented concerning his spiritual standing before God, wondering whether he was a reprobate, rather than one of the elect. This doctrine brought him much anguish.

Are you one of the elect? Well, you may respond, "We cannot know whether we are or not. It is sheer folly to talk in such a manner. It is proud presumption to believe that one may be one of the elect, and blatant arrogance to even suggest or profess that one is." Well, you can know whether you are one of the elect. In fact, you can know whether someone else is one of the elect – not ultimately, of course, but practically. In this connection, let us consider 1 Thessalonians 1:4, "Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you." Just to be a bit technical for a moment, in the original Greek, it is clear that the grammatical construction is a causal participial phrase; and thus we may translate this phrase, "Because we know, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you." That is an astounding statement, isn't it? Paul speaks here with an air of confident certainty. Now, without unjustifiably judging one another, the apostle Paul would have us believe that we may know (not ultimately, but practically) whether someone has been elected by God unto salvation (and, of course, that would mean that we may also know whether we have been elected). It is indeed an astounding statement.

Election presupposes a pool of people

The term 'choice' may simply be translated 'election'. Admittedly, there is much confusion, as well as controversy, over this topic. What is election? What do we mean when we say that someone is one of the elect? First, to be one of the elect presupposes a larger group from which God has picked you. By way of illustration, recall that in Acts 15 we have the account of the Jerusalem Council; and the issue on the table is what should be expected of the Gentiles lest they offend the Jews. After some deliberation, the Council arrived at certain conclusions; and these conclusions were to be communicated to the Gentile believers. And so we read, "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose [same term; i.e., elect] men from among them [i.e., from the larger group] to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas – Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren" (Acts 15:22). So, election presupposes a larger group from which the election is made.

Notice that this act of choosing is really an act of selecting. At the Jerusalem Council, the church really hand-picked men from the larger group in order to be delegates. Let me further illustrate. Suppose a teacher wants some students to accompany her as she goes down the hall to get some supplies. She looks over the class, wanting to choose four students; and suppose she chooses Betty, Bob, Jane, and John to accompany her. Now, no reason is given to the class as to why she chose those particular four. She simply chose these four because she wanted to; if you like, it was her good pleasure. Why did she not choose Tom, Barbara, Sylvester, or Dorothy? She did not choose these ones simply because she did not want to. From all appearances, her choice was purely arbitrary and completely personal. She was not obligated to choose in a certain fashion, nor even to choose any at all. Now, in realizing that they were selected out of the larger group, Betty, Bob, Jane, and John, are glad that they were chosen. They indicate that they wanted to be selected, if there was ever to be a selection. They jump up with joy and follow the teacher. This is a simple illustration of what we mean by divine election. God took the initiative in choosing His people. He selected certain people out of the whole mass of humanity to be with Him, to accompany Him; and He does not explain Himself, nor is He obligated to. He does not give reasons why He chose whom He did. He has chosen certain ones because He wanted to, out of the good pleasure of His will. These ones who have been chosen, of course, did not know that they were going to be chosen (they weren't born yet!), but when they come to realize 'His choice', they are filled with joy; they are happy at the realization that they have been chosen by God out of the whole mass of humanity.

Deuteronomy 7:6-8, though dealing with God's election of the nation of Israel, is helpful in succinctly highlighting the essential aspects of election. Israel was about to enter the Promised Land of Canaan, and Moses rehearsed final instructions with them, "For you are a holy people [you have been set aside] to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you [elected you] to be a people for His own possession [to have a special relationship with Him, to accompany Him] out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth [i.e., of all the nations that inhabited the planet, God was pleased to select this one group of people for Himself]. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples [it was not anything in Israel as a people that moved God to elect them, to make them His special people; and thus, there would be nothing in them of which they could boast and brag. God found the reason in Himself to love them. He was pleased to set His love on them and elect them out of His good pleasure, rather than finding anything of merit, anything of attraction, in them], for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you [why did God love them? No reason is given. God's love for Israel was self-originating, not externally caused or other-dependent], and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers [God was pleased to promise a seed and blessing to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – an expression of His love], the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." And, no doubt, in being brought out of slavery into freedom, and in realizing that God had chosen them, there was rejoicing by Israel; in the realization of their election, there was joy.

Election is not a matter of fairness

Some may react to this doctrine of election, saying, "But that is not fair! It is wrong for God to choose some and not others" Well, in one sense, election is not fair, if one means by fairness that everyone should be treated the same. But fairness can also be defined in terms of acting justly; and God always acts justly. Yet, the question is this, "Is God obligated to treat everyone the same?" Absolutely not! He can do what He wants with His own. For instance, suppose my son's kidneys became dysfunctional, and hence he needed a kidney transplant. And suppose that he lies in the hospital bed along with a roommate in the adjacent bed who also needs a kidney transplant. They are of the same blood type, suffering from the same condition. And suppose I enter the hospital room, knowing the condition and situation of both; and I say to my son, "I will give you one of my kidneys." Would my action be unfair? I don't think so. I can do what I want with my own; it is my decision. However, you may respond, "Well, you only have two kidneys. What if you had four or five? If you had the power to help, then you would be morally obligated to do so." Possibly, but if I had four or five available kidneys and I did not want to give that other person a kidney, would I be necessarily acting unjustly? Maybe I would be uncompassionate, or maybe unloving, but certainly not necessarily unjustly because they are my kidneys and I can do what I want with them, without violating any legal standard. In one sense, it is not a question of fairness, it is a question of personal preference. I would be under absolutely no legal obligation to give any person a kidney, nor to treat him as I would any other person, family included. I would be free to act on the basis of my personal preference, free to choose, and free to do or perform what I want with my own. So it is with God.

Again, suppose that you are very wealthy, and you decide that you want to donate some of that money to various charities. Are you legally or societally obligated to give to as many charities as you possibly can, making sure that no one charity gets any more than the others? Absolutely not. You can do what you want with your own. So it is with God. It is not a question of fairness, it is not a question of legal obligation; it is a question of legitimate, personal preference, plain and simple. God can do what He wants with His own – He can give His salvation or withhold it – and He does not have to answer to us for that. Romans 9:19 reads, "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?'" That is, God is sovereign, who can resist His will and purposes? When He exerts His power, we must respond and obey. No one can overturn His plans? Hence, why does He not elect everyone and give His salvation to all, if everything depends on, and is determined by, His will? But we further read, Romans 9:20, "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honourable use, and another for common use?" Again, God can do what He wants with His creatures; and He can purpose some of His creatures for honourable use and some for ignoble use; and we need to bow in silence before Him.

God would have been fair if He had let all of us go to hell, for all have sinned; and thus all rightly deserve punishment and the full unleashing of His wrath. God would have been just to leave all of us on that destructive course to eternal damnation, but He was pleased to save some; and He is not to be charged with folly or immorality. He was not bound to save any. Thank God that He was pleased to save some. As a believer, you may ask, "Why only some, Lord?" Well, again, the answer to that question is found in God's heart alone. God does not call us to understand the depths of His mind; He simply calls us to accept His revealed truth.

Election is a matter of distinguishing love

You may retort, "But God is morally obligated to treat everybody fairly, because He is a God of love. Love demands that He do good to all. You even said that if you had extra kidneys and did not help someone in need, then perhaps you would be uncompassionate or unloving. One is morally obligated to help his neighbour, and even his enemy, if one has the means and ability to do so. Isn't this the Christian ethic?" That is true, but the loving act is not always discernible. Helping someone in a given situation may not necessarily be the most loving act. Other factors may have to be considered in deeming whether an act is loving or not. Often we must view matters within the bigger picture. It may appear loving to provide my son's hospital roommate with a kidney so that he might live and function normally. But if this person has a criminal record of molesting, raping, and savagely killing children, and if he threatens to continue to do so once he is well enough, and if there is reasonable certainty that he will continue in this perverse behaviour, then it would be more loving for me to withhold the kidney, as I discriminatingly consider the countless lives that will be saved. In this case, in doing good to some, I must at the same time do evil to another; and in this sense, I must show 'hatred' toward this person, for the sake of showing love to others. I may be morally obligated to love, according to the Christian ethic; but I am also morally free to 'hate' (i.e., to invite and pursue the just infliction of punishment on felons). Thus, we read the loud plea of the saints in heaven, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev. 6:10). I am to love my enemies, and do good to them personally; but I may also 'hate' them juridically, and thus welcome swift justice and fitting punishment. Thus, Paul could write, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds" (2 Tm. 4:14). I may love a Hitler as a human being made in the image of God, while at the same time hating him as a barbaric, treacherous mass murderer. Such a seemingly paradoxical human experience is possible because different reference points are in view.

Accordingly, for reasons unknown to us, God loves some (in a special way) and hates others (though He loves His creatures in a general and provisional way - see Mt. 5:44ff.); and He is pleased to withhold His saving help and eternal blessing from the latter (i.e., reprobates) whom He (redemptively) hates (i.e., rejects) for the sake of His glory and for the sake of those whom He loves. This truth is ultimately a mystery, only understood by God Himself. So, we read, "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory" (Rm. 9:22f.). Suppose, for instance, that a benevolent dictator is presented with two insurrectionists who have threatened the continuance and stability of the State through their rebellious and subversive actions. The dictator, because of his loving disposition, may feel inwardly constrained to pardon both offenders; but because of the need to strongly convey to the citizenry that unlawful, mutinous behaviour will be neither condoned nor tolerated, he may feel outwardly constrained to exact punishment in order to secure the peaceful maintenance of the State by discouraging further insurrection. Accordingly, He may pardon and save one offender for the sake of mercy; and may condemn and destroy the other for the sake of justice. Love demands mercy, and law demands justice; and with the demonstration of both, conscience is fully satisfied. Love cannot disavow law; and law must not disregard love. Accordingly, God is both just and loving (though we may not understand the underlying reasons for the particular expressions and forms of each) – "that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rm. 3:26b). To say that God is a loving God does not mean that He must love absolutely and exclusively. The concept of love necessitates the concept of hatred. The holy character of God demands the expression of His wrath and judgement against sin. God hates sinners because of their sin.

From a human point of view, hypothetically speaking, God could have elected everyone before time began, ensuring that they would be delivered from sin, and thus exempt from wrath (and I am sure that we would agree that that would be the 'loving thing' to do). But He was pleased to leave some in their sin, and thus He has appointed them for destruction (see 1 Pe. 2:8,9). Why? The answer, again, is found in God Himself; but we must eternally affirm that He is righteous and good, though we may never be able to discern His ways. So, for reasons known only to Himself, God has been pleased to love some and hate (or reject) others. He is sovereign. Thus, we read, "For this is a word of promise: 'AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.' And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written, 'JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED'" (Rm. 9:9-13). God chose to love Jacob, promising covenantal blessings; and thereby rejected Esau, excluding him from those blessings. Why did God hate or reject Esau? Answer: He was pleased to love Jacob.

But you may say, "Let's return to your illustration about your son needing a kidney. The only reason why you chose him, or would choose him, is because he is family; you have a natural relationship with him. The selection process is a bit biased here because you have a special relationship with your son. And we all, as God's creatures, have a special relationship with Him, and thus should be treated in a loving manner." Let me respond this way. Surely, it is conceivable that I may have had a serious, irreconcilable falling out with my son, and had come to greatly detest him. And so, isn't it conceivable that I could go into that hospital room and out of spite, because I hated my son, say to the person lying beside him, "I will give you my kidney." That certainly is conceivable, regardless of the natural, or blood, relationship that I sustain with my son. I have no moral obligation to give my kidney to my son, rather than to a stranger, simply because of natural relationship. Again, legitimate, personal preference is based on personal pleasure; it is that simple. And I am free to preferentially and specially love whomever I desire. Accordingly, God is free to specially love and prefer some over others. Now, that may emotionally jar and upset you, but it is true. The doctrine of election always evokes strong reaction. When Jesus presented this doctrine of election to His disciples, many ceased to follow Him. They were offended at His teaching. We read, "[Jesus said,] 'All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out...No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day...For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.' As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore" (Jn. 6:37,44,65f.). And recall also how Jesus prayed, prior to His exit from the world, "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given me; for they are Thine" (Jn. 17:9). Jesus made a clear distinction between the world, which receives no saving grace or benefits, and the ones whom the Father has given Him to redeem.

Election is rooted in God's eternal counsels

So, one is elected because of divine love. God was pleased to set His love on some, not because of anything He saw in them, but simply because He decided to love them. He found the reason in Himself. Do you see this implied connection in 1 Thessalonians 1:4? – "Knowing, brethren beloved [loved by God] His choice of you." Colossians 3:12 teaches the same, "And so, as those who have been chosen of God [i.e., divinely elected], holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." One is not morally obligated to love everyone, at all times, under all conditions. For instance, if I wanted to financially sponsor a child, who was living in poverty, through UNICEF or some Christian organization that aids such children; and if various pictures of children whom I could financially sponsor were laid before me for consideration, would I be morally obligated to choose one over the other? Would I be duty-bound to choose one child over another? Absolutely not. As mentioned, I am free to love whom I want to love. God has the same right and prerogative, even though He is the Creator. For example, I may plant a forest of trees, and be responsible for their growth and nurture. And I would not be morally faulted for choosing to cut down some trees, while sparing others, in order to accomplish some personally designed end. You may retort, "But people are not trees!" That is true. But in keeping with the analogy, I suppose that I should cut down all the trees and burn them, for they, by nature, are rotten to the core. Of course, human illustrations and analogies break down at some point when we are attempting to explain the truth of God's acts and ways.

God's special love precedes time and space. And thus, we may refer to the 'foreknowledge of God'. We read, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood" (1 Pe. 1:1,2). Some believe that the foreknowledge of God means that God, from before the creation, knew who were going to believe; and these ones whom He saw were going to believe are the elect. Belief therefore precedes election, and determines one's election.

In response, first, this particular passage teaches that one is an elect in keeping with God's prior knowledge, not in keeping with personal belief; that is, God's prior knowledge is the ground for election, not human belief. Second, to say that the foreknowledge of God means that God saw beforehand who would believe is eisegesis; that is, one is reading into the text that which is not there (according to biased preference). What did God foreknow? Romans 8:28f. reads, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren." It does not say that God foreknew that some would perform the act of belief, but that God foreknew certain ones. The foreknowledge of God is not simply intellectual, but relational; that is, it is the language of love. God, of course, knows all things. He is omniscient. The term 'foreknowledge' thus has a special meaning when used of God. For God to foreknow someone means that God loved that person before his or her physical birth. In His mind, God sustained a special relationship with some, prior to time and to their historical existence. Thus, we read in Ephesians 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined [this phrase parallels "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined" in Romans 8:29] us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will." Love was the motivation of divine predestination, and thus of divine election which logically precedes it.

Election is a gracious act

God's choosing is independent of our choosing; that is, His choosing us from eternity past precedes our choosing Him and His Son in history. That is why we speak in terms of 'salvation is all of grace'. Hence we read in Romans 11:3-5, "'Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED THY PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN THINE ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.' But what is the divine response to him? 'I HAVE KEPT FOR MYSELF SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL [i.e., I have My elect].' In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice [literally, 'election of grace']."

My believing friend, you are one of the elect because God was pleased to show you His grace; He took the initiative and made you one of His own. There are those who say, "I decided to think about God; I decided to turn to God and to believe in Christ. I first chose God, and therefore I am an elect." Wrong! One is an elect before one experiences belief and salvation. You are not an elect because you have believed the Gospel and have entered into salvation, you have salvation (and even the ability to believe) because you were first an elect. Thus, 2 Timothy 2:10 confirms, "For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory." The apostle Paul, in effect, says, "I labour, I go through trials and difficulties, for the sake of the elect, so that the day will come when they will actually embrace salvation." Election logically and chronologically precedes salvation. Acts 13:48 puts this matter beyond all dispute, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (Please, be honest with the language at face value. Often when the topic of election, or predestination, comes up, the discussion is more emotional and subjective, rather than exegetical and objective. Often one will reject the teaching of election because he or she "can't see God being like that, or acting like that." At this point, reasoning becomes useless, and prayer is the only recourse).

God did not look down the corridor of time and saw that you would believe, through some ability and power in yourself. You were totally dead in your trespasses and sins, with no spiritual desire or prompting toward God. You couldn't even move toward God apart from His awakening grace, concerning which He had to take the initiative to bestow (and, of course, He does not give grace to all, or else all would believe, for who can resist His grace?). If you are a true believer, then God elected you so that you could, and would, believe. Election, in no way, is based on, or determined by, one's belief, whether in time, or what God saw before the foundation of the world. It is rooted in God's sovereign will and purpose. Salvation is not dependent upon us. It is all of God. Salvation has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him; so that when we boast or glory, we may only boast or glory in God.

Someone may retort, "Yes, but what about such texts as: '...whoever believes in [Jesus] should not perish, but have eternal life' (Jn. 3:16); and 'WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED' (Rm. 10:13); etc.". The 'whosoever will' verses mean that everyone has a chance to be saved; salvation is for all." In response, first, 'whoever' or 'whosoever' is simply an indefinite relative pronoun. It is non-specific. It does not mean 'everyone' or 'all'. We are dealing with grammar here, not doctrine. I could say, "Whoever will cross the finish line first will win the race." The use of 'whoever' implies that I do not know who will cross the finish line first, but that person who does will win. Second, the phrase 'whosoever will...' texts do not mean that everybody has an equal chance, or is free, to believe in Christ, if he wants to. To argue this way is to import one's theology into the phrase and grammar. The phrase suggests a condition; it is not indicating an actual or universal situation. For instance, I may say, "Whosoever will establish a successful business, will become wealthy." Not everyone will establish a successful business, nor will everyone have an equal chance to establish one, nor will everyone be free to establish one. The point is simply that if someone (it doesn't matter who he or she is) does indeed establish a successful business, then he or she will become wealthy. We are dealing with a potential situation here, not an actual one, and much less a universal one. Now, I most definitely believe in the 'whosoever will' texts, but I maintain that one will not will to believe in or come to Christ unless God first comes to him or her and grants that person grace. It all depends on God. He must take the initiative, given the fact that we are all spiritually dead in trespasses and sin. Unless God takes the initiative, we remain as corpses.

So, one's salvation is based on election. Recall similar language by Jesus in John 15:16, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit." Accordingly, because salvation is rooted in election, salvation is thus guaranteed. Sometimes I have the situation, while teaching at the seminary, in which a student will approach me and say, "Professor, if I do not pass your course, I will not graduate." Now, suppose everyone in my class achieved a 42% and failed the course, which would mean that no one would graduate – a very embarrassing situation for the seminary. And suppose that the administration called me in and appealed, "Now, it would be right for you to fail everyone, but can you find love and compassion in your heart (because it is your sole and free prerogative) to pass at least half the class?" It would be a matter of my personal preference in deciding who would pass, for all received a failing grade. All deserve to fail; and anyone receiving a passing mark would do so out of unobligatory mercy and grace. Now, because I select half of the class to pass (for reasons only known to myself), I would then guarantee their graduation. Similarly, because God has selected you, as a true believer, out of the mass of humanity, because He has elected you unto salvation, that salvation is guaranteed.

The evidences of election

You may be asking yourself the question: How do I know if I am an elect? Again, the apostle Paul says, "Because we know, brethren, His choice [election] of you" (1 Th. 1:4). How did the apostle Paul know this? There are clear evidences of election; and please do not miss this point because it may bring you considerable peace and assurance. There is visible proof, there are hard facts. Prior to this statement, the apostle states, "Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope" (vs. 3). There is a logical connection here. Because these eminent virtues were evident, the apostle therefore affirmed, "I know that you are one of the elect." There is nothing mysterious or elusive about knowing whether one is an elect or not. So, 2 Peter 1:5-10 reads, "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours, and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ...Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble." If you, as a true believer, showing these graces or virtues; if there are spiritual works and fruit demonstrated in your life, then you are confirming the truth that God has called and elected you. Election necessarily entails a certain moral and spiritual condition. Election is unto a holy and righteous life. Again, we read, "[J]ust as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him" (Eph. 1:4a).

So, salvation is sure because of election; and salvation has been secured because of the atoning work of Christ. Christ died because of the sin of the world; and so we may freely offer the Gospel to all (we do not know who the elect are; God ordains the means, as well as the ends). Christ died because of the sin of the world, but He died for the elect, those who will actually come and partake of that freely offered salvation. The elect will be saved, but they must be saved. Practically speaking, because salvation is sure, believers are thus assured of that salvation. Election is the foundation of the assurance of salvation. The realization of such an assurance typically results in worship. The giving of thanks is the main verb in this passage in 1 Thessalonians 1, from which we are presenting this doctrine of election. Again, we read, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you." (vss. 2-4). The reasons for giving thanks are "the work of faith, the labour of love, the steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ." The ground of giving thanks is God's election. A true understanding of election by the believer ought to result in worship – humble praise and thanksgiving, knowing that salvation is all of grace.

Are you one of the elect? Are you evidencing the 'work of faith'? We are considering here more than a verbalized faith that says, "I believe in Christ. I walked the aisle when I was six years old;" but rather a clear demonstration of faith. Ministry or service for God must flow out of faith. How could Paul draw the conclusion that these Thessalonian believers were the elect if it were simply a matter of belief in the heart; he refers to work which results from faith, something visible. Further, are you evidencing the 'labor of love'? This is not some warm, gushy feeling, by which you may say, "I feel nice and comfortable with the saints." That is not good enough; that is not visible proof. There must be a toil, an exhausting effort, that flows out of love. As with faith, there must be a demonstration of love for God, for believers, and for people. Moreover, are you evidencing the 'steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ'? The elect do persevere in the face of trials and difficulties because of their hope in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom. Hope must inspire endurance.

Election does not negate human responsibility

The cynic may say, "Well, there is no sense preaching the Gospel. If you are one of the elect, then you will be saved anyway." But God has ordained that the means by which one would realize his or her election is the preaching of the Gospel. We read, "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Th. 2:13). Again, God ordains the means, as well as the ends. The cynic may further say, "Effort and exertion in seeking God are pointless because if you are not one of the elect, then you cannot do anything anyway." That is fatalism. We must maintain the truth of human responsibility along with that of divine sovereignty. Ultimately we are faced with a mystery; but we must hold to both these truths in 'theological tension'. Divine election, rather than excluding human responsibility, entails it, and makes room for it. For instance, with the apparent fact that some may fall away from the faith, the apostle Paul writes, "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness'" (2 Tm. 2:19). God has His elect, those who sustain a special relationship with him, but these ones must still assume responsibility and vigorously work out their salvation. This passage continues, "Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Tm. 2:20f.). Election entails, not negates, the importance and place of confession, repentance, perseverance, faith, etc. Election must blossom into these spiritual graces.

Everyone has a responsibility to listen and respond to the Gospel. My unsaved friend, don't try to figure out first whether you are one of the elect or not, before you decide whether you will respond or not. You can't do it. You must first respond to and accept the Gospel; and if you do, then you will realize your election. What I am saying is that you will never, and you can never, know if you are one of the elect until you first believe, and that belief will bring understanding. Only with personal belief is the truth of election affirmed. So, the primary issue for you is not whether you are one of the elect or not; the primary issue is whether you believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Do not rationalize, and say, "Well, I may not be one of the elect, so it does not matter if I respond to truth or not. I will just sit back; and if God wants me to be saved, He will 'zap' me." God commands and demands, as well as expects and desires, certain action to which we must yield and respond. We read, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pe. 3:9). This is a genuine desire of God. This desire does not make a mockery, nor contradiction, of His election. This desire is a true expression of His heart. He loves His creatures, but hates sinners (again, there is no contradiction here). As a loving God, He wants all to repent, though no one has the ability or strength of himself to do so. Again, we are faced with a mystery. (This language of 'mystery' is not a convenient device to avoid difficulties. It is a necessary affirmation because of the nature of the case. Finite minds cannot comprehensively grasp and penetrate infinite truth. Even in our study of the truth, we must live by faith. Just as we must accept, by faith, the truth that Jesus Christ is one person, consisting of two natures – fully God, fully man, so must we accept, by faith, this perplexing truth of election).

May I say this reverently: God's wish or desire that all may come to repentance will not be realized, for many have, and will perish. So, obviously something else is going on here, which we cannot explain. Of course, God could save everyone, if it was simply a matter of power, for God has all power. Yet, according to His eternal decree, not all will be saved; some must perish. Only God knows why. God is bound by His decree, though He has freely established it. For reasons known only to God, some must eternally perish in hell. (Remember, the Scriptures do not teach double election or predestination; that is, election to hell and election to heaven. In the Scriptures, election is unto eternal life and holiness; predestination is unto conformity to Christ's image. The Scriptures do not use such terms negatively in reference to salvation. Logically, of course, the election and predestination of some people to a certain end does necessitate an inevitable end for the rest; but let us be content with the restrictive usage and meaning of the Scriptural language, and hence with the mystery, and not go beyond what the Scriptures actually reveal and state. Words are important; and every word of Scripture is inspired of God. Let us be content with Scriptures' own logic, without imposing our own).

With respect to the eternal damnation of reprobates, we must say as Abraham, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly" (Gn. 18:25). God has no pleasure in the death of sinners – "'Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,' declares the Lord God. 'Therefore, repent and live'" (Ez. 18:31f.). God does not mercilessly create people simply to capriciously cast them into hell, as if playing some sick, reprehensible game with humanity. With the Gospel being preached, it is your responsibility and obligation to believe. Forget about figuring out whether you are an elect or not. Stop justifying yourself. Quit rationalizing. Believe the Gospel message, and in your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, you then will realize whether you are one of the elect; and your response will be one of worship. Our God is one to be feared.

Let me conclude by quoting the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter III, sections 6-8:

As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sins, to the praise of His glorious justice. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.