I was recently asked about 1 Thessalonians 1:4, which says,
“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.”
The question that always gets asked with scriptures like this is, does God choose some, and not others?
There are two ways of seeing this; two systems for the way people see this scripture, and I’m not going to explain those here. What I want to focus on is what we can all agree on.
One thing is clear, Scripture tells us over and over that God has chosen his people, “elected” believers, “predestined” them, and “appointed” them to eternal life. So the question is not whether or not God chooses us his people, but what does this mean? What other kinds of implications do you draw from this?
This topic is an old one and it is a topic that some people are tired of hearing about because they believe we can’t know the answer. However, instead of ignoring the topic, we ought to trust God is not out to confuse us, and we can endeavor to understand His words. Like any scripture, it’s worth pursuing and understanding.
If I’m speaking to he widest audience of Christians, here is how I would answer this question. You can either take the words like election and predestination at face value or you can do some mental gymnastics with the meaning of those words. But whatever you believe about this Scripture, this is the one thing we should agree upon, even if it’s a mystery to us: God gets all the glory and credit for each of our individual salvations (not just most of it).
The Bible is clear that God’s mercy is somehow extended to all nations and all people. In Christ, God has loved the whole world, and he has loved us all in a way in which we are all without excuse (Romans 1). So we are all loved and without excuse and yet only some are saved.
What is most important about all the passages about the elect, or about predestination, whatever you believe about them, is that God gets all of the glory for our individual salvation. We don’t get any credit for our faith in him. The reformers called this Soli Deo Gloria, which is Latin for Glory to God alone. 1 Corinthians 1:29 says he chose what is weak “so that no one may boast in his presence.” When we see those who turn to God and love him, we need to give God glory for that rather than feeling like we can congratulate the believer. This is because we don’t look at people whose eyes are still blind, as if they are just the dummies, and as if we’re so wise for now being able to “see” and choosing God. That’s not how the Bible talks about those who are saved.
We were lost sheep He has rescued. Every one of us who has believed. And He gets all of the credit for it. If that were not true, there would be some room for boasting. If we can’t give God all of the glory for our individual salvation, we tend to look down on those who haven’t put their faith in God. We tend to not pray for salvation for others since we tend to think that’s not something that’s in God’s hands to answer. We tend to feel exasperated with missions because we think God isn’t going to do any more than he has already done on the cross – as if the rest is all up to us. We tend to think we need to persuade people to faith with clever words. So we tend to think the most dedicated of believers are the ones who work at frantic and feverish paces to save the lost, not taking care of their personal finances, not eating healthy, and often neglecting their family members in the name of reaching the lost. That mindset makes us the savior of the lost, or at best co-saviors. Granted, we ought to be fervent in our ministry. Laziness is just as much a wickedness as everything else I’ve mentioned. However, if God is the one who gets the glory for every salvation, we ought to act and think and speak as if that is true. God is big enough to take responsibility for His sheep. He has done it in Christ. It is finished. The names have been written (Revelation 13:8). Instead of avoiding discussing these difficult Scriptures, let’s love and enjoy them to the fullest, knowing they clearly say we have been appointed to eternal life, and knowing they are there to show us we are saved to God’s glory alone.