Election anxiety or comfort?

Election anxiety or comfort?

+ + + In Nomine Jesu + + +

Please join me in
prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing
in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Dear Brothers and
Sisters in Christ,

Grace to you and peace
from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

These days it seems like
we can hardly pick up a newspaper or newsmagazine, or turn on the radio or TV news,
without facing some sort of coverage of the U.S. presidential election.
As the pundits on the extremes tell the story, our country’s potentially electing
the wrong candidate is cause for great anxiety. Of course, each
of the two candidates would have us think that he is the right choice
and that his election would be of great comfort. Either way, depending
on one’s political leanings, the outcome of the election will likely cause
anxiety or comfort. This morning, not a newspaper or magazine, not the radio
or TV, but St. Paul’s Divinely-inspired letter to the Romans speaks of election.
Although this election is of a different sort, it is nevertheless also one
that can also cause anxiety or comfort.

In the letter to the
Romans, this teaching about election comes after St. Paul had already laid out both
how all people are sinful and need God’s righteousness and how God freely gives
that needed righteousness by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. So, St. Paul then
turned to the believer’s life in that righteousness, including how the
Holy Spirit active in us leads to a struggle between our sinful nature and our
redeemed nature and how that struggle is just part of the suffering God has us
endure in this world on the path to eternal glory. In this very context,
St. Paul preaches that no one can bring any charge against God’s elect—His
chosen—those whom He has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and

Paul’s and our Lord
Jesus Christ Himself had taught about the elect and their election. The best-known
passage from the Gospel accounts may be Jesus’s words that, “Many are called,
but few are chosen.” Or, put another way, God wants to save all
, but not all end up saved. When Jesus says those
words, He intends to cause some anxiety, urging people to respond to His
call to faith. However, when St. Paul writes about election and God’s call, He
intends to comfort, explaining that those God foreknows He predestines
(or marks out beforehand) to be conformed to the image of His Son, by working
all things together for that good purpose.

Sadly people often misunderstand
and misuse Jesus’s and Paul’s teaching about election. One misunderstanding
that we should clear up right away is that, while God knows in advance
what will happen to the godly and ungodly, His knowing what will happen does
(in and of itself) cause it to happen. Similarly, while
God knows in advance what will happen to the godly and ungodly, God’s election
applies only to the godly, not to the ungodly. God does not cause
unbelievers to be damned, but their sin is the cause of their damnation—sin
caused by the devil and caused by their own perverted wills. Such
misunderstandings about election can lead people to misuse the teaching
about election for false security and impenitence. People can wrongly think
that once they are saved they are always saved and can never fall
away from the faith, and people can wrongly think that they do not need to repent
or to believe because either they are saved or they are not saved, so nothing
that they might do matters in the end. Similarly, people can misuse the
teaching about election for anxiety and despair. When people see their own
weakness, they can have anxiety thinking that they are not elected to
salvation, and people can wrongly despair that they might not be among God’s
elect, when in fact they are.

Did you read the book
or see the movie “The Wizard of Oz”? Do you remember how Dorothy and her
friends discovered “that behind the image of the wizard there [was] just a
frightened little man pulling the levers”? Then they were able to learn the
“wizard’s” real character, to understand how he worked. People want to do
something similar with God and the teaching of His foreknowledge and predestination,
but, ultimately some parts of God are hidden from us; we can only know God as
He reveals Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ. Our fallen human reason or
logic wants to find parallel situations and deduce wrongly that, if God elects
and predestines some to salvation, then He must elect and predestine
others to damnation. Or, our reason wants to deduce wrongly that, if people
are responsible for their own damnation, then people are responsible for
their own salvation—by themselves choosing to believe, or by God’s
predestining them because He knew they would believe. But, God’s
revealed Word makes clear to us both that God alone is responsible for people’s
salvation and that people alone are responsible for their own damnation.

The Bible’s teaching
about election has no sense of enslavement to fate, a mischaracterization of
true Christian teaching but an accurate characterization of some non‑Christian
false teaching. The 1980 pop-song “Freewill” by the Canadian rock group Rush,
who played in Austin this past spring, taps into that mischaracterization of
Christian teaching and the accurate characterization of false-teaching, but one
thing song-writer Neil Peart of Rush has right is that, quote, “Blame is better
to give than receive.” At least from our fallen perspective, “Blame is
to give than receive.” People would rather blame God for their fate
than take responsibility for it. By nature you and I do not want to be told
that we are sinful and responsible for our own damnation or that we have no
part in our salvation. We want to probe the hidden parts of God, and we misuse
the teaching about election either to have false security and impenitence or to
have anxiety and despair. God calls us to repent from these and all our other
sins of thought, word, and deed—our failures to love Him, and our failures to
love our neighbors as ourselves. When we turn in sorrow from our sins and trust
the Father to forgive us for Jesus’s sake, we are forgiven of all of our sins.
In a great, heavenly courtroom there could be countless charges against
us, but, as we heard in the Epistle reading today, no one can bring any
charges against God’s elect.

From today’s Old
Testament reading
we hear that because the Lord loves us He has redeemed
us. In the Epistle reading we hear how God is for us, and we hear how
God redeemed us: by not sparing His own Son but by giving Him up for
us all
. God buys us as the treasure in the field of the Gospel
and as the pearl of great value. Jesus is the one Who died, more
than that Who was raised from the dead to save us from our sins. The Father
loved us so much that He delivered His own Son over to death on the cross, and
now the Father also gives us “whatever is necessary to bring to fulfillment the
work begun at the cross”. God foreknows and predestines us, and He calls us to
faith. God calls us to faith, and through faith God justifies us by
forgiving our sins. As St. Paul writes elsewhere to the Ephesians, God chose us
in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world and in love predestines us;
Paul says further that in Jesus we have redemption through His blood, the
forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of God’s grace. When we
repent and believe God forgives our trying to probe His hidden parts and
misusing the teaching about election—He forgives all our sins, whatever our
sins might be.

God calls us to faith
through His Means of Grace, His resistible Word and Sacraments. In the Epistle
reading Paul tells us that those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be
conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn
among many brothers. Jesus is the first and supreme elect child of God, but
through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism we also are made God’s children, as the
water and the Word work forgiveness of sins, deliver us from death and the devil,
and give eternal salvation. We who are baptized also come at God’s bidding,
through His ministers, to the Sacrament of the Altar, a foretaste of the
Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end, receiving here and
now in Christ’s Body and Blood forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. God’s
Sacraments are as a seal of God’s promises to us, confirming His promises to us
individually. The Formula of Concord, one of our Lutheran confessions, in its
article on Election in this regard points especially to individual absolution, by
which “we are as truly reconciled with God as if we had heard a voice from
heaven.” As God’s Word and Sacraments bring us into Christ we are foreknown,
predestined, and elect. We can be sure of it; there is no doubt. In God’s Word
and Sacraments, God does not deceive but reveals His will and effects
it—calling us, justifying us, and ultimately glorifying us.

Think of the crosses,
afflictions, suffering, and trials you face in your life. Job loss? Illness,
your own or a loved one’s? Marital trouble? Whatever they might be, before the
world began, God in His counsel knew through which specific crosses he
would conform each of us to the image of His Son. Those specific afflictions
work together for the good of us who love God, for God calls us according to
that purpose that we be conformed to His Son. That Son suffered all,
even death on the cross, en route to glory. So, we who are being conformed to
Christ’s pattern should expect the same, even as St. Paul quotes the psalm
verse about the sheep going to slaughter, in order to show that suffering
has always been the experience of God’s holy and chosen people. We conquer all
through the One Who loves us and is interceding for us. Tribulation,
distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death, life, angels,
rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth—nothing, in
all creation
, can separate us from the love in Christ Jesus our Lord of God
our Father Who created those things. Those things do not separate us
from His love; instead, trials work together under God’s control to
carry us along toward our ultimate goal as God’s elect.

For the sake of
the elect, Jesus says the final great distress will be cut short—the final
great distress when false Christs and false prophets will perform their own
signs and miracles trying to deceive the elect, if that were possible. When that
end comes, God’s angels will gather the elect from the ends of the earth,
separating the righteous from the evil, as fishermen separate good fish
gathered by a drag-net into containers and throw away the bad. Until that Last
Day when we are finally and fully glorified, we who are God’s chosen ones, holy
and beloved, as St. Paul writes to the Colossians, put on compassion, kindness,
humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each
other as the Lord has forgiven us.

As we hear in the news,
the upcoming U.S. presidential election may cause anxiety or comfort, but,
anxiety or comfort, no doubt either will be short­‑lived and of no
eternal consequence. However, the Bible’s teaching of election we have
reflected on this morning has eternal consequences and is intended not
for our anxiety but for our comfort. The teaching of God’s electing us
in Christ Jesus is a fountain of rich comfort, even as we hear that
suffering and death are the path to glory. Lest we probe too far into God’s
inscrutable will, let us join St. Paul in the doxology to which He is led later
in Romans:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! …
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be glory forever.


The peace of God, which
passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

+ + + Soli Deo Gloria + + +