YOU ARE GOD'S ELECT, BY GRACE.
In the name + of Jesus.
The doctrine of election, or predestination, is either one of the most comforting or one of the most petrifying teachings in the Bible. You may have never pondered the doctrine as its own topic, but you have probably asked the question which is linked to it: “Why are some saved and not others?” Or, to make it more personal, “Why am I one of God's people? What made me so special?” Such questions are understandable, and they are not necessarily bad. What may be bad is how you approach your answer to these questions. The difference is as great as heaven and hell. As a result, the doctrine of election can lead us either to the confidence and comfort that we are saved or to the terror that we can never know if we are saved.
The teaching itself is actually pretty simple. God's election is summed up by St. Paul this way: [God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4) But we wonder: “How can I know if I am one of God's elect, one of God's chosen? St. Paul wrote '[God] chose us in [Christ],' (Ephesians 1:4), but how do I know if that 'us' includes me?”
We are always tempted to begin theology with ourselves. “Why am I one of God's elect? What is there about me that would make God choose me?” If you begin with yourself, then you are on a mission to prove you are a worthy choice—that God chose you because there is something in you. You are special. You are more endearing to God. You are better than others. To believe that, you have to cite the evidence: “I attend church and give offerings. I volunteer my time. I help your friends with their problems. I give generous tips to the waitress. I stay out of seedy men's clubs. I pay my bills, stay out of jail, and even avoid traffic tickets.” While society is grateful that you have been a credit rather than criminal, these do not save you. And if you trust in your deeds, no matter now good they appear, you will be damned. Repent.
If you look at yourself as you consider why you are saved, you will never find comfort or peace. How good do you need to be to be good enough for God? You could never know if you are good enough. The Lord, however, does tell you the standard for heaven. It is not that you are better than most; it is this: “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) This is abject terror, because no one is perfect, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much evidence we cite. God can't choose us because we are good enough or because we are special. We are not even endearing because we are sinners. God does not praise what is corrupt.
It also does no good to reason that you have been chosen by God because other people were a worse choice than you. It is not only untrue, it is also a horrible way to think of other people. It is as if we would say to our neighbor, “Well, I can understand why God did not choose you. It's no surprise that you would go to hell.” There is no one who is worthy of heaven, for all have sinned. All deserve punishment.
When we begin theology with ourselves, the best we can do is be uncertain about our place in heaven. To face death with that uncertainty is terrifying. Therefore, St. Paul has you consider the doctrine of election from the right direction. God's election does not say as much about who you are as it does who God is. Consider again what St. Paul says about your election to be saved. He wrote: [God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4) Notice when God chose you: before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4) You were not even around for God to assess your behavior. Before you could do anything, good or bad, God chose you from eternity to be his own. Now, notice what motivated God to choose you. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace... (Ephesians 1:5-6) You were predestined to be a part of God's family. This is to the praise of his glorious grace. In other words, you were not chosen because you have done something special; you were chosen because God is gracious.
You are God's elect, by grace. From eternity, God elected you. But your place in God's family was purchased in time. St. Paul repeatedly emphasizes where you can find it so that you will not miss it: In Christ. Ten times (!) in these verses, St. Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” (vv 3,10,12) or “in him” (vv 4,7,9,10,11,13 twice) to show you that God's grace is revealed through Jesus. In Jesus, you have the one who takes up your sin and wickedness. In Jesus, you have the one who has suffered the cursed death on behalf of sinners. Therefore, in Jesus and in Jesus alone, do you find the full pardon for all your sins. What's more, in Jesus, you find the only man who has ever obeyed God's commandments perfectly. In Jesus, you find the only source of holiness there is. And by being baptized into Jesus, you are cleansed of all your filth and covered in a robe of righteousness. Therefore are found to be holy and blameless before [the Lord] (Ephesians 1:4), just as he demands you to be, and just as he chose you to be. In Jesus, and in Jesus alone, you have the assurance that you are saved.
You are God's elect, by grace. The Father chose you from eternity. Before the world was even created, God loved you and knew you. He acted to make you his own. So, in the fullness of time, the Father sent his Son into the world to save you. The Son paid for your sins, conquered death, and opened heaven for you. God's promises were fulfilled at Mt. Calvary about 2,000 years ago in history. And to complete God's act of election, God also acted in your lifetime to bring you into his family. St. Paul wrote, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, 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.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
You are God's elect, by grace—chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and marked by the Holy Spirit. This seal by the Holy Spirit is like a first installment of a purchase. The purchaser makes it to secure a legal claim on the article in question, and it obligates the purchaser to complete it. You have been brought into God's kingdom now, but the glory has not yet come. But God has obligated himself to bring you into his glorious kingdom; for he has adopted you into his family and, therefore, made you heirs of his glory.
You are God's elect, by grace. And the Lord continues to remove from you the fear and doubt about your place in God's kingdom. He does not tell you to consider how well you serve, how much you do, how good you are, or how strongly you believe. To put the focus back onto sinful people is to cast everything back into doubt. Therefore, our Lord gives us promises that depend on his faithfulness, not ours. You are God's elect, by grace. All of your hope is found in Christ. Are you baptized into Christ? Then you are cleansed of sin and sealed by the Spirit. Do you believe his word? Then you benefit from promises that have been guaranteed by Jesus' death and resurrection. Do you crave more assurance? Then flee to the altar where the body and blood of Christ are given for you for the forgiveness of sins and for the strengthening of faith. In Christ, you have promises. In him, you find comfort. In him, you are confident. It is those who forsake Christ, neglect his sacraments, or no longer hear him who lose all that he has given.
You are God's elect, by grace. All that you need for salvation, the Lord has provided. This is the great comfort and confidence that he gives you so that you can know you are saved. He has done all the work to save you so that you do not have to wonder, fear, or doubt if it has been done or if it has been done right. All of this is for the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:12,14), that God loves and saves sinners. Therefore, glorify him by receiving his good things and declaring his goodness; for you are God's elect, by grace.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.