Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: Effectual Calling
Posted on 02/07/2004 12:37:14 PM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: Effectual Calling
(Sermon Number Ten)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
Our study of covenant theology continues as we make a transition to a new topic. My last sermon, which concluded our examination of the covenant of grace, concerned the work of Jesus Christ as the seed of Abraham in whom God fulfilled His promise to bring blessing to the nations of the earth. That sermon also served to introduce the subject of salvation proper as I talked about the role of faith in the redemptive experience. The doctrine of salvation as understood within covenant theology, therefore, will be our next topic. When I speak of the doctrine of salvation, I am answering these questions: How does a sinner pass from death to life, from darkness to light? What happens to a sinner to produce a spiritual and relational transformation? If we could diagram the salvation experience, what would it look like?
There are a number of elements involved in a sinner's conversion. Some of these elements are found in the initial stages of the sinner's transformation, while others are to be observed over the period of the sinner's life. For example, we think of regeneration as occurring right at the beginning of the conversion when the Holy Spirit enlivens the spiritually dead heart and imparts the seed of new life. Sanctification, on the other hand, we see as the life-long outworking of that regenerative episode. Sanctification is a process that is not concluded until death. Nevertheless, both of these elements are to be viewed as components in a sinner's salvation experience. Salvation does not begin and end at the moment of regeneration; there are things that happen prior to that point and things that happen after that point, which are properly considered conversion.
Within covenant or Reformed theology, there is a term used for what I've been describing. This term is ordo salutis, which means order of salvation. This term refers to the sequence and interrelation of those elements which make up our salvation. Ordo salutis is concerned with the logical explanation of what happens to a sinner when he is acted upon by the Holy Spirit, is brought to new life and thereafter yields himself in loving service to God. Generally, theologians see five parts to this order of salvation: effectual calling, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. These are the parts or steps of our salvation from beginning to end.
In the next few sermons, we are going to examine each of the parts of the ordo salutis. One thing which remains to be done before we proceed, however, is to show that there is Biblical support for conceiving of an order of salvation. In Rom. 8, we read:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (vv. 29, 30)
Paul certainly describes a logical progression in the application of the atonement. What the Holy Spirit does is limited to those whom [God] foreknew and predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son. This statement alone establishes the Reformed doctrine of a particular atonement. More relevant for our present purpose, however, is the sequential activity of God, described by the apostle, which takes the sinner from predestination to glorification.
There are other passages which demonstrate the various elements of our redemption and their relation to each other. For the sake of comprehension, then, theological formulations such as the ordo salutis are not only acceptable, but necessary. We don't want to accept the modern view that it's ok to be ignorant of what the Bible teaches as long as you are sincere. The Church today is theologically illiterate and the average Christian would not have the capacity to discuss the order of salvation even though they are living it and even though the components of this order constitute the sum of their redemption. I believe that it is our duty to be well informed concerning what God has done for us in Christ. To a certain extent, our conduct and our service to God arise from the ground of our knowledge. The better we understand our redemption, the more conscientious we will be about our lives.
Now we are ready to study the first in the sequence of events known as salvation; we will begin with effectual calling. First, I will offer a brief definition of effectual calling; second, I will speak in detail about the origin and nature of effectual calling; and third, I will talk about the result of effectual calling.
01. The Definition of Effectual Calling
Effectual calling is that act of God whereby, through the Holy Spirit, He awakens and draws the sinner, who previously is spiritually dead, into saving union with Christ. When we speak of God's effectual call, therefore, we mean His supernatural activity in the heart of a sinner which enlivens that sinner's dead heart and enables him and causes him to respond to the gospel. And, when we speak of God's effectual call, we are describing the first thing which the sinner experiences personally.
I'll refer quickly to a statement from Paul to illustrate what I've just said:
But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. (Gal. 1:15-17)
The context of these verses is Paul's admission of his guilt in persecuting the Church of God. While in the midst of that pursuit, the apostle indicates that God intervened and his life was redirected. Paul is referring to his experience on the road to Damascus when the risen Christ confronted him. From that point, Paul was, in every way, a changed man. He was converted and became a servant of the One whose name he was trying to exterminate.
This account in Galatians represents Paul's mature reflection upon that incident. Notice the elements of his conversion: God set him apart, even before his birth; God called him through His grace in due time; and God revealed by that calling that Paul was, in fact, among the elect who would have applied to them the atonement secured by the Savior. As Paul experienced this conversion, what was his first indication that he belonged to Christ? His first indication was, of course, the call of God which revealed to him that he was the object of God's saving love. God's call of Paul manifested itself on the road to Damascus. That's when Paul, as a sinner, realized that God had chosen him.
As far as we, as sinners, are concerned, therefore, the first indication we have that we are numbered among the elect is God's awakening call through the Holy Spirit. Some Christians can pinpoint the moment when this regeneration work of the Spirit took place in them; others cannot pinpoint a precise moment, but testify that they have been regenerated for as long as they can remember. Whatever the case, the fact is that God's call through the Spirit does come first and must come first in terms of what we experience in salvation. This call brings us to life and thereafter we begin growing in Christ.
02. The Origin and Nature of Effectual Calling
It is important that we understand that the call is initiated by God the Father and because it is initiated by Him, the effectual call bears certain characteristics (and these characteristics, of course, explain the nature of the call). God begins the work of applying the atonement provided by His Son to those that He has determined to save and give to the Son. This is a most precious aspect of our faith. This is what Jesus meant in John 6:37: All that the Father gives Me shall come to me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. How wonderful the thought that God the Father undertakes to keep the promise made to the Son to give to Him a special people. In due time, God the Father sends forth His Spirit to the elect and the Spirit stirs them to life by the application of Christ's great atonement.
Let's consider some Biblical evidence for what I've said. Initially, I'll use some of Paul's comments early in the book of 1 Corinthians. Here we have a typical church and the experience of these believers doesn't vary widely from the experience of all believers. These people heard the gospel and believed and were now being instructed in matters related to their growth in the Savior.
In his opening remarks in the first chapter, Paul gives thanks for the grace of God that was given to them in Christ. He says that God called them into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1:9) Paul continues and describes responses to the gospel, the word of the cross by which the Corinthians had been saved. Paul says it is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (v. 18) He specifies the reactions of the Jews and Greeks: the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks search for wisdom. (v. 22) Therefore, the message of the cross is to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness. (v. 23) Then, the apostle writes: ...but to those who are called [like the Corinthians], both Jews and Greeks, [the gospel is] Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (v. 24) What is it which distinguishes between those who hear the gospel and scoff and those who hear the gospel and believe? What is it which causes the gospel to be embraced instead of rejected, cherished instead of scorned? It is the call of God and that is the only thing which explains the distinction Paul describes.
God's call, again, is His supernatural work in the heart of the sinner. When God's call comes, it is an irresistible summons, it is a divine enabling. Without this life-giving call from God, the sinner remains dead in his trespasses and sin; he hears what is being preached, but he laughs at it, rejects it, ridicules it or ignores it. Paul's words are devastating testimony against the Arminian doctrine of man's free will in salvation. If fallen man is left to himself, Paul teaches that he will never abandoned his sin and will forever despise what God offers in His Son. The only hope for the sinner is that soul-piercing summons from heaven.
In another passage, speaking to another typical congregation of believers, Paul again speaks of God's calling to salvation. In 2 Thess. 2, after warning his readers about the coming man of sin, he says to them: But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (vv. 13, 14)
Notice that Paul first declares the eternal election of the Thessalonians according to God's choice, then identifies the end of that election: ...for salvation... And, finally, he explains that God had called the Thessalonians to this salvation through our gospel. It is the call of God which unites us with Christ, the One in Whom and by Whom eternal life is realized. The call of God is that crucial link between what has been decreed and the manifestation of what has been decreed.
As I indicated earlier, understanding the Biblical doctrine of God's call answers many questions that we have about our Christian experience and shows as false the popular notion that the sinner somehow initiates his conversion. Based as it is in God's eternal decree, the call of God to salvation is executed without regard to the sinner's merit and without regard to the sinner's activity. This passage teaches that there is something which precedes the call and that is God's decree of election (God has chosen you from the beginning). The saving call of God marks the beginning of the time and space expression of His eternal decision to save a sinner.
Before I continue with the third point, I want to explain one small item. Throughout this sermon, I have used the phrase effectual calling. The word effectual is used by theologians to distinguish between the call of God which involves the spiritual rebirth of the sinner and the general call of God which is present whenever His Word is proclaimed. As Paul explained in those passages from 1 Cor., not everyone who hears the summons of the gospel responds in a saving manner. Some hear its call, but reject it. They have heard a call from God, to be sure, but that call did not bring about their salvation. Therefore, it is helpful when discussing this matter to use the term effectual calling when referring to God's saving activity. At the same time I must add, however, that the New Testament generally speaks only of God's call and that call is always to salvation. Using the modifier effectual is unnecessary, Biblically speaking, but it is an aid to our understanding.
03. The Result of Effectual Calling
The result of God's effectual calling of a sinner already has been indicated in the previous point. The effectual call of God results in the sinner being brought to life, spiritually speaking, and enabled and, in fact, moved to exercise faith in Christ. However, there is a more precise way to explain the result of God's call and that is by using the term regeneration. Regeneration is sometimes considered as a separate step in the ordo salutis, but is always discussed in connection with the effectual call. Since the call of God is effectual, it must carry with it the means by which the summons is realized in the heart of the sinner. Regeneration, the spiritual awakening of the sinner by the Holy Spirit, is the immediate consequence of God's call. Therefore, I am treating regeneration together with effectual calling since the two are so closely related.
There are three facts to understand about regeneration: first, it is the work of God exclusively; second, regeneration creates something new; third, regeneration, which effects a fundamental change in disposition, always produces the fruit of righteousness. Let's look at a few Scriptural passages that validate these three statements.
First, regeneration is the work of God exclusively. Regeneration is the change that God brings about in the sinner; and, like the initial call of God, it is wholly His work. Fallen man is, as we have seen, dead in trespasses and sin. He cannot, he will not come to God; fallen man is completely dependent upon the mercy of God. In Scripture, the work that God does to bring that sinner to life is variously called the new birth, being born again, renewal and, of course, regeneration. Regeneration is the term most often used when discussing this element of the order of salvation.
Titus 3:5 says: [God] saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit... Although this verse does not explain what regeneration is, it does teach something relevant and important. It teaches that regeneration, as I stated, is not based on human merit. Paul clearly denies such an idea and actually contrasts human works with God's regenerative activity in the Holy Spirit. God saved us, Paul writes, and He saved us not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy... This mercy manifests itself in the call and the accompanying new birth. The source of regeneration, like the call of which it is a part, is God. Fallen man can no more bring about his regeneration that he can initially wake himself from spiritual death and call himself to salvation.
Another verse to consider is 1 Pet. 1:3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...: Again, we find the notion that regeneration, here described as being born again, is the exclusive work of God. This is, in fact, one of the themes with which Peter begins this epistle; he lavishes praise upon God for His particular saving work in Christ. And it is the blessedness connected with this saving work that the apostle uses to encourage his readers in their trials.
Second, regeneration is the creation of something new. I've already indicated this, but I must state emphatically that regeneration is not the igniting of some predisposition toward God in the soul of the sinner. Regeneration is the creation of that disposition; regeneration is the implanting of the seed of new life. Regeneration can be compared to the resurrection of a man from the dead, for, in a spiritual sense, that's exactly what happens.
Let's look at something which Paul says in Eph. 2:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus... (vv. 4-6)
The phrase, made us alive together with Christ, is a description of regeneration. It is a wonderfully graphic image of what happens to the sinner when God calls him to salvation; he is dead, but then he is alive. Paul routinely uses this imagery in contrasting the pre-conversion state and the post-conversion state (cf. Rom. 6:11; 1 Cor. 15:22; Col. 2:13.); this is, in fact, a common, perhaps the most common, mode of expressing the difference between the unsaved and saved states of the sinner in the New Testament.
In keeping with the same theme, in another place Paul writes: Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Cor. 5:17) The call of God is executed by the Holy Spirit upon a sinner as He supernaturally and marvelously brings life from death. At that point, the sinner is renewed; he operates the rest of his life according to a new principle of morality. The point is that something happens to the sinner at regeneration which is unique. Regeneration does not depend upon what is present in the sinner, it creates something new in the sinner.
Third, regeneration, which effects a fundamental change in disposition, always produces the fruit of righteousness. And it is the presence of this evidence which proves the nature of regeneration. The evidence which follows regeneration shows that a basic change has occurred in that part of man's makeup that governs his thinking and activity.
One passage that really describes what takes place in regeneration is Eph. 4:24 (â¦put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.) In this verse, Paul is urging the Ephesians to conduct themselves according to what had happened to them when they embraced the gospel. A change had taken place, he indicates, and the Ephesians were bound to give expression to that change in their thinking and behavior. Paul teaches that in regeneration, a new self is created and that new self is characterized by righteousness and holiness of the truth.
This verse, therefore, identifies what happens at regeneration; the sinner who, prior to God's call, is characterized by unrighteousness and unholiness, is made over and a new principle, the principle of God's righteousness, is imbedded in his soul. That newly imbedded principle immediately reveals itself and becomes active. The sinner henceforth operates according to a different, a holy, disposition.
This idea is more fully explained in Col. 3:
5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created himâ¦
Paul is describing regeneration and the fruits of regeneration. Before regeneration, the Colossians were characterized by those things common to the fallen nature: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech. Those attitudes and practices were part of the old self, Paul says, and were laid aside when salvation came. Now, he continues:
...as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. (vv. 12, 13)
The regeneration of the Colossians meant that they would be characterized by other things that were common to their new nature: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. The contrast between what the Colossians were and what they had become is striking. What made the difference was, of course, regeneration. So it is clear that regeneration always produces self-attesting evidence of its presence. Throughout the Bible, we have presented to us the expectation that we will walk according to righteousness once we have come to know the truth in salvation.
In the application, I want to talk briefly about the impressions that are left in my mind after studying the doctrine of effectual calling. This Biblical doctrine leaves at least three distinct impressions in my thinking. I trust that as I explain them, you, too, will see their worth and be edified by them.
First, the doctrine of effectual calling leaves the impression that the mercy of God truly is astounding. When God calls, He is calling sinners, He is calling the ungrateful and the rebellious; He is calling the lovers of falsehood and haters of truth; He is calling those who are guilty and who give expression to their guilt by the hour. Nevertheless, He still calls; He still sends His Spirit to one sinner after another and the Spirit regenerates the cold, dead heart and life springs up. God still calls in spite of our sin, in spite of our boasts, in spite of our hard-headedness. What other word comes to mind when you think of God doing this for you but mercy?
Believers need to recapture the image of God as an infinitely merciful God. In recapturing this image, you see, they will recapture other truths that have, likewise, slipped away. They will recapture the truths of God's justice and holiness; they will recapture the truths of an absolute standard and forgiveness for transgression. And you can't help gaining a better understanding of the human predicamentI'm referring to our depravitywhen you study the merciful call of God to salvation.
A second impression left by the doctrine of effectual calling follows the first closely and that is our absolute dependence upon God for salvation. The Bible's teaching on the effectual call of God leaves us standing with heads bowed before the Lord. Had God not called us, where would we be? Had God not chosen us in Christ, the alternative is horrifying. What can we do but be eternally grateful? What can we do but be humbled by God's marvelous grace and power?
Think how different the Church would be if, as the body of Christ, we had a sure and explicit understanding of our total dependence upon God for salvation. So many are wrongly thinking that they cooperated with God or that they found God when the truth is, dead people don't cooperate with anyone and fallen people never find anything because they are not capable of looking. God's patience is so abundantly extended toward us as we speak of our little theories and spin our tales about how we were saved. All the while, He knows that we were utterly lost and hopelessly imprisoned by sin when He sent His Spirit to us and that Spirit spoke in our souls the summons of our Creator.
A third impression left on my mind by this doctrine of God's effectual call is the sovereign right of God to choose His people. This teaching of the Bible so clearly emphasizes God's independence and His divine prerogative in the matter of salvation. God answers to no man, but all men are accountable to Him. God does what He does because it pleases Him and He chooses whom He chooses because it pleases Him. God's Spirit is not some unseen, undirected force that envelops us all and awaits the initiative of man to bring about regeneration. The Spirit of God is a divine Person, fully committed to executing the will of the Triune God with respect to salvation. How foolish we must sometimes appear in God's sight. Some of us want to take credit for what God alone is capable of doing. Others don't want to take credit for their salvation, but they don't want to give God the credit either. We are so afraid of having our bloated sense of self-importance deflated that we deny the obvious.
But a great and wonderful change occurs in a life when a person understands, accepts and submits to the sovereignty of God in salvation. It brings unbelievable joy and humility; it brings peace and confidence. And, above all, it gives God the glory that belongs to Him and Him alone. The sovereignty of God in salvation is a fact and recognition of this fact puts the sinner in his place while God occupies His exalted place.
Conclusion (Preparation for the Lord's Supper)
Let's come to the Lord's Table and receive this sacrament which reinforces all these impressions left by the doctrine of God's effectual calling. This sacrament is testimony to His calling of us; it is a pledge that His calling will ultimately bring us to heaven. On this Table are the elements of bread and wine, symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ paid for our sins and provided the needed righteousness which God imputes to us. According to His will, God in time called us to the manifestation of these truths which we celebrate now.
I would refuse. Never go with a stranger offering gifts. Nothing is for free. I'd close the door.
I know what you are saying but do you have a better example?
I trust God is not a stranger to you?? :>))
Before the effectual call, God has introduced Himself to you .
I just do not understand why people think that God drawing you is a fate worse than death ..so it must be forced.
Jesus called the apostles and they dropped every thing to come follow Him , that was an effectual call.
Let me put it this way.
If on Valentine day ,your wife (if you have one) bought a beautiful sexy negligee and she lit candles and put on soft music..and then called you into the bedroom...would she have to hog tie you to come? Or would the promise of the call be so strong that you would go with joy?
What the conversation of being puppets or being forced says to me..men honor and love their own will over God's love and call. Seems to me that once that was predicted in a garden
Well, that explains why you haven't been... Er, nevermind! :-D :-D
I wont be finished till I die:>) I always need to hear (or read) how others see God and his work or how to present it
But them I am much newer at it than many of you guys
Yeah I'm missing out on all that strong soverighty/election preaching from the "How to be a better you and me" crowd.
How about Ed McMahon at your door, holding a giant check made out in your name? ;O)
Sure, the next five weeks. But not the last two.
Taken to an absurd extreme, what if men really are puppets of God like the Arminians warn?
Is that the very worst thing anyone can imagine?
The fact that God is in control and life is proceeding according to His will should be cause for rejoicing.
Some people are never satisfied, I guess.
Face it, it's becoming vey difficult to find election preaching anywhere.
Is that the very worst thing anyone can imagine?
Cost of a Bible: Free Cost of an RC Sproul Book: $12.50
Cost of Sunday Suit: $500.00
Quip by Dr E that gets right to the heart of the matter: Priceless
Ummm sounds like Rick Warren is visiting your church
Gotta love that Calvinist attitude that says "to hell with the rest of the planet, as long as I get in."
Sorry if you see that as a flame Dr. E. But that's always how your posts read to me.
Where do I say I know who "gets in?" Only God knows that. And I have always maintained that IMO anyone who follows Christ as their Lord and Savior, and lives a life reflecting God's glory is most likely saved.
Your post was rude and in error.
Same as it ever was. And life goes on.