The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and the elected man in One. It is part of the doctrine of God because originally God’s election of man is a predestination not merely of man but of Himself. Its function is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God. – Karl Barth CD II/2 §32
I am writing on a doctrine of assurance of salvation (for our forthcoming EC book). There is no better place to start and end than with Jesus Christ and His choice to be for us; to start with God’s self-determined free and gracious choice to not be God without us, but with us, Immanuel. This is why Barth says that “the doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best; that God elects man; that God is for man to the One who loves in freedom.” If God in Christ predestines Himself to be both elect, in His election of our humanity in the Son, and as corollary reprobate in the assumption of our fallen humanity this removes the space for any cleavage or dualism to inhere between an elect class of humanity and a reprobate class of humanity. All of humanity is grounded in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, and in His election to be human. As a result in His humiliation we are exalted in His exaltation for us as He as the elected reprobate takes our reprobation to the cross and grave and puts it to death. We share in His exalted and elected state as He recreates humanity in His resurrected humanity, ascending to the right hand of the Father where He always lives to make intercession for us. But in His election of us He also has faith for us, as an implicate of His primacy and prototypical place as the human par excellence. He, in His vicarious humanity by the Holy Spirit believes for us; as such we do not need to look inward to find faith for God, we need to look outward to the faith of Christ as the ground and reality from which we can echo as we participate in and from His vicarious humanity by the same Holy Spirit.
Salvation becomes nothing of us, but all of Jesus for us! Salvation is exhausted fully and totally by God’s elect life for us in Jesus Christ. God’s election for us in Christ erases any space between us and God (except that the Son is the Son by nature, and we by grace and adoption); in Christ we have been fully reconciled to God, and this is the space, by God’s grace therein, where we can look nowhere but Christ. We cannot look to ourselves as the ground of anything, by God’s grace God has re-created brand-new ground from whence we live and move and have our being (II Cor. 5.17 )—as the Apostle Paul writes “we are new creations, the old has gone the new has come.” The moment we attempt to think of salvation in abstraction from Jesus Christ, in any way, we have lost our way already.
Consequently, when people struggle to find assurance of salvation the answer is truly: look to Jesus! It isn’t a matter of whether he chose this or that person for salvation or eternal destruction; it is a matter of understanding that God in Christ has freely chosen all of humanity for Himself the moment He chose to not be God without us but with us in Christ. If this causes people to fear universalism we should ask: why?! This does not need to terminate in a dogmatic universalism, but only a hopeful one; of the sort that we can find within the Apostle Paul himself. ‘Perfect love casts out fear,’ so if we are embracing theological constructions that find their thrust and vive from anxiety and fear (i.e. “am I one of the elect or reprobate” so on and so forth), then we know that we have moved outside of a theology that honors Jesus Christ, and that does not find its reality from Him.