Articles from June 2020

Effectual Calling

One of the greatest summaries of our salvation is found in Romans 8:29-30, where the Apostle Paul tells us, “For those whom [God] foreknew, he also predestined….and those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” This verse summarizes the eternal plan of God designed in eternity past, the execution of that plan in time, and God’s intention to fulfill that plan in eternity future.

At the very center of this unbreakable chain is God’s plan of execution, namely a “calling.” Those whom God foreknew and subsequently predestined, He calls in time with the inevitable result that they will also be justified and glorified. Because God is omnipotent, there is nothing that can frustrate this plan. It is all His doing. Reformed theologians typically understand this act of God as being monergistic, rather than synergistic. In other words, God works alone through the Holy Spirit to bring about salvation to an individual through spiritual regeneration without the assistance of the individual. Since this is true, it makes sense to clarify this calling as an “effectual” calling. God’s calling of His elect does not fall on deaf ears. Jesus makes it clear when He said, “All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn 6:37). Jesus was certain that the ones whom the Father had given Him before time would come to Him.

Understanding the Difference
It is important to understand that while the Gospel goes out to all men and calls them to repent (Acts 17:30), not all are effectually called. Scripture is clear that there are two types of calling. There is what is known as a general call, or external call, in which the Gospel is offered to all people, even to those who do not accept it. By contrast, the effective calling of God that actually brings about a willing response from the person who hears it is internal and effectual. When God intends to accomplish His work, He effectually works in an individual, mercifully “drawing” them to Himself (Jn 6:44).

This tremendous summary in v. 29-30 reveals to us the difference between the general call and the effectual or parti

cular call. Paul is conclusive that those who are called are “also justified” and are “also glorified.” Since it is clear that the Bible doesn’t teach universalism, that is that all people are going to be saved, then this calling is limited to a particular group of people. And those people are the ones whom God foreknew and those he has predestined. So, this call is best to be understood as a summons from the King of the universe, or as one preacher said a “grabbing” or “gathering” of the sheep! When God sets forth to gather His sheep, His call is effectual because He includes empowerment guaranteeing a response. The calling of God supernaturally draws sinners out of darkness and brings them into the kingdom of God (1 Cor 1:9).

 

The Call is a Gospel Call
For sure this calling of God is a call to believe the Gospel, or the good news of God. It is a summons to believe at a minimum the facts concerning salvation, namely that 1) all people have sinned (Rom 3:23), 2) the penalty for sin is death (Rom 6:23), and 3) that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom 5:8). It is certainly not enough to simply believe these facts. The call of God is not intellectual alone, but also personally experiential. When God calls a sinner, He draws them to receive these facts personally by faith. But we should also be careful that while we believe we are “justified by faith alone” as the great reformers taught us, this call of God also includes a call to renounce sin in genuine repentance (Luke 24:47, Acts 2:37-38, 3:19, 5:31, 17:30, Rom 2:4, 2 Cor 7:10). Often times the scripture combines both faith and repentance into one event. Just like there are two sides to one coin, there are two aspects of genuine conversion. When God calls sinners, they will consecutively put their faith in Christ and turn from their sin asking Christ for forgiveness. An invitation to simply put one’s faith in Christ alone without a call to genuine repentance is not an adequate Gospel message. (Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, page 692-695)

God’s Instruments
Some wish that God would write His message of hope in the sky for all to see. But better yet, He has written his message in the Bible. And as that message is preached by His Church, God draws sinners to Himself (Rom 10:17). God’s effective calling comes through the human preaching of the Gospel. As God’s people are faithful to preach, evangelize and share the good news of Christ to sinners, God uses that message as the effectual calling of His elect. For sure, many will reject the message and general call of God. But when God’s elect hears the good news, the Gospel will come to them “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4, Acts 13:48). God supernaturally connects all of the dots in that moment and does a transforming work in their heart. He gives them life (Eph 2:4-5), opens their minds (1 Cor 2:14), gives them sight to see (2 Cor 4:4), empowers their wills (Rom 8:7), grants them repentance (2 Tim 2:24-26), and gives them the gift of faith (Eph 2:8-9) all through the wonderful work of His Holy Spirit. And of course, all of this happens in a moment. Lydia is a great example of this miraculous work. As she was listening to Paul preach, the Scripture says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized…” (Acts 16:14-15). It is clear that salvation is the Lord’s work. But His call to His people comes through the mouth and prayers of His servants, the Church.

Certainty of Salvation
The whole point of Paul’s description of salvation in Romans 8:29-30 is to give us assurance that God’s plan of salvation cannot be frustrated. The final result of God calling His people is that He guarantees them that they will be justified and also glorified. We cannot escape this glorious truth. God promises eternal life to His people! When God calls His people, His plan will come to completion. He promises that they will be preserved by His hand, and that they will persevere to the very end, ultimately never losing their salvation. It is foolish to believe that what God planned in eternity past, will somehow be frustrated and abolished. It is sad that so many have misunderstood this glorious doctrine of assurance. Jesus was clear when he stated in John 10:27-30 – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

 

The Eternal Purpose of God

One of the all-time favorite verses of Christians is 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.” This great promise provides a foundation for Christian living; namely that believers can know for certain that God loves them and is for them, and is working out every detail of life for their good, whether they can see it or not. But there is also something much deeper here that we often overlook. Paul tells us that this promise is not based on anything in us, but rather based on the fact that we have been “called according to [God’s] purpose.” In other words, God guarantees to do the believer good because of what He has purposed or planned. His benevolence toward His children is not based on whether they love Him enough, or do enough good works. His goodness toward them is based on something much greater, namely His purposes which were determined in eternity past (see Eph 1:4, 1 Cor 2:7).

What is the Purpose of God?
What is Paul referring to when he says that we have been “called according to His purpose?” What actually is “His purpose?” We don’t need to go any further than the following verses to discover that Paul expounds on the great purpose of God in Romans 8:29-30. Paul explains this purpose when he says, “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” These verses explain every part and detail of our great salvation and God’s glorious intentions in history. Here Paul gives us a complete summary of salvation from beginning to end in order to show that each step is but a part of the outworking of this eternal purpose of God. We are told that God decided, decreed and planned a way of salvation. These verses, unfold for us what God is doing, purposed and planned to do throughout history in His world (see also Eph 1:5, 9, 11, 2 Tim 1:9, 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Cor 2:6-7). These verses also reveal that it is actually God who is acting. There is not one mention of believers doing anything in these verses, but a complete description of what God did before time began, what He is doing currently in history, and what He plans to do in the future. Here is a summary of what the verses say:

  • In order that he (Jesus, his Son) might be the firstborn among many brothers.
  • Those whom God foreknew, He predestined.
  • Those whom God predestined, He also called.
  • Those whom God called, He also justified.
  • Those whom God justified, He also glorified.

That Jesus Might Have Preeminence
Let’s begin with the statement that shows up at the end of v. 29 – “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” We begin with this statement because it gives us the overarching goal of the Father in his eternal purpose. Paul tells us that all of this has been done “in order that.” In other words, there was a reason for all of the details. And that reason was that Jesus would become the firstborn among many brothers.

The term firstborn has a couple of meanings. First, it means literally the son who was born chronologically first. But second, the term also came to be known as having more significance, namely having rights and authority and rank. This idea of rank is clearly how Paul uses the phrase in Colossians 1:15, when Jesus is called the “first born of creation.” Clearly Jesus was not the first to be born in all of creation! Furthermore, He was not a created being (unlike what the Jehovah Witnesses claim). So, Paul is certainly using this phrase in this second manner. As the “first born,” Jesus has been given rights and authority that come with being the preeminent one. Jesus is the one whom God appointed to have authority over all things. In Psalm 89:27, God said “I will make [Jesus] the firstborn, the highest of the Kings of the earth” (Ps 89:27). So, Paul is revealing to us in this verse God’s overarching purpose in the plan of salvation. God had one glorious goal, namely that Jesus, His Son would be exalted, glorified and have preeminence in the universe for all time (Col 1:18). When the eternal Son of God agreed in the eternal counsel before time began (Eph 1:4, 1 Cor 2:7) to humble himself as a man, to die, and be resurrected, the Father promised to exalt Him and bring Him glory. The goal of that eternal plan was that every being on the earth, and in the heavens would bow before Jesus and declare that Him to be “Lord” (Phil 2:6-11). Furthermore, it was God’s plan, “in the fulness of time, to unite all things in him (Jesus), things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). The exaltation of His Son, was the ultimate goal of the Father.

Many Brothers
But the fulfillment of this preeminence of Christ is wrapped up in bringing many sons to glory (Heb 2:10), or Jesus being the first among “many brothers.” The question is, “What will God do in order to accomplish His eternal purpose of giving Jesus “many brothers?” We must remember that the Father had given Jesus these brothers (and sisters) from eternity past (see Jn 6:37, 39, 10:27-30, 17:3, 6, 9, 11, 24) and Jesus came to earth to save and gather them particularly (Jn 10:14-18).

When we look at what God has done in order to fulfill His eternal purpose in regard to these “brothers,” we see that God did something before time, He does something in time, and He promises to do something in the future. God is able to accomplish His eternal purpose and nothing will frustrate it. In fact, the verb tenses that Paul uses are all past tense, as though these things have already taken place. If we look at the chain of events in verses 29-30, often called the unbreakable golden chain of redemption by theologians, we can see exactly how God has fulfilled His eternal purpose. God’s purpose extended back into eternity past and is guaranteed to continue to eternity future.

Before time: Before time existed, God foreknew those He predestined. Many wrongly interpret this foreknowledge as God’s knowledge of the future actions of believers, that God looked into the future and knew that they would have faith (Arminian position) and predestined them accordingly. It is certainly true that God knows all things including actions. But the word “foreknowledge” is a word that is used many times in Scripture (Acts 2:23, Rom 11:2, 1 Peter 1:2, 20) and implies a knowledge of individuals. This text clearly refers to individuals (“whom”) not actions. And it is these individuals which God foreknew, that He also predestined. Predestined means “designated before.” This is simply a description of the destiny that God has determined and decided upon for the people whom He has foreknown (Eph 1:4-14, 1 Peter 2:9).

In time: In time, God calls these individuals and justifies them. This is His work. The calling is a grabbing of His people (1 Cor 1:2, 9, 24, 26). He grabs them and makes them His own. He calls and teaches them with an irresistible grace (Jn 6:44-45) and they inevitably come to Christ with faith. And as a result of that faith, God justifies them (Rom 3:21-26, 5:1). These individuals are no longer condemned in their sin, but God declares them righteous by faith in His Son. These are now the guiltless ones, who have been added to the family of God.

In the future: And as a result of all of this, God promises to glorify them. Just as Jesus was glorified, so believers will also be glorified (1 Cor 2:7, Rom 5:2, Col 3:4, 1 Pet 5:4, 1 Cor 15:51-57, 1 Jn 3:2) and given new bodies. They will be fully redeemed from sin and death.

God’s Purposes Will Not Fail
What God planned in eternity past, He has the power to bring to pass. Paul assumes that the eternal purpose of God will not be frustrated but fulfilled in order that the Father’s Son will indeed be truly preeminent. The exaltation of Christ and having all things fulfilled in His Son is determined by the faithfulness of God to keep His promises. If God were not able to bring many sons to glory and give Jesus “many brothers” then the whole eternal purpose of God would be in vain. But since God is omnipotent, He is able to accomplish His purposes. This eternal plan and purpose of God gives us as believers great confidence and assurance. Our hope is wrapped up in what God has promised. The “good” that God intends to work out for us, is nothing less than the promised calling, justification and glorification of His people whom He knew and predestined before the world even began!

 

Groaning for a Better Day

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been groaning a whole lot these days! The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging enough. But the injustices we have seen in Minneapolis have made my stomach turn and my heart break, not to mention the violent aftermath. Having the right worldview in such a time as this is crucial if we are to maintain peace in our own hearts, and have a positive impact on the world around us. There are some who wrongly believe that this world has the potential to reach perfection. They promote politics, medicine, education, and so much more as the answers to mankind’s greatest problems. While these programs are important and helpful, history has proven that they all fall very short of truly remedying the real problems. The hope of the United States of America in its inception was to provide a new world, a utopia, a nation that promised “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all men created equally. And now almost two hundred and fifty years later, the dream that our forefathers died for, still seems such a long way off. And we all groan for a better day!

We Groan
And the question is why? Why can’t there be a place where there are no more viruses? Why can’t there be a place where love reigns instead of hate? Why can’t there be a perfect place on this earth? It shouldn’t surprise us that the Bible has all the answers to these questions! The Apostle Paul gives us insight into why it seems impossible for this utopia to exist in the present world. He tells us in Romans 8:17-25 that there will be suffering for believers in this world and they will be hated by the world system. He further states that creation itself has been “subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (v. 20). Certainly, Paul has in mind here the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3). When Adam sinned, not only was all of mankind deeply impacted by sin, but also creation. And now because sin entered into the world, the world is broken. As a result, people often hate each other, and creation itself groans to be “set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). And thus, now for centuries, everyone and everything is groaning for a better day!

Our Only Hope
So, do we have any hope that this day will come? Paul says emphatically “Yes!” He tells us that there is a day coming that is the hope of the world. We do not see it now, but this utopia is a reality that is in the future. And this hope is not an uncertainty, but rather a certainty that promises at least two realities. First, those who are true believers in Christ, children of God, will be revealed in glory and our adoption will be completed when we receive the redemption of our bodies (v. 23). Furthermore, those who are truly God’s children by faith in Jesus will be “heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ” and enter into glory (v. 17) and will reign with Christ. We will receive an incredible inheritance that has been reserved in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4). Second, creation itself will also be “set free from its bondage to corruption.” Jesus stated that the earth would be rebirthed, or regenerated when He sits on His throne (Matt 19:28) in what is known as the millennial kingdom. When Jesus returns to the earth and sovereignly reigns with dominion, the earth will be paradise regained. The earth will not be a totally new earth, but a restored one (see also Rev 21:1, Acts 3:21, Is 65:17, 66:22). So here is the hope of the new world that is coming. At this restoration, righteousness will flourish, peace will abound, health and healing will prevail, the earth will produce food as never before, the lion will lay down in peace with the lamb, the deserts will blossom, and life will be long. And the promise of all of this comes with the return of Jesus!

What Do We Do in the Meantime?
So, what do we do while we wait in this broken world? We certainly should expect some things to get worse. The Bible promises us that nation will rise against nation (more hatred), and there will be more famines and earthquakes (creation groaning) in various places (Matt 24:6-8). And as a result, our groaning will become more intense. But the Apostle Paul gives us three exhortations in Romans 8:23-25 while we wait.

First, Paul says that we are to “wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” There is only a utopia and paradise regained for those who are truly sons of God. Better days are coming for us (1 Peter 3:10), but we must wait. Waiting is hard. But we must put our trust in the Lord and keep our eyes toward heaven waiting and listening for the trumpet to blow when we will see Jesus coming on the clouds to make everything better (1 Thess 1:10, 4:16-17, 1 Cor 15:50-58). We should have an eagerness in our hearts, and a longing for these promises. Second, we are to hope! The Bible doesn’t portray hope as wishful thinking or probability but rather a certainty based on the integrity of God’s clear promises. This hope is not yet a reality but is coming. Third, we must wait with patience. God has promised to complete His work in the world and in us (Phil 1:6). We must be patient in the meantime, again putting our trust in the Lord’s purposes and plans.

A major part of that patience is simply “being” the sons of God in this world. We understand that society will continue to have problems. But God has left Christians on the earth to be “salt and light” (Matt 5:13-16). By their very presence, Christians should infiltrate society with righteousness and expose the evils of darkness. The Sons of God should set the standard for society by obeying what God requires of everyone, namely to “act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). While society will never be perfect until Jesus comes, the Church should remember that we have an incredible obligation to be the catalyst for our culture to adopt God’s truth, righteousness, and love. The Church must never turn a blind eye to racism, hatred, or injustices. Gratitude overflows on account of those who have gone before us, who upheld these virtues and eliminated injustices toward many of the vulnerable in the past. While we groan as we see so much progress yet to be made, we are also filled with hope that a better and more perfect day is truly coming.