As Deuteronomy teaches us, there was nothing special about the Israelites that influenced God’s choice of them as his special people. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 says, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers.” When Paul addresses the Thessalonians, he wants them to know that God has chosen them also. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says, For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

You can’t help but notice that Paul is assuring them of their position. He says, “we know.” When John writes his first epistle, he explains that his purpose for writing was that they would “know” that through faith in Jesus Christ, they had eternal life. It seems that the writers of the epistles want their readers to have certainty regarding their salvation. Part of Christendom today, as well as throughout the history of the church, preaches that one cannot know for certain if one is going to heaven.  This enables religious leaders to control their parishioners. Keeping followers in doubt is supposed to serve as the motivation to make people try harder. It usually results in fear and anxiety rather than motivation. This verse argues that because of the Gospel message that was accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit brought eternal security, assurance of God’s love, and His choice of them as His special people. Even the final phrase in the verse, “with full conviction,” speaks of the certainty of salvation.

I’m well aware that many Christians believe that our salvation is one of our self-determination.  It’s especially true in our western culture, where autonomy and individuality are central to our thinking. We have thoroughly bought into the message “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” That there is no such thing as a free lunch might be true in the world in which we live, But God does not deal with us that way. Paul makes it clear in several epistles that we are not saved by our deeds but by grace. If it’s by our good works, we would never know for certain. Did I give enough to charity? Did I serve in the church enough? Was I kind enough to others? There is always one more thing we could have done. There is always one temptation we could have resisted a little longer. There is no assurance, no security when the basis of our relationship with God is how good we’ve been. There is only doubt, stress, and anxiety. Even the Old Testament teaches us that all our good deeds are worthless and are like filthy rags. Yet, we want to think we bring something to the table, and it’s not out of God’s undeserved love and mercy that we are saved, but out of some quality in us or some sacrifice of service or behavior that earns salvation. Paul rebukes the Corinthians who have fallen into this mindset. He wants them to realize that it’s all of Grace, and they have nothing to give to God that he needs. In 1 Corinthians 4:7, he says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Paul wanted his readers to look to God as the actor in their salvation and not to their own good works. As Weatherly says, Paul is giving all believers “The assurance that they were receiving the full advantage of all of God’s saving activity in history. They are at the climax of what God had done; they are the beneficiaries of the plan of God from before creation. Whatever difficulties they may face in this age, they have the assurance of their standing with God in his eternal plan.”[1]

[1] Weatherly, Jon A. 1996. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.