I have recently been studying “the demonstration of the Spirit and power” in 1 Corinthians 2 as part of my upcoming Master’s dissertation. In the course of studying, it has lead me to look at 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, where Paul uses similar language to 1 Corinthians 2 in the contrast between “words” or “discourse” and the Spirit and power. In so studying, what has pressed me is the questions of how and why power and the Holy Spirit is related to God’s choice of the people in v. 4. Traditionally understood within Protestantism, election has been principally about soteriology: what people has God chosen for salvation and how does God select those? In the Calvinist/Arminian debate, the discussions, arguments, and polemics center around whether God’s decrees make salvation real or if God’s selection of people is reflective of their faith. On the one hand, the language of election and predestination in places such as Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 are very particularistic and the argument seems to posit the emphasis is on how God’s action accomplishes election. On the other hand, there are plethora of Scriptural and theological reasons for supposing that salvation is not as special country-club accessible by special invitation only.
I alluded to this in a previous post, but what if we consider the following: election in Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, is not about who gets in, while everyone is left out. What if, instead, divine election is about being God’s chosen persons to convey the light of the Gospel? After discussing the confidence that Paul has in the election of the Thessalonian believers in vs. 4-5, he proceeds to discuss how their imitation of Paul has lead to them being witnesses to others believer and in various other places in vs. 6-8. It seems, for Paul, the question of being chosen by God pertains to action God takes to incorporate people into God’s mission, not simply who gets forgiven and gets to have eternal life. Certainly, we would suggest that such people are “saved,” but that election is not about who strictly outlining who gets in and left out but about who are the first people in the world, as with Israel, or in various communities, regions, and periods of time, whose lives will serve as witnesses to the Gospel of God. Instead of the Holy Spirit simply being some signal of God’s love towards certain persons, it represents the people God uses to break down boundaries and shine light into darkness. We see this pattern with the dramatic bestowal of the Spirit to the Samaritans in Acts 8:14-17, leading to the evangelizing of the Samartians in 8:25, and the Gentiles in Acts 10:44-48 which legitimated acceptance of the Gentiles in 11:15-18. In other words, I would suggest that God’s election of people as evidenced by the work of the Holy Spirit is not about determining the boundaries between persons, but rather God’s breaking down of boundaries to that the light of the Gospel will spread. To use a metaphor, God election is selecting people who will seed colonies of God’s Kingdom.
Under this conceptual schema, we can then rightly accept the emphasis of election occurring on the basis of God’s actions and not human action, while at the same time recognizing the universal invitation of the Gospel to all people. God’s election of particular persons is the very means that the universal invitation to the Gospel is concretely realized in various communities, cultures, and periods of time, entailing the dramatic, often surprising work of the Spirit to establish these persons for this task and to communicate this new direction of God to others.