Ah, Christmas 2. Comfy. Occasional. Repetitive. And an invitation into significant reflection on the Lutheran understanding of election and predestination! Woo! (Fair warning, this is a long post because there are a lot (a lot!) of citations from the Ephesians passage.)
The Ephesians reading plays a significant role in the argument presented in the Formula of Concord, both the Epitome and the Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election. I'll be following the citations as they are presented in the Formula rather than verse order to follow the argument.
I should note early on the beginning of the Epitome--that the issue of eternal predestination and the election of God is a point of agreement. "On this article there has been no public conflict among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession" (Ep 11.1). Just a reminder...
Verses 4 and 11 come up in the Epitome's "Affirmative Theses" for Article 11. Verse 4 is cited in thesis 6 (Ep 11.7) as a citation for the reality of eternal salvation. But don't run too far with this by itself. Thesis 6 is part of the argument, not all of the argument. Verse 11 is cited in thesis 14 (Ep 11.15) to remind us of the complexity of the argument, noting that we are saved solely by God's grace, according to God's will, which is the point of this article.
There is a difference drawn in FC 11 between God's foreknowledge and God's eternal election. This distinction might be lost because the citations of this passage in both the Epitome and the Solid Declaration are for the predestination end of the argument. Said as clearly as I can present, my understanding of this distinction is that there is a difference between what God would like to see happen and what God knows will happen. I think this says a lot about the way Lutheran's are invited to understand and experience the God who knows us in Jesus. Anyway, to the Solid Declaration!
Verses 4 and 5 begin the clarification of preordination to salvation (SD 11.5) essentially quoting these verses to show that "the children of God" have been chosen since before creation to be adopted in Jesus' crucifixion.
Verse 4 comes back up as a citation for a counter argument (SD 11.10) that we still hear today: "if then I am foreseen to salvation, it cannot harm me if I practice all kinds of sin and vice without repentance, despise Word and sacrament, and have no concern for repentance, faith, prayer, or godly living; still I will and must be saved, for what God foreknows must take place. And if I am not foreknown, it will not help if I hold to God's Word, repent, believe, etc., for I cannot impede or change God's foreknowledge" (SD 11.10).
Verses 9, 13, and 14 are cited shortly after this to present the response (SD 11.12): "the proper understanding or correct use of the teaching of the eternal foreknowledge of God produces or supports neither impenitence nor despair" but rather "to point us to the Word" and "to strengthen our faith and assure us of our salvation," among other things.
What then shall we say? That "one should as a matter of course refrain from speculation over the naked, secret, hidden, inscrutable foreknowledge of God. On the contrary, one should focus on how God's counsel, intention, and preordination in Jesus Christ . . . is revealed to us through the Word. This means that the entire teaching of God's intention, counsel, will, and preordination concerning our redemption, calling, justification, and salvation must be taken in unity" (SD 11.13-14). The passage from Ephesians 1 is cited as one instance of Paul doing this.
Verse 4, again, is cited as number 5 of the enumeration of God's preordaining (SD 11.19), that those whom God has justified, God will sanctify. The full list is probably worth reading (SD 11.15-23).
Verses 9 and 10 are cited to show that we are to look "to the revealed will of God" so that "it may be proclaimed" (SD 11.26) and not be caught up trying to figure out God's hidden decisions.
Verses 11 and 13 are cited a touch later to show that there are those who will live differently. They "are sanctified in love, have hope, patience, and comfort in their crosses" (SD 11.30).
Verse 4 is cited to make the argument against works righteousness since "'before the foundation of the world' [Eph. 1:4], certainly before we had been able to do anything good, we were chosen for salvation by grace in Christ" (SD 11.43). A comforting and helpful reminder cited again shortly thereafter (SD 11.45).
Verses 4 and 6 are cited (SD 11.65) in conjunction a bit later to remind us that any talk of eternal election must "be considered in Christ and not apart from or outside of Christ" (SD 11.65).
Verses 5, 6, and 11 are cited (SD 11.87) later to remind us that "it is false and incorrect to teach that not only the mercy of God and the most holy merit of Christ but also something in us is a cause of God's election, and for this reason God chose us for eternal life" (SD 11.88), emphasizing again God's grace in salvation. Indeed, verse 4 is cited once more (SD 11.88) to make this point.
This section might seem a bit familiar.
Verse[s 3 and] 10 is [/are jointly] referenced in the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 8: Person of Christ (SD 8.55) as citations showing Jesus' power and authority are "given to and imparted to the human Christ." Thus Jesus is both fully human and fully divine.
[Verse 5 comes up twice in the Formula of Concord , Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.10, 12) and each time uses the alternate translation of "did not comprehend it" instead of "did not overcome it" to show, with other passages, that our intellect is trapped in darkness and cannot reason itself into faith.]
Verses 12 and 13 are cited twice. First in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.94) in a long block of scriptural citations showing that the faith that justifies is not a work, because we cannot justify ourselves to God with our works.
The second reference is an editorial insert in the Formula of Concord , Solid Declaration, Article 4: Good Works (SD 4.10) explaining Luther's understanding of Paul's argument in Romans, arguing that the justifying faith is not a work since works cannot save us.
Verse 14 is cited later in the Formula of Concord , Solid Declaration in Article 7: Holy Supper (SD 7.36) with several other texts to argue both against transubstantiation and to clarify the belief that "the divine essence is not transformed into human nature, but that the two unaltered natures are personally united" in Jesus.
It's probably worth reading through at least the Epitome, Article 11. Delve into the Solid Declaration if something here has caught your attention, but the Epitome is aptly named. It will probably take you longer to find your Book of Concord and Ep 11 than to read through the article.
God's final judgment has happened already, before the foundation of the world.
- How do we present the good news of God's eternal election?
- How do we present God's eternal election as a source of mission and proclamation?
- How do we avoid the trap of trying to understand what we cannot while remaining curious about what God is doing?