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. 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!

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