Can We Know That Someone Is Chosen By God?

Can we know that someone is chosen by God? Yes. Paul, writing to a group of believers tells them he knows they are chosen. Peter does the same in 1 Peter 2:9.

In 1 Thess 1:4-5 Paul says this: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

Paul can say he knows this not because he has been given special insight – a superpower, if you will – to see who is and is not chosen by God but because when the gospel comes to someone in word and power, in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, these are all evidences of that person’s election. He knows that they were chosen because they responded to the gospel. They had been given the gift of faith by God so that the desire to respond was there when the gospel was presented.

Paul discerned this by careful observation, and we can do the same.

A Right Response
The right response to observing this evidence is encouragement and celebration. The right response to someone who is not displaying this evidence is not to inform them (as if you could) that they are not chosen, but to pray that God will grant them repentance and that they will accept his offer.

In my readings, in helping me to understand this doctrine (I spent years very disturbed and perplexed by it) I have found the writing of pastor and theologian R.C. Sproul helpful. Of this doctrine he says this:

“Left to himself, no fallen person would ever choose God. Fallen people still have a free will and are able to choose what they desire. But the problem is that we have no desire for God and will not choose Christ unless we are first regenerated. Faith is a gift that comes out of rebirth.” (R.C. Sproul – Essential Truths of the Christian Faith)

We CANNOT know in advance of a personal response who is chosen by God, and we should not try to guess, or worse, base an evangelization strategy on such speculation. Only God knows in advance whom he has chosen. But Paul here gives us a way to identify who has been chosen by God based on their personal response and their repentance, their turning toward God.

Four Summary Points
1. Paul is sure that they are chosen by God based on the effect in their lives FOLLOWING their response to the gospel that Paul preached.

2. Paul’s preaching was instrumental in their salvation, but it was not the cause of their salvation.

3. Paul’s preaching did not save them but God planned to use Paul’s preaching as a means to their salvation.

4. Paul’s preaching didn’t cause them to be chosen, but revealed that they already were chosen.

The above applies to all preachers of the gospel. And this is what we should understand we are doing when we preach – when we use words to proclaim the good news, whether from a pulpit or across the table in a coffee shop.

We should preach the word and hope that every person who hears the truth of the gospel will respond positively. We know that the power in our preaching comes not from our words but from the word of God and his Spirit. We understand that God is using us as instruments to call people to himself. And we are filled with gratitude that he has included us in his process.

Are You Someone That People Should Imitate?

In order to lead confidently, you must be reasonably sure that you are someone that others should follow. You must believe that the words you speak and ways you model are worth following if you are going to encourage others to imitate you. But this must be done with care and with a caveat.

If you are someone that people naturally follow there is always a temptation to conform them to your own image. But if we are merely seeking to enlist others into a clone army our domain we will soon become an evil empire, and all the usual totalitarian impulses will rise up in us. We become agitated that those we seek to control won’t get with our clearly delineated program. The ego inflates, the nose elevates, and the eyes can’t bear to look below.

“What is with these people, Lord? Why won’t they become more like me? Why can’t they see that my way is the best way? Don’t they see how balanced/godly/disciplined I am? How can they not want that for themselves?”

Like me, you have probably never said these things to God… out loud! But try saying them to yourself now and see if there isn’t a ring of truth to them. When we ask these questions of God and fail to see how foolish they are, pride stokes the furnace of ego and the fire of evil is not far off. In being frustrated with the lack in others we are reinforced in our impressions of our own superiority.

So there is a dark side to inviting people to imitate us. If we do not deny the temptation to become the focal point of people’s affections, we will end up doing a lot of damage – to them and to us. It is a risky course of action. But it is a risk we are commanded to take.

Inviting people to imitate us only goes badly when when we are the end point of their affections. More than once the Apostle Paul implores the people to whom he is writing, “Be imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17). But this cuts two ways and it cuts fast. When we ask others to imitate those areas of our lives which are not conformed to the way of Christ, we lead them into nothing but sin.

Paul says imitate me, but with a caveat. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) When we speak the caveat, we give permission to reject anything in us that doesn’t conform to that standard. If we do that we will have a chance at keeping the false god Ego in check. We kill that monster of ego with humility.

If you want to learn humility, opportunities are not in short supply. Simply submit to the path that God is pointing you down and begin to walk. Before long, your opportunities will come along.

Choose Today Whom You Will Please

“If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of God.” (Galatians 1:10)

Paul set a good example of disregarding people’s expectations if those expectations were in conflict with God’s. In other words, he didn’t play politics with the pastorate. He didn’t care about pleasing people who could “do something for him” or help him move up the ladder. (The whole concept of “moving up the ladder” in terms of pastoring is an oxymoron. But I digress… fodder for another post…)

If we pastors today could be so absolute and so bold about pleasing God and not man our churches would be better off, and we would probably face rejection and hardship more often.

But let’s not err on the opposite side. Paul wasn’t at odds with everyone, just with those who were at odds with God. This is a distinction we need to be careful to learn. He wasn’t one of those guys who did the opposite of what he was told just to prove that nobody was going to tell him what to do.

Many pastors worry that if a number of people in the church don’t like them they must be doing something wrong. Others worry that if too many people like them they must be doing something wrong.

Either could be true, or untrue. Sometimes people dislike a pastor for reasons that should concern him and about which he should do something. In other cases, people dislike a pastor for reasons that should not concern him and about which he should most certainly not do anything. There is a lot of discernment involved in this occupation.

But we know this: people do love to be pleased, and many pastors feed off of approval. This type of symbiotic relationship can develop but it is a relationship with deadly consequences.

Churches often hire people-pleasing party planners instead of prophetic types because prophets throw very strange parties and very few enjoy them. (But the ones who do, REALLY do.)

So the people-pleaser could receive the praise and support of the people while an obedient servant would be bound, gagged, thrown on a raft and sent down the river by the same people. The next time you see a guy floating by, bound, gagged, on a raft… there may be very good reasons to just let him pass. But it could just be that he’s just the guy you’ve been looking for. You won’t really know until you have a conversation.

If a man’s chief aim is to please people he is probably more likely to remain employed – you know, polls and approval ratings and all that – but he will also inevitably disappoint God. And this will always be to the eventual detriment of any church. The praise of man improperly received, once metabolized, mutates into poison for the soul.

But if a man’s chief aim is to please God, people in the church will be blessed even if he is eventually rejected by the majority. So there is your choice: choose today whom you will please.

The Return of a Gift

When a gift is given that you neither consciously desired nor openly requested, what is it for?

Some of you may remember that I was a musician once. For a few years as a young adult writing songs was the passion of my life. Every spare moment was used for writing and recording songs. That changed when Anne Marie and I began our family and I transitioned, out of necessity, to quieter forms of writing. There was some grieving over that, but I followed where it led and eventually found some writing gigs, and even some writing gigs that paid a little bit.

I honestly didn’t think I would ever be making music again, but I am. I wrote and recorded a full album in 2000 and then did demos of many songs in the following years. My last batch of demos were recorded in 2007 and then a few more trickled out in 2011. So it’s been a while. Last year I figured it was long enough and the verdict was sure, so I sold some vintage gear, thinking I was done with my music making ways. 

Then late last year I decided I would organize and read through the personal journals I have kept since 2000. There are about 30 journals filled with my thoughts on life and theology and my attempts at poetry. I also found a lot of song lyrics that I had never put to melody and this seemed to spark something in me. Melodies came for these lyrics. I paired those melodies with these unused words and with the wisdom that comes with age, I modified, edited and overall strengthened these lyrics and made them into new songs.

I can see in my journals that after 2002, when Madeleine was born, the writing is less lyrical and far more intellectual. So after 2007 or so there wasn’t much in the way of unused lyrics to put melodies to. I wondered if that would be the end of a brief foray into songwriting. It turns out that was just the practice phase, just the warm up. For the last seven or eight months songs, completely new songs, have been showing up regularly. This hasn’t been the case in at least ten years, probably closer to twelve years. But here I am, knocking out one new song after another. There are twelve that are complete and ready for production and a bunch of others that are incomplete but have potential.

Now, this has put a real kink in the plans I had at the beginning of 2018. The plan was to pursue a Masters degree in theology over the next few years. I was already taking steps to put that plan in motion as this gift of writing songs was being given back to me. And that is really how I see it and how I hold it. What is God’s purpose in putting this back into my hands? I admit that I’m baffled by it. When a gift is given that you neither consciously desired nor openly requested, what is it for?

It’s possible that this is given to me just for my personal benefit. The process of capturing the moment of inspiration and bringing a song into existence are moments of great intuition and great catharsis. It is definitely my favourite part of the process, although I do enjoy the art of studio work as well. The catharsis is much needed. I have a lot to process about the last five years – actually, the last decade of my life. When you hear these songs and read the lyrics you will hear a lot of pain processing. 

I took a staycation this week to properly demo some of the songs and so I’ve been in my study/recording room the last few days. And just like old times, as I get into the creative flow, more new songs are showing up. This is the way it’s always been for me when I’m in this mode. 

Am I going to stay in this mode? I honestly don’t know. What am I supposed to do with these songs? Just write them? Write and record? Write and record and perform? 

Stay tuned…

In case you are one of those people who didn’t even know that I did music, here is some to listen to: