Of Effectual Calling
The pet rock came out in 1975. Gary Dahl joked that a perfect pet would never need fed, need walked, or die. What better pet than a rock? So he put some googly eyes on some rocks, put some straw in a cardboard box to keep the rock comfortable during transport, and sold them for $4 a piece. Dahl became a millionaire.
How ridiculous is the notion that a rock has any life at all in it, even enough to be a pet? A pet rock does not come to life, no matter how much its owner may want. In the same way, a heart of stone does not bring itself to life. A heart of stone does not make a decision to become a heart of flesh. A heart of stone is dead.
God must do something supernatural and turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh for a person to love and obey him. Revivalism, dispensationalism, and the church growth movement have together popularized the notion that salvation is just a simple decision. It’s about a one-time decision to believe in God. It’s up to you.
However, Scripture says the opposite. Regeneration precedes faith. You are elected, and because of that sovereign election, you have a new disposition and a desire to glorify God that you have never had before.
The Confession says that “Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; …”
This glorious truth is perhaps nowhere more clearly and simply articulated than in Romans 8:29-30, which says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” This has been called “the golden chain of redemption”. Where in that chain of redemption did you do something?
God foreknew, God predestined, God called, God justified, and God will glorify.
But what about evangelism and regular calls to believe in Jesus by the preaching of the gospel? Isn’t there some responsibility placed upon the individual? Well of course, and the Confession answers that concern.
"This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, nor from any power or agency in the creature, being wholly passive therein, being dead in sins and trespasses, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit; he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it, and that by no less power than that which raised up Christ from the dead."
The key to understanding man’s responsibility in salvation is in the short phrase, “until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit.” God knows those whom he will save, he predestines them to that salvation, and then he calls them at an appointed time. In being called, we mean that the Holy Spirit indwells that individual. Upon the renewing presence of the Spirit, the blood of Christ is applied to our accounts. Our sins are covered and our hearts are turned from stone to flesh. Only then does a man or woman possess the moral ability to love God, repent of sins, and confess that Jesus is Lord.
Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Man does not accept the Spirit. We do not invite the Spirit. Inviting the Spirit is like inviting the wind to blow or a tidal wave to crash on the beach. Do you control those things? Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
Many times, because we have so focused on making a decision, we are worried about the salvation of those who cannot make decisions. What about infants? What about those with mental disabilities? What about those who cannot speak? Does a decision have to be vocalized to fit the criteria of “confess with your mouth”? Well, if salvation is a work of God, then the believer is comforted in this area.
Concerning these people, the Confession says, “Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”
The fact that the Spirit of God moves about like the wind is a far greater comfort than any belief that making a decision determines your destiny. Because we are frail and often do things contrary to our best interests, we are prone to undo past decisions. Only the arrogant think that they can lose their salvation but haven't done anything to lose it. But because God is unchanging, he does not un-know, un-predestine, un-call, or un-justify. So when it comes to those with lesser decision-making ability than normal, we worshipfully leave them in the hands of our heavenly Father. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25).
Scripture addresses another kind of response to regeneration, that of a false conversion. In summary, the Confession says:
“Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet not being effectually drawn by the Father, they neither will nor can truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men that receive not the Christian religion be saved; …”
This is the distinction that Christ made in describing the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30). Baptists believe that everyone in the true church is regenerate, or born again. It is not a mixed community where both believers and unbelievers share in the covenant blessings as was the nation of Israel. This is what makes the new covenant “not like the covenant” God made with the ethnic people of Israel at Sinai (Jeremiah 31:32). The new covenant is unbreakable (Jeremiah 31:33).
The seed, which is the gospel, is cast on all the soil. But it only takes root in certain places. Jesus summarizes the parable of the wedding feast by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
We can rest assured that God’s decisions are pure and good and true. When we look back from eternity, we will see that nothing God did was ever unjust. If we, in our finite minds, understood now all that God was doing, we’d fall to our knees in perpetual worship. And one day, in the eternal state, we will live and worship him as we should even now.
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