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Online Text Sermon - Our Election of God, 1 Thessalonians ch.1 v.4

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleOur Election of God
Text1 Thessalonians ch.1 v.4
Sermon ID271

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"Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God" (1 Thessalonians 1, 4).

As many of you know as we have begun this series in First Thessalonians, this is one of the earliest letters written by the Apostle Paul. In the words in this first chapter he is writing to give encouragement to the Christians who formed the church in Thessalonica, northern Greece. He encourages them in various ways. He addresses them in friendly, generous and kind terms, as you see: "Brethren beloved" (text). Christians are brothers and sisters to one another; they are beloved by Christ and by God, and they should be beloved to one another. He also encourages them by telling them that he has been praying for them. You would notice this in the course of the reading: "Remembering without ceasing" these aspects of their witness: their "work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (v.3). He encourages them also by thanking God for them. And - "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayer" (v.2), therefore good that Christians should encourage one another. It is a sign of a sanctified life when we encourage the Lord's people. There are many who discourage the Lord's people, and this is a great sin. There are many who lay snares and stumbling blocks before the Lord's people, who (to quote the prophecy of Ezekiel) "ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way" (Ezekiel 13, 22).

There is a difference between giving encouragement on the one hand, and flattery. The difference is this. To flatter a person is to speak to them with honeyed words but with an ulterior motive to drag them down. Those who flatter do not encourage towards righteousness; rather they encourage towards some party spirit or other. It is a great sin simply to praise men because they belong to our party but for no higher reason. We praise God for Christians and we encourage them because they are the Lord's people. We should encourage all the Lord's people, whether they happen to belong to us and to our party or not. The flatterer has the ulterior motive of attracting people to himself for the purposes of personal gain; but the encourager is one who wishes the Christians to be benefited and to be strengthened and encouraged to do what is right with zeal for the truth.

The greatest encouragement of all which Paul gives to these Christians at Thessalonica is found in this chapter: "Knowing," he says, "brethren beloved, your election of God" (v.4). As you know, in this country within a few days time, we are expecting a general election. At a general election the people choose their leaders. They choose their member of parliament, and out of these members of parliament come the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, and all the others who rule and have authority in the nation. It is done by democratic election; it is government of the people, by the people, for the people - at least that is the theory; whether the practice matches the theory is not for me just now to say. However, when in verse 4 the apostle talks about their election of God, he is speaking about the fact that God also elects, God also chooses, God also appoints men. The election referred to here can be paraphrased like this: he says, "I know that God has chosen you people who believe, in Thessalonica, and he has done so from all eternity." God has chosen you to salvation and he has done so before you were born; he has done so before Christ came into the world; he has done so before he laid the foundations of the world. God has chosen his people before Adam even sinned. This therefore is clearly a most important subject for us to understand. We refer to it as election - the election of God.

The first thing to notice about election is this: God chooses some sinners to be saved out of the mass of fallen mankind, but God does not choose all sinners to be saved; God doesn't choose them all. That raises a few questions which we need to look at if we are to understand what the Bible means by election.

The first question is this: Why does God not simply let people choose for themselves as to whether they want to become Christians? Why doesn't God leave the choosing to the sinner? Why does He, God, do the choosing and not allow us to do the choosing? Well the answer is, very simply, that if God were to leave the choosing to the sinner, no one would be saved; no one chooses God by his own choice. I'll give you a text to prove that: "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3, 11). We are so blinded by sin that we do not recognise our sinfulness; we do not understand our need of mercy. We are so hardened through the deceitfulness of sin that if the decision is left to you and me to choose God, without divine assistance, no one could be saved; no-one can come to God of himself.

So we make a big distinction between what we call 'free grace' and 'free will'. This is a great distinction that we must understand. The churches that teach free will are known as Arminian churches, and churches like ourselves that teach free grace are known as Reformed churches - there are other names but these names will suffice. Those who teach that we are saved by the choice of the sinner believe that sin has not ruined man but left him with sufficient power of will to choose what is good and to choose what is right, but that is a great mistake. It is possible for the sinner to choose evil, but sadly it is not possible for the sinner to choose good. No one ever came to Christ through an act of free will; no one ever came to salvation by his own choosing of God; no one ever sat down and said, "I am going to choose God." If he did think like that, it would only be because God had begun to give him free grace.

Grace is supernatural, spiritual energy. It is the power of God working in the sinner's heart and life to propel him, and to enable him to choose the things which are freely given to us of God. I want to make a practical observation which derives from this statement. You will meet parents who will say, "I do not want to force my children to become Christians if they do not wish to do. I wish my children to grow up without the influence of Sunday schools and churches, so that when they come to years of discretion, they can choose for themselves." So, they don't send their children to Sunday Schools or Bible Classes or churches, or anything of that sort. Their idea is that when their children are grown up they can choose for themselves. The trouble with that is that when men choose for themselves they always choose against God, and for sin and for the flesh and for pleasure. That is why the Bible says to parents, we are to bring up our children in the "nurture and the admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6, 4). Only as the souls and minds of young people are brought to know the gospel, only in that environment will they have any chance of being saved.

When the apostle Paul says to these Thessalonian Christians that their election is of God, he means to say to them that God has given them the power to believe the gospel, God has given them the strength to do what flesh and blood of itself cannot do. So it was that Jesus said to Simon Peter after his confession, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16, 17). So God therefore chooses some, but He does not choose all. Why should it be that you and I are here in this building, and many of us have a true interest in the things of God, and why should it be that others are not here who might have been here? The answer has very much to do with this text; it has to do with the fact that God has chosen some, but not all.

As soon as we talk in those terms somebody will say to us something like this: "Is it not unfair, is it not unfair that God should choose some but not all?" And we need to answer that. The answer is in these words: It is no unfairness in God to give to some what he does not owe to any. What He gives He gives freely to those who, in any case, do not deserve anything. So it is not a question of fairness on God's part; God is not obliged to give grace to anyone. He is under obligation and stress to give grace to no man. We are all sinners; we have all forfeited a claim upon His justice.

Another question arises like this, and here is a view which is very common in our churches and in other Reformed churches. People say: "But if God has eternally chosen some and eternally refused others, then what's the point of our striving to know the truth?" I can imagine a person sitting here and hearing me speak in this way. Perhaps they are not yet in a position in which they can confess Christ as their Saviour, and I can imagine that such a person would be tempted to think like this: that if God has fixed it all from the beginning, and the destinies of all men is in His hands, not in ours, then there is simply no point in praying, or coming to church to listen to the gospel, or in striving to enter into the kingdom, because it is all fixed anyway and whatever I do won't alter what God has ordained. Now, what do I say to that? Well that's a common misunderstanding of what election means. When God tells us that some are elect, He goes on to say something else. He says that if you want salvation you can have it. He tells us both of these things. First of all He says that the initiative is with Himself. Before the foundations of the world were laid, He has chosen some men and women to eternal life, not all, but some." Nobody knows who they are until they come. Then God goes on to add this. He says, "You are all welcome. If you should wish to come, then you are most welcome." God assures us He will never drive anyone away who truly wishes to be saved. The thing to look to, if we are not yet Christians, is not the secret purpose of God in election; the thing to look to is His revealed promise in His Word. The promises of God are what you are to look to if you are not yet brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, or to an assurance of a saving knowledge of Christ. What you need to concentrate on is His gracious welcome: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11, 28).

Now you say, "But I don't understand how these two things fit in: the eternal plan is fixed and yet we are all welcome? I can't square the circle," you say, "I can't understand how these two things dovetail together." Well my dearly beloved friends, there are many things that you and I can't understand, and if we are never going to do anything till you understand everything, we might as well die, because who understands anything really? Even brilliant scientists, they don't really understand much about the stars and the sun and the moon, and how it all works. The most brilliant medical men will tell you they only understand a fraction of how the body works, and a smaller fraction of how the brain works. So I say, don't vex yourself unnecessarily with worries and scruples about these matters. I can, in the name of Christ and of his Word, assure you: if you want God, you are welcome to come and put your trust in Him; if you want salvation and you feel a stirring in your breast that you would love to be a Christian, then says God, "Come, and welcome to Jesus Christ." But when we have come, as these Thessalonians have come, and when you have believed as they had believed, then it is in place to announce you have come because God chose you to come. You may not have been aware that God chose you. You could not have been aware - nobody is aware of being chosen by God until they come. It's only after the event that we know that a person has been chosen of God.

I move on then to speak about the way in which election works, and I say really four things under this brief heading. The origin of election is the first point I touch on. Where does election begin? As I have already hinted, it begins with God; it begins in God's mind, and in God's will; like everything else, it began with God's thought. Before things happen, you understand, they first of all begin in God's thoughts. That's true in an illustrative way with us. Here we are in a school hall. Very obviously, before this school hall was built there had to be people who sat down round a table to discuss what sort of school hall they wanted. How many seats would they need? How high would the ceiling be? How many lamps would it require, and how many windows? How many doors and exits? How many curtains? How many stairs? It all had to be thought about even before a single brick was laid. Along came architects and planners and they arranged things on paper first. It all begins in the mind, whether you are building a school, or the Eiffel Tower, or the Manhattan skyscrapers, they all begin in the mind - our minds.

Apply that as an illustration to the things which are much higher. Everything that happens in the world begins in the mind of the great God, the Lord of lords. Everything begins there; nothing ever happens but what first began in His mind. And when we speak about the choice that God has made of some sinners to be His people, we are now talking about the origin of election. In eternity past, my dearest friends, God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held a conversation with one another - we can only put it in human language otherwise we would never understand anything - and in this holy and sacred conversation, this is what God the Father said to His Son Jesus Christ. He said, "My beloved Son, I shall create a world, and mankind will fall into sin; but you, my Son, must save them - not all of them, but those whom I have chosen. I have given them to you; you will die for them, and rise again, and intercede for them; and you will bring them all to faith; and at last you will bring them all to glory. As a reward for your obedience unto death, I will give you exaltation and glory; your humanity - your human nature - will be lifted to the highest elevation possible and you will sit at my right hand. In all eternity you will be rewarded in having your people as a church, and as a Bride to whom you will be married eternally throughout the endless ages of eternity to come."

That is what the Father said to the Son. But what did the Son say to the Father? He said, "Oh my Father, if that is your will I am most willing to obey. In the course of time I will come into human nature, and I will die for my chosen people; and I will rise again and ascend to glory according to your promise; and I will lead these many children whom thou hast given me to faith, and to heaven, and to eternal life." Then the Holy Spirit spoke also, and He said, "All those for whom Christ dies, I will work in their heart, and I will bring to them convictions of the truth, so that when they hear the message of the gospel they will all believe it, every one, whether they be Jews, or non-Jews throughout all the world. When they hear this gospel message - these whom the Father has given to the Son - I will give them life and they will believe." That is how election began. It began with God; it began with the will of God. It began with the eternal decree of God, which is simply another word for the plan of salvation.

That is the first thing I say about election, and I come now to the second. Obviously, this plan was not put into execution immediately as soon as the world began. It had to take time. Certain things had to happen. Man had to be created, and then the woman created from the man; and then the devil's temptation had to occur; and then man's sin had to occur. God's plan allowed for all of that to happen. Then God immediately announced to Adam and Eve that a Saviour would come who should bruise the serpent's head and destroy his power. The reference there was to this plan of God, which was known to God before the world began, that in the fullness of time Christ would come, and He would die and rise and ascend. All throughout the Old Testament, every one of the elect heard that, and believed in that, and that was how they were saved. "Abraham rejoiced to see my day" (John 8, 56), says Christ. So did Noah, so did Lot, so did David, so did Isaiah, and all that heavenly host of men and women in the Old Testament; they were saved through Christ who, they understood, was going to come for them according to God's plan.

When Jesus came and lived, and died, and rose, He did what we call the 'accomplishment' of our redemption. We call that work of Christ 'redemption accomplished'. It fits exactly with the plan. It's not that Jesus came without any plan underlying His work. There are some people who give the impression that they think that Jesus came to reconcile us to an angry God, and that the anger of God was put away by the blood of Christ, and that God really never loved us until Jesus died for us. That's all wrong. God loved His people before Christ died for them. It is the Father's love which sent the Son. It's because Jesus died that all the barriers to the expression of the Father's love have been removed towards those who are believers and are His elect.

The third thing which has to be said about election is what we call 'redemption applied'. Now what's this? Well, when Jesus died, there were many people in the world who were elect who had not yet heard the message, and some of these were living in Palestine, and some were living in Greece, like the Thessalonians right in front of us here, and they knew nothing of God and of Christ, and of the eternal plan. What did they know? Nobody had ever told them. But along came Paul and these other missionaries, and they preached. Many people, when they heard Paul preach, scoffed - they laughed their heads off. "Somebody" they said, "rising from the dead?! This must be a joke." But... not all of them laughed. The elect heard the truth and they were convinced of it. They knew it was true! They believed it. They embraced the truth. These Thessalonians were like that. How did they embrace the truth when others scoffed and thought it was a jest? The answer is - divine election. When these heard the gospel the Holy Spirit went with the gospel, and that's what's referred to in the following verse, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost [there He is], and in much assurance" (v.5). So we refer to this as the application of redemption. Those whom God chose He gave as a gift to Christ. Christ came to die for them. When the gospel is preached in this world, the elect not only hear with their ears, but they hear with their souls. What makes the difference? Is it because the elect have some special faculty of understanding which the others don't have? No. It's because as they hear the gospel there is a mighty, powerful, divine influence along with the gospel, and we refer to this as the work of the Holy Ghost in power, convincing of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement to come. Now those that are not elect sometimes feel something of that power. Sometimes those who are not the people of God and never become the people of God have some impressions of the truth, but it always wears off, it never remains. It is possible for some people to come and sit and hear the gospel, and to tremble under the sound of it, as Felix trembled when Paul preached to him of righteousness and temperance and judgement to come, but it wore off. It always wears off in the case of those who are not the elect, but the elect persevere to the end.

This brings me to my fourth point. Not only redemption accomplished, and redemption applied, but fourthly, redemption consummated - brought to its completion, if you like. They not only hear the outward voice of the preacher, but they hear the inward voice of God, and this is the most important thing of all - to hear God's voice when we hear preaching, to know that it is God's Word. Let me illustrate like this. I am illustrating now to show you that it has nothing at all to do with being clever, or brilliant, or intelligent, or learned - it's nothing to do with that - it has to do with the Spirit of God. This is a true story. It happened many years ago to the Prime Minister of Great Britain of the day, William Pitt. William Pitt was a genius; he was a most brilliant young man. Amongst his friends was a Christian called William Wilberforce - I'm sure you've heard that name. William Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament and he was an outstanding speaker. He was the one that led to the abolition of slavery, as you know, in the British Empire.

William Wilberforce on one occasion tried to get his dear friend, William Pitt, the Prime Minister, to be converted. He invited Pitt to hear an outstanding preacher. I think his name was Richard Cecil, but we won't dwell on that. You can imagine the Prime Minister sitting in a very handsome seat in this building, with a large audience, and here was William Wilberforce, a very small man with a beautiful voice like a nightingale. Here was the Prime Minister and other very important people, and the preacher preaching. When the sermon was over, you can imagine that Wilberforce was interested to know whether Pitt had been affected by the great gospel sermon that he heard. So, as we all do, Wilberforce said to the Prime Minister: "Sir," he said, "did you enjoy the sermon? Did you benefit from it?" Well this is what Pitt said - not his exact words, but this is the sense of what he said. He said, "Mr Wilberforce, I had no idea what that minister was saying. It made no sense at all to me." We don't know whether the man was elect or not, but I'm using that as an illustration. You see, when people are not able to understand, it's a sign the Spirit doesn't give them any knowledge of the truth; their eyes are not open; their minds are not open.

Let me use another quite different illustration. Boys and girls, I don't know whether you know what a dog whistle is? You certainly know what a whistle is - a thing that you put in your mouth and you blow and it makes a shrill noise. There is such a thing as a dog whistle, and I'm told you can get similar things for deer. Now what is a dog whistle? Well, it's a whistle the same as other whistles, but... here's a difference: it has such a high note that human ears can't hear. A dog whistle has such a very high note that's right beyond the scale of the keyboard that you and I can't hear, but dogs can hear it. The use of a dog whistle is this, that you blow it and human beings hear nothing, but dog hears it and comes running. The dog hears it, but human beings cannot. Now think of that, because that in a sense is what we are talking about here.

Here is the gospel of Christ Jesus who died for sinners. If you trust in Him, says God, you will be saved. When that message is preached, and men and women are not elected and not being called by God, they are not affected by it; it doesn't really go home to their heart. Oh they hear the words, but they don't really feel it's relevant to them. They may go home and say, "The minister preached a lovely sermon," but it doesn't change their lives. But the elect hear it. They hear a sound, a voice, a call! That's the word - it's the call of God saying, "Leave the world and follow me!" This is what Jesus did to the fishermen - Peter and John and the other fishermen - do you remember, at the Lake of Galilee? Jesus was walking along and He said to these men, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him" (Matthew 4, 19-20). Why did they do that? Because, with the call, Christ put forth power. The Holy Spirit went forth in power to call them to that.

You know, this is something of great practical importance to us all. It seems so stupid to preach, doesn't it? It seems so stupid to preach in the open air. It seems so stupid to give tracts to people, and leaflets about the gospel, or to engage people in conversation about Christ, or to hold Sabbath School - it all seems so very improbable. And the devil is awfully good at saying, "What's the use? What's the use of any of that?" The answer is that you never know who the elect are. You never know when the Holy Spirit will come and touch the heart of a sinner. You never know when even a word, or a sentence, will transform a person's life.

I've got an illustration which is a very important one. One of the great preachers in America at the end of the nineteenth century was a man whose name is still a household word all over the world, Dwight Lyman Moody - we usually call him D.L. Moody. There is a Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to this day - very important. D.L. Moody came to Britain, and he was an outstanding preacher. Thousands of people heard him. He was a friend of Spurgeon. Many, many people came to Christ through the preaching of this man - D.L. Moody. I want to tell you before I close how D.L. Moody was converted, how he came to Christ. It's very interesting for me; I hope it is to you.

D.L. Moody was eighteen. He was working in his uncle's store, or shop, in the city of Boston, New England, and he was presumably selling shoes - a salesman or something. That's an honourable occupation but it's not an earth-shaking thing to be doing, is it? It is a humble task in life - selling shoes in a shoe store. There was somebody who knew this man, and the man that knew him was called Mr Kimball. God laid it on the heart of Mr Kimball to go to the shoe store one day and to speak to this young boy of eighteen and say to him he should give his heart and life to Christ - you've got the picture. Come with me then and with this man Mr Kimball. He walked along the road and his thoughts began to trouble him. He said, "Well, if I go into this shoe store and talk to this young boy, it may be he'll lose his job, or maybe the boss will get angry with us both and it'll be the worse for this fellow." He was so wrestling in his mind that he actually walked beyond the shoe store down along the pavement, or sidewalk as they call it over there, and he realised he'd gone too far so he had to retrace his steps. He fumbled and fidgeted outside the door. Would he go in or would he not? It's so difficult. He may not get the right moment. It may be the worst thing he could possibly do. Leave it to some other time. But no, wait a minute, there may not be another time, he thought. So, Mr Kimball put his hand on the latch of the door, went into the shoe store and he said, "Excuse me, do you have a young boy working here called Dwight Lyman Moody?" "Oh yes, sir, yes, he's through there, you'll find him in there." So Mr Kimball went in, and he took the bull by the horns. He said, "Young man, I've got a burden on my heart for you. I would like to say to you, 'Give your life to Christ, give your life to God right now!' and He will forgive you and make you a Christian." Then he turned on his heel and walked out. It was a moment in destiny. Those were just the words that boy needed to hear. They went straight to his heart. He knelt down on the floor and gave his life to Christ, and became a mighty preacher for the truth - so much so that his name is a legend almost, to this very day for preaching and a influence for good. Just in a shoe shop selling shoes to the public but... God made him a mighty man of influence. How do you explain that? The answer is that it's never in vain to witness for Christ; never in vain to say a word to a sinner. You never know, they may be the elect of God. If you here today feel you want the Saviour, you are welcome to take Him, free, as the gift of God.

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