The Order of Salvation: Effectual Calling
Of all the particular doctrines which fall within the realm of the ordo salutis of salvation, perhaps none are less understood than the doctrine of effectual calling. This seems ironic since the doctrine is referenced many times in the New Testament alone. Because of its common usage then, this doctrine should be one which every believer is not only familiarized with but understood and embraced. Yet before we delve into the importance, we must understand precisely what it means. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LCF) states the following in Chapter 10 on Effectual Calling:
Those whom God hath predestined unto life, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted 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.[i]
Perhaps more succinctly, John Murray in his preeminent book on the ordo salutis, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, states, “If we are to understand the strength of this word [call]…we must use the word ‘summons.’ The action by which God makes his people the partakers of redemption is that of summons. And since it is God’s summons it is efficacious summons.”[ii] Acknowledging that we don’t often associate a summons with the power to force compliance with that summons, he elaborates. “It is wholly otherwise with God’s summons. The summons is invested with the efficacy by which we are delivered to the destination intended – we are effectively ushered into the fellowship of Christ. There is something determinate about God’s call; by his sovereign power and grace it cannot fail of accomplishment. God calls the things that be not as though they were (cf. Rom. 4:17).”[iii] Thus “Effectual Calling” is the action of God by which sinners are brought by the work of the Holy Spirit to understand the truth of the Gospel and its demands upon their lives of repentance of sin and faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
The placement within the ordo salutis then falls naturally out of this definition. It falls after God’s predestinating work yet prior to a believer’s repentance and faith. Murray places effectual calling prior to regeneration as well, though he admits that the order of these two isn’t pivotal to one’s understanding of the ordo.[iv] It makes most natural sense to place the effectual call at the moment when the sinner receives the good news of the Gospel savingly, though not necessarily the first hearing of it. Upon hearing the truth, the Spirit draws the sinner to repentance and faith.
Perhaps more important in the biblical narrative than the definition of effectual calling is its emphasis on the implications of this doctrine. After expounding the wonders of God’s saving work in the church in the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul says this in Eph. 4:1-6, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” His use of ‘calling’ here is definitively a reference to God’s effectual call. The command then is to walk in a manner worthy of that call, explained immediately as the way in which we treat one another. For Paul, the calling of God bears itself out most plainly in the way we treat other believers who have received that same calling. In the context of Ephesians, Paul arguing for the unity of both Jews and Gentiles within the church, this becomes even more powerful. Within the church, God has brought together through His effectual calling peoples who were once enemies but are now one in Christ. The call of God is humbling when one realizes that God summons to Himself those who were once His enemies, a humility which shows itself by our being reconciled to others who the world sees as our enemies.
The second implication of this doctrine comes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Knowledge of God’s effectual calling should not only bring Christian love but also Christian comfort. God’s purposes are to bring sinners to be reconciled to Himself by the blood of His Son, and if He has gone to such great measures to secure our salvation, how much more will He bring about things for our good. In the midst of trial and tribulation, the great comfort of the Christian comes in knowing that God has not left us alone but has purposed history for our good. Christians need not wander around in this world wondering whether things will work out for us in the end. God has promised that it will, though of course He never promises that we will always like the route. The good may come by death itself. But the One Who calls is faithful to complete His work. In those moments of hurt and pain, may we always remember that He Who called us to Himself will complete the work begun.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.
[i] The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677 Edition with Appendices), With Proof Texts. Particular Baptist Heritage Books; Knightstown, IN, 2022. 80.
[ii] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Erdmans; Grand Rapids, MI, 2015. 94.
[iii] Ibid, 94.
[iv] Ibid, 97.