Effectual Calling - Part 3
"For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will."
John 5:21 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 time we saw how God, in effectual calling, sovereignly and irresistibly acts to transform His enemies into His children. This week we consider more particularly the transformation that effectual calling accomplishes in the elect.
First, we see that God effectually calls elect-but-spiritually-dead sinners to new life in Christ, through inviting and drawing them by His Word and Spirit. Almighty God does not need to use means to convert the children of Satan into His own redeemed children, but He uses them anyway. Moreover, although any one of the members of the Godhead could effectually call the sinner to new life in Christ, it is particularly the role of the Holy Spirit to accomplish this work. As the Catechism says it, God draws the sinner savingly to Christ, by His Spirit. This drawing of the Spirit is likened by Jesus to a new birth. Thus, He says to Nicodemus, “You must be born again… you must be born of the Spirit” (John 3:3, 6-8). Additionally, God’s Spirit draws us through the invitation of His Word. The minister preaches and calls all to come to Christ. The Spirit goes with the Word (to those whom He wills to go) so that they do. We cannot see the Spirit as He moves in the heart (John 3:8), but we see the effect: the sinner, upon hearing the Word of God, confesses and repents of his sins and believes in and follows Jesus.
Consequently, the apostle Paul thanked God when he wrote to the Thessalonians, “because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). Paul thanked God that the Thessalonians received the Word of God, as the Word of God, because He knew that it was only by God’s grace in effectual calling that they would do such a thing. As he wrote to the Romans, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:7-9). Here, “the sinful mind” is the mind of the natural man apart from the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit. Man, in his natural sinful mind cannot, will not come to God. However, when the Holy Spirit quickens that Word to the sinner savingly, then the sinner’s heart and will are changed and renewed so that He wants to come, and in fact freely chooses to come to Christ.
The apostle Paul himself is the classic example of God’s effectual, irresistible call. Paul (Saul) was a sworn enemy of the Church. Acts describes him as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples,” (Acts 9:1). Paul was so completely & constantly opposed to God’s Work in the church that it was akin to his continual intake of oxygen. But Jesus infused Paul with a new breath by totally changing his heart and will in a moment, (Acts 9:3-6). To paraphrase the Catechism, God out of His mere good pleasure, in His appointed time, enlightened Paul’s mind, renewed and determined Paul’s will, so that he was made willing and able to accept the grace of God offered in the gospel of Christ. Paul’s will was so powerfully and permanently changed that he could later say that for him to live was Christ (Phil. 1:21).
Paul was changed when he hated God and hated God’s Word. Although it may not have been so sudden or dramatic in your life, before you were made alive in Christ by His Word and Spirit you were dead in your trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Take some time today to give God all the glory for making you a Christian, and praise God for the amazing grace of His effectual calling!