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)
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.”