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.