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.

How I Came to Believe in God’s Sovereign Election

Dear Reader,

I want to tell you a bit of my journey in coming to understand this doctrine the way I do. I hope this is helpful for giving context to our conversation.

I understand that this is a subject that can cause stress, confusion and anxiety. In my journey to understanding this doctrine I have experienced all of that. It is a big one! So, when the time comes that this doctrine shows up in the passage I am preaching on in a given week, I am always a little bit extra stressed, knowing that there is potential for strife because of what I will say. This is not the only doctrine I preach that causes this type of stress, but this one causes it most easily.

I also want to say up front that I don’t require anyone to believe what I believe. I will always gladly enter into conversation with other truth-seekers. I want what I believe to be pressed and tested. I want to either repent of what I believe and believe the truth or I want to fortify what I believe and be strengthened.

This is not a doctrine that I grew up believing. I was aware of it while I was growing up but was never required to believe it… and I didn’t. In fact, I mocked this belief and generally believed the opposite all the way into my late 20s. It wasn’t until after God began to call me into ministry and I began to really take his word more seriously that I began to believe what I do about his sovereignty.

In 2007, knowing that God would eventually move me into pastoring somewhere, I began to take Bible college courses. In one of the first courses I took the prof asked if we had read the Bible from cover to cover. Although I had read the Bible all of my life I realized that I never had disciplined myself to read it from front to back. And so I set out to do that.

I still remember over that year of reading coming to the realization numerous times that God really did seem to work in ways that were different from what I believed. The stories of Pharaoh and the plagues, Job, and Paul’s writings in Romans were beginning to confirm to me that I was not on track with what I believed. It has been a gradual but steady journey since then but each time I read through the Bible again from front to back I am more convinced of God’s sovereignty in all things, including election.

At first, it was a reluctant realization. “Ugh, it really does work that way?!” was basically where I was at. I really didn’t want to believe it because I knew it would put me in the theological minority. However, over the last dozen or so years it is something that I have become both more convinced of and increasingly comforted by. Now, please don’t read into that that I have it all figured out, or that I no longer feel any discomfort with the implications, or that I am entirely comfortable with some of the conclusions that must be drawn.

As I came to a passage in Thessalonians that I was going to preach that dealt with this doctrine in 2015, I addressed it in a sermon and there was certainly some controversy. In the ensuing conflict some people said to me that they simply did not believe in predestination, that it wasn’t taught in the Bible and I shouldn’t be teaching it. I was baffled at this. My only response was “You can’t NOT believe in predestination. It is clearly taught in the Bible. We might understand it differently but neither of us can say that it isn’t taught in the Bible.”

Early in 2016 I took a seminary course on Calvinism and Arminianism. This was a deep dive into the theology of both sides of this debate and was taught masterfully by Dr. Stan Fowler. I learned many things in this course but I think the best thing I took away from it was the realization that we can believe different things about this doctrine and still work and worship together.

Dr. Fowler demonstrated that there are most certainly passages of scripture that seem to clearly teach one way of seeing things, and other passages that, if read in isolation, lead to a different conclusion. It is up to the student of scripture then, Dr. Fowler told us, to examine everything God’s word says on the subject and decide for ourselves where we believe the greater weight of evidence lies.

In other words, no one should arrogantly believe that they have an airtight case for either side. There is room for difference, and there must be much humility in our conversations.