Saturday, October 23, 2010

Arriving At the Biblical Doctrine of Election From First and Second Thessalonians

In today’s post, I decided to spend some time on the Biblical Doctrine of Election---that is, what the Bible has to say about election.
For me, this touches close to home because of the sermon on 1 Thessalonians 1 I heard a few days ago. The preacher arrived at 1 Thessalonians 1:4 and argued that to be chosen of God means to be “predetermined” for salvation “from before the foundation of the world” (taking Ephesians 1:4 out of context). In this post, however, I am gonna take a look at Paul’s teaching on election to the Thessalonians...and see if the preacher’s idea of Ephesians 1:4 matches what the rest of Scripture teaches. I will first look at all the passages on “election” and “chosenness” in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and then I’ll sum up what we can know about election from this book. While 1 and 2 Thessalonians have to match up to the rest of Scripture, we can know something about the biblical teaching through these two Pauline epistles.
First, we’ll take a look at 1 Thessalonians 1 regarding election:
“knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God” (1 Thess. 1:4, NKJV).
Paul’s words here regarding the election of the Thessalonian believers follows on the heels of Paul’s words regarding the visible manifestation of their election--- “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ...” (v.3) With these words, we see that, tied to election is a visible manifestation thereof. The Thessalonians’ faith was one that resulted in work (“your work of faith”) as well as love (“labor of love”) and patience (“patience of hope”). Their patience demonstrates that they are waiting (with the hope of salvation) for the glory of God to be revealed. They do not see it yet, for how can they hope for what they already see (Rom. 8:24-25)?
Next, we’ll look at 1 Thessalonians 5:
“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).
Paul first labels the Thessalonians “sons of light and sons of the day,” and distinguishes them from the sons of darkness and night (5:5). In verse 8, he tells them that they should apply the whole armor of God to their lives, including the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet (of the hope of salvation)[v.8]. In verse 9, when Paul mentions that the Thessalonians have been appointed “to obtain salvation,” we recognize that salvation is yet to be reached (not that it has come in its fullness already).
2 Thessalonians 2, there is another reference to election:
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).
As can be seen here, the believers in Thessalonica were elected THROUGH certain means, for which the goal is salvation. This is where the Scriptures help us understand election. While the goal of election is salvation (“chose you for salvation,” 2 Thess. 2:13), the means by which election is realized are “belief in the truth” and “sanctification by the Spirit.”
Here is where we see two things that are important to election: justification (by faith) and sanctification (by the Spirit). Without these, election to final salvation cannot occur. Therefore, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 tells us that both justification and sanctification are necessary for election to final salvation.
Ken Keathley writes regarding Molinism:
“A close corollary to the premise that CHRIST IS THE ONLY BASIS FOR ASSURANCE is the necessity to reaffirm the doctrine of sola fide. Perseverance cannot be understood in terms of good works and great effort without having the result of dismantling the Reformation. The doctrine of perseverance must be formulated so that IT DOES NOT CREATE THE IMPRESSION THAT THE SCRIPTURES CONTRADICT THEMSELVES ABOUT GRACE AND WORKS” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 188).
I agree with Dr. Keathley that the Scriptures do not contradict in this area. However, I disagree with his idea that (in the words of one of his tenets of the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal) “the only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 188). While there is an objective aspect of assurance (the work of Christ), John himself talks about the presence of a subjective aspect of assurance--- that is, the assurance of the believer about himself (1 John 3:18-24). In the passage referenced, John tells us that we should “love...in deed and in truth...and by this we know that we are of the truth, AND SHALL ASSURE OUR HEARTS BEFORE HIM” (1 John 3:18-19). In verse 22, John states that we can ask God (with confidence) for the things we desire. Why? “Because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 Jn. 3:22). In other words, our confidence comes not only as a result of Christ’s work on the Cross; it also comes as a result of how we live before God (i.e., sanctification, obeying His commandments). This is what provides us with a subjective assurance before God. As John states, “for if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 Jn. 3:20).

John here makes what is termed a “Lesser-To-Greater Argument”: that is, from the heart to God. In other words, if our own hearts condemn us and make us ashamed before God, then God (who knows all about us) will certainly condemn us. If our hearts condemn us (pass judgment on us because of our ungodliness), then how much more God? The subjective situation of the believer, (i.e., how he or she feels about his or her walk with God) while not a perfect test of a person’s walk with God (for example, a genuine Christian can doubt their faith at times), can be a small indicator of that person’s spiritual condition. The heart, while not a “perfect” indicator, can be an “adequate” one. And the subjective assurance comes as a result of not rejecting the sanctification that the Spirit provides. To put it briefly, sanctification is just as necessary for final salvation as justification. Molinism argues for justification, but forgets sanctification.
Can this be seen in Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians? I will talk more on sanctification in my next post. Stay tuned...

1 comment:

Charles E Whisnant said...

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