I looked for clipart that said "Election Returns"; instead I found only "Election Results." In the realm of political elections they're synonymous. Not so in the area of theology. The results of your election in eternity is everlasting life, but your election has more returns than that.
The first return is all the elect are saved. This is a prominent fact of the portion of Scripture called the "Little Apocalypse": Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13. These chapters record the same Bible class of Jesus. Think of them as "Little Books of Revelation". What John is shown in pictures and poetry Jesus speaks about in prose. This Bible class happened on Tuesday of Holy Week. Though the future holds wars and rumors of wars, famine, earthquakes, persecutions, the darkening of the sun, the failing of moonlight, and stars falling from the sky, all the elect will be saved.
Jesus says when He returns He will send His angles to gather His elect out of the 4 winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. Do you see how emphatic that is? The elect can't be lost, can't be not gathered, can't fall away. Mark 13:22 addresses that latter fear. There Jesus says false-Christs and false prophets will come giving signs and wonders for the very purpose of leading away the elect. Then Jesus adds this important, comforting caveat: If possible. Hear the whole thought: "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible."
When it comes to my salvation, my flesh hears Sam and Dave's 1966 song "Hold On, I'm comin'." Jesus is on the way all I need to do is hold on in faith. This is the "Gospel" for many Christians. Jesus did His part by keeping all God's laws that you break in thought, word, and deed and by paying the full measure of debt you owed for breaking them; now your part is to believe. Jesus is doing His part. He's on His way back; you do your part and "hold on." This is the Medevial doctrine of justification that Luther rejected: as long as you do what is in you, you can be sure God will do His part. This turns the arrow around from God coming to you, God doing for you, to you going to God, to you doing for God. This arrow turning is found in the Mass where the priests offers to God an unbloody sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the living and the dead. The arrow is turned in the Reformed memorial meal of Communion which they do for Jesus in obedience to His command to remember what He did for them.
But election is all God's doing. The arrow is drawn from God to you. Election is God holding on to you not you holding on to God. If you picture your salvation as something you must hold on to in order to keep, you will drop it. Jesus knows this too; that's why He doesn't put your eternal salvation which He suffered, bled, cried, and died for in your puny little hands. What loving parent does that? We take even a dollar from the hand of a child knowing they will be heartbroken when they lose it. So Jesus says: "No one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, has given them to Me; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:28-29),
The first election return is all the elect are saved. The second is unbelief doesn't nullify election returns. Generation unbelief exists side by side with the elect until the last day. When Jesus says "this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened", He's not referring to the generation then alive. The phrase "this generation" occurs nine times in Luke. It always refers to the unbelieving portion of humanity. In Acts 2:40 Peter urges us to be saved from this perverted generation (Just, Luke, II, 804, fn. 34). In Mark 8:12 Jesus says, "this generation seeks after as sign." In Mark 8:38 Jesus says, "This generation is adulterous and sinful." The reality and the iniquity of this generation is described by Solomon 3000 years ago: "There is a generation that curses its father, And does not bless its mother. A generation that is pure in its own eyes, Yet is not washed from its filthiness. A generationwhose eyelids are lifted up. A generation whose teeth are swords," (Proverbs 30:11-14).
Jesus illustrates the continuing existence of generation unbelief right next to the elect in parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea. It gathers some of everything. After taken to shore the good are gathered; the worthless thrown away. "This is how it will be at the end of the age," says Jesus. "The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace" (Matthew 13:49-50). Jesus says that His kingdom in this world is like a field where the elect of God grow side by side with the people of the evil one. It's not till the end of the age that the angels are sent to sperate the weeds from the wheat. Along with Peter you can have Judas, right alongside David you have Saul, beside Jacob, Esau, along with Solomon, Absalom, all the way back to Shem with Ham and Abel with Cain.
The question that tears at the heart is how do I know I'm an Abel not a Cain, a Jacob not an Esau? What if I'm a Judas not a Peter, a weed not a wheat, a mudcat in the kingdom's net not a bass? What if when I'm talking about generation evil, I'm talking about me? I'll tell you what not to do. To determine if you're the elect don't #1 examine what's going on in you: a good or certain feeling. Muslims and Mormons are some of the most inwardly certain people you'll meet. # 2, don't examine your outward works. Isaiah 64:6 declaring that all our righteous deeds are filthy rags says, "Don't go there."
And go neither to what Luther called Catholicism's Monster of Uncertainty or the Reformed's certainty. The former you find in a Catholic catechism of Luther's day, Mirror of the Christian Man. Quote: "There are three things I know to be true that frequently make my heart heavy. The first troubles my spirit, because I will have to die. The second troubles my heart more, because I do not know when. The third troubles me above all. I do not know where I will go" (Janz, Denis, Three Reformation Catechisms: Catholic, Anabaptist, Lutheran, 7). And don't go to where the Reformed look for certainty. The Westminster Confession does say Baptism is a sign or seal of the covenant of grace but it's "according to the council of God's own will" (VI). What's that? The Confession tells you: "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death" (III). Your certainty of salvation isn't in Baptism but in a decree of God in eternity.
No, to find out the election returns in your life look at God's Word. Generation unbelief all about you now will pass away along with the heavens and earth; Jesus words will never. Scripture doesn't direct you to a decree of almighty God in eternity which you can't hear to find your election. Scripture roots the knowledge of your election in God's Holy Words and Sacraments. God's will for you is completely revealed in Word and Sacrament. O there is a hidden will of God even as there is an Hidden God, but with Him we have nothing to do. We only know God as He reveals Himself in Word and Sacraments. Any doubt in these that you are among God's elect, God's chosen, God's predestined?
What does God say about your election in Romans 8:30? "Those God predestined, He also called." So, if you're called in time by God, you're predestined in eternity. In Isaiah 43:1 the Lord says, "I called you by name; you are mine." In your baptism you hear Jesus say, "Paul, George, Ginny, Sue: I baptize you into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." Not good enough for you? Jesus says in Mathew 11, "Come unto Me all You who are weak and heavy laden." Are you weak from trying to save yourself? Are you laden with the care of whether or not you're elected by God to salvation? Then He calls you and only the predestined are called.
At the beginning of His ministry in Matthew 5, Jesus says that heaven and earth will pass away but not one period of an i or cross of t will ever pass away from His Word. Psalm 12 declares that the Words of the Lord are pure words purified like sliver 7 times. Psalm 119 declares that God's Word is a light and a lamp and that the opening of His Word gives light not darkness, gives understanding not befuddlement. Just how certainly, how confidently you can take what God says to you in Word and Sacraments we find illustrated in how Jesus and Paul use the Word. Jesus proves that the dead do rise from God using the present tense of a word rather than the past (Cf. Mark 12:26), and Paul proves all the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus because God uses a singular not a plural noun (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20 & Gal. 3:16). You can take dots on i's and crosses on t's in God's Word and stake your soul, your life, your all on them.
Look into the wounds of the crucified Christ and ask whom does God say He sheds His blood for? For you and not only you but for the whole world (1 Jn 2:2). See Him hanging on the tree and ask whose sins are being carried away there: the sins of the world said John the Baptist (Jn 1:29). Who is being reconciled to God by the death of His Son? Paul says the world (2 Cor 5:19). So are you part of the world? Then Christ died for you and you can know that your salvation is not a moment by moment hanging on to God but Him choosing in eternity to reach out to you in time and grab you in Jesus' name by Word and Sacraments.
The doctrine of election is to have the return of giving you great boldness and confidence before God. It is to be an antidote to the Collect. It is Anglican, aka Reformed, written in 1549 for the Feast of St. Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas. See how it emphasizes that God has given great and precious promises to those who believe and prays that we might believe perfectly and without any doubt? See how the lines are thicker from us to God? No. He promises, that's why we believe. He chooses in eternity; we come to faith in time. His election produces our return to Him. Amen
Rev. Paul R Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20181118); Mark 13: 24-31