1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a, 9 – 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction… 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
Every once-in-a-while, I will find myself having a discussion with folks about the doctrine of election. Obviously, for many, this doctrine brings with it a great deal of baggage. But, for those who grasp it, there is wonderful hope. It is a good thing to know that God will save his elect without fail. It is wonderful to know that the salvation of the elect is not dependent on my skill, my cleverness, my goodness, my intellect, or anything else in me. And it is wonderful that, though the salvation of the elect is not dependent upon me, I have the joyful honor of being used by God as a tool in his hand to accomplish his sovereign will.
Sometimes when people ask about this doctrine, they will ask how we know who is elect. They assume that somehow those who believe what the Bible says about election are out there trying to identify the elect before ever engaging them with the gospel. But nothing can be further from the truth. A person who has a true grasp of election will boldly and honestly share the gospel with everyone we can. But how then do we know who is chosen by God?
Note what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in verses 4 and 5 above. He knew that they were chosen, because the gospel came to them, not only in word, but also in power, Spirit, and conviction. I fear that, when we read this, we assume charismatic miracles here. And perhaps that was the case in Paul’s ministry. But I think something simpler is at hand here. Paul brought the gospel in honest words to the people. That preached word was met with the power of God. That power of God changes lives. That power of God opens hearts. And people who believe are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God when they become new in Christ. There is conviction that comes with the gospel as sinners see their sin, feel the pain of their sin, sense the fear of the judgment of God, turn, cry out to Jesus, and are saved.
In verse 9, Paul continues to say that he knows the Thessalonians are among the elect because they responded to the preached word of god by turning from idols to serve the Lord. In a word, they repented. The people saw their sin, turned from their sin, turned to the Lord, and committed themselves to God’s service. Let me be clear that no person is saved who does not desire to serve the Lord. While salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, no salvation occurs without a change of heart that includes a letting go of sinful self-determination for humble submission to God. Lordship is included in faith that repents.
So, two quick questions. First, are you saved? You answer that question by looking at the verses above and asking if this is any part of your life. Have you heard the word of God calling you to Jesus? Have you been convicted of your sin? Have you believed? Have you turned from your sin and surrendered your life to follow the Lord? Do you have the Holy Spirit indwelling you? If not, I urge you to run to Jesus before it is too late.
The second question is where we began. How do we know who is chosen? The answer is this: Do they respond to the gospel with saving faith? You know who is chosen by sharing the gospel with them and seeing the Spirit of God move them to salvation. If they come to Christ, you know they are chosen. If they do not come to Christ, you know to keep sharing, because today might not be the day when God has planned to bring them to himself. If they do not come, you keep sharing as God opens the door for you to do so until either they come to faith or die without Christ. Your job is not to know who is elect. Your job is to share Jesus faithfully.