The 3rd Sunday After Pentecost June 9, 2013
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
23, 37, 411(1,3-7), 428
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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.
Dear fellow-elect of God in Christ Jesus:
Climb high up into the mountains and you are sure to find a place with a breath-taking view. From a mountain-top you are able to look out at the surrounding peaks, the trees, the blue sky; listen to the sounds and to the silence; and marvel at the beauty of it all. At the edge of this type of vista there is usually a tremendous drop-off to the valley below. Even though there is tremendous cliff, there is no danger so long as you don’t go too far. If you try to see too much and go too far and slip over the edge, well, then you get yourself into all kinds of trouble.
What God’s Word says about Election and Predestination is much like that mountain top view. The words from Ephesians that we have before us are part of one of Scripture’s more detailed discussions about God’s election. These words of God show us a beautiful panoramic view of God’s salvation for sinners. Through the words we look out and see the wonders of God’s grace, marvel at the view of His mercy, and thrill at the sound of hearing our sins forgiven and the silence of no condemnation. We can enjoy the beauty of this heavenly vista without a problem, so long as we stay back from the cliff and don’t go too far. If we try to see more than is possible for us to see and go beyond what Scripture says, then we will get ourselves into all kinds of trouble.
God’s eternal election of the believers is a tremendous testimony to His grace—a beautiful view! Looking out from the mountain top of the Word, we will see the wonderful things God has done and exclaim: “PRAISE BE TO GOD FOR HIS ELECTION!” I. Election by grace II. Election unto salvation III. Election for certainty.
The first thing a sightseer does when he arrives at a scenic overlook is to take a look at the whole scene just to get a general impression of what he is seeing. This also helps so that he knows just where the edge of the cliff is so that he doesn’t go too far. Likewise, there are certain general things about the truth of God’s election that we do well to see first. These will help to keep us from drawing false conclusions.
The apostle Paul began all of his letters with a greeting for those to whom he was writing. Often this greeting included a hymn of praise to God. Paul includes a hymn of praise in his greeting to the Ephesians. Paul’s words concerning election are part of that hymn of praise. Paul writes, 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…” [v.3]
Paul was filled with joy and thanksgiving at the great blessings for the soul which God pours out upon His children. Paul thanked and praised God for the forgiveness of sins and all of the related blessings for his soul that could only come from Heaven and through the Savior Jesus Christ. As an example of “blessings in heavenly places in Christ” which God gives, Paul goes says, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” [v.4a]
Paul talks about God’s eternal election within the context of praise. God’s election is a reason to give thanks to God! This is important to remember lest in our understanding of election we attach things for which we would not praise God. If anything is made part of God’s election for which we could not praise God, then it is not part of a truthful view. It is over the cliff of misunderstanding.
Another helpful observation is that God’s truth concerning election is intended for believers. Paul’s letters were written to believers. When he discusses election in his letter to the Ephesians, Romans, and Thessalonians he is talking to believers. In Romans, Paul follows a particular order in his discussion. First he directs sinners to repent, to acknowledge their sins, to believe in Christ, and to obey God and only then does he speak of the mystery of God’s election [cf: Formula of Concord, Epitome, Affirmative #10].
The truth of election is not for the unbeliever. The truth of election is Gospel. The unconverted first need to hear God’s Law to show them their sin and to convict them of it. Then they can hear the Gospel, the news of what Christ has done. If the Gospel is given to someone who does not see a need for it he will only despise it. Whenever Scripture speaks of election it is for the believers. God’s election truths are part of the comfort of the Gospel for the repentant sinner, so if an understanding of election somehow frightens the sinner it is an understanding that comes from over the cliff.
There is a clear distinction between God’s eternal foreknowledge and the eternal election of His children. Our omniscient God knows all things of all time. This is true for absolutely everything, good and evil. God’s election goes beyond this. God’s election of His children is not just simple knowledge of events but a definite choosing. “…He chose us in Him (Christ) 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…” [v.4,5]
Election is more than just a knowledge of how many believers and unbelievers there would be. From eternity God chose specific individuals, including you and me, who would be made holy and be without blame in His sight. Before Genesis 1:1 ever took place, God chose for Himself those whom He would adopt as His own beloved children and to whom He would give the inheritance of eternal life. God’s purpose in His election, and also the result, is that those whom He has chosen are His, they are part of His family, heirs of Christ’s salvation, sheep in the Father’s hand whom no one can pluck out.
The basis for God’s election is His love, His grace. “…He chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world…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…” [v.4,5,6]
When God chose us before the foundation of the world to be His beloved children, He was choosing sinners. If we are looking for a reason why God chose us or any other believers to be His adopted children we will never find that reason in ourselves. How can we possibly explain that already before time began a holy, eternal God chose sinners to be His adopted children? It can only be explained as a tremendously deep and undeserved love from God to His creatures.
If, as Paul clearly says, God’s election was done in love and out of grace it leaves no room for anything else. A common misunderstanding concerning God’s election is that he chose those who had a better disposition toward Him. This cannot be for every sinner is equally corrupt and condemned before God because of sin. Every sinner is equally helpless to be holy and blameless in the sight of God. God’s election cannot be the result of anything the Elect have done because nothing they do could merit eternal life; not even to mention that “before the foundation of the world” the Elect didn’t even exist yet, much less have an opportunity to do anything.
God’s choosing us and all believers before the foundation of the world cannot in any way be connected to ourselves, or depend on us, or be affected by us because if that were the case then it would no longer grace. God’s election was in love to the praise of the glory of His grace “and if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Romans 11:6). Praise be to God for His election by grace.
God’s purpose for choosing us was so that He might bring us into salvation with all of its blessings. Like every part of our salvation, God’s election is built upon Christ. Throughout the letter of Ephesians, Paul frequently uses the phrase “in connection with Christ.” He uses it four times in our short text. In the larger context (through v. 14) Paul uses it 10 times! Listen to a sample: “ [God] 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…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…In Him also we have obtained an inheritance… (Ephesians 1:3ff).
We know just how completely our salvation depends on Christ. We need His life to provide the righteousness that God demands. We need Jesus’ death to pay the penalty of our sins. God’s choice of us is also in connection with Christ and all that He has done. Remove Christ and you have taken the rug right out from under our election. Without Christ and His work there is no election.
The whole course of God’s salvation-plan has been in place with our election since eternity. Peter told the crowd on Pentecost that Jesus’ suffering and death was part of God’s eternal plan of salvation, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain…” (Acts 2:23). Paul wrote the Corinthians that all of the glorious things of the Gospel which he and the other missionaries spoke are things which God had established before the world in order to serve our glory and greater good, “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7). Paul summed it up when he told Titus that our eternal life (and therefore everything necessary for it and attached to it) was our promise from God before the world began, “In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie promised before the world began (Titus 1:2). Our election is part of God’s whole work of salvation, all of which was planned for us in the eternity before time.
What we now know and those truths to which we cling—Jesus life and work, the forgiveness of sins, our faith, the confidence we have, our hope—is all a result of God’s eternal election. What we have and know about Christ and our salvation is the observable result of God’s action in eternity.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of God bringing to pass what He decreed in eternity. “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God…” This is a familiar and much loved passage because it gives such comfort. However, the words following that passage are also important: “…to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).
Before time began God foreknew and chose His children. Now in time He guides and controls all things to accomplish whatever is necessary to bring His eternal election to reality. In eternity He chose you, but you didn’t yet exist so the accomplishment of the election had to wait. In time God called you to faith in Christ with the Gospel and through that faith He justifies you—He declares you righteous because of what Jesus has done for you. Now, you can also be assured that He will preserve you to bring you into glory! Your election and calling according to God’s eternal purpose is why all things work together for your good! God chose you for salvation before time began. Your salvation is His purpose. Your salvation is your greatest good. Because you are the Elect you can be sure He will work out all things for that good because His is an election unto salvation.
Some conclude that God elected souls “in view of the faith they would have.” This cannot be. Faith is not the cause of our election, it is the result of it. God chose us in eternity and because of that He has now brought us to faith.
Others apply human logic to election and conclude that if God chose us for salvation then He chose others for damnation. This cannot be. God’s election was done according to His will and “God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). “The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God loved the whole world so much that He sent Jesus (cf. John 3:16). Through Jesus’ work, God has reconciled the whole world to Himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19).
God’s election is built upon Christ. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:9-10). If God chose some to damnation then His election is no longer an election in connection with Christ. An election unto damnation just doesn’t fit the picture. The ultimate end of unbelievers is not due to an election to damnation from God, rather it is their own unbelief that leads them to Hell.
God’s eternal election is continually being carried out in time. God sends His Gospel and brings it to the Elect so that they are called to faith and brought into the unsurpassed joys of peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. These are things of salvation. These are things of life for undeserving sinners. Praise be to God for His election by grace for salvation for sinners.
The doctrine of election has been a disturbing doctrine to many. There are many false teachings concerning the doctrine of election because human beings force it to fit into their logic. There is frequently fear of even talking about it and it seems easier just to ignore it.
We should not despair that there are hard things to grasp concerning God’s election, nor let that take away from the certainty and comfort it is intended to give. The doctrine of election caused Martin Luther many hours of spiritual disturbance. What makes election so difficult is that it begins and ends in eternity. The first and last link in this chain of salvation are links we can’t see. As soon as we enter into things eternal we are out of our league in our ability to grasp it.
Grace itself defies human logic. How logical is it for someone who has been wronged greatly and consistently to provide help and deliverance for the ones who have wronged him. The kind of love God shows to us defies human logic. So, without the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, the very basis of the Gospel is beyond our human scope. Since this is true, we are going to find things that exceed our human limitations in the panoramic view of salvation which election provides.
Luther compared someone who is trying to understand the mysteries of God to a man who wants to go to the upper floor of his house but instead of using the stairs he is foolish enough to climb up the roof. Luther says, such a man will break his neck! The proper way into the upstairs is not to start at the top of the roof and struggle to get inside. The proper way is to start at the bottom and walk up the stairway step by step until you reach the upper floor.
Luther suggests the same bottom-to-top, step-by-step approach to best understand the difficult things God has given us in His Word. If we start at the bottoms and work our way up the order of God’s revelation we will arrive at the top and enjoy the certainty that God’s election gives.
The Formula of Concord gives the steps of the staircase leading to a proper understanding of election (Thorough Declaration paragraphs 15:22):
1) The whole human race has been redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ; His suffering and death has given us righteousness that makes us holy in God’s sight.
2) The merits of Christ are distributed to sinners through Word and Sacrament
3) The Holy Ghost, through the Word, converts hearts to true repentance.
God justifies all sinners who receive Christ in true faith and adopts them as His beloved children and heirs of eternal life.
The Spirit-created faith in the heart produces fruits of faith in the lives of God’s children.
The Lord protects His children in their weaknesses against the Devil, world, and flesh; rules and leads them; raises them up when they fall, comforts them with the Gospel, and preserves them.
The Lord will strengthen, increase, and support to the end what He has begun (see #1-6) and finally will save and glorify in life eternal all those whom He has elected, called, and justified.
When we reach the top of the staircase we marvel at what God has done and rejoice to know He has brought His grace to us. It gives us certainty to hear God tell us that He chose us before the foundation of the world and to know how He has called us and still preserves us. God chose you before time. He has done what was necessary to bring you into salvation and is going to see it through to the end.
We may use another illustration: A millionaire is going to make a poor & homeless boy his heir. He chooses a boy for this special gift—this is compared to God’s election. The millionaire invites the boy to accept his free gift—this God has done by calling us with His Gospel invitation. The man dresses the boy in nice clothing which is fitting an heir of such fortune—God has clothed us in the righteousness of Christ Jesus. In the end, the boy will inherit the riches of his adopted father—we will inherit eternal life. Now, should that boy one day begin to doubt whether someone such as he could really be the heir of such treasure, he need only look back and say: “Did not my father choose me? Did he not offer me this free gift? Did he not clothe me? Am I not already living in his house with his many gifts?” The boy will know that he is the heir because he was chosen and the father has carried out his choice to the fullest. So to is our certainty on account of God’s election of us in Christ.
After Paul described God’s election to the Romans he went on with the words: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword…Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31ff). This is the kind of certainty God’s election gives to His children.
Luther’s suggestion for the times that doubts, fears, and uneasiness concerning election arise is to keep your eyes focused on Christ and the cross—the things upon which our election is based. God’s election is all about the Gospel and Christ’s work. Look at the cross! Do you believe you are a sinner? Do you believe that Christ is your Savior? Then by God’s grace you are saved! You are an Elect of God and He will with His Word bring you into glory!
There is the beauty of our heavenly vista! We look out and see God’s sure salvation for us and all that He has done. This is what God has told us in His Word. When we go beyond this and begin to run into the questions of human logic, and “how can this be?” we need simply to step back from the cliff and say, “I know what God has said, the rest I leave to Him,” and then admire the view.
A sinner who admires the view of salvation is going to have his breath taken away and gasp: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in connection with Christ [v.3]…who “will deliver me from every evil work and will preserve me to His heavenly kingdom to Him be glory forever and ever, Amen! “(2 Timothy 4:18).
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.