Preached: July 22, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word of God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is Ephesians 1.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will -- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment —- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14 (NIV84)).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14 KJV). No doubt you recognize those words of Jesus. He concluded his parable of the wedding banquet with them. A king prepared a banquet for his son's wedding. He sent his servants to those invited. But they refused to come. He sent more servants to them, saying “Come to the wedding feast.” They still refused and instead mistreated and killed the servants. The king sent his army to destroy them.
But the wedding banquet is ready. Who will be the guests? The king sends his servants out to the street corners and highways to bring in all they could find, the good and the bad, and the wedding hall was full. But the king sees that one of the guests is not wearing the wedding clothes that had been provided for all. That man is thrown out into the darkness. “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14 KJV).
Those words express the doctrine of election or predestination. That's also what the Apostle Paul is teaching us as he begins his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. Dozens of Scripture passages talk about election. They refer to God's elect, his chosen, those whom he knows as his own. This is not some obscure, minor teaching. It addresses why we have faith and are saved. God revealed this doctrine to comfort, encourage, and strengthen you, dear believer. But many have misunderstood it leaving them in distress and doubt. Others have perverted it into a licenses for spiritual laziness and other sins.
So, dear friends, let our reason be held captive by the word of God. May the word before us today work in us the right understanding as the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith to trust what God says. May the Spirit comfort and assure your heart through this message: God elected you in Christ.
Maybe the first question that comes to mind when we talk about election is: Why me? Why did God choose me? But that already gets us looking in the wrong direction.
I understand why we think that way. When it comes to choices, we look for the differences between our options. For example in the elections coming up, we look at the character of the candidates, their policies, and record. Based on who they are and what they've done or might do, we make our choice. In America that's what elections are all about.
How different God's choice! His election is not about you or me. It's not based on who we are or what we've done or will do. It's all about Jesus. God elected you in Christ.
You see, dear Christians, there is no cause or reason in us. All that is truly good in you and me, including our faith, God has placed in us because he has already elected us. So none of it can be a reason for him to choose us. Without the good God has worked in us, all that's left in us is our inborn sinfulness, our wicked desires, and our sinful thoughts, words, and actions.
Notice how when the Apostle describes God's election in the text he doesn't talk about anything in us as the cause or reason for God's choice. In fact, he says that God chose us “before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4 NIV84). That's before we've done anything, before we even existed.
But how could the holy God chose someone like you and me, a dirty sinner with a filthy record? It's all about Jesus. Did you notice in the text how Paul zeros in on Jesus again and again? Picture a circle. All that God has done to save you, including his election that chose to adopt as his child, all this is in Christ. It's inside that circle. Outside of Jesus Christ, there is no salvation, no adoption into God's family. Listen again to how the Apostle keeps our focus on Jesus. “God ... has blessed us ... with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him ... he predestined us to be adopted ... through Jesus Christ ... his grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins ... his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ ... to bring all things ... under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen ... you also were included in Christ ... you were marked in him” (Ephesians 1:3-13 NIV84). It's all about Jesus. God elected you in Christ.
Without Christ, God could not have chosen sinners, including you and me. For only Christ's blood washes our filthy record clean, forgiving our sins. Only Christ's blood redeems us, paying the ransom to make us God's very own. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7 NIV84), Paul declares. That's why the king could send his servants to call both the good and the bad to the wedding banquet. Only Christ's blood and his righteousness present us as holy and blameless in God's sight. What wonderful wedding clothes for us! It's all about Jesus. God elected you in Christ.
Now what led the Father to send his Son so that he could elect us in Christ? Again it has nothing to do with anything in us. Rather God, who is love, freely sent the Son in line with his good will, as the angels proclaimed at Christmas. How rich his grace, his unmerited love, which we in no way have earned or deserved! His grace was well-pleased to give his own Beloved, his dear Son, as the ransom. Again notice how this echoes throughout the apostle's words: “In love he predestined us ... in accordance with his pleasure and will -- to the praise of his glorious grace ... the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace” (Ephesians 1:4-8 NIV84). It's all about Jesus, who came from the Father full of grace and truth. It's not about who we are or what we've done. God's grace elected you in Christ.
Now that we've seen that it's all about Jesus, some take this wonderful truth and their reason twists it like this. “Since my election does not depend on me, God must have arbitrarily made a list. If I'm on that list, I'm saved. So what does it matter what I do? Why bother hearing God's word? I might as well live life my way. If I'm not on that list, then there's no hope for me. I might as well despair and give up.”
But our God is not an arbitrary god. He is just and good. These verses from Ephesians don't talk about some sort of absolute, arbitrary, sovereign will, but about God's good and gracious will in Christ. To try to trace out or track down how our God, who is so far beyond us, chose as he did is a futile attempt to penetrate God's secret wisdom. We must stop our reason from such dangerous speculation and rather exclaim with the Apostle Paul, “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33 NIV84).
But how then do I know if I'm among the elect or not? Rather than trying to delve into what God has not told us, look at what he has revealed. For the Apostle tells us here, “... he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ” (Ephesians 1:9 NIV84). How do I know if I'm chosen? Well, what is God's plan and purpose for his elect? What has he revealed about the way he has arranged and put in order his plan of salvation so that the elected are saved? Do I see that plan and purpose at work in my life? That's how I know. We've already started talking about that arrangement and plan in the first part when we talked about how he gave up his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, for us. What a mystery that was, until he revealed it! But his word reveals more about what he has arranged to bring salvation to his chosen.
The apostle writes, “And you also were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13 NIV84). What has he done for his elect to bring them salvation? He arranged not only to give his Son but also to send out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his word of truth, for the elect to hear. Through the true Gospel that's preached and heard, the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of the elect, faith in Jesus. This faith believes that his sacrifice in our place justifies us before God, covering our sin, giving us his perfect record, clothing us with his blood and righteousness. It's like in Jesus' parable. Those who were at the wedding feast came because the king had sent out his servants to the street corners and highways for the good and the bad to hear his gracious invitation. They were given the wedding clothes to wear, just as through faith we're clothed with Jesus. Are you one of the elect? Has he brought his word to you and worked faith in your heart, faith that trusts in Jesus, your Savior, faith that believes that his sacrifice has justified you before God? Yes, he has done all this for you, his elect.
As God gives us the Holy Spirit through his word as he's promised, the elect not only believe in Jesus we also live for him. For the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. He creates a new self in us that fights against sin and desires to do God's will. We want to live pure and holy lives. That's what the elect want.
God reveals even more in his word. He's not only brought salvation to his elect through faith in the Gospel of Jesus, but he also keeps them in the faith. Paul writes that the Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession -- to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:14 NIV84). Through the Gospel in word and sacraments the Holy Spirit guards and protects your faith and strengthens you to resist the attacks of sin and Satan, so that you persevere until you receive the inheritance Jesus has redeemed you for. The Holy Spirit, working in you through word and sacrament, is that guarantee. He is the promise of what is to come for you who are God's very own, his possession. Look forward to the heavenly inheritance with all sureness and confidence, as you take to heart his word in the Scriptures and the Sacraments, which bring you the Holy Spirit.
Now that we've seen God's revealed plan and purpose for the elect, back to that second question. How do I know whether I'm among the elect or not? Do you only go through the motions of hearing God's word without taking it to heart? Do you willingly, even gladly, give in to sin, resisting the Holy Spirit's prompting to do right? Do you figure God's going to do whatever he's already decided so you might as well live life as you see fit? If you persist it these things: willfully sinning, resisting the Holy Spirit, neglecting God's word, only going through outward actions -- if you persist in these things until your death, then you are not among the elect. You are like that man who thought his own clothes were good enough for the wedding feast.
But if God's word has entered your heart and the Holy Spirit has kindled faith within, if you know and trust in Jesus as your own Savior who alone justifies you, if you desire to serve him who died for you and rose again, then know with all confidence and sureness you are among God's elect. But don't some who believe fall away and die in unbelief? Yes, they fall away because they distance themselves from God's word and turn away from Jesus. They fall into the other group I just talked about. They are not among the elect.
But you, dear Christian, as long as you cling to God's Word, trusting in Jesus your Savior -- as long as you remain in Christ and his word remains in you -- know and believe with all confidence that God has elected you in Christ. You are his very own. No one can snatch you out of his hand. He has elected you for salvation, for adoption into his family. He is your dear Father and you are his dear child. Nothing in all creation can separate you from his love. The family inheritance awaits you. What a wedding banquet! For in Christ God has elected you.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.