We are able to experience salvation only because God has called us to it. God has done the work and therefore we cannot earn salvation, but only receive it. The Bible is unmistakable in its teaching that in order for man to be saved, he must be called by God. Throughout the entire New Testament, the apostle Paul (Rom 8:29-30; 1 Cor 1:2, 24; Col 3:15; 1 Th 2:12; 2 Tim 1:9), Peter (1 Pet 1:15, 5:10; 2 Pet 1:3, 1:10), Jude (Jude 1), John (Rev 17:14; John 10:3), and the writer of Hebrews (Heb 3:1; 9:15) label the saints as “the called.” There is a group of people–believers in Christ, God’s elect–who have been called, and are justified, and will be glorified.
But what is the definition of God’s “calling?” Why are some people unaffected by the gospel call to repent and believe in Christ as Lord and Savior while others respond positively? Does God call all people in the same way or are there distinctions to His calling? To answer these specific questions, theologians generally speak of two types of “calls:” an internal call and an external call.
Before noting the differences, the message of the effectual and general are alike, inviting sinners to repent and embrace the message of salvation through Christ alone. The facts concerning salvation for the general and effectual call indicates that all of mankind have sinned (Rom. 3:23), the penalty of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and Jesus Christ died in place of the condemned to pay the penalty of their sin (Rom. 5:8). Another element is the invitation to respond to Christ via repentance and faith (Matt. 11:28-30; Matt. 11:28; John 1:11-12) and a promise of forgiveness and eternal life (John 3:16; Acts 3:19; cf. 2:38; John 6:37).
This general (external) call is different from the effectual call in that it can be observable by all men, and is an universal and indiscriminate admonition for men to come to God. This call goes out simply without qualification. Christians are to tell everyone to turn from their sins. Revelation 22:17, John says the “Spirit and the Bride say come…” The general call is the declaration of the gospel by the Word of God, whether it be through personal witness, missionary endeavors, internet or radio.The call must go out to the entire world, for every nation must hear the glory of Christ. But as we both know, not everyone comes to Christ. The major difference between calls is the result of the call, for the general call is rejected, while the effectual is not.
As for the general call, some groups believe that the call can be responded to without divine assistance. In other words, humans can respond with their own strength. This humanistic thinking is a result in a denial of original sin and a denial of total depravity. The general call mostly receives negative responses. Man more often than not ends up rejecting the gospel. Matthew 22:14 teaches the reality that “many are invited [external call], but few are chosen [internal call].” Other passages such as Matthew 11:28, Luke 5:28, and Luke 13:34 teach the external, general call that Christ gives to all people around the world which is to repent and believe on the gospel before it is too late.
Scripture is also clear that rejection of the gospel is not God’s fault. Man is accountable to God for his reaction to the gospel call to salvation. The fault is entirely upon the individual. Scripture teaches that every man is accountable and culpable to God for his own sins and for hardening his own heart (Gal 6:8; Ex 7:13). Sinners do not have the ability, because of their depraved nature, to respond to the general offer of the gospel. However, they are still at fault because they willfully reject the general call of God. Because of the spiritual impotence of mankind, the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration and initiative is needed if any man is to be saved (Jn 3:3). Without Him, all people would fail to respond to God’s external call and perish in hell. This is where the internal, effectual call comes in.
The Effectual Call
The call that guarantees the salvation of God’s elect is generally called the “effectual/irresistible call.” Attempting to save men without the effectual call of God would be like going into a morgue and telling corpses to wake up. You might even recruit a high-ranking official to speak to the corpses, but unless something happens inside of those corpses, no life will come from those corpses. The effectual call is also based and founded on God’s chosen people. It could be that God lets a person hear the gospel 600 times, and then finally after 70 years God arrests the man with sovereign grace. God’s timing is always perfect and always right on time. We can be sure that God will bring salvation to His elect. Romans 8:29-30 specifically tells us that the effectual calling is always 100% effective.
The effectual calling of the Holy Spirit reverses the effects of the Fall, enlightening the mind (2 Corinthians 4:6), re-ordering the affections (Deuteronomy 30:6), and liberating the will (Psalm 110:3). The call will bring the following changes to a man’s sinful heart:
- It is a calling unto holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7)
- It is a calling out of darkness into light (1 Peter 2:9)
- It is a calling to be saints (Romans 1:7)
- It is a calling into the fellowship of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9)
- It is a calling to follow Christ’s example (1 Peter 1:21)
In short, the effectual call is a divinely powered, Spirit-illuminated work by which the unregenerate is lead to trust God in a saving relationship. The effectual call always leads to the person responding in saving faith, for it is the duty of God (1 Cor. 7:21; 1 Pet. 2:21).
“Those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son… and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
So there is a group of people – God’s chosen and elect people – who have been called, and are justified, and will be glorified. Not even one of these chosen of God will be lost along the way. This is often called the “chain of salvation.” God’s effectual calling wins every single battle between God’s saving power and our rebellion, blindness, deafness, spiritual death and darkness. This special grace is what calls us out of the realm of darkness and into the light of Jesus Christ
It is important that we have a solid understanding of how God works in His calling us to salvation. This doctrine gives all the glory to God for salvation, paralyzing man from boasting in his salvation. This doctrine humbles us from our pride, gives us assurance in salvation (Phil 2:6), and encourages us to evangelize, since we know that God will save His elect as we proclaim the Gospel (Acts 13:8).