Predestination: Can I Be Sure I Am Chosen?
Once we begin to talk about the subject of predestination, inevitably someone will ask, “Am I elect?” This is the question of assurance. In the sixteenth century the Roman Catholic Council of Trent declared that believers who said they could know they were elect were guilty of rash presumption:
“No one, moreover, so long as he is in this mortal life, ought so far to presume as regards the secret mystery of divine predestination, as to determine for certain that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate.”
Then in the seventeenth century the theologians known as the Arminians said something similar:
“there is in this life no fruit and no consciousness of the unchangeable election to glory, nor any certainty, except that which depends on a changeable and uncertain condition” (CD 1.RE 7).
There is only one thing, they say, that we can be certain of as believers—uncertainty.
Can you be sure you’re chosen? Before we answer that question, be assured that to ask the question is not to question your faith and salvation—it is not intended to cause despair or fear. It is a very practical question that we all ask.
Our Standing in Relationship to God
The first part of the answer is to affirm that the Word of God says our standing in relationship to God as believers in Jesus Christ is secure. Notice this, for example, from 2 Peter 1. Peter writes not only as a “servant” but also as an “apostle of Jesus Christ” (v. 1). Then he identifies the recipients of this letter: “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 1). These are astonishing words. They are astonishing because Peter once refused to eat with Gentile Christians for fear of losing his credibility among Jewish Christians. Because of that Paul says in Galatians 2 that he had to confront Peter face to face. Peter was essentially denying the good news of the gospel as his actions spoke louder than his words—he was communicating that Jewish Christians were a higher class of Christian than Gentile Christians. These are astonishing words because they say that all who call upon Jesus’ name by faith have a faith that is the same as that of the apostles.
Further, God has “called us to his own glory and excellence” (v. 3) and therefore we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (v. 4). In verse 9, while he is exhorting and warning, Peter says that we have been “cleansed from…former sins.” Because of all this Peter gives his “therefore”: “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (v. 10). Did you hear that? We have a calling and we have been elected. All we do is “confirm” it.
The Stages in our Relationship with God
While in principal our standing with God is secure, each of us as believers needs to recognize practically the stages in our relationship with God. We all experience our standing before Almighty God our Heavenly Father differently. The objective reality of our standing with God is different than our subjective experience of it. The object of our faith is totally secure but our grasping that object may or may not feel so secure at every moment. This is why the Canons of Dort, for example, says “the elect in [God’s] time, though in various degrees and in different measures attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election” (CD 1.12).
We need to grow. That’s what 2 Peter 1:5-7 are all about. We are all at different places in our spiritual maturity. Some of us are spiritual grandparents. Some of us are spiritual parents. Some of us are spiritual twenty and thirty-somethings. Some of us are spiritual teens. And some of us are spiritual babies. All the “qualities” Peter speaks about in verses 5-7 need to be “increasing” in us, and if they are, “they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:8). We can be stagnant or dynamic in our growth in relationship to God. Notice that Peter illustrates this again in verse 9. He says that true believers can even “lack[…] these qualities” and therefore be spiritually “nearsighted” so that it is as if they are “blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
Practically this means you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, because God is at work in them differently. Your growth may not be equal to another’s growth. Why? As the Canons of Dort say, “true believers themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith” (CD 5.9; cf. Rom. 12:3). The key is that we each have our own measure of faith and we each exercise that faith in different degrees at different times in life.
The Signs of Our Relationship with God
So how may I know I am growing in maturity and thus growing in assurance? We need to know the signs of our relationship with God. Stating this negatively, we need to know that assurance is not found “by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God” (CD 1.12). Assurance is not a matter of speculation, but revelation. We are not to look for a sign from God that He elected us but are to look into His Word.
What does the Word of God say are outward signs that He has chosen us? Again, I find the Canons of Dort so helpful when they say believers are to “observ[e] in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God—such as, a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness” (CD 1.12). Our forefathers drove us not to heaven above us or to what lies within us, but to the Scriptures before us. That’s why Peter says by the “divine power” of Jesus Christ “he has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4).
Those promises include those mentioned here in this chapter: we “have obtained a faith of equal standing…by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Note that the Canons of Dort mention first “true faith in Christ” (CD 1.12). True faith is the first sign of our relationship with God.
The next is “filial fear” (CD 1.12). This means reverence as a child has for a father. We are God’s children and reverently listen to Him and follow His leading.
The next is “a godly sorrow for sin.” We are grieved that we have grieved our Father by our disobedience and rebelliousness against His laws.
The final fruit or sign mentioned in the Canons of Dort is “a hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” That’s Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 and is expressed in 2 Peter as well: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
How contrary are Peter’s words to the popular caricature that if you believe in election then you will have no incentive for faith, repentance, and holiness? That’s been the charge ever since the days of the apostle Paul. “Why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying” (Rom. 3:8). “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1) The effect of the doctrine of election in a true child of God does not include carnal assurance. Beware of this temptation in your own life. Carnal assurance leads to carelessness not carefulness. Carnal assurance leads to complacency not zealotry. True, spiritual (that is, Spirit-created) assurance, on the contrary, gives us even greater cause for godliness. Assurance leads to humility. Assurance leads to adoration of God’s infinite mercy. Assurance leads to a desire for purity in thoughts, words, and deeds. Assurance leads to heartfelt love of the Savior, His people, and the lost world.
Can I be sure I am chosen? The great English hymn writer, John Newton (1725-1807), once asked that question in one of his songs, saying,
‘Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought,
Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his, or am I not?
If I love, why am I thus?
Why this dull and lifeless frame?
Hardly, sure, can they be worse,
Who have never heard his name!
Could my heart so hard remain,
Prayer a task and burden prove,
Every trifle give me pain,
If I knew a Savior’s love?
When I turn my eyes within,
All is dark and,
vain and wild,
Filled with unbelief and sin,
Can I deem myself a child?
If I pray, or hear, or read,
Sin is mixed with all I do;
You who love the Lord indeed,
Tell me, is it thus with you?
Does this sound like you? Know from the Word of God that your standing with Him is like standing on a huge rock in the ocean. Your footing is totally secure because the rock is secure. It’s similar to how you feel when standing on a rock in the ocean. Those waves keep hitting against it and splashing you. It seems unstable. But the longer you stand on it, the more you see that the rock isn’t moving, that the waves cannot sweep you away, and that the splashing water and mist cannot harm you. Be assured.