To those who reside as exiles, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to the obedience of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1-2).
The sanctifying work of the Spirit, setting us apart from sin to God, has been done that you may “obey Jesus Christ.” Obedience is the byproduct. Salvation leads, by definition, to a life of obedience.
This is a very important truth. We are elected by God for salvation, and this salvation saves us into a life of obedience.
Now, we don’t obey fully, as we ought to obey, but we are nonetheless separated unto obedience. It becomes a pattern in our new life. We become submissive to the law of God. We are no longer the slaves of sin, but are now the slaves of God. Righteousness characterizes our behavior. We become faithful and fruitful, serving and loving Christ.
True salvation produces obedience; not perfect obedience, but obedience nonetheless.
In 1 Timothy 6:3, Paul says,
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words—those of our Lord Jesus Christ—and with the doctrine conforming to godliness …
What he is saying is that the true doctrine of Christ, the true doctrine of salvation, has inherent in it a conforming to godliness. The blessed reality of salvation yields the lovely fruit of obedience. And that, too, is the work of the Spirit. Look at what Paul says elsewhere to the church at Thessalonica:
We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father, knowing, brothers beloved by God, your election, for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full assurance; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of an entrance we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-9)
Paul says, “I know you’re elect.” How does he know? Because they said so? Because they were baptized? No. He says, “I know you’re elect because you imitated us. You imitated Christ. You received the Word in tribulation. You experienced joy. You became an example. You turned from idols.”
These are all features of a regenerate life. These are the things that mark true election.
A.W. Pink posed the question of how someone can know they are elect. He answered this way:
First, by the Word of God, having come in Divine power to the soul, so that my self-complacency is shattered and my self-righteousness renounced.
Second, by the Spirit’s having convicted me to my woeful, guilty, and lost condition.
Third, by having had revealed to me the suitability and sufficiency of Christ to meet my desperate case, and by a divinely given faith causing me to lay hold of and rest upon Him as my only hope.
Fourth, by the marks of the new nature within me: a love for God, an appetite for spiritual things, a longing for holiness, a seeking after conformity to Christ.
Fifth, by the resistance which the new nature makes to the old, causing me to hate sin and loathe myself for it.
Sixth, by sedulously avoiding everything which is condemned by God’s Word, and by sincerely repenting of an humbly confessing every transgression thereof. Failure at this point will most surely and quickly bring a dark cloud over our assurance, causing the spirit to withhold His witness.
Seventh, by giving all diligence to cultivate the Christian graces, and using all legitimate means to this end. Thus, knowledge of election is cumulative. (The Doctrine of Election)
How do you know you’re elect? You know it because the Word of God teaches you, moves into your life, convicts you of sin and shatters your complacency. You know it because all of a sudden your spirit has come awakened to your sin and to the reality of Christ, and you receive that new nature, which causes you to love God, love His Word and long to serve and glorify Him.
In other words, you know you’re elect if you have an obedient heart. Obedience is the mark. It is the response of one who is truly redeemed.
So Peter is telling us, then, that God’s electing and saving work produces obedience to Jesus Christ. It is not perfect obedience, and where we fail there will be a heart of brokenness and confession. But it is characteristic of a true believer to obey Jesus Christ.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1988, titled “Chosen by God, Part 3.”
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