Kolb, Robert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Epitome “XI Concerning the Eternal Predestination and Election of God” pp. 517-520.
Solid Declaration “XI Concerning God’s Eternal Foreknowledge and Election” pp. 640-656.
The authors of the Formula of Concord note that, as of the time of writing, “there has been no public conflict among the theologians of the augsburg Confession” (Kolb 2000, 517). It is treated here as a matter of pastoral comfort to prevent future disputes. The authors distinguish between God’s foreknowledge and his eternal election. In God’s foreknowledge, he knows all that will happen, both among the godly and the evil. God’s foreknowledge never causes evil. The devil and evil people are responsible for evil, not God. But God’s foreknowledge can determine limits to evil. God’s eternal election, or predestination, refers only to the righteous, causing salvation. Christ is absolutely honest in his calling sinners to himself. He genuinely promises forgiveness for all who will hear the Word and believe (Kolb 2000, 517).
Our understanding of election is to be based only on God’s words of promise, not on our human reason or on God’s law. If it is built on our own reason we may choose to live as a lawless person because of God’s grace. If it is built on God’s law we can fall into hopelessness, seeing that we never keep the law well enough. When we understand election based on the Gospel, we find that God’s will is that everyone should believe in Jesus, which calls us to repentance and draws us to faith in Jesus (Kolb 2000, 518). Failure to be saved from sin is not based on any of God’s predestination, but on our refusal to hear God’s Word and believe it. In times of trial, we can remember that it was God’s pleasure to choose us and that he has given us this promise in Word and in Sacrament (Kolb 2000, 518).
False views of God’s election include teaching which can lead troubled Christians to doubt rather than confidence. The authors of the Formula of Concord reject the views that God does not actually want everyone to repent, that he does not seriously call people to him, or that he doesn’t actually want everyone to be saved. This specifically includes those who say God has destined some for condemnation (Kolb 2000, 519). Election must be held to lie entirely in the mercy of God and in Christ’s merit. If that is not the case, Christians can lose all the comfort of the Gospel.
The Solid Declaration acknowledges that there have been disputes about foreknowledge and election outside of the churches of the Augsburg Confession. These disputes ahve caused concern among the Augsburg churches as well (Kolb 2000, 641). The Scripture speaks frequently about God’s foreknowledge and foreordination. “Therefore, no one should ignore or reject this teaching of the divine Word just because some have misused and misunderstood it. Instead, precisely to avoid every abuse and misunderstanding, we should and must explain the proper understanding on the basis of Scripture” (Kolb 2000, 641). Again, as in the Epitome, the authors describe God’s foreknowledge, using the Latin terms praescientia or praevisio. This is distinct from praedestinatio, which the Solid Declaration specifically defines as ‘God’s preordination to salvation”(Kolb 2000, 641). God’s foreknowledge is his seeing and knowing, but is not to be considered his gracious will. God knows evil and good equally. However, “God’s eternal election not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect but is also a cause of our salvation and whatever pertains to it, on the basis of the gracious will and good pleasure of God in Christ Jesus” (Kolb 2000, 642). It specifically fulfills God’s good pleasure, which is to save. For this reason it cannot include a view of double predestination, the election of some to salvation and the election of others to condemnation. Such a view leads to arrogance or to despair. Because Scripture is intended to correct and equip (2 Timothy 3:16), a right understanding of Scripture cannot lead to impenitence or despair but to repentance (Kolb 2000, 643). Our understanding of God’s intentions must be in harmony with God’s Word and revelation of His character as the one who ordains people in Christ to be redeemed.
For this reason, the Augsburg Confession churches teach that Christ has provided redemption, that it is offered and delivered in Word and Sacrament, that it is effective in the preached, heard, and believed Word, and that God’s genuine will is to redeem, sanctify, protect, strengthen, and glorify all who repent and believe (Kolb 2000, 644). Identification of the election of God is not made based on our reason or outward appearance, nor any speculation into a hidden will of God. Rather, we pay attention to the way God has revealed His will in Scripture. God’s call through the Word is specific and it is always positive. The authors refer to multiple passages of Scripture which always view predestination positively. God calls all people genuinely, making the very same offer of salvation to all. “We should never regard this call from God, which takes place through the preaching of the Word, as some kind of deception” (Kolb 2000, 645). Rather, we accept it as God’s genuine offer and his genuine desire. When God speaks to us by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, it is God’s will for us to believe and receive the Word. In this way we receive the inheritance which God has prepared for his people. Because God’s call is genuine to all, everyone who believes can have confidence that God has redeemed him. There is no need to try to discern some hidden will of God. His revealed will makes it clear that everyone who is called in the Scripture is invited to believe. Everyone who believes on Christ will be saved. We should never believe that God would contradict himself by calling people to repent but not wanting them to do so (Kolb 2000, 646).
The authors of the Solid Declaration further remind their readers that Christ’s promised Gospel is available in both Word and Sacrament. The pronouncement of absolution is valid for all who hear and receive it. There is no hidden divine desire to forgive some and not others. However, those who “spurn the Word and resist and persist in resisting the Holy Spirit” (Kolb 2000, 647) should not expect that they will be considered the elect of God. These are the people whom God finally does condemn, due to their own contempt for God’s Word. Again, this is not the result of God’s foreknowledge, but it is something which God does foreknow. God’s election is to salvation, not to rejection.
Accurate teaching of predestination is very comforting. It teaches that we are saved purely by God’s grace, apart from any of our works, and that God’s intention for salvation was present prior to creation itself. We depend on God’s good pleasure, which never changes, rather than on our will, which does change (Kolb 2000, 648). We also know that in our trials, God is working his eternal counsel, which is for our good. On the contrary, when we try to describe God’s election in terms of our speculation or some secret, unrevealed will of God, we are led away from confidence in God and into doubt (Kolb 2000, 649). Likewise, all of God’s warnings and the destruction of unbelievers which we can see serve not to demonstrate an election of God to destruction, but as God’s warning that we should repent and believe the Gospel (Kolb 2000, 650). All of God’s Word points his people to Christ as the redeemer and sustainer of all. His will for the redemption of the world is clear in Scripture. God’s people don’t need to look for some hidden will or secret revelation, but rather for God’s clear revelation (Kolb 2000, 651).
God’s Word calls his people to live holy lives, as the Holy Spirit dwells in them. For this reason, those who are believing on Christ should strive to live a godly life. Our failure should not cause us to doubt God’s election, but rather urge us to repentance and change. We do not doubt, because our salvation doesn’t depend on our righteousness but on Christ’s righteousness. This is God’s irrevocable will (Kolb 2000, 652). God further encourages his people by showing that his calling and drawing happens by means he has instituted, Word and Sacrament. It is not of our own opinion, but in accordance with God’s will that we are called to him.
What of God’s sovereignty in calling people to himself? “The reason why not all who hear the Word believe it (and thus receive the greater damnation) is not that God has not allowed them to be saved. Instead, it is their own fault, for they hear the Word not so that they might learn from it but only to despise, revile, and ridicule it; and they resisted the Holy Spirit, who wanted to work in them through the Word, as happened at Christ’s time with the Pharisees and their adherents” (Kolb 2000, 653). In conclusion, if we are saved from sin, the praise goes to God. If we are condemned, the blame goes to us. It is always God’s good pleasure to receive all repentant people who believe in Christ graciously as his children. This is his predisposition. We can have confidence in that (Kolb 2000, 654). The teaching of election in Christ draws Christians to repentance, faith, and a life of holiness and confidence. It is a tremendous comfort, when taught correctly (Kolb 2000, 655).