1 Those whom God has predestined to life,1 he is pleased (in his appointed and accepted time)2 to effectually call3 by his Word4 and Spirit.5 He calls them out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ.6
2 Jn 3:8, Eph 1:11
3 Mt 22:14, 1 Co 1:23-24, Ro 8:28, Jn 5:25, Ro 4:17
4 2 Th 2:14, 1 Pe 1:23-25, Ro 1:16-17, Ro 10:14, Heb 4:12
5 Jn 3:5-8, 2 Co 3:3-6
6 Ro 8:2, 1 Co 1:9, Eph 2:1-6, 2 Ti 1:8-10
According to Paul, those who have been predestined to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son are called (Rom 8:28-30). God’s call of the elect to salvation is effectual, that is, it has the certain and inevitable result of bringing those called to salvation. God’s call does not come through an inner spiritual intuition by which a man senses a need in his life that only God can fill. God makes uses of means: he calls men by his Word, by the preaching of the gospel of Christ (Rom 10:14). As the human preacher, or sometimes the printed Word, is heard the Spirit of God applies that Word to a man’s heart so that he can see his need for the salvation found in Jesus and know that salvation is his.
He enlightens their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God.7 He takes away their heart of stone, and gives to them a heart of flesh.8 He renews their wills, and by his almighty power causes them to do what is good.9
Jesus put it this way: “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (Jn 5:25). When the effectual call of God is sounded, the dead are brought to life. The call is effectual because it brings with it spiritual enlightenment so that God’s revealed word begins to make sense, a heart of flesh that is no longer unmoved by God’s love, and a renewed will that makes it possible for him to desire that which is godly and good. All these things assure that God’s purpose in calling will not be thwarted. They come to man not as a result of his spiritual quest, but through God’s grace.
He effectually draws them to Jesus Christ,10 yet in such a way that they come completely freely, for they are made willing by his grace.11
The man who comes to God does so because God has made him willing to do so. He is not forced into the kingdom of heaven against his will, but having been given a new heart and mind he finds fellowship with God and a life of holiness the greatest desires of his life. The man who has been enlightened by the work of the Spirit comes to Christ not as a robot programmed to do so, but in accord with his own free will.
2 This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not on account of anything at all foreseen in us. It is not made because of any power or action in us,12 for we are altogether passive in it, we are dead in sins and trespasses until we are made alive and renewed by the Holy Spirit.13 By this [regeneration] we are enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it, this power being none other than that which raised up Christ from the dead.14
13 1 Co 2:14, Ro 8:7, Eph 2:5
14 Jn 6:37, Eze 36:27, Jn 5:25
We have often heard that God calls men to accept him and that when they feel the time is right and turn to him he grants them life. The truth is that until God grants him life man is spiritually dead, and spiritually dead people cannot do anything that even leads to life much less something like repent that is possible only for those who are spiritually alive. The call of God is effectual therefore not because of something man does, but on the basis of God’s grace alone.
God does not grant salvation because he sees some promising action in a man or even a potentially positive character. God’s call and man’s ability to respond are both matters of pure grace that are brought about by the same power the brought Jesus Christ back from the dead. God’s regenerative power is necessary before man can repent from or confess his sins and turn to Christ.
3 Infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit who works when and where and how he pleases.15
God has revealed to us that the means he has given us through which he works to draw men to himself is the proclamation of the gospel. The question naturally arises, “What about infants who die before they can hear and understand this good news?” As one man has put it, “in the matter of infant salvation one can only adopt an attitude of reverent and hopeful agnosticism” (Kingdon, 98). Some choose to believe all infants are saved, and that may be the case, but the Bible simply does not directly address the issue. We can say though that those infants who are saved, whether all or some part of them, are saved not because they are infants but because God has chosen (elected) them. The need for the call that brings new life is still the same: an infant apart from the grace of God is still dead in his sin. How this call is extended and made effective is unknown and we can only say that the Spirit, like the wind, moves when and where he chooses.
So also are all elect persons regenerated who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word.
Though we believe that the only means given us to lead others to God is the Word, we cannot say that God is limited in his ability to save to what he has revealed to us. As with the infant, God may move in ways unknown to us to bring salvation to those who are incapable of being outwardly called by the preaching of the gospel. We cannot say God does not move in some mysterious way to save some, but we do know that they only way he has revealed to us for the salvation of sinners is through the preaching of the Word. To depend on a secret means to save some from eternal perdition is a dangerous risk. Let us leave God’s sovereign unrevealed work to him and preach what he has given us. We know salvation is through Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man and this is the only certain means to salvation we can depend on. We may not be able to say how God does move other than through the preaching of the Word, but we can say how he does not move. God does not save those who believe Buddhism or Islam or Mormonism is the true path to communion with God. Far from opening the door to all other religious paths to God, the teaching of salvation by Christ alone through the Spirit demands that those who might hear God’s call in an unusual way would hear in this a call to leave behind all other ways.
4 Those who are not elected, even though they may be called by the ministry of the Word and may experience some common operations of the Spirit,16 cannot be saved because they are not effectually drawn by the Father, therefore they will not and cannot truly come to Christ. Much less can those who do not profess the Christian religion be saved,17 no matter how diligently they order their lives according to the light of nature and the teachings of the religion they profess.18
17 Jn 6:44-45, Jn 6:64-66, Jn 8:24
18 Ac 4:12, Jn 4:22, Jn 17:3
Those who are not chosen and called by God cannot be saved. They may hear the gospel powerfully and persuasively presented, they may even know the work of the Spirit in their life at some level as he spreads the benefits of common grace. They may respond in faith to our invitations to come to Christ, only to have that faith choked out by the cares of the world. They may come to regret their sins, with a sorrow that leads only to unrelenting grief and death. They may even prophecy and heal in Christ’s name, only to hear him say someday, “I never knew you.” They may give many evidences of spiritual life, but apart from God’s effectual call it is certain they will not, they can not come to him. No matter how closely they try to pattern their lives by the very best and highest light that is revealed in nature and is found in non-Christian religions, men cannot be saved. The determinative factor in man’s salvation is not his sincerity or diligence, but God’s election. Only that call gives him the ability to believe in Christ alone for salvation and persevere to the end.