Effectual Calling and Conversion

by Mike Ratliff

3 “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. (John 10:3,4 NASB) 

Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter X 

Of Effectual Calling

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

As many of you know, I was born in 1951 and grew up as a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma. I never heard of the Westminster Confession of Faith until 2006 or so. That article above is entirely biblical and I had read those passages from where they were drawn, but I had never heard Christian Conversion described that way. No, what I heard continually in church services, Sunday School, Youth Groups, and Revival Services was all about us making a decision. It was all about what we did, not what God did.

I can remember vividly the encounters back in 2005-2006 after God had drawn me into the truth of Reformed Theology. I had become so at peace and full of joy because I had ceased struggling and striving and began my journey as a Pilgrim resting in the finished work of Christ. Because of this, I became content and people in the Bible Study class I was teaching and the other Deacons began coming to me for spiritual matters. I suppose God wanted me out of that church because the conflicts with radical Arminians began where it became impossible to teach, even to read passages from the Bible without being heckled. The other Deacons began ostracizing me and when it became apparent that a power play was going on to convert the church to become Purpose Driven, we left. I found it appalling at that time that no one there was interested in looking a the Biblical evidence of why the Purpose Driven Paradigm was wrong. The personal attacks I could live with, but that purposeful blindness was completely new for me.

When God saves one of his, it is the result of a process involving illumination, regeneration, and the transformation of the will. It is a sovereign work of God, “effectually” (that is, effectively) performed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This Doctrine, “Irresistible Grace,” corresponds to Paul’s use of the word “call” in the sense of “to bring to faith,” and his use of “called” to mean “converted” (Romans 1:6; 8:28, 30; 9:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9, 24, 26; 7:18, 21; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 4:1, 4; 2 Thessalonians 2:14). This is not the same calling as the general invitation, as described in Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:14). The general, external invitation can fail to be answered, but the effectual calling is a particular act of God resulting in regeneration. It cannot be refused (John 10:3, 4 see the top of this post).

Original sin means that all human beings are by nature “dead,” or unresponsive to God. Through the effectual calling, God gives life to the dead. The outward call of God to faith in Christ is communicated everywhere through reading, preaching, and explaining the gospel. In the inner, effectual call the Holy Spirit enlightens the mind and renews the heart of those God has chosen so that the gospel is accepted as the truth of God, and God in Christ becomes the object of love and affection. When once regenerated and having the will set free to choose God and the good, a sinner turns away from the former pattern of living and receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, to start a new life with him.

Harry A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher, told a story about an older Christian who was asked to give his testimony. He told how God had sought him out and found him, how God had loved him, called him, saved, delivered him, cleansed him and healed him—great witness to the grace, power, and glory of God. But after the meeting a rather legalistic Christian took him aside and criticized his testimony, as some Christians like to do. He said, “I appreciated all you said about what God did for you. But you didn’t mention anything about your part in it. Salvation is really part us and part God. You should have mentioned something about your part.” “Oh yes,” the older Christian said. “I apologize for that. I really should have said something about my part. My part was running away, and his part was running after me until he caught me.” – told by Ray C. Stedman, From Guilt to Glory, vol. 1 Hope for the Helpless (Portland, Ore.: Mulnomah, 1978), 302.

My brethren, our salvation is the monergistic work of our sovereign God.

Soli Deo Gloira!

8 thoughts on “Effectual Calling and Conversion

  1. My husband and I had a very similar experience, except we were raised in Conservative Baptist churches, and then attending “seeker churches”. We had never heard of the Doctrines of Grace. until about 6 years ago. God brought us on an amazing journey of learning that He is indeed Sovereign, and the very faith that we exercise is His gift, not our “decision”
    I pray that eyes will be opened. Most Arminian churches do not even present the other side, and only deride it if someone should bring it up.
    Thank you so much for your blog. May God richly bless you as you contend for the faith.

  2. Thank you Brother Mike for standing firm in your convictions! Even while being attacked personally by your loved ones is somewhat easy to deal with, it is absolutely amazing how much more it hurts when you witness them sheepishly follow behind false teachers. I too had an experience with being viewed as a pharisee for being discerning at my past church. My former “pastor” (who is also my uncle in law) left the C.O.G.I.C/ Charismatic movement but was still bound by poor theology concerning spiritual gifts (tongues) and the Gospel (Sinners Prayer). I would beg him time and time again while appealing to scripture about the unbiblical nature of his teachings preferrably about God’s Holiness and man’s evil nature, but in return he would criticize me by calling me unloving and presuming that i really didnt know any better. We would even go to scripture about the false signs and wonders he experienced but he still didnt believe me. The end result was him practicing unbiblical charismatic “tongues” and “healing”, while publicly (in a tounge-in-cheek way) ostracizing me. He even went so far as to call me a pharisee and say that i blasphemed the Holy Ghost during a sunday sermon! Clearly he was still charismatic…and my wife and I were out of there. Still to this day I greive at my uncles hard-heartedness, but I know that everything works for the good of those that love God. Being a 22 year old husband and (soon to be) father, it is sometimes discouraging to see people fall away from the faith. But i praise Jesus each and every day! For I am blessed by the ministry that the Lord has worked in you through Possesing the Treasure. God bless you and your family Brother Mike!

  3. Thanks for sharing that Anthony, but I do know that it must be quite painful for you. Spiritual Blindness can only be overcome with God’s Truth empowered by the Holy Spirit. When it is willful then it can also be the result of God taking his hand away and allowing the blasphemy or idolatry to continue because people will not listen to the truth. That happened when our Lord preached to the Scribes and Pharisees… Pray for God to have mercy on those people Anthony. Only he can break through that blindness. I rejoiced when I read of your coming into the light of God’s truth brother.

  4. Dear Mike,

    I too want to thank you for your take on this. I found this article both enlightening and refreshing. I have been raised in church all my life, I’m 32 now, and it has just been the last few weeks that the Holy Spirit has led me on a journey to discover the TRUTH about God’s full role in our lives. About His providence and the role His grace plays in our walk with Him from beginning to end. I didn’t realize how many preconceived doctrines I had adopted as truth absent anyone actually teaching me details about them. Most importantly the foundational ones concerning the role God’s grace plays not only in our salvation but in our continued sanctification. I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to anything I take on, it just runs in my family. When my Mom died in 2005, I hit rock bottom and in this place of utter broken-ness I found myself finally able to fully commit my life to Christ. In doing so, I didn’t realize that the same “perfectionistic” attitude I had had in all things, especially work related, I transferred into my Christian walk. I tried to do everything perfectly b/c I was “taught” that if I didn’t DO all the “do’s” and NOT DO all the “don’t’s” of being a “good Christian” that I was in disobedience, and was in effect hindering God from being ABLE to do all the things in my life He desired to do. I nearly drove myself crazy, literally, like in a mental hospital crazy, b/c I took on way too much and felt it was “my responsibility” to do “my part.” When I consistently failed, finding myself doing the things I didn’t WANT to do in my heart but was doing anyway, I felt awful, like I was the worst Christian ever and that God was disappointed in me and all of it was just a hopeless endeavor. That for whatever reason I wasn’t “good” at being a Christian like evidently others were. So, I found myself back in the world b/c at least “sinning” I knew I was good at and wasn’t under so much pressure to be perfect in ways I could not possibly achieve, b/c I had sincerely tried with all my heart and failed monumentally.

    Just these past few weeks, the Holy Spirit has begun to teach me about the deception behind “Nomism”: the reliance on the law for maintaining and progressing “right-standing” with God, of gaining God’s good pleasure and blessing. The belief that “law-obedience” restrains sin and shapes holiness, thus providing access to God’s promised blessings. That yes, we may gain initial righteousness through grace by faith but the MAINTAINING of that righteousness is guided by the law. As opposed to Legalism: which is a reliance on the law for GAINING right-standing with God.” How so many Christians today are PLAGUED by nomism with all it’s “rules of piety.” “How instead of linking: abiding, trusting, resting and depending with our believing (through grace by faith); we are given: obeying, working, resisting and enduring. Working off the assumption that, the work of the Holy Spirit within us DEPENDS for it’s continuance and perfection upon our response, our co-operation, our obedience.” (“Law of Grace” article @ lectionarystudies.com by Rev. Bryan Findlayson) That having come to believe in Christ by grace we then put ourselves right back under the law, as Paul talks about in Romans and Galatians extensively. “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect (sanctified) by flesh?” (Gal. 3:3) “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not LET YOURSELVES be BURDENED AGAIN BY THE YOKE OF SLAVERY (i.e. law-obedience).” (Gal.5:1) “It is BY GRACE you have been saved, through faith, and this (even) not of yourselves, it is the GIFT OF GOD, not by works, so that NO ONE CAN BOAST.” (Eph. 2:8,9) This is the exact phrase the Holy Spirit spoke into my spirit concerning this subject before I ever laid eyes on the articles discussing “nomism”…. “Without God I am spiritually impotent.” I began to see that it wasn’t my job to MAKE myself be obedient to Him, “[NOT IN MY OWN STRENGTH] for it is God who is all the while effectually at work in me [energizing and creating IN ME the POWER AND DESIRE], both to WILL AND TO WORK for His good pleasure, satisfaction and delight.” (Phil. 2:13 AMP). That “His GRACE is sufficient for me, for His strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) You cannot IMAGINE (well maybe you can) the avalanche of freedom and peace that overcame me when He explained this through the study of His word directly and by leading me to various articles online from other people He had also revealed this profoundly liberating truth to. That this knowledge by no means eliminates the need for holiness in the believer but it does eliminate the belief that it is up to the believer themselves to see this holiness manifested. And to see it manifested by desperately trying to obey the law. Jesus said, “Whoever LOOKS at a women to lust for her has ALREADY COMMITTED ADULTERY with her in his mind.” (Matt. 5:28) And that “…whoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of this judgment (the judgment applied to murderers in v.21).” (Matt. 5:22) Well if the “wise person” is the one who hears and does Jesus’ words, which includes not ever having angry or lustful THOUGHTS…like EVER, then can ANY of us justifiably refer to ourselves as the wise man?! I know I can’t! I’m a high-spirited, blunt, Puerto Rican woman, you don’t even want to know the angry thoughts I’ve thought towards people just for not using their turn signal! So then what was Jesus’ point? What was @ least one of His points with all the parables basically? It is my belief, that no man in himself can call himself the wise man, the faithful servant, the one with the house built on the rock, that it is only through the RIGHTEOUSNESS of CHRIST JESUS being appropriated to us, on our behalf’s, that we can ever be in “right-standing” with God having been justified, sanctified and eventually glorified. That how we build our house on the rock is by first realizing WE can never build a house of righteousness that can withstand the forces of this world and the level of God’s requirement for holiness. But by casting down our hammer and nails and knocking on the door of Christ’s house of righteousness, we can finally be at peace knowing that HIS house is built on the rock and once inside we are His responsibility, covered in His blood, justified and made holy by the Holy Spirit alive in us, made available to us through the acceptance of His sacrifice.

    In 2005, just 5 months after the death of my mother, I moved across the country and went to bible college to pursue my “life with God” b/c like I said, when I did something I did it like 157%. But within just a few short months things went from “awesome!”…(I’m finally smack in the middle of the will of God for my life! Whoo-hoo!)…to “unimaginably horrendous.” It was as if since the first day I got there someone had taken massive bricks and each day was placing one on my back never removing the ones already there, and then commanding me to walk; so by the end of a few months, I could barely move much less get out of bed. I was under so much condemnation, guilt and depression for not being able to do what I felt God wanted me to do; it had gotten to the point that I could no longer summon the strength to go to class or even church. Which of course in turn, only served to FEED the guilt and condemnation! I stopped leaving my apartment nearly altogether, feeling myself collapse into this downward spiral of which I seemed to have no control. This went on until finally the school called my father and he had to fly up to Ohio from SC to bring me home a broken, nearly catatonic, mess; to once again live with my parents at age 26. You can imagine what a success I felt like and LOOKED like for that matter. How had this happened? I was finally sold out for Christ, longed to live for Him in every way, told all my family about how much I loved Him and He me and all of us. And now I was such an embarrassment, to my physically family as well as to Him. I had made HIM look bad! And that crushed my spirit more than anything else. And yes, the devil was having a field day with me, believe me. During that time I remember thinking to God, “Your yoke is SO NOT easy and Your burden is SO NOT light Jesus! How can You even SAY THAT?! It’s IMPOSSIBLE!” For years I have struggled with this, thinking things like, that if I didn’t pray exactly right something bad could happen to my family and it would be my fault. That if I didn’t read the bible all the time that I would not be pleasing to God. That the reason my life seemed to be in such a mess was b/c I was obviously doing something wrong and God wanted to bless me b/c He loved me but what could He do?! His hands were tied b/c of my ignorance and inability. Eventually I basically stopped doing everything related to God (besides basic belief in Jesus and His word) b/c in my mind I had no balance and I knew it, I just didn’t know what to do about it. So that became my only prayer. “God please help me to understand how all of this works, how to be pleasing in Your sight, how to not hinder You, all of it.” For 7 years, especially these past 3, I have been praying that whenever it would cross my mind to do so. And despite the amount of time that was passing God enabled me to continue to truly believe He would one day show me the truth concerning what He was causing me to pray about. And then about 4 weeks ago, seemingly out of nowhere, God placed two words in my heart…”Providence and Grace”. So out of curiosity I started with just “googling” the two words and reading articles I felt looked interesting. Within a matter of days the Holy Spirit had enlightened me to the truth of God’s grace and His sovereignty. To understand that yes I am to live a life of obedience to God in Christ Jesus but that it is not my responsibility to MAKE myself obedient but it is by His grace (the operational power of the Holy Spirit) working in and through me that I am not only able to DESIRE to be obedient but that I am able to actually BE obedient! That I can’t do ANYTHING unless He gives me the power (grace) to do it. “…for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) But by His power, by being IN Him, I am able to do ALL THINGS! (Matt. 19:26). Sorry to have responded to this article in such length, truly that was not my intent and honestly I’m a little embarrassed. I guess I haven’t, until this moment, put to paper what God has done in me with this new enlightenment concerning His grace. It’s just that what you described, the peace and joy and contentment this understanding brings, is EXACTLY what I felt too! FINALLY I understood HOW His yoke was easy and His burden light! And there are so many people out there who don’t KNOW this! My hope is that between your story and mine and whoever else responds to this article, others will be brought to understand the truth of God’s grace and the freedom only it can provide. Especially to those who with all their heart desire to do the will of God but feel they are falling short and failing miserably, as I once did. To them I say, “Fret not my friend…but trust in the One “Who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask or think according to the POWER (the grace of God, His operational power) that works IN US,” (Eph. 3:20)

    Thanks again Mike! I have bookmarked this site so I look forward to reading other topics of discussion. And may God bless you and yours in every way.

    Nicole

  5. Nicole, you said, “You cannot IMAGINE (well maybe you can) the avalanche of freedom and peace that overcame me when He explained this through the study of His word…” To summarize, yes, “Nomism” is the form of Christianity from which our Lord delivered me as well. The enemy of our souls has already lost. He is defeated. He lost at the cross, but, even though we are in Christ, he keeps us confused and “nominal” by having chase our tails in that form of pietism that Paul described. We naturally fall into the sticky spider web of that trap.

    In any case, it is God who opens our understanding and as we draw near to him by seeking him through proper worship, prayer, and Bible study that he draws near to us and the Holy Spirit will transform us and as Romans 12:2 says, we will know the will of God. We don’t have to go to anyone’s high priced seminars or buy anyone’s books on Spiritual Disciplines to do this. Just read Romans 12, meditate on what Paul is saying there, ask God to make it real for you and then make your life a living sacrifice as God draws you closer to him day by day. It is through this that we are transformed through the renewing of our minds. It is God’s work from beginning to end, not ours.

    I memorized Romans 12:1-2 long ago, but it did not become real to me in what it really meant until I was drawn out of the treadmill of “Nomism” into true freedom of worshiping our Sovereign God, knowing that I was saved from beginning to end by his monergistic sovereign grace.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  6. Dear Nicole,

    Praise God for such an amazing answer to your prayers!

    I praise God also for Possessing the Treasure. It is like a pool of living water in a dry and dusty world.

    Kept only by His wonderous, sufficient Grace, charisse

  7. Oh my you dear sweet lady Nicole, I can relate to you sister.

    I (used to be) such a perfectionist because I was very artistic. It was never finished. So it carried it not only in my drawing and painting but in everything I did. Working out in the yard, at work or wherever. Well I’m also very analytical. Sometimes I over analyze just like you were saying and try and do everything just right to please the Lord-legalism??

    One day I was listening to John MacArthur and he answered someone who was over analyzing every aspect trying to figure out the next move of God etc. He said something that freed me UP-((our minds are imperfect.)) We cannot.

    The thing about me is, I know God works in me to will and to do His good pleasure”

    The most freeing verse for me was “For God works all things together for the good of those that love him”.

    God is so gracious. He’s the ultimate standard of graciousness. We are of lesser status and YET we are made to feel thoroughly valued, welcomed, and at ease–because of the righteousness of Jesus. God does that for me like no one does. Though I’m the stranger, the dirty one, the undeserving one, filthy, dirty and rotten God makes me thoroughly welcomed, at ease in his presence and loved and thoroughly VALUED –He proved that value in the price he paid to have me in Christ at the cross. That’s what keeps me coming back to the Lord.

    in spite of all I don’t understand about God and his mysterious ways, I get so frustrated and want to give up and then I get frustrated in myself and want to run from God and the most remarkable thing happens…He runs after me and won’t give up on me because it seems very important to HIM to prove to me from time to time that I matter to HIM and I am valued and loved. That’s how beautiful Jesus is.

    I was thinking just today in fact Why can GOD whose thoughts of me are like the sand covering the seashore can never forget his promises to us and yet he has forgotten my sins? All I could muse was Jesus is superlative and satisfied God the Father so efficaciously that there’s no ROOM for him to remember our sins. Jesus is the sweet smelling aroma pleasing to the Father and boy that sweet aroma just keeps filling his nostrils with such savor. Joy joy joy—-

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