“The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned. But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. He called you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 2:9–14)
I want to make a few brief comments on this passage.
1. This passage on God decreeing the elect to salvation comes on the contextual heels of God decreeing the reprobate to eternal perdition. It is in the context of the lawless one’s parousia and Jesus Christ’s parousia:
“and then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his arrival. The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders” (2 Thess 2:8–9).
As we move closer to the Lord’s return, Paul exhorts believers that the threat of apostasy is real; the warnings are a means by which God perseveres his elect people from the temptation to apostatize (see the many forms in 2 Thess 2 of exhorting to stay faithful).
God is both active in election (“God chose you”) and hardening in reprobation (“God sends on them”).
2. Ephesians is not the only instance where Paul grounds election in love (Eph 1:4). There are other instances such as this passage: “brothers and sisters loved [ἠγαπημένοι] by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning for salvation.” We know we are loved by God because (ὅτι) of his act of electing us for (εἰς) salvation. The obverse is that those who are not elected are not “loved [ἠγαπημένοι] by the Lord.” They are rather “those who are perishing” (2 Thess 2:10).
3. “God chose [εἵλατο] you [ὑμᾶς] . . . .” God is the actor performing the choosing, where the “you” is the direct object. Arminians may object by claiming that because the verb εἵλατο (“chose”) is in the middle voice, that leaves room for some activity of so-called “prevenient grace” activated by the creature’s will. Those who typically say this never actually explain how that works. In short, it is a linguistic blunder, or more accurately, it reveals no familiarity with the Koine Greek language. It is used to throw something against the wall and hope that it sticks with the linguistic benighted.
The middle voice rather is subject focused and such verbs “shift attention from the situation itself to the role of the subject” (Decker, Reading Koine Greek, 227), and “[its] specific features is the affectedness of the subject of the verb in, or by, the event denoted by the verb” (Bakker, “Voice, Aspect and Aktionsart,” 24), and “middle voice, in which the subject performs the action but with a self-interest nuance” (Decker, Reading Koine Greek, 227; cf. 235–36; see also Mathewson and Emig, Intermediate Greek Grammar, 148).
4. As if the fact that it is God decreeing and thus performing the choosing for salvation did not make Paul’s point, he emphasizes that this gracious act was done “from the beginning.” This excludes our participation in the sovereign decree of salvation since it was ordained before we were born.
5. “through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” Another feature of salvation that excludes any claim by us to have some efficacious boasting is that salvation is brought about by the work of the sanctifying work of the Spirit (ἐν ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος). Paul attributes the work of the Spirit in our salvation numerous times (see esp. Rom 8). The work of the Spirit brings about faith in the truth (πίστει ἀληθείας). Arminians who claim that the mention of “faith” must be the determining factor of their salvation has read Paul’s words literally backwards making faith the mechanism by which brings about the Spirit’s work and determines God’s decree before time! It is rather an absurd reading that is indicative of the Arminian tradition. Paul is praising God for what he does for us, something we could not do for ourselves.
6. And this is emphasized by Paul’s very next statement: “He called [ἐκάλεσεν] you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 2:14). Paul uses another electing term, a favorite of his, called (ἐκάλεσεν) (see also the “golden chain of redemption,” Rom 8:28–30). The object of God’s decreeing action, once again, is you (ὑμᾶς).
In summary, Paul teaches that this electing love of God is the basis for his exhortations to have hope, comfort, and faith in trials and temptations to apostatize from the faith. In fact, this sovereign attribute of God’s faithfulness is effective to protect us from even the most evil one in the universe: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thess 3:3).