Who Does God “Call”?

There are two kinds of calls in scripture: General and Effectual Calling

And it’s easy to get confused about them. There are those occasions in the Bible where Jesus may say something like, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14). In that statement, it’s obvious that Jesus means that not everyone who is called to believe in Christ—invited to come to Christ in repentance and faith—is, in fact, “chosen.” So, according to Jesus, there are those who are “chosen” and there are those who are merely “called,” or invited. But when you read the parable, it’s clear that Jesus is saying that only those who are “chosen” will be saved.

But the point I’m making is that here Jesus is using “called” in the sense of a general, universal invitation for everyone to believe in him—an open invitation for all persons to repent of sin and believe in Jesus and be saved. It’s the same kind of invitation when Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). This kind of calling is an invitation to anyone and everyone. And, as I said in my previous blog, Christians should always speak to everyone in this manner. Just because only those who are chosen will be saved does not, in any way, soften our need for a winsome invitation for all to come to Christ. We don’t know those who are chosen. Only God does.

But the difficulty with this general, universal call is that if people are left to themselves, no one ever actually responds to it. It is, therefore an ineffectual kind of calling. People hear the gospel and may even understand it up to a point. But in their hearts they’re not drawn to Christ. They don’t really have a desire for him, so they remain unwilling to come to him in true repentance and faith in their hearts.

And so this is why Jesus also said…

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. …And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. …No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. …This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” John 6:37, 39-40, 44, 65

And this kind of calling—the calling that Jesus is describing here in John 6—where NO ONE CAN come to Christ unless the Father has enable him—is also what Paul is meaning in Romans 8:28 and 30—

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. …And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Notice here that the apostle Paul is saying (I believe very clearly saying) that God works for the good of those who … have been called according to his purpose. And everyone who is called—EVERYONE—also is justified and glorified in Christ (and foreknown and predestined as well). So this kind of calling is an internal, specific, and what you can call an effectual call. That is, it not only issues the invitation, it also provides the ability and the will and the desire to respond to the invitation in true repentance and faith in Christ.

Again, we need to notice that this verses does not say “some” of those called were justified and glorified, but ALL those who are called in this way are justified and glorified—and also foreknown and predestined. So this is a different kind of calling from God than just a mere invitation.

See, the first kind of calling (general, universal, external) is like my calling my dog, Tucker. “Come here Tucker!” Sometimes Tucker comes, but sometimes he doesn’t. Especially if he’s found a good scent of Rabbit poop. Just the way it is. He’s a dog. He prefers poop rather than me. And without God’s effectual calling, we are ALL like that when it comes to preferring Christ to “poop.”

So the “calling” Paul is talking about here in Romans 8:30 (and v. 28) is the kind of “calling” like when Jesus stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus who had been dead for four days. Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead Lazarus awoke to life and obeyed Jesus’ call and came to him. Now that’s a different kind of calling. And like all of Jesus’ miracles, it’s also a picture of an important theological truth about our salvation.

Jesus’ call to Lazarus was an effectual calling—where the very call of Jesus created life in the formerly dead corpse. The result of that kind of call was the dead Lazarus coming to life and responding by emerging from the tomb walking toward Jesus. The call itself created the ability to respond. The God who gives life is now calling life out of death.

And THAT is what must happen for anyone to truly come to Christ. It’s what happens when God, by his Holy Spirit, calls us to salvation in Christ. God’s call creates the spark of spiritual life in the heart and soul and mind of the one called, and the proof that spiritual life is started there is that we respond to him and walk toward him in our lives more and more for the rest of our lives. And it is only as God brings this kind of calling in a person’s life that they are enabled to repent of sin and believe the gospel and come to Christ. And without THAT kind of effectual calling, NO ONE can truly come to Christ that way. That’s so important to understand.

So God’s effectual call—like the one Jesus talks about in John 6 and the apostle Paul talks about in Romans 8:28, 30—not only issues the invitation but also provides the willingness, desire, and ability to respond by faith in the heart. It draws a person to Christ. It is a case of God bringing to spiritual life those who, without that call, would remain spiritually dead.

This is clearly the kind of call the apostle Paul is describing in 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. …For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

Here God’s effectual calling is his making his light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus “shine” in our hearts—just as much as when he called light out of darkness in the creation of life on earth in Genesis 1 (which is what Paul is alluding to). Only by this kind of calling are we ever drawn to the glory of God in the face of Christ in our hearts.

So how do you know if you’re someone God foreknew and predestined to be justified and glorified in Christ? Well, it’s by whether or not you’re responding to his call.

Although our faith is a gift from God by his effectual call in our hearts, faith is still something WE do—something we MUST do. God does not believe for us. But our faith, and our ability to persevere in our faith and obedience over a lifetime of struggles, would fail without God’s effectual calling.

So the apostle Paul writes what appears to be a contradiction in Philippians 2:12-13;

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

See, all of us freely—by our own free will—choose to do what we WANT to do most. That’s always the case. And that freedom is real. We are free to do what we want to do most. And we are free to respond to whatever invitation we want to.

But we are not free to WANT what we truly do not want!

—or to want to respond to God’s calling when we don’t truly want to. And that’s the predicament of the human condition of being spiritually dead and in bondage to sin. And we saw in Romans 1 and 3 that no human being, left to themselves, really WANTS God on his terms. We don’t really want repentance and obedience to Christ. We want our own way more.

That’s why anyone who comes to Christ in real repentance and faith really needs a kind of “calling” from God whereby his Holy Spirit provides the will and the desire for Christ and the ability to truly respond to him in faith. The kind of calling whereby God is drawing to himself by enabling spiritual life in the one who without that call would remain spiritually dead and uninterested and unrepentant and unresponsive to Christ in the heart.

Everyone whom God justifies and will glorify in Christ must be, and will be, called in this way.

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