Updated: May 29
By Luke Lancaster
Some Christians will argue that when a man believes in the Gospel, his salvation is eternally secure. Many such people are apart of the "Reformed" Christian camp, and they will argue that God has eternally decreed people from the beginning of time to go to either Heaven or Hell. They say that God made this decision apart from any human action. To support this claim, they will point to passages like 1 Thessalonians 1:4. Whether interpreted to mean eternally secure or predestined apart from free will would be a misinterpretation of the passage. The context and the example of Judas bear this out.
In 1 Thess. 1:4, Paul calls believers “chosen” or “elected” by God, which would seem to imply that they were infallibly going to Heaven. Those influenced by the Reformed persuasion will argue that these believers were chosen by God apart from their free will, and that they would not lose their salvation. For Paul said, “For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you” (1 Thess. 1:4). To be "chosen" or "elect," so it is argued, means that there was a permanent decision by God to enter Heaven.
This is a wrong interpretation, for St. Paul applies to all of the Thessalonians that they were chosen by God. Does that mean that every single one of them will enter eternal life? No. Methodist Scripture scholar I. Howard Marshall has this to say about passages like 1 Thess. 1:4, “the term elect is always applied to those who have actually become members of God’s people rather than to those whom God has predestined to salvation before they have actually received it. What Paul is referring to here is the fact that God’s choice of the readers is seen in the way it which they have accepted the gospel.” Marshall argues that those who accepted the Gospel freely were chosen by God that very moment.
All of the Christians in Thessalonica are called "chosen" by God, not because all of them will enter eternal life infallibly. They do not have an eternal decree by God stating from the beginning of time they will enter Heaven. The Thessalonians could still forfeit their eternal salvation by falling away from the Faith (the mortal sin of apostasy). This is why Paul had concern over their salvation after he left them, "I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain" (1 Thess. 3:5). They could still lose their eternal reward in Heaven. So, they were "chosen" more so in the sense that God embraced them as Christians.
Judas himself had been "chosen" by Jesus Christ to follow Him (Luke 6:16). However, this did not mean that he was predestined to eternal life apart from any of his free will. He still had the option of leaving Christ. In fact, he did fall away and commit the mortal sin of betrayal to Christ. God had chosen Judas, and Christ was to look after him, yet Jesus says, "While I was with them [the apostles], I kept them in your [God's] name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction [Judas]" (John 17:12). Judas was chosen like the Thessalonians, yet he still had free will.
1 Thessalonians 1:4 says that the Thessalonians were chosen by God, yet this does not indicate that they were predestined to all enter Heaven. They believed in Christ, and could say that they used their free will to do that and were chosen by God to come to faith. God does predestine some to eternal life, but this is based on His foreknowledge of who will believe and faithfully follow Him unto death. See the previous post to learn more about that.