The effectual calling / call – What is it?

The effectual call is God's drawing of a sinner to salvation. The term effectual call comes from Chapter X of the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith. This call conquers the sinner's desire to rebel, and the sinner is led to put his or her faith in Christ with a willing heart. The effectual call is described many times in Scripture. Paul mentions it in Philippians 2:13, saying, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." The effectual call is necessary to our faith walk. Jesus speaks of its importance in John 6:44 when He says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. ...."

God's will must be impressed on the natural state of humanity for people to react to God's message of love and hope. Paul speaks of this in 2 Timothy 2:24–26. He writes that "the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will." God is the one who grants repentance that leads to knowing the truth. Peter also clarifies this phenomenon when he says that God "called us to his own glory and excellence" (2 Peter 1:3). The word "called" in this verse is the Greek word kaleo. Kaleo is the expression of God calling sinners. In this passage, kaleo is used in participial form, which means that God is the subject and God is impressing the effectual call onto sinners. This leads them to salvation. Rather than being invited to God, the word kaleo is a much stronger action. The correct understanding is that God is calling or drawing someone to Him rather than simply inviting someone to Him.

"Irresistible grace" is another way of understanding the effectual calling. Humankind, without God, is "dead in the trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1), and people cannot reach out to God or understand the gospel message. God provides the calling and the knowledge for humans to respond to Him. The related doctrine of total depravity is described in Romans 3:10–11: "as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.'" The doctrine of total depravity shows that no one can reach God without God first calling on them.

The general call of the gospel that everyone has the capability of hearing is different from the effectual call that leads to salvation. Jesus stated, "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). In this verse Jesus is saying that few have experienced the effectual call, although many have heard the gospel message. Romans 1:6 also teaches the effectual call when Paul writes to those "who are called to belong to Jesus Christ." Acts 16:14 alludes to the effectual call when Luke describes Lydia's heart being opened by the Lord so she could respond to Paul's message. These examples show that God's calling is a definitive action toward those He saves. He chose His children in Christ, "… before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him …" (Ephesians 1:4).

No one can turn to God without God first impressing Himself on them. Everyone is capable of hearing the gospel (John 3:16), but because of humanity's sinful nature no one turns to God apart from His effectual call.


Related Truth:

How are people drawn to salvation? What does it mean for God to draw us to Himself?

Sovereign grace – What is it? What is irresistible grace?

Common grace – What is it?

Prevenient grace – What is it?

What is the doctrine of predestination?


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