How I Became Convinced of the Effectual Call

I grew up with a semi-Calvinistic understanding of salvation. I knew that people were dead in sins and that dead people don’t do anything. But I did not understand much of how salvation actually worked.

When I first heard someone teach on the effectual call (also poorly described as irresistible grace) I balked at it. It didn’t seem to match up with my conception of salvation and my experience of life. When the gospel was preached, it seemed that the Spirit was working generally in people’s hearts, and they either responded to that work or rejected it. But that was all that was happening.

While in graduate school, I took a class on Romans. When studying through Romans 8—specifically verses 28–30—I became convinced that the effectual call was a biblical teaching.

After dealing primarily with justification in chapters 1–4 of Romans, Paul moves on to discuss the hope of the believer in chapters 5-8. He assures the believers in Rome that they no longer have to face God’s wrath. However, they will still face difficulty in this life. In the familiar teaching in Romans 8:28, Paul assures them that God is working in all the tribulations that they face (and every other part of their life) for their good. He is working His purpose out in their lives.

But how can the Roman Christians know that God is working things out for their good? To assure them, Paul gives a list of five verbs showing the certainty of their salvation in Romans 8:29–30. (Note: It is important to keep in mind that Paul is not providing a full teaching of soteriology here but is offering teaching to support his argument that God is working out His purpose in the lives of believers.)

The first verb in the chain is “foreknow.” This is probably the most controversial verb in the passage. The basic and most common meaning deals with prescience—knowledge of the future. If that is the meaning here, Paul would simply be stating that God knows people beforehand. Since it is obvious that God knows people beforehand (every person ever born), those who argue that the word only means prescience typically state that there is something specific about the believer that God knows. Often they supply an object such as “God knew who would repent” or “God knew who would believe.” God’s election then is based on His previous knowledge of who would choose Him. This understanding has some difficulties. The objects of God’s knowledge are the persons themselves, not something about them (i.e., not “what He did foreknow about the person” but “whom He did foreknow.”) This view also contradicts Pauline thinking. God’s choosing of believers is not based on their actions (their decision to repent and believe), but on God’s mercy and grace (e.g.,Rom 9:11–16.)

Although the most common meaning of “foreknow” in Greek literature speaks of prescience, it is more often used in the New Testament to indicate a previous relationship or choice (Rom 11:2; 1 Pet 1:20; Acts 2:23; 1 Pet 1:2). This follows the Old Testament usage of “know,” which was more influential in Paul’s thinking than Greek usage. The term speaks of a special affection or selection (Ps 1:6, 144:3; Hos 13:5; Amos 3:2). Paul does not say that God foreknows everyone in this passage, but only believers. He obviously does know every person beforehand, but He only enters into a relationship and sets His love upon believers (cf. Matt 7:23).

The second verb of the chain is “predestined.” Paul places more emphasis on this verb than any of the others. He temporarily leaves the list of verbs to discuss predestination at more length. After God has set his affection on His people, He then determines their end. The end of believers is conformity to Christ’s image. Ultimately this is speaking of the final redemption, when the believer is given a new body like Christ’s. However, that does not preclude a reference to the present life. God is even now working in believers to make them more like His Son. He uses the trials that they face to help them grow in conformity to Christ.

Paul resumes his chain of verbs with “called” in verse 30. This is the point when God’s eternal choice becomes a historical reality. This call is not the universal call of the gospel offered to all men—the only kind of call I used to consider. Rather, it is an effectual call that guarantees salvation. Why? Because all of those called are also justified. Paul’s point in providing these verbs is to show that every individual believer goes all the way to glorification. If someone can be called but reject that call (and thus not be justified), Paul’s argument falls flat. Thus, there is a call from God that will certainly issue in justification. In other words, there is a call that is effective in bringing people to salvation. (That does not mean that man has no responsibility. Again, Paul is not giving a complete teaching on salvation. Rather he is showing the surety of God’s accomplishing His purpose.)

As was already mentioned, the ones “called” are next “justified.” Paul dealt with this topic at length earlier in the epistle. In salvation God declares the sinner to be just because of the righteousness of Christ. He now regards the believer as righteous.

In the final link of the chain, the believer is “glorified.” It is intriguing that Paul views this as already complete, although elsewhere it is clear that glorification is a future act. The certainty of this glorification is so great that Paul can state it as if it were already done. This fits well in his argument: if God’s purpose will surely be accomplished—including his purpose in calling—glorification is as good as done.

Ben Edwards bio


Ben Edwards is the Executive Pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church, where he has served since 2008. Ben is also the Director of Urban Ministry for ICBC, leading the evangelistic and discipleship efforts of the campus ministry team at Wayne State University and coordinating outreach into the Detroit Midtown area. Ben received his MA from Northland International University, his MDiv from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and is engaged in PhD work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville).

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ScottS's picture

First let me state that I do believe at some point in one hearing the gospel message that the "call" becomes "effectual" through the Spirit revealing the truth to the unbeliever. However, I do find some issues with the argument of "effectual call" using the Romans 8 passage as Ben has outlined here (which is similar to how I have seen it outlined elsewhere).

The first major issue is forgetting who the target audience is. I agree with Ben's judicious use of many references that God is speaking to "believers" in Romans 8, to "those who love God" (v.28). This is the group God is addressing as the subject of the verses 28-30.

Their faith and love for God is precisely what defines the group God is discussing. God "foreknew" this group, and yes, He is "fore-related" (if one wishes to so define it) to this group that is defined by their common faith. This by His choice and as Ben states by "God’s mercy and grace" believers have been chosen to receive what follows in v.29-30. It is the "whom" (plural, οὓς) that is foreknown--the group contemplated as such a collection of individuals defined by their faith and love that He has so chosen to relate to.

So believers are...

  • Foreknown (fore-related) to God (God's chosen relation)
  • Predestined to be conformed to Christ (God's end plan for the group)
  • Certainly called (they could not have believed otherwise; Rom 10:14)
  • Certainly justified (through that faith they have; Rom 4:5)
  • Certainly glorified (because they are part of the group God had the end plan for)

So it is not simply that "Because all of those called are also justified," or even true that "If someone can be called but reject that call (and thus not be justified), Paul’s argument falls flat." This is because it is "all of those called [who became believers, remember the subject audience] are also justified," and those who "reject" the call never join the "believers" that are the subject of who is guaranteed justification and glorification.

So I still see the "call" of v.28 and v.30 as being the general call, one that is responded to by some unbelievers to become believers, but can be rejected with one remaining in unbelief, in which case the promises to the group addressed here (believers) do not apply. This call is so that God's purpose to bless believers is fulfilled as He does work through His Spirit to effectually draw unbelievers to Him by hearing of the truth, in order to join them into the group of the believers.

Just my take on Romans 8:28-30.

 

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Larry's picture

Moderator

Scott,

You would not say that those who are called in Rom 8:30 are justified and then glorified?

ScottS's picture

I would say that "those who are called" in the context of Rom 8:30 are the believers being addressed in the passage, "those who love God," (v.28), and that yes, all believers "are justified and then glorified." Believers are being contemplated in the passage as the subject, and God is outlining the steps in place to bring them to glory (to assure them, as Ben argues is part of the point of ch. 5-8).

As I noted in my answer, the passage is wholly focused on a discussion from the context of those who have become believers. The fallacy is in extrapolating from that context that the "call" noted there only goes to those who would believe (i.e. an effectual call). The passage only asserts that those who have become believers, God has fore-known/related to, predestined to conformity, called, justified, and glorified. Rom 8:28-30 is not contemplating the plans and path of those who do not believe, who did not heed the call (if they even had a call presented to them--not all do; such a call is only guaranteed as having occurred to those who come to believe).

I hope that clarifies for you my argument. Everyone who is ever called is not justified and glorified, but everyone who becomes a believer (which are the subjects of Rom 8:30) has experienced a call and is justified and glorified. Hence why I can agree with you that "those who are called in Rom 8:30 are justified and then glorified."

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

J. Baillet's picture

ScottS wrote:

The fallacy is in extrapolating from that context that the "call" noted there only goes to those who would believe (i.e. an effectual call). The passage only asserts that those who have become believers, God has fore-known/related to, predestined to conformity, called, justified, and glorified. Rom 8:28-30 is not contemplating the plans and path of those who do not believe, who did not heed the call (if they even had a call presented to them--not all do; such a call is only guaranteed as having occurred to those who come to believe).

I hope that clarifies for you my argument. Everyone who is ever called is not justified and glorified, but everyone who becomes a believer (which are the subjects of Rom 8:30) has experienced a call and is justified and glorified. Hence why I can agree with you that "those who are called in Rom 8:30 are justified and then glorified."

It is not a fallacy to say that Romans 8:30 only presents evidence that those called are the elect, the predestined ones.  Your argument is that this text does not address others, and therefore, it is possible that the call may be broader.  It may be possible, but you would have to prove your case from other passages.  Moreover, Paul's usage of the word "call" in Romans is limited to the elect.  The elect seed Isaac and Jacob, for example.

Rom 4:16  That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 
Rom 4:17  as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 
Rom 4:18  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." 
Rom 4:19  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb

(ESV)(boldface added).

Rom 9:6  But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 
Rom 9:7  and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named."Rom 9:8  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 
Rom 9:9  For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." 
Rom 9:10  And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 
Rom 9:11  though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls

(ESV)(boldface added).  God miraculously and unilaterally calling a people into existence.

Rom 9:22  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 
Rom 9:23  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
Rom 9:24  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 
Rom 9:25  As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'" 
Rom 9:26  "And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God.'" 

I would suggest that Paul's usage of the word "call" in Romans bespeaks of a creative speaking into existence of a race in the Second Adam.

 

 

JSB

JohnBrian's picture

ScottS wrote:
Everyone who is ever called is not justified and glorified

from Got Questions

Jesus said, “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). In this statement, Jesus distinguishes between the general call that everyone receives by hearing the gospel and the effectual call that leads to salvation.

When the Gospel is preached, all who hear it are called, but the unregenerate reject the Gospel because that is their nature.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8

When God grants repentance and faith to the elect via regeneration - replacing their stony heart with a fleshly heart - these gifts are expressed in belief, culminating in salvation.

James P Boyce referred to the general call as an external call:

5. The offer of the gospel thus referred to is denominated the External Call.

It is made to man through the senses, and consists in a declaration of the nature of salvation and an offer of it upon the conditions of faith and repentance.

Spurgeon used "the case of Zaccheus as a great illustration of the doctrine of effectual calling."

p.s. I have been listening to the G3 sermons and I highly recommend Paul Washer's message on the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. It is #6 in the series and both audio and video are available.

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J. Baillet's picture

JohnBrian wrote:

 

ScottS wrote:

Everyone who is ever called is not justified and glorified

 

from Got Questions

Jesus said, “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). In this statement, Jesus distinguishes between the general call that everyone receives by hearing the gospel and the effectual call that leads to salvation.

When the Gospel is preached, all who hear it are called, but the unregenerate reject the Gospel because that is their nature.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8

When God grants repentance and faith to the elect via regeneration - replacing their stony heart with a fleshly heart - these gifts are expressed in belief, culminating in salvation.

James P Boyce referred to the general call as an external call:

5. The offer of the gospel thus referred to is denominated the External Call.

It is made to man through the senses, and consists in a declaration of the nature of salvation and an offer of it upon the conditions of faith and repentance.

Spurgeon used "the case of Zaccheus as a great illustration of the doctrine of effectual calling."

John, well stated.

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 68  "Are the elect only effectually called?

A.  All the elect, and they only, are effectually called although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit ..."

(Boldface added).  Proof texts include the Matthew 22:14 passage you quote.

JSB

Larry's picture

Moderator

Thanks Scott. I guess the biggest issue it seems to me is that your explanation doesn't account for the fact that the calling precedes the believing, no matter who is being addressed. They are called while unbelievers. And in the passage, there are no called who are not also justified, meaning believers. So to say that "called" only refers to the saved is a tautology in the passage.

The problem for you is that the passage gives no apparent space for people who are called but not justified. You need the passage to say something like "some of the called are justified." But it doesn't say that. The passage traces an unbroken line from beginning to end, and there is no escape from that progression in the passage. Any escape from it (such as someone called but not justified) cannot be gained from this passage.

That there is a general call which goes to all people is largely undisputed. But this passage seems to draw a line from beginning to end that is inclusive of all who are considered.
 

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