by Johnny Wilson
Within the Reformed tradition, the doctrine of the effectual call is foundational to understanding God's work of salvation. This call, which is distinct from the general call extended to all humanity, is a powerful and irresistible summons that leads to the regeneration, conversion, and ultimate salvation of the elect. In this exposition, we will examine the key biblical texts that elucidate the effectual call and seek to understand its theological implications.
- Romans 8:30 offers a succinct and systematic overview of the effectual call: "And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified." This verse, commonly referred to as the "golden chain of redemption," delineates the chronological order and logical progression of God's work in saving His chosen people. The effectual call is situated between predestination and justification, signifying its integral role in the salvation process.
- In 2 Timothy 1:9, the Apostle Paul expounds on the basis and purpose of the effectual call: "He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time." Here, Paul emphasizes that God's call is not based on human merit or accomplishment; rather, it is grounded in God's eternal purpose and sovereign grace. This reinforces the notion that the effectual call is a divine initiative, entirely independent of human volition.
The theme of divine faithfulness is central to the effectual call, as illustrated by 1 Corinthians 1:9: "God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." This passage underscores the assurance that those who have been effectually called will indeed persevere in their faith and attain final salvation. The faithfulness of God is the bedrock upon which the believer's confidence rests.
- In 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, the Apostle Paul provides a compelling illustration of the distinction between the general (or outward) call and the effectual call. He writes, "...but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." This passage highlights the contrasting responses to the preaching of the gospel by different groups of people.
On the one hand, both Jews and Gentiles, representing the totality of humanity, initially reject the outward call of the gospel. For the Jews, the message of Christ crucified is a stumbling block, as it contradicts their preconceived notions of a triumphant, political Messiah. For the Gentiles, the notion of a crucified Savior appears foolish, as it challenges their prevailing philosophical and religious beliefs. The rejection of the outward call by these two groups exemplifies the inherent inability of the human heart to respond positively to the gospel message apart from God's effectual work.
On the other hand, Paul identifies a distinct group of people who have been effectually called by God from among both Jews and Gentiles. For these individuals, the message of the cross is transformed from a stumbling block or foolishness into the power and wisdom of God. This dramatic shift in perception and understanding is the direct result of God's effectual call, which overcomes the natural resistance of the human heart and enables the elect to embrace the gospel message with genuine faith and repentance.
This exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 demonstrates the critical role of the effectual call in the salvation process. While the outward call of the gospel is indiscriminately extended to all people, it is only through the sovereign, irresistible work of the Holy Spirit that the elect are drawn into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. In this way, the effectual call serves as the linchpin that unites God's eternal decree of predestination with the believer's experiential encounter with the gospel.
- The certainty of God's work in the believer's life is further affirmed in 1 Thessalonians 5:24: "The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it." This verse emphasizes the divine commitment to bring the work of salvation to completion in those who have been effectually called. In essence, the effectual call guarantees the believer's ultimate sanctification and glorification.
- Finally, Ephesians 4:4 articulates the unity and coherence of the effectual call within the broader framework of the Christian faith: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called." The effectual call is not an isolated aspect of God's redemptive plan; rather, it is an integral component of a comprehensive and harmonious system of doctrine that encompasses the entire scope of the believer's experience.
In conclusion, the doctrine of the effectual call is a vital component of the Reformed understanding of salvation. This call, which is rooted in God's eternal purpose and sovereign grace, ensures the regeneration, conversion, and perseverance of the elect. By examining the key biblical texts that illuminate this doctrine, we have ende