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Theology 101 (Lesson 8)
What is effectual calling? | 1 Corinthians 1:9
“God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
—1 Corinthians 1:9
The biblical doctrine of effectual calling teaches that God's call to salvation is not just an external invitation, but an inward and irresistible drawing of the Holy Spirit.
In John 11, we read that Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, had died and was buried in a tomb. Jesus arrived four days later and instructed the people to roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb. Then, he called out, "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11:43)
At the sound of Jesus' voice, Lazarus was raised from the dead and came out of the tomb, still wrapped in his grave clothes. This miraculous event shows that Jesus has power over death and the ability to call people back to life.
In terms of the doctrine of effectual calling, we can see that Lazarus was not able to respond to Jesus' call on his own. He was physically dead and unable to hear or respond to any external stimuli. However, Jesus' call was not just an external invitation but an inward and irresistible drawing of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus called out to Lazarus, the Holy Spirit brough him back to life, giving him the ability to respond to Jesus’ call.
In the same way, when God calls someone to salvation, it is not just an external invitation but an inward and irresistible drawing of the Holy Spirit. The person who is called is unable to respond on their own, but the Holy Spirit gives them the ability to hear and respond to God's call. Just as Lazarus was raised from the dead by the power of Jesus' call, so too are we raised from spiritual death to new life by the power of God's effectual call.
Other passages in the Bible confirm the doctrine of effectual calling.
Romans 8:28-30 affirms that God works all things for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.
In 1 Corinthians 1:9, Paul encourages the believers that “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Furthermore, Jesus himself declares in John 6:44 that "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."
Biblical narratives also provide examples of effectual calling in action. The calling of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) demonstrates how God initiates the relationship with His chosen people, while the dramatic conversion of the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19) illustrates God's power to transform even the most hardened hearts.
Effectual calling is distinct from general calling.
Both concepts are important for understanding the broader doctrine of divine calling, but they serve different purposes and have different outcomes.
Also known as the external or outward call, general calling refers to the universal proclamation of the gospel to all people, regardless of their spiritual condition. This call is extended through the preaching of the Word, the witness of believers, and the work of the Holy Spirit. General calling invites everyone to repent, believe in Jesus Christ, and receive the gift of salvation (Matthew 22:14, Acts 17:30). However, not all who hear the general call respond positively, as some may choose to reject the message and continue in their unbelief (Matthew 13:1-23).
In contrast to the general call, effectual calling, also known as the internal or inward call, refers to the specific and irresistible work of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of God's elect. This call is not extended to everyone but only to those whom God has chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5, Romans 8:30). Effectual calling involves the Holy Spirit's work in regeneration, conviction of sin, and the gift of faith and repentance, which ultimately leads to the believer's justification and adoption into God's family (John 6:44, 2 Timothy 1:9).
Essentially, the effectual call is the effective call. When something is effective, it works. In this case, when someone wants someone to respond to the preaching of the gospel with faith, he makes sure it happens.
The Process of Effectual Calling
The Westminster Shorter Catechism describes effectual calling in Question 31, asking, “What is effectual calling?”
Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
What a concise but loaded statement! Here we see that the effectual call is the work of the Spirit, who convicts us of our spiritual need by “enlightening” and “renewing” and “persuading” and “enabling” the sinner to embrace Jesus by faith.
The Result and Purpose of Effectual Calling
The result of effectual calling is to bring about spiritual transformation in the life of the believer, leading to justification, adoption, and sanctification. Moreover, the doctrine provides assurance of salvation by emphasizing the perseverance of the saints (Philippians 1:6) and eternal security in Christ (John 10:28-29).
This assurance stems from the understanding that those who are genuinely called by God will remain in the faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit to persevere in faith through trials (Romans 8:38-39).
The ultimate purpose of effectual calling culminates in the believer's glorification and eternal union with Christ (Romans 8:30). This transformative grace reveals the depth of God's desire for us to live as his fully forgiven, perfectly accepted, eternally beloved children.
What is the difference between general calling and effectual calling?
Why do we say effectual calling is grace?
How might some people struggle with the doctrine of effectual calling?
What role does the Holy Spirit play in effectual calling?
How is the cross a central part of effectual calling (see John 3:14-15)?
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gift of effectual calling, through which you have drawn us to yourself and saved us by your grace. May we never take for granted the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and may we share the gospel boldly, trusting that you will use our witness to draw others to you.
We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Savior and Lord. Amen.