How can you tell who is really elect?

What are we to make of election, falling away, and church membership? It is clear from the history of redemption that there have been unbelievers among the congregation of God’s people, and Scripture makes it clear there always will be (Mathew 13:24-30, 36-43). What are we to make of this? Is it our job to discern who in the church is really saved?

In commenting on 1 Peter 1:1-2—elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father—John Calvin writes, “…we are not curiously to inquire about the election of our brethren, but ought on the contrary to regard their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the church, are to be counted as the elect; for God thus separates them for the world, which is a sign of election.”

A few hundred years later, Herman Bavinck penned similar sentiments, “Certainly, there are bad branches on the vine, and there is chaff among the wheat; and in a large house, there are vessels of gold as well as vessels of earthenware (Matt. 3:12; 13:29; John 15:2; 2 Tim. 2:20). But we do not have the right and the power to separate the two: in the day of the harvest, God himself will do this. As long as—in the judgment of love—they walk in the way of the covenant, they are to be regarded and treated as allies. Though not of the covenant, they are in the covenant and will one day be judged accordingly.” (Reformed Dogmatics III, p. 232)

No one is perfect. Even saints sin. Do not judge people according to where you are in your spiritual walk; or where you think they should be in theirs. Is a person faithful to attend the assembly of believers on the Lord’s Day? Does he evidence a desire, however small, for spiritual things and growth in the Lord? Count him as a brother. Christ knows all those that are his and will not lose one of them. You are not privileged with such knowledge or ability.

The Trinity in Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-2 The Trinity in the Salvation of Pilgrims

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1Peter 1:1-2)

As with Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, Peter begins his first epistle with a Trinitarian summary of salvation. But it would be a mistake to view 1 Peter 1:1-2 as merely a condensation of Paul’s longer sentence in Ephesians 1:3-14. The two apostles approach the subject from different viewpoints. Paul is concerned with the vertical aspect of Trinitarian salvation: everything is for the praise of God’s glorious grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). Peter takes the horizontal perspective: what does Trinitarian salvation mean for God’s people?

Salvation means that God’s people are sojourners and exiles (1:1, 17; 2:11) on this earth. God’s people are saved from the condemnation of sin. They are saved from judgment. They are heirs of eternal life. Yet their inheritance is in heaven (1:4), while they remain on earth. God’s people have been left in the world, though they no longer belong to it. So 1 Peter 1:1-2 describe how the grace of God works in the salvation of His people and their life as pilgrims.

The choosing foreknowledge of God the Father is how we became pilgrims. As commentator Peter Davids notes, “The cause of their salvation is not that they reached out to a distant God, but that God chose to relate to them and form them into a people, his people.” If we step back and consider the theologically loaded terms “elect” and “foreknowledge” under the umbrella of grace, we see that salvation could come by no other way than that which Davids summarizes.

A common view of foreknowledge is that God looked down through the ages and saw all those people who would embrace salvation if they were given the chance and then God ordained that they would indeed get the chance and be saved. But how is this grace? “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:5-6). If God just saw everyone who would choose him and then he chose them, how is that grace? How is that unmerited favor? For the Father’s election and foreknowledge to be gracious, he must be the initiator, not the responder. Otherwise, he is just giving people what they deserve: and that is not grace.

“Sanctification in the Spirit,” refers to our continued life as pilgrims. Wayne Grudem states, “Peter is saying that his readers’ whole existence as chosen sojourners of the Dispersion is being lived in the realm of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The unseen, unheard, activity of God’s Holy Spirit surrounds them almost like a spiritual atmosphere in which they live and breathe, turning every circumstance, every sorrow, every hardship into a tool for his patient sanctifying work.” The Holy Spirit is the one working together all things for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose. The life of the exile is one of stress and pressure. He does not have the rights of a citizen. He is ostracized from the comfort fellowship and aid of community. He has no feet to stand on; no voice to raise; no vote to be cast. From the Father’s gracious decision to make us exiles, the Holy Spirit graciously uses their hardships of exile to make us more fit for heaven.

“For obedience to Jesus Christ,” is the purpose of our pilgrimage. There is a wonderful freedom of being a pilgrim of heaven; an exile on earth: God’s people are free from the laws of the planet. God’s people are set free from obeying the dictates of popular opinion. God’s people are set free from being slaves to fads. God’s people are wonderfully liberated from the constraints of political correctness. All of the unwritten laws that have so much more real power than any legislation of Congress are made powerless to God’s pilgrims. God’s people are released from the chains of society to obediently serve Jesus Christ.

“For sprinkling with His blood,” is the maintenance of our status as pilgrims. As Alan Stibbs comments, “…the cleansing virtue of Christ’s death is available, and will be needed, until the end of our earthly pilgrimage. Our calling is to obey; but when we fail the atoning blood can still be sprinkled.” Or, from someone with a bit more authority, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The blood of Christ avails to purify us when we fail. He ever lives at His Father’s right hand to intercede on our behalf.

Pilgrim, take heart! You have been set on your course by the gracious choice of the Father. The Holy Spirit broods over your pilgrimage to guide the journey to its appointed end. Jesus Christ, the One who is the goal of the journey, has charted the path and keeps you fit for it. Grace and peace are multiplied beyond measure.

The Trinity in Scripture: Acts 3.

I do not see any clear references to the Trinity in Acts 3 by itself. Nevertheless, there is something that is foundational to an orthodox understanding of the Trinity.

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
Acts 3:17-21

This first half of this chapter recounts the healing of the lame beggar at the gate of the temple. The second half of the chapter is Peter’s address to the astonished crowd. Verses 18 and 21 repeat the same idea with slightly differing terminology: the Old Testament prophets were speaking the words of God. Given the hundreds of times the phrase “the word of the Lord” appears in the Old Testament this is certainly no paradigm altering statement by Peter. It is unlikely faithful Jews would take issue with Peter’s assertion. But consider Peter’s words in each of his epistles:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
1 Peter 1:10-11
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:21

Acts 3 is an important text for Trinitarian studies because it teaches that the Holy Spirit is called God by the New Testament authors. In Acts 3, God moved and spoke through the prophets. In 1 & 2 Peter, the Holy Spirit moved and spoke through the prophets. Did Peter really think this way? Would he specifically call the Holy Spirit God? After all, the events of Acts and the writings of his epistles are separated by thirty years. Yet I do not think this was just a slip of the tongue. For in Acts 5 Peter calls refers to the Holy Spirit as God within the space of 30 seconds—not years (cf. Acts 5:3-4).

Bringing in Peter’s epistles as a cross reference to Acts 3 demonstrates that the apostle considered the Holy Spirit God. The three references also form more support for the co-operation of the Trinity. How exactly did the Old Testament prophets receive their message?

  • God foretold (Acts 3:18)
  • God spoke (Acts 3:21) 
  • Spirit of Christ . . . predicted (1 Peter 1:11)
  • Spoke from God . . . by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21)

The denial of Scripture is a denial of the Trinity. The denial of the Trinity is a denial of Scripture.