How can you claim that you are elect? How do you know? Do Reformed people think they are better than others because they are elect?
1. What Reformed theologians claim
First of all we want to give all glory to God and Christ when we speak about salvation.
We want to stress that we are saved by faith alone. (Rom. 4, 2-5; Gal. 2, 16; Eph. 2, 8f.)
Even faith itself is not our contribution to salvation Ц it is a gift from God! (Eph. 2, 8.9)
That is the main difference between Reformed and Arminian theology:
Ц Arminian theologians say that man is saved because God saw something good in man that He did not see in others: faith! Faith is not a gift of God, but a human СreadinessТ to СacceptТ salvation. Man decides himself if he wants to believe or not.
Ц Reformed theologians say that all people are the lost in their sin. (Rom. 3, 21-23; Rom. 5, 12)
But God is gracious Ц out of the mass of lost sinners, He chooses many people. He wants to save Ц not because of their good works, but because of the grace in Christ!
†††††††† Old Testament
We already see this in the Old Testament when God chose his people Israel: He chose them not because they were better or stronger, but because He wanted it this way! (Deut. 7, 7-8; Jer. 31, 36-37; Ezech. 16)
When you say: Сbut these texts do not speak about the eternal election of individualsТ Ц you are right! But these texts show a general approach and show how God chooses His children Ц not because they are better, but because of His free and holy will! (comp. Job 39, 34-38)
In the New Testament we see much clearer how God works in choosing each of His children personally. We understand this from John 3, where Jesus speaks about the personal need of rebirth through the Holy Spirit. We also see this from PaulТs own life (Acts 9) and his letters: Rom. 9, 11-23; 2Tim. 1, 9-10; Tit. 3, 4-6.
Reformed people suggest in no way that they are better then other people, but they glorify GodТs sovereign grace in choosing His elected according to His own will!
2. Doctrine of election Ц to glorify God!
But there is another point to be made here. The question if the elected are СbetterТ then other people comes from a narrow perspective on the question of God and salvation. Yes, the question of Сmy salvationТ is very important. But to make it the main focus of the Gospel is typical for a man-centered way of reasoning!
What was GodТs goal with the creation of man? Man was created in GodТs image and likeness, to love and glorify His Father, to rule GodТs beautiful creation in holiness and righteousness. ThatТs how the Larger Catechism of Westminster starts:
What is the chief and highest end of man?
Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever.
And the Heidelberg Catechism says:
God created man good and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness; that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.
But GodТs child became a mutineer. Instead of glorifying God he put himself in the center. That is the core of sin: man does no longer love His Father and Creator, but first of all loves himself! That is where all other sins find their origin.
But Christ came to this earth to save us!
To what end? To restore the relation with His children, to restore the image of God in man, to enable us to live with our Father and Creator in order to glorify Him again!
That is why Paul, when he speaks about GodТs sovereign work of election and reprobation in Romans 9 Ц 11 ends with these words of praise: СFor from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.Т (See also Eph. 1, 4-6 and 1Pet. 2, 9)
Rev. 22, 1-5 shows in a terrific way the fulfillment of GodТs eternal plan with creation and man: the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city and his servants will serve Him. That is the big picture: our election and salvation serve the glory of the Triune God!
How can you know that you are elected?
Some people think you need a Сspecial signТ from heaven or an Сinner voiceТ to be sure about your salvation. This creates a kind of Сelite ChristiansТ. But neither Scripture nor the Reformed confessions teach something like this.
Scripture Ц 1: to the glory of Christ and the Spirit
The main-line of the New Testament doctrine about salvation is not one of doubt and fear but one of comfort and trust in Christ:
†††††††† - Peter in Acts 15, 11
†††††††† - Paul in Rom. 5, 1 and 8, 31-39; Rom. 10, 13; 2Tim. 4, 8 and 18
†††††††† - John in 1Joh. 1, 7; 1Joh. 2, 28; 1Joh. 3, 2; 1Joh. 4, 16 etc.
This trust is essential for Christians, it is essential for our preaching of the Gospel to others: we do not proclaim a Сtheoretical possibilityТ of salvation, but we are sent by Christ to proclaim the Kingdom, to preach Сrepentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nationsТ (Lk. 24, 47).
This is not to promote human self-confidence, but to praise the perfection of the work of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus says about his disciples in John 10, 28: СI give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.Т He points to the assurance of salvation during our life on earth. This assurance is not based upon good deeds or on a strong faith, but only on the work of Christ. ChristТs last words on earth were: СAnd surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.Т Who would doubt that Christ really has the power to fulfill what He promised?
Assurance of salvation is also recognition of the power of the Holy Spirit, who regenerates us (John 3, 5-8). He makes possible what is impossible with man (Mk. 10, 27). СThe Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's childrenТ (Rom. 8, 16).
Scripture - 2: the СBook of LifeТ
We see a special expression in relation to the Сassurance of salvationТ in the expression Сthe Book of LifeТ. Sometimes people think that this expression means that only God knows who the elected are. But the expression points into another direction. In difficult times it shows believers that God is faithful to His promises. No matter what happens to us on earth Ц our future with God and Christ is sure:
- Phil. 4,3 - Paul testifies that the names of his co-workers are Сwritten in the Book of LifeТ.
- For our eternal life it is decisive that our names are written in the book of Life: Rev. 3, 5; Rev. 13, 8; Rev. 17, 8; Rev. 20, 12 and 15; Rev. 22, 19
- The number of elected people is fixed Ц Rev. 17, 8 - 14
- It is very characteristic that the book of Life is also called the Сbook of the LambТ Ц Rev. 13, 8 and 21, 27. This means that our salvation is sure in and because of Christ.
Reformed Confessions on assurance of salvation
The Reformed confessions show the same approach: they always point to the promise of God in Christ:
Q21:† What is true faith?
†A21:† True faith is not only a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Ghost works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits.
Personal assurance is also given to us in the LordТs Supper:
Q79:† Why then does Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the new testament in His blood; and the apostle Paul, the communion of the body and blood of Christ?
†A79:† Christ speaks thus with great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby, that like as the bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal; but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Ghost, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him; and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we ourselves had suffered and done all in our own person.
Canons of Dort, I.12 and V.22.214.171.124
†††† The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing 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, etc.
See also the answers to the following Frequently Asked Questions:
- What about the need for a holy life? If you say that you are saved through grace only Ц then you can just live in sin and be saved anyway!
- I have no Сassurance of salvationТ Ц does that mean that I have no real faith?
For further study:
Ц J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. IVP. Illinois.
Ц R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God. Tyndale House. Illinois. 1986.