How can I help someone who thinks they aren't elect?
I've had some people very close to me who have been in this category, so I don't take the question lightly.
You should say to them, somewhere along the way, "You know, don't you, that the doctrine of election is not a paralyzing, destructive, excluding doctrine? It is a hope-giving, liberating doctrine for people like you." And then you could explain it like this:
The doctrine of unconditional election, which I believe is biblical, says that God chooses us apart from any preconditions that he creates or foresees. He chooses us before we were born or did anything good or evil. This means that any given person at any given moment, looking back over their lives—whether the last five minutes or the last five decades—and seeing them shot through with sin, thus giving evidence of them being outside of Christ, is still eligible for salvation. None of the conditions of his past may be used to exclude him from heaven.
A person who is struggling with whether or not he is elect is doing exactly the opposite. He is taking election and using it to exclude him from salvation. And I'm saying that, in reality, the doctrine of unconditional election makes it dead wrong and logically impossible to exclude one's self, at this point, from redemption, because the doctrine of unconditional election says that there is nothing you can bring to this moment right now to warrant your exclusion.
You can't point to anything in your life which excludes you from election. Therefore believe and prove that you are elect! I think that has tremendous power to free people.
Imagine the horror if you believed in some kind of conditional election that was somehow rooted in who we are or what we've become. You could then have someone like the thief on the cross, with thirty to fifty years of nothing but sinning on his record, who just becomes paralyzed and defeated when he considers whether or not he is elect.
If such a man, after saying, "I can't be among the elect. I'm a thief, I'm dying, and I'll be in hell in just a few minutes," hears Jesus say, "You can't tell me that you're not elect, because nothing you've ever done excludes you from election, because election is unconditional," then I think that would remove a huge obstacle to his salvation rather than creating one.
So, clarifying the meaning of unconditional election would be one way to help a person struggling with the doctrine. Other ways to help are to keep praying for them, patiently love them, and keep telling them the gospel. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the word of God" (Romans 10:17). And the word of God has as its center the gospel.
I know one woman in particular who absolutely despaired of her salvation and though that it could ever be. She was about to commit suicide on a Good Friday. But for some merciful reason she decided to give Christ one more chance and to read the Gospel of Luke, even though she had read it before. And when she got to the chapters on the crucifixion her eyes were opened and she saw him. She didn't see herself, she saw him. And he was so compelling that her heart lunged for him, embraced him, took him, and she knew that she was saved.
That can happen to anyone, if they see Christ and not themselves. Try to get them away from introspection—"Am I elect? Am I elect? Am I elect?" Rather, help them turn their eyes to Christ and to seeing him. And then regeneration and the experience of election is a reflex that will happen from watching and seeing Christ for who he really is.