Chapter 33

The Gospel Call and Effective Calling

What is the gospel message? How does it become effective?


When Paul talks about the way that God brings salvation into our lives, he says, “Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). Here Paul points to a definite order in which the blessings of salvation come to us. Although long ago, before the world was made, God “predestined” us to be his children and to be conformed to the image of his Son, Paul points to the fact that in the actual outworking of his purpose in our lives God “called” us (here in this context, God the Father is specifically in view). Then Paul immediately lists justification and glorification, showing that these come after calling. Paul indicates that there is a definite order in God’s saving purpose (though not every aspect of our salvation is mentioned here). So we will begin our discussion of the different parts of our experience of salvation with the topic of calling.

A. Effective Calling

When Paul says, “Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30), he indicates that calling is an act of God. In fact, it is specifically an act of God the Father, for he is the one who predestines people “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Other verses describe more fully what this calling is. When God calls people in this powerful way, he calls them “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9); he calls them “into the fellowship of his Son” (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. Acts 2:39) and “into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12; cf. 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3). People who have been called by God “belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6). They are called to “be saints” (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2), and have come into a realm of peace (1 Cor. 7:15; Col. 3:15), freedom (Gal. 5:13), hope (Eph. 1:18; 4:4), holiness (1 Thess. 4:7), patient endurance of suffering (1 Peter 2:20–21; 3:9), and eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12). These verses indicate that no powerless, merely human calling is in view. This calling is rather a kind of “summons” from the King of the universe and it has such power that it brings about the response that it asks for in people’s hearts. It is an act of God that guarantees a response, because Paul specifies in Romans 8:30 that all who were “called” were also “justified.”1 This calling has the capacity to draw us out of the kingdom of darkness and bring us into God’s kingdom so we can join in full fellowship with him: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).2

This powerful act of God is often referred to as effective calling to distinguish it from the general gospel invitation that goes to all people and which some people reject. This is not to say that human gospel proclamation is not involved. In fact, God’s effective calling comes through the human preaching of the gospel, because Paul says, “To this he called you through our gospel so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). Of course, there are many who hear the general call of the gospel message and do not respond. But in some cases the gospel call is made so effective by the working of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts that they do respond; we can say that they have received “effective calling.”3

We may define effective calling as follows: Effective calling is an act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith. It is important that we not give the impression that people will be saved by the power of this call apart from their own willing response to the gospel (see chapter 35 on the personal faith and repentance that are necessary for conversion). Although it is true that effective calling awakens and brings forth a response from us, we must always insist that this response still has to be a voluntary, willing response in which the individual person puts his or her trust in Christ.

This is why prayer is so important to effective evangelism. Unless God works in peoples’ hearts to make the proclamation of the gospel effective, there will be no genuine saving response. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

An example of the gospel call working effectively is seen in Paul’s first visit to Philippi. When Lydia heard the gospel message, “The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). In distinction from effective calling, which is entirely an act of God, we may talk about the gospel call in general which comes through human speech. This gospel call is offered to all people, even those who do not accept it. Sometimes this gospel call is referred to as external calling or general calling. By contrast, the effective calling of God that actually brings about a willing response from the person who hears it is sometimes called internal calling. The gospel call is general and external and often rejected, while the effective call is particular, internal, and always effective. However, this is not to diminish the importance of the gospel call—it is the means God has appointed through which effective calling will come. Without the gospel call, no one could respond and be saved! “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom. 10:14). Therefore it is important to understand exactly what the gospel call is.

B. The Elements of the Gospel Call

In human preaching of the gospel, three important elements must be included.

1. Explanation of the Facts Concerning Salvation. Anyone who comes to Christ for salvation must have at least a basic understanding of who Christ is and how he meets our needs for salvation. Therefore an explanation of the facts concerning salvation must include at least the following:

1. All people have sinned (Rom. 3:23).

2. The penalty for our sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

3. Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:8).

But understanding those facts and even agreeing that they are true is not enough for a person to be saved. There must also be an invitation for a personal response on the part of the individual who will repent of his or her sins and trust personally in Christ.

2. Invitation to Respond to Christ Personally in Repentance and Faith. When the New Testament talks about people coming to salvation it speaks in terms of a personal response to an invitation from Christ himself. That invitation is beautifully expressed, for example, in the words of Jesus:

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for y our souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28–30 NIV)

It is important to make clear that these are not just words spoken a long time ago by a religious leader in the past. Every non-Christian hearing these words should be encouraged to think of them as words that Jesus Christ is even now at this very moment speaking to him or to her individually. Jesus Christ is a Savior who is now alive in heaven, and each non-Christian should think of Jesus as speaking directly to him or her, saying, “Come to me... and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). This is a genuine personal invitation that seeks a personal response from each one who hears it.

John also talks about the need for personal response when he says, “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:11–12). In emphasizing the need to “receive” Christ, John, too, points to the necessity of an individual response. To those inside a lukewarm church who do not realize their spiritual blindness the Lord Jesus again issues an invitation that calls for personal response: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

Finally, just five verses from the end of the entire Bible, there is another invitation from the Holy Spirit and the church to come to Christ: “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.’ And let him who hears say, “Come.’ And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). But what is involved in coming to Christ? Although this will be explained more fully in chapter 35, it is sufficient to note here that if we come to Christ and trust him to save us from our sin, we cannot any longer cling to sin but must willingly renounce it in genuine repentance. In some cases in Scripture both repentance and faith are mentioned together when referring to someone’s initial conversion (Paul said that he spent his time “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” Acts 20:21). But at other times only repentance of sins is named and saving faith is assumed as an accompanying factor (“that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations” [Luke 24:47; cf. Acts 2:37–38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10; et al.]). Therefore, any genuine gospel proclamation must include an invitation to make a conscious decision to forsake one’s sins and come to Christ in faith, asking Christ for forgiveness of sins.

If either the need to repent of sins or the need to trust in Christ for forgiveness is neglected, there is not a full and true proclamation of the gospel.4
But what is promised for those who come to Christ? This is the third element of the gospel call.

3. A Promise of Forgiveness and Eternal Life. Although the words of personal invitation spoken by Christ do have promises of rest, and power to become children of God, and partaking of the water of life, it is helpful to make explicit just what Christ promises to those who come to him in repentance and faith. The primary thing that is promised in the gospel message is the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And in Peter’s preaching of the gospel he says, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19; cf. 2:38).

Coupled with the promise of forgiveness and eternal life should be an assurance that Christ will accept all who come to him in sincere repentance and faith seeking salvation: “Him who comes to me I will not cast out” (John 6:37).

C. The Importance of the Gospel Call

The doctrine of the gospel call is important, because if there were no gospel call we could not be saved. “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom. 10:14).

The gospel call is important also because through it God addresses us in the fullness of our humanity. He does not save us “automatically” without seeking for a response from us as whole persons. Rather, he addresses the gospel call to our intellects, our emotions, and our wills. He speaks to our intellects by explaining the facts of salvation in his Word. He speaks to our emotions by issuing a heartfelt personal invitation to respond. He speaks to our wills by asking us to hear his invitation and respond willingly in repentance and faith—to decide to turn from our sins and receive Christ as Savior and rest our hearts in him for salvation.


1. Can you remember the first time you heard the gospel and responded to it? Can you describe what it felt like in your heart? Do you think the Holy Spirit was working to make that gospel call effective in your life? Did you resist it at the time?

2. In your explanation of the gospel call to other people, have some elements been missing? If so, what difference would it make if you added those elements to your explanation of the gospel? Do you think those elements are important to add? What is the one thing most needed to make your proclamation of the gospel more effective?

3. Before reading this chapter, had you thought of Jesus in heaven speaking the words of the gospel invitation personally to people even today? If non-Christians do begin to think of Jesus speaking to them in this way, how do you think it will affect their response to the gospel?

4. Do you understand the elements of the gospel call clearly enough to present them to others? Could you easily turn in the Bible to find four or five appropriate verses that would explain the gospel call clearly to people? (Memorizing the elements of the gospel call and the verses that explain it should be one of the first disciplines of anyone’s Christian life.)


effective calling
external calling
gospel call
internal calling


Excerpt from Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology