The Comfort and Blessings of God's Eternal Election

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3-4).
Over 425 years ago, the founders of the Lutheran church wrote: “This doctrine affords glorious consolation under the cross and amid temptations, namely, that God in His counsel, before the time of the world, determined and decreed that He would assist us in all distresses, grant patience, give consolation, excite hope, and produce such an outcome as would contribute to our salvation” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, “Of God’s Eternal Election,” XI 48).
What is this wonderful doctrine that is said to bring so many blessings to Christians? It is the biblical doctrine of predestination or election. To be honest, many Christians have not found so much comfort in the subject of predestination. In fact, some would rather avoid the subject completely. They say that it’s just too hard to understand, too confusing. But actually, like many other teachings of the Bible, predestination is not so hard to understand—it’s just difficult to accept.  
Traditional Lutherans like to say that the doctrine of predestination is a final examination for a theologian—testing his or her general commitment to Christian doctrine. But don’t be afraid. There is no quiz today. The doctrine of predestination is not meant to make you anxious—it is meant to comfort you. While this doctrine will disturb people who rely on works or something other than the merits of Christ for salvation, it is given to assure the elect of their salvation.
Ephesians 1:3-14, is a doxology, a song of praise to God—and the basis for that praise is God’s eternal election. St. Paul begins by telling us that God the Father has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Every spiritual blessing is yours, and it is yours now for Jesus’ sake.
How important Christ is in the equation becomes evident when Paul declares that God the Father has chosen you in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. It is not that you were holy and blameless to begin with, and for that reason God took a liking to you and chose you. No, far from it! God chose you when you had no righteousness to offer. In fact, He chose you before you were born, before the world even existed. God chose you, Paul says, not because you were holy and blameless, but He chose you “to be holy and blameless.” He chose you in order to make you righteous in Christ.
What’s more, Christ’s Incarnation, His becoming flesh, is not simply Plan B, where the Lord looked upon the earth one day and said, “Salvation by works isn’t going very well, so let’s try something different.” God has chosen you in Christ before the foundation of the world: it has been His plan from eternity to pour out on you every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places for Jesus’ sake.
The word “eternity” cannot be overstated. Eternity means forever—without beginning and without end. Just as the Father’s choice has been from eternity, so it is for eternity. God has chosen you to be His own for eternity. In love, God has predestined you for adoption through Jesus Christ. Think of what that means! From eternity, God’s plan was to make you His child, an heir with a full inheritance in His kingdom. Everything God has is even now being used for your good and blessing, and it will be visibly and tangibly your personal possession in heaven.
Why does God do all that? “In love He predestined us according to the purpose of His will.” We might simply say that He did it because He wanted to do it. It was His purpose and will, prompted by His great love for us. These blessings come as a pure gift of God’s grace. But Paul answers our question yet another way. So that we may be led to thank and praise Him, or as Paul says, “to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” Every blessing comes through Christ, through whom our election was made possible.
The apostle goes on to tell us about our greatest blessing: “In Christ, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of trespasses according to the riches of His grace.” Paul uses two terms to describe that blessing. Redemption implies that someone is a slave or captive and needs to be ransomed. Forgiveness implies that someone has acted improperly toward another and in so doing has incurred guilt that needs to be covered over or taken away.
Both redemption and forgiveness require the payment of a heavy price. The sinner has offended God Himself; the price is—or at least should be—the sinner’s life. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But “according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us,” God did the unthinkable: He paid the price Himself. He sent His Son to be your Substitute, to suffer and die in your place. Through His blood you have been rescued from the captivity of sin and freed from its guilt. Why? So that you might have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of your trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.
The Lord has lavished this upon us in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth… in Christ. God’s plan is a mystery—not in the sense that it is incomprehensible to people, but only in the sense that they cannot come to understand it themselves. God has to explain His plan to people and lead them to know it and accept it. And that He does, of course, in the Gospel that proclaims His grace in Christ.
There’s a lot of things you cannot know, a lot of things that you need not know, about God and His will and His purpose; but for Jesus’ sake you know this: God predestined you before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless and with Him in eternity. How do you know this? The Lord has sealed you with the promised Holy Spirit, guaranteeing that this inheritance is yours. How has He sealed you? By the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, which gave you faith to believe that Christ has died for you. All of this is yours “in Him.”
That sure explains a lot about our worship, does it not? If God does all of this for us in Christ, then our worship is going to be about Christ. Gathered by the Holy Spirit, we come to where Jesus promises to be. We hear His Word, where He continues to give us forgiveness and all of those spiritual blessings, even as He sealed us with the Holy Spirit in Baptism. We gather at His Table, where He gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. Such Good News! It’s all about the blessings that God lavishes on you in Christ.
However, wherever there is such Good News to be heard, you can bet that sinners will find a way of making it more confusing. And indeed, the pure Gospel in this text has been obscured by sinners in a couple of big ways for a simple reason: the blessings God gives are so rich and free that they don’t make sense, and even Christians fall into the trap of believing that the Gospel has to make sense.  
The first error gets the name, “double predestination,” and it goes like this: “Since the Bible says that God has predestined believers in Christ to go to heaven, that means that He must also have predestined unbelievers to go to hell.” In other words, before the foundation of the world, God chose some to be saved and others to be condemned. Obviously Jesus died only for the elect.
How does this error come about? Because Christians try to make the Gospel make sense according to human logic. See, we normally think that a choice involves two options. You can choose to do one thing or you can choose to do another. So if God chooses believers to be saved, then He must also choose unbelievers to be condemned. If a choice always has two options, then God must make both decisions. Seems logical enough, but that doesn’t make it true. What’s more, this reasoning veils the Gospel. You can’t be sure that all these blessings of God are really for you—because you can’t be 100% sure God has chosen you. You might just be fooling yourself, thinking that you’re chosen. After all, you know better than everyone but God the miserable sins that are still going on inside you. This takes the focus off of Christ and emphasizes the Father’s sovereignty. In other words, a believer is saved because God chose Him to be saved; an unbeliever is lost because God chose him to be lost. This takes the focus off of the cross and says that all of God’s blessings are yours—but only if you’re chosen to be blessed.
In response to this error, we turn to God’s clear Word and hold our reason captive to it. We don’t make God submit to our logic, but we must submit our logic to God. The Bible never says that God chooses people to be condemned. It says the opposite: Ezekiel 18 declares that God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone, and 1 Timothy 2:4 declares that God desires all to be saved. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 5 proclaims that Christ has died for all. God doesn’t choose any people to be condemned: He offers salvation to all through Christ. Those who reject Jesus are lost because they reject God, not because God rejects them.
Therefore, you rejoice: you don’t have to wonder if God has really chosen you to be saved or if Christ has died for you. Instead, you have the certain hope that you are chosen from before the foundation of the world to have eternal life because Christ has died for you. He will never leave you or forsake you.
The opposite error of double-predestination is called semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism. It takes salvation out of God’s hands and puts it into man’s. It goes like this: if man can choose to reject God, then man must also be able to choose to believe in God. It makes perfect sense; but while it is perfectly sensible, it is 100% wrong and will lead away from the Gospel and the certainty of your salvation. As far as Jesus goes, it robs Him of glory. It says that He did His part to save you, now you must do your part by choosing to believe in Him.
Do you see where this leads? It takes the focus off of Jesus, and puts it on your decision to follow Jesus. As far as the blessings go, it makes them uncertain again. They’re yours, if you really believe in Jesus enough. If you’ve truly chosen Him and made a decision for Him, then salvation and all those blessings are yours. But if your decision wasn’t sincere enough—then you’re lost. And the fact is: You can’t be sure if you’re truly committed. After all, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, your heart is deceitful above all things. Even if you feel strong in your faith, how can you be sure that you really are? And what about those times when you really mess up and sin—what does that say about your sincere devotion? You can’t be sure.
In response to this error, we rejoice to declare God’s blessings and do not seek to submit His will to our logic. The Bible never says that we can choose to follow God. Instead, Ephesians 2 and Romans 5 make it quite clear that you were born dead in sin. By definition, dead men cannot do anything to make themselves alive. But Christ has died for you, and Christ has risen for you. He has redeemed you by His blood, forgiven your trespasses and lavished His grace upon you. He has done all the work necessary to save you—and there is no doubt about His commitment, His sincerity, or His faithfulness to you.
Dear friends, this doctrine of predestination is one of the great gifts we Lutherans have to share with our fellow Christians in other church bodies, because only Lutheran theology holds purely to this Gospel. Only Lutheran theology finds in the doctrine of election the comfort intended for Christians during and difficult trials. These blessings may not fit our requirements of logic, but they are faithful to the Word. Faithful to the Word, they keep the focus on Christ. Faithful to the Word, they proclaim that God’s blessings are certain in Christ for you.
From the foundation of the world, God the Father blessed you in Christ. He chose you to be His own. God purposed that His Son would come and redeem you by His blood, so that He might seal you with His promised Spirit and lavish His grace upon you. You have an eternal inheritance. You are holy and blameless before Him. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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