Both these things as possible: that we can know with full confidence that we are God’s elect, and that we can take the warnings of Hebrews seriously and as being applicable to us.
We can know, without a shadow of a doubt, right now, that based on the work of Christ, our experience of that work, and our walk with him, that we are his elect. To the extent that we have this confidence, we can say with equal confidence that we are his elect, with full assurance.
With that said, our full confidence that we are God’s elect wanes with our confidence of our salvation. Our actual election does not waver, but our knowledge of it can.
Michael Brown’s mistake is to assume that, if we could achieve a full confidence today that we are God’s elect, that confidence could not wane, and that the warnings of Hebrews would become meaningless to us. In reality, our election status is immutable, but our knowledge of it is mutable.1 This fluid nature of our certainty in our election does not cast doubt on the certainty that God’s elect will be saved; rather it is a reflection that our knowledge of whether we are elect or not can ebb and flow. This is a very important distinction.
Our knowledge of who is elect is not based on a revelation of God’s secret will. If we had that, this entire conversation would be very different, and the warnings of Hebrews would indeed be void. God withholds this knowledge for a reason. If we had the original autographs of scripture, textual criticism would be unnecessary. Likewise, if we had a list of God’s elect, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling would be unnecessary. In both cases, God deliberately gives us work to do. It’s necessary, and it’s for our good. We would not want it any other way. God appoints the ends as well as the means.
We get into trouble when we go from knowing with confidence that we are elect to then later on wandering away from an active life of obedience to God under the glib assurance that we previously attained a perfect knowledge of our election and that therefore we’re immune to falling away. We can only be certain of our election to the extent that today, right now, we are trusting in Christ, which demonstrates itself in a practical life of obedience in love to him. Therefore, the warnings of Hebrews apply to us every day of our lives in parallel to our experience of a full assurance of our election. These two things are not at odds with one another. The day we stop “giving the more earnest heed” (Hebrews 2:1) is the day our confidence in our election wanes and we become in grave danger of the warnings of Hebrews.
Knowing with full confidence right now that we are God’s elect does not mean that we can lay the matter to rest and no longer worry about the state of our souls. The doctrine of election does not preclude our ongoing effort. The guarding of our souls against the powers of darkness is an ongoing battle until the end of the world.
The scriptures clearly teach the doctrine of election, the inability for the elect to lose their salvation, our ability to know with confidence we are elect, and our ability to fall away.2 Many people think those things are at odds with each other and therefore the scripture must be teaching something else when it talks about election. But that requires doing injustice to the texts. In actuality, these truths are not at odds with each other. They are all shown to be in harmony with each other in the explanation above.
- The same can be said in regards to textual criticism. The word of God is immutable, but our knowledge of it is mutable. ↩︎
- Again, the imperfect parallel to textual criticism is fascinating. We believe in the inspiration of the original autographs, the inability to lose the Bible throughout the ages, our ability to know with confidence that we have the word of God, and our ability to make mistakes in transmission. If this can be so with the Bible itself, why can it not also be true with the doctrine of election? ↩︎