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. (1 Peter 1:1-2)
Reading what Peter says here, we see that being elect and being saved are two different things. You can be elect and not be saved.
All of us were elect and unsaved at some time, true? How long have the elect been elect? Forever. But how long have you been saved? You can count that in months and years.
So the doctrine of election shouldn’t make us say, “I’m elect, so I guess I don’t need to get saved.” No. The sphere in which election goes from being a plan to a reality is salvation. This is how the divine and eternal decree becomes a fact of history.
In other words, election becomes reality in the life of the elect in the sphere of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
This is a marvelous thought, for here you have the term “sanctifying” used to refer to the whole of the work of salvation. And I believe that what Peter has in mind by the sanctifying work of the Spirit is the new birth: salvation, regeneration, faith and repentance.
The word translated “sanctifying work,” hagiasmos, is the word from which we get “holy.” It means to be separate, set apart, hallowed or consecrated. And the grammar of the verse seems to indicate that the Spirit produces this sanctification. The Spirit comes along and makes you holy, consecrating you to God in the work of salvation.
You have been elect from all eternity, but all of us, at one point in time, were a part of the mass of unredeemed humanity. We were milling around in an unredeemed condition until the Holy Spirit came and set us apart, saving us.
Look at 1 Peter 2:9-10:
But you are a chosen family, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Peter is saying, “You’ve been chosen all along, but you’ve only been saved since the sanctifying work of the Spirit took place, when He set you apart from sin unto God, set you apart from darkness unto light, set you apart from unbelief to faith and set you apart from the love of iniquity to repentance.” That’s all the sanctifying work of the Spirit. As Titus 3:5 says,
He saved us, not by works which we did in righteousness, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
God planned salvation. Christ purchased salvation. The Holy Spirit applies salvation.
Now, the sanctification of the Holy Spirit does not mean we are perfect now. But we are holy now. Did you know that? If you are a Christian, you are holy. I’m not as holy as I ought to be, and I’m not as holy as I’m going to be. But I was once not holy at all. I wasn’t separate from sin, unbelief and darkness. Now I am. And now I’m growing more and more to be like Christ. As I grow spiritually, the decreasing frequency of sin is the increasing reality of holiness. That’s a process, but it begins with the saving act of the Holy Spirit.
This sanctifying work is why it is impossible for someone to be saved without experiencing change in their life. There has to be a difference between who someone was before salvation and who someone is after. Believers used to be slaves of sin, but now they are slaves of righteousness. It’s a total change in nature.
So, what is the sphere of election? The environment in which election is realized as salvation.
Listen, the doctrine of election is so practical and so powerful. When it is understood, it changes your entire life. When you understand that you are elect, the practical ramifications of that will change the way you live every day.
The doctrine of election will deal with your pride. It will deal with the matter of worship in your heart. The doctrine of election will compel you to certain kinds of behavior like no other doctrine will ever compel you. The doctrine of election will produce power in your life in ways that perhaps you would never be able to understand if you didn’t understand this doctrine. You absolutely cannot ignore it.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1988, titled “Chosen by God, Part 2.”
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