Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
Today we have an interesting text for our Epistle reading. As part of the assigned readings for each Sunday we’re going to be going, more or less, through the entire letter to the Ephesians. The whole letter is fantastic. Some of the chief parts that you may remember are: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” At weddings you’ve heard from Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
We begin with Ephesians 1. In the Church’s history, this chapter has been the one that is known for the topic of predestination. Predestination is the teaching that God, from eternity, has decided both who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Obviously there are some issues with that second part, which we don’t believe. This teaching lead to a serious controversy in the 9th century, and particularly for us, in the 1880s. It was during that decade that the Missouri Synod defended the true teaching of God’s Word against what were then the Norwegian and Ohio Synods.
The reason we bring this up is because, if taken the wrong way, the teaching of predestination can confuse us and introduce doubt about our own salvation. That is not the purpose of Scripture, nor of St. Paul in our Epistle reading. Instead, the doctrine of election, another name for predestination, is meant to be one of comfort, whereby we know that, because our salvation is not dependent upon us but upon God’s mercy and grace, our salvation is secure. God our heavenly Father has revealed the mystery of His will to us: we have been chosen in Christ for redemption through His blood.
So, to start with, we have this big elephant in the corner of the room: predestination. When I first looking ahead at the church year and planning my sermons I was really excited for these next few weeks in Ephesians. That’s because it’s a really interesting book of the Bible, and because I think the topic today is fascinating. In a nutshell, predestination is exactly what it sounds like; it says God has decided who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. There are some variations, but it all balls up into that. But, before we even begin to say more, we must be clear: salvation is entirely a free gift of God, given to us by His grace through faith. We must uphold that salvation is a free gift of God and not a product of our work against all other teachings.
The places we could go in Scripture for this include Ephesians 2, which we already know, “By grace you have been saved through faith…not a result of works.” St. Paul also writes to the Romans about salvation. He says, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Titus 3 says, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal.” Lastly, it says in 2 Timothy 1, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our own works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
Phew. Now that we’ve gotten that scaffolding in place, we can begin to talk about predestination. An issue arose in the mind of some Christians about why some go to heaven and others don’t. The clear instruction of Scripture is that salvation is by grace. Jesus Christ suffered for the sins of the world on the cross. By His death He set aside the penalty of death and damnation that we all deserve for our sins. This forgiveness is given us through faith. We receive faith through the preaching of the Gospel and the washing of Holy Baptism. The reason why some are not saved is because many, in their sinfulness, reject the saving Word of Jesus. They want nothing to do with Jesus nor do they desire His salvation. There are like the seed that falls along the path. When they hear the Word, Satan immediately comes and takes away the Word. But, those that teach predestination teach that God chooses, or at least influences, those who will reject His Word and suffer.
What a monstrous idea, that God chooses people to go to hell. Put that far away from your mind as we hear the true teaching of God’s Word. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
The true teaching of predestination is this: before the foundation of the world, you were chosen by God to receive the forgiveness of sins in Christ. Through the shedding of His blood, you are made holy and blameless before our God and Father in heaven. According the purpose of His will before all time, Christ was put forth as the payment for your sins.
See how far this removes the work of salvation from your hands. For, if salvation were up to us, we could never be sure. Every day, every second, is a constant battle. We wage war against our own bodies and minds which are filled with temptations to sin. All too often we fall into those temptations, committing terrible sins against God and each other. We sin with our bodies, which according to Scripture, are temples of the Holy Spirit. My friends, if salvation were up to us, it would be over before it even began.
Therefore we turn away from all other opinions. Here in God’s Word is revealed the mystery of His will in the matter. St. Paul writes that in Christ God has revealed to us the mystery of His will, which was His plan from the fullness of time. That is, we are saved because God, in His mercy, chose us for the redemption that is in Christ. This is apart from any and all works of our own.
This is called the doctrine of election, and it’s meant as a comfort for us. Against all the hell that the world throws at us, our salvation is secure through faith in Christ. This hope does not put us to shame, Scripture says, “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” St. Paul writes in our text that when we heard the Word of truth, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and were called to faith, we were, “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the Holy Spirit, who calls us to faith through the preaching of the Gospel. Therefore, having received the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit now resides within us as a down payment and guarantee of the inheritance we have in heaven.
Some use the doctrine of predestination, also known as election, to terrify. They say that God chooses who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That is scary and untrue. What is true, however, is that God does chose who goes to heaven. Before the foundation of the world, God chose to forgive your sins through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore your salvation rests secure, because it’s not dependent on your works, your feelings, or your thoughts, but wholly upon the death and resurrection of Christ. How can you know this? Because God said so in Scripture. In Holy Baptism you were claimed as God’s own child and washed free of your sins. Through the preaching of the Word the Holy Spirit continually calls you to repentance and faith. In the Lord’s Supper Jesus feeds you His own body and blood to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith. By these things you may know that God has chosen you for salvation, and you may rest secure.