Effectual Calling, an Overview
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel…
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14a NKJV
Question 67 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is effectual calling?” It gives the answer, “Effectual calling is the work of God's almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.” Last week we looked at the believer’s union with Christ. This week we consider the Biblical doctrine of effectual calling.
Effectual calling often reminds me of growing up in Saltsburg and playing outside after school. Every evening the kids would gather in a different yard and play (we had the yard where we played football, the yard that was best for kickball, another one for whiffle ball, etc.), until our fathers called us home for supper. As each dad called his own children, they would respond by leaving the game and running home to eat. Now sometimes you would be tempted to delay leaving, like when the game was particularly competitive, or when you were on the verge of scoring, and sometimes you didn’t hear your dad when he called. But you could always tell from the tone, when a father had to call the second time however, for it was louder and a lot more insistent! When my Dad called us that way, we came immediately, no matter what was happening in the game! Thus, this second call was effectual, in that it always achieved the goal for which it was given: when Dad called, we came willingly! So also, when the sovereign and almighty Creator and Sustainer of the universe acts to call His elect from spiritual death to spiritual life, they invariably and irresistibly respond to that call, so that those who were spiritually dead immediately live!
While this illustration accurately pictures the authority and power of the caller and the outward effect of the call, it fails to convey the special grace of God in effectual calling, and the inward and spiritual transformation that His call accomplishes in the hearts of His people. We came when our dads called, mostly out of fear of punishment, mixed with a little respect, but with very little real desire to stop playing so that we could go in and eat! Earthly fathers simply do not have the power to change the hearts of their children in order to make them want to obey them. Only God can change the heart. Additionally, the children in my example already possessed the ability to respond to their fathers’ calls. They are not by nature hostile toward their fathers (Rom. 8:7), alienated from and enemies of their fathers (Col. 1:21), and haters of their fathers (Rom. 1:30). But Scripture declares that we are born with all of these attitudes toward God.
Accordingly, the effectual call of God to salvation is not merely a call to outwardly do something, but to inwardly admit our sins, trust in Christ, and live a life of loving obedience to God. God calls us into spiritual life from spiritual death. That is, in effectual calling, God causes those who reject Him, hate Him, and hate righteousness and truth, to receive Him, love Him, and love righteousness and truth. While earthly fathers want their children to be sincere in their obedience to them, they do not have such lofty goals for true inward transformation when they call their children home for supper. They just want them to come in and eat! Furthermore, unbelieving earthly fathers call their children out of a natural love for them. They love their children in the way that they love themselves, as an extension of themselves and their own enjoyment of life in this world. They want to see their children have a good life, in the way that they want a good life for themselves: maximizing pleasure, minimizing pain, and having honor before men. Only the Christian father can truly love his children (1 John 4:7), seeking their spiritual and everlasting good, not only in this world but in the next, and seeking for their honor not before men, who are and love evil, but from the God who alone can give true honor. The Christian father’s love to his children desires most of all that God would save them, that God would love them unto salvation. In effectual calling, God begins to communicate this kind of love to the elect, for in effectual calling God’s grace powerfully regenerates His enemies into His children. Lord willing, next week we will look at what that means.