This is the fourth entry in our series entitled “Ten Marks of a Healthy Church.” The fourth mark of a healthy church is an “obvious election.” It comes from 1 Thess. 1:4 — “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you” (ESV).
The doctrine of election is one of those controversial topics that often arises between theologians and aspiring theologians. Election is clearly a biblical doctrine. Let us simply observe here that Paul claims to know these Thessalonian believers have been chosen by God. He does not say, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that you have chosen Him.” Paul bases his knowledge of God’s election on two proofs: (1) the experience of the missionaries and (2) the experience of the Thessalonians.
I want you to see that the primary thrust of this is evidence of God’s activity. What God does, no one can undo. And what He begins, He completes. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6).
How can you know someone is truly saved? They experience God’s Spirit at work on them, both convicting them of sin and convincing them of the gospel message with the result, and this is the key, that they embrace Christ Jesus as Lord by grace through faith. It’s that simple.
Often I encounter people who doubt their salvation. Instead of trying to assure them on the basis of what they did to be saved, I ask them, “What did God do?” For the longest time, as a child and teenager, I struggled with questions such as, “Did I pray the right prayer?”, “Did I really mean it when I asked Jesus into my heart?”, “Did I know, as a seven year old, what it all meant?” And those questions kept me from growing in the Lord. The reason is they were all based on what I did to get salvation.
In college, I began studying the Bible like I never had before. I was extremely hungry to know what it said. And I began to realize that God takes the initiative in saving people. I was the one who needed saving; only He could save me. And whenever I encountered those same old doubts, I began to change the questions. I began asking, “When I look at the time I made a profession of faith and was baptized, what was God doing in my life?” “What was God showing me?” “What changed in my thinking about God and how I related to Him?” “Did I become convicted of sin?” “Was I convinced that Jesus is the Risen Lord and my only hope?” And these diagnostic questions are not tests of what I did, but tests of what God was doing to bring me into a saving relationship with Himself.
That is what Paul is doing here. He is recounting the experience he had when he planted the church at Thessalonica and the experiences of those new believers. When he surveyed what happened, he saw clear evidence of God’s work. God moved powerfully on him and his coworkers; God accomplished a mighty work in the lives of the Thessalonians. In the next few verses he recounts those experiences. Nothing thrills the heart of a man of God more than to experience the power of God, the moving of the Holy Spirit, in his life and in the life of his church.
God has given us clear teachings in the Scriptures so that we may know where we stand with him. An entire book of the New Testament is devoted to testing one’s salvation. That book is 1 John. In 1 John we find a three-fold test of salvation. I would like to summarize that for you in the hopes that you may have assurance of salvation. 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”
The first test is Belief in the Bible – “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1). If you do not accept the Scriptural claims about Christ – that he lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, rose again on the third day, is Lord of all, is the exclusive way of salvation, is coming again to claim his people, you are lost.
If you reject the Word of God, if you have no real desire to hear it or heed it. If you argue with its truth claims and try to dismiss them, you are not saved. If you make little to no room in your life for God’s Word, you do not value eternal life (see Acts 13:46). Second Timothy 3:15-16 says that the Scriptures are “able to make you wise unto salvation.” James 1:21 is similar: “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” And 1 Peter 1:23 makes the statement, “you have been born again, . . . through the living and abiding Word of God.” Biblical truth plays an essential role in salvation.
The second test of salvation is Obedience to God – “But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him. Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:5). “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18). Constant habitual sin that you do not intend to change or that you just accept as not a big deal is a strong indication that something is wrong between you and the Lord. You probably have never truly been saved.
The third test of salvation in 1 John is Love of the Brethren (Church) – “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause from stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:10-11). “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
Years ago, a Christian counselor named Gary Chapman came out with a book entitled The Five Love Languages. It outlined how people express and receive love. The “languages” are Giving Gifts, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. God says if we love Him, we will love His church. What says we love his church? Do you spend quality time with his people or do you begrudge having to attend church? Do you speak words to build up the Lord’s church or tear it down?
Are you a regular, proportional, and joyful giver? Do you serve in the work of the church or are you content just to be served? Let us all evaluate ourselves, lest we be deceived (Gal. 6:7-8).