The Bible tells us that we are saved, by faith, through grace (Ephesians 2:8). That’s nice and all, but what does that mean? Are we really saved? Isn’t there something else, something more that we can do to really know that we are?
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Sunday School class “Defenders” is an amazing resource for doctrinal studies. In part one of his lecture on the Doctrine of Salvation, he discusses the differences between the Calvinist and Armenian views of election, from which the idea of assurance of salvation develops.
What is Election?
Election refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He best sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. The idea that God does what He wants, and that what He does is true and right because He does it, is foundational to the understanding of everything in Scripture, including the assurance of salvation.
The Bible makes this point repeatedly. In the very act of creation, God created precisely what He wanted to create in the way He wanted to create it (Genesis 1:31). And ever since the creation, He has sovereignly prescribed or permitted everything in human history, in order that He might accomplish the redemptive plan which He had previously designed (Isaiah 25:1; 46:10; 55:11; Romans 9:17; Ephesians 3:8–11).
How Does Election Lead to Assurance?
In Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:28-30, he writes,
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
In John 6:44-45, Jesus says,
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
Here Jesus ascribes this drawing power of God the Father upon people to bring them to Christ. Apart from this work of God the Father, people will not come to Christ. But if he does draw them, then they will come assuredly to saving faith in Christ.
Look at verse 65 of that same chapter. Jesus said, “This is why I told you no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” If God the Father grants that someone should come to Christ, he assuredly will; but on the other hand, if it is not granted to someone to come to Christ by the Father, then that person cannot come to Christ. The sovereign decision lies with God the Father.
Look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:8. Here Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” So this salvation is not something that you work of yourself. This is from God. He is the one who works it out. That is why there is no boasting Paul goes on to say in verse 9.
Finally, 1 Peter 1:2, speaking to the exiles of the dispersion in various places in Asia Minor, “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” Here all of the persons of the Trinity are involved. It is God the Father who chooses and destines certain persons. It is the Spirit of God who sanctifies them for obedience to Jesus Christ.
So, going back to Romans 8:28, if it is true that God looks into the future and sees peoples’ faith in Christ and predestines them on that basis, nevertheless, this faith is itself not a human work. It is not something that any natural person can generate. This is itself the result of God’s effectual work in that person.
“Charles Horn, who is a Reformed theologian, points out that in Romans 8:28-30 we have here a description of God’s eternal counsel, what he does in eternity before the foundations of the world. Then we find its actualization of this counsel in the human affairs of life. So, he would say in God’s eternal counsel we have first God foreknew whom he would save. That means those whom he foreloved. Second, there is then God’s predestination. Those whom he foreknew or foreloved, he then predestined. That is to say, he ordained them to salvation. This is God’s eternal counsel. From before the foundations of the world God foreknew and predestined certain persons to salvation.
Then in verses 29-30, you have the actualization of this eternal counsel described. First comes calling. Paul says those whom he predestined, he called. At some time in your life, if you are elect, if you have been predestined by God, he will then reach out and he will call you to bring you to himself. This calling notice is effectual calling. This is not some sort of, again, passive invitation. This is God reaching out effectually and grabbing you and bringing you in. It is what Jesus described as God the Father’s drawing these persons to himself. This is the doctrine of effectual calling. Then comes justification. Those whom he called, he also justified. This is by faith which is not something that the unregenerate man can muster on his own being spiritually dead and separated from God. This is something that God must bestow upon you. So by faith, then, God will justify those whom he has effectually called. The final step in salvation is glorification. Those whom he justified, he also glorified and this is certainly, surely. This gives you assurance of salvation.
This has been called the unbroken chain in God’s process of salvation. Those whom he foreknew, he predestined. Those he predestined, he called. Those whom he called, he justified. Those whom he justified, he glorified. There is nowhere along the line that someone can drop out of this chain and fail to obtain salvation because it is the work of God throughout. His declaration or choice sovereignly in eternity before the foundations of the world, then in human history its actualization as he effectually calls, justifies, and then finally glorifies those whom he has predestined.”