If you're anything like me, you struggle with the concept of Calvinism. Or rather, in the TULIP, you like all but the Unconditional Election part. Because that part of Calvinism appears to imply that God has already pre-selected who will and won't get to heaven. Seems to eradicate free will, right? Not to mention the whole idea of the "elect" thing seems elitist and exclusionary. At least, at first glance.
Although this article won't endeavor to settle the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism, as 2000 years of church history has yet to do so, I do want to tackle the idea of "the elect". In essence, the people who are saved and have the chance to experience eternal life with our Lord in heaven. Many Christians, at least once in their lives, struggle to know if they are one of the elect. So below we'll explore what this means and how we can know that we're one of these.
Who Are 'the Elect'?
Before we proceed any further, we ought to establish a definition of the elect.
According to Adrian Rogers of Crosswalk.com, "If you want to be saved, come to Jesus. He’s reaching His nail-pierced hands to you, saying, “Come.” Jesus says come. The Spirit says come. The bride says come. The individual says come. You can come and drink."
In other words, anyone who comes into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ fits into this category. Let me say that again if you have confessed your sins and repented, asked Jesus into your heart, and made him Lord and Savior of your life, you have entered 'the elect'.
Before we dive further into what this means and how we can know if we have a saving relationship with Christ, let's take a look at what Scripture has to say about the election and the elect.
What Does Scripture Have to Say about Election?
Ephesians 1:4-5: "Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will."
This verse appears to imply that God has a choice in the elect. That he appears to choose who will be saved and who won't be. Again, although we can't dive deep into the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, this does seem to give some strong evidence for the former. Those on the latter side may argue that God gives everyone a choice, but not all may choose him, introducing more of a free will aspect into the equation.
John 6:37: "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."
The elect doesn't just include the squeaky clean and the do-gooders. Anyone who comes to the Father will be saved. This also seems to give strong evidence for the "once saved, always saved" side of the debate on Soteriology—the study and doctrine of salvation. Although all sides have brought up interesting points when it comes to the matter of apostasy and people who walked away from the faith.
2 Thessalonians 2:13: "But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth."
Once again, we seem to have the implication that God has chosen the elect. We could dive into what "chosen" or "choice" means in this passage, but entire books have been dedicated to that subject.
Ultimately, I think both sides can agree that grace and the stamp of the election come from God alone. We cannot earn it, and in our sinful state, we cannot choose it. Whether God offers the opportunity of salvation to all or not, Scripture does make it clear that only a select few will follow him down the narrow path. So how can we know we're one of those people?
Isn't it Elitist? Why Doesn't God Save Everyone?
C.S. Lewis states it best when he says, "The gates of Hell are locked from the inside."
I remember a friend who experienced some wrongful spiritual abuse at a church she attended. And now she has had to un-learn a lot of false teachings bequeathed on her there. She remembers one time, in a youth group, when a pastor said, "God intentionally created people who would go to hell so that we can appreciate salvation more."
Although we cannot even begin to dive into how wrong that statement was, it seems massively out of God's character to intentionally make a person for the sole purpose that they would experience eternal judgment forever. It goes outside of Jesus' character when he comes to earth through the incarnation to suffer the most horrendous death to save us.
So if God wants everyone to come to salvation with him, why doesn't he allow it to happen?
We have three issues here:
The Issue of Free Will
I highly recommend reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, as it shows a great picture of what it would look like for someone from hell to come to heaven. They hate it.
Why? Because they have been so corrupted by their own sin that they've been reduced to something inhumane, a grumble.
If God were to simply snap his fingers and say, "OK, you're all going to heaven, and you're all going to like it," this would make him out to be not all-loving. If someone loves you, they don't control you. And sadly, this means that he allows some people to march themselves straight into hell, shaking their fists at him.
The Issue of Our Sin Debt
Sin racks up an eternal debt. When people ask, "Why can't God just snap his fingers and allow everyone into heaven?" this is why. Because every sin not only hurts those around us, but it defies the Almighty Creator who made us. True, Jesus died for our sins and paid the debt, but a human has to accept the gift of that payment. Not all do.
The Issue of Justice
Along with the idea of sending "everyone to heaven," there are probably some heinous characters throughout history who we'd feel uneasy seeing walk into the pearly gates after a lifetime of inflicting pain and suffering on others. Hitler, Nero, rapists, slave traders, the list goes on. This does not mean that these people could have never had the opportunity to come into a relationship with Christ and turned from their ways. But if God simply snapped his fingers, ignored the sin debt, and allowed everyone into heaven (regardless if they want to or not) this would mean that what we do here on earth is ultimately meaningless. That we can pillage, destroy, and kill without consequences.
How Can I Know if I'm One of the Elect?
Sadly, not everyone accepts Jesus' gift of salvation. So how do we know that we have? If you're anything like me, you suffer doubts. In my teenage years, I prayed the prayer so many times, worried it "hadn't stuck."
If you have recognized that you have a sinful nature and that you cannot attain salvation on your own.
If you have believed that Jesus Christ died for your sins and that God raised him from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
If you have made Jesus Lord of your life and confess it to be so.
You are one of the elect.
For those Christians who suffer doubts, fear not. Even Thomas doubted, even those who saw Jesus in person doubted. Doubt does not mean that you do not have salvation.
For a great article on the birthmarks of a born-again Christian, I highly recommend this article by Dr. David Jeremiah.
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Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.