The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
(The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)
July 15, 2018
“The Election of Grace”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:3-14
We read in the Bible about mysteries. Jesus taught his disciples the mysteries of the kingdom of God. St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that pastors are stewards of God’s mysteries. A biblical mystery is something that is beyond our ability to understand. It is true. We know it is true because God reveals it. But it is so far above us that we must simply bow before it, believe it, and not try to figure out how it can be so.
Examples of biblical mysteries are the Trinity: God is one in substance and yet three distinct persons; the two natures in Christ: Jesus is true God and true man; the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper; that we are born again to eternal life through baptism. These are mysteries that we believe, teach, and confess, but we cannot explain how they can be true. We don’t understand to believe. We believe to understand. God reveals these mysteries. God cannot be contained in a box, so we shouldn’t try to confine his teaching to what we can readily understand.
A wonderful mystery set before us this morning in our Epistle Lesson is the teaching of election, or predestination. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame before him. He predestined us to be his sons. From eternity, he gave us an inheritance in heaven, not in response to anything we have done, but solely by his grace, for Christ’s sake.
This is the election of grace, also called predestination. It is a tremendous comfort to us Christians, especially when we are suffering troubles that challenge our faith or cause us to doubt. There are no accidental Christians, who stumble into the faith. God saves us by his grace alone.
But the very idea of God’s predestination troubles some Christians. That’s because, instead of relying on the clear Scriptures, they rely on their own speculations. They think about it, mull it over, try to reason it out, and find this doctrine to be very troubling, if not monstrous! Predestination? Every single thing that ever happens happens because God decreed from eternity that it would happen? If God has predestined everything, he predestined that Adam and Eve would fall into sin. Therefore, God wanted us to sin. But God punishes us for the sin that he predestined that we should do! What a terrible doctrine this is! Don’t talk to me about predestination. I cannot wrap my mind around it, and when I try, it makes God out to be some kind of a cosmic bully who delights in manipulating things according to his arbitrary will.
It could be that this is why preachers hesitate to preach on this topic. There is so much confusion that we don’t want to add to it. But that’s no reason for us to neglect preaching about it. Just the opposite: since the Bible teaches predestination, we need to teach it. When we draw what we teach on this topic from the Holy Scriptures, instead of our own speculations, we find that it is of tremendous comfort.
Our text uses the word choose and the word predestine to refer to the same thing. Another word for choose is elect. When we speak of predestination, we are speaking of election. An election is coming up this fall. Millions of Americans will go to the polls to vote for U.S. Senators, Representatives, governors of states, legislators in state governments, and many other offices. The majority rules. Everyone eighteen years and older has the right to vote. When we think of elections, we think of a group of people casting votes.
That’s not how it works with God’s election of grace. There is only one vote cast: God’s. He chooses. He chooses his children by his grace alone. As Jesus said to his disciples:
God chooses. St. Paul writes in our text,
He chose us. We didn’t choose him. He predestined us, not because of anything we did, but according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he made us accepted in Christ.
There are three things that we must always keep in mind when it comes to the matter of God electing his children to salvation from eternity. First, there is no election to damnation. Second, we know and believe we are God’s elect by listening to his word. Third, we are elected in Christ.
There is no election to damnation. You may have heard of a French theologian from the 16th century by the name of John Calvin. He moved to Switzerland and was the leader of the Reformation there. Calvin had a huge influence on Protestantism in Europe, and later on in America. He had a brilliant mind. As with many very smart theologians, he wanted theology to fit together in a system of doctrine that made sense. He was a reasonable man. He read texts such as the one before us today and he reasoned this way: if God elected all those who are saved unto salvation, then he must have elected all those who are not saved unto damnation. So that’s what he taught. By reasoning from God’s election to salvation to God’s election to damnation, he also came to the conclusion that Jesus didn’t die for everyone, but he died only for his elect.
The problem with Calvin’s teaching is that it’s not drawn from the Bible. The Bible nowhere teaches that God elects people to damnation. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus died for all. He offered up his life on the cross as the sacrifice to take away the sin – not just of the elect – but of the world.
We Christians don’t trust in theological systems constructed by men much smarter than we are. We are sheep. We are sheep of the good shepherd. Listen to how Jesus teaches the doctrine of election. He says in John 10:27-30
This brings us to the second thing we must keep in mind when we think of the teaching of election. We know and believe we are God’s elect by listening to his word. When Jesus promises that nobody can snatch his sheep away from him or from his Father how does he describe these sheep? He says, “My sheep hear my voice.” To fret over whether you are elect or not, or to try to find in yourself some evidence that you are indeed chosen by God, is futile and gains you nothing at all. Instead, listen to Jesus. Just listen. Be quiet. Don’t talk. You can’t listen while you’re talking. What does Jesus say?
He says he lays down his life for his sheep. He says he gives his sheep eternal life. Here in our text, through the Apostle Paul, he says that we have redemption through his blood, that is, the forgiveness of sins. He says, “Take eat, this is my body, given for you. Drink of it, all of you, this is the New Testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Listen to the voice of Jesus. Listen to the gospel. It’s for you.
What sins burden you this morning? What doubts nag at you? Don’t base your faith on what you have done or failed to do. Our faith rests in the clear word of God. God speaks forgiveness to us. As surely as Christ died, he died for you. The fact that you believe in Jesus is not evidence of your spiritual prowess upon which you must depend. It’s evidence of God’s grace! He chose you. The words you hear from Jesus that tell you your sins are forgiven come from God and seal to you your election.
Which brings us to the third thing we must always remember when thinking about our election: we are elected in Christ. Listen to the words of our text. He writes “in Christ,” “in Him,” “by Jesus Christ,” “by which he made us accepted in the Beloved,” “in him,” “in him,” “in him,” – there is no sense to the doctrine of election unless we look to Christ. He is the Chosen One – from eternity he was chosen by God to be our Savior. St. John in Revelation calls him “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” There is no election apart from God’s grace and there is no grace apart from Jesus Christ.
This is why we talk about Jesus. In him – in his suffering for us – is revealed the grace and the glory of God. In his blood shed for us we see God’s everlasting love for us. There our sins are forgiven. There is the word of truth we believe, the gospel of our salvation, the Holy Spirit of promise, the guarantee of our inheritance, and our assurance of eternal life.
The mystery of God’s eternal and gracious election of his children to be rescued from their sins and brought to heaven through faith in Christ their Redeemer is not a troubling truth. It is a comforting truth. We are not accidents. Neither is our salvation. Neither is our faith. We rest secure in the arms of our shepherd whose voice we hear. He gives us eternal life and no one can snatch us out of his hands.
Rolf D. Preus