Saturday, January 14, 2017

Effectual Calling: God Entices the Elect

In Scripture, we see all sorts of experiences of salvation. Usually, there was a process, God's working in the person over a period of time, a process called "effectual calling." That was my own experience, going to churches and reading the Bible for about two years before I experienced the opening of my eyes. On the other hand, we also see the Apostle Paul, who was converted in a flash, completely unexpectedly. John the Baptist was regenerated in the womb, so he cannot be said to have had any preparation either.

However, conversion is usually a process, not an immediate enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. The Westminster Confession of Faith X:1 describes it well: "All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, 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."

It is the Holy Spirit's working through the Scriptures which is the key to true conversion.

In Scripture (Psalm 119:105, 130), we read, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple." As is their wont, the Psalm presents the truth in simple, pithy language. The Bible, the word of God, is used by the Holy Spirit to change the heart of the unbeliever, to recognize his own unworthiness and the wrath of God, and to perceive the singular beauty and worthiness of Jesus, that he may be stirred to cling to Him alone for mercy and new life.

Evangelism today has been turned into a battle of facts, with books such as "Evidence that Demands a Verdict." Such books are good for boosting the assurance of Christians and for leaving unbelievers without excuse. However, it is not the way that God promises to bless unto salvation. What is His promise? "So shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). He doesn't promise to prosper our good logic or our collection of facts. Rather, He promises to bless His word, to make it, by the power of the Holy Spirit, effectual in the conversion of sinners. Not to all sinners, because that, too, is not His promise. Rather, effectual to the sinners for whom He sent it: "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live" (Isaiah 55:1-3).

In the elect, God creates a hunger, a famine of meaning and hope in the present life, and then, through His word, reveals Himself effectually as the one and only answer to that hunger. Just as there is satisfaction nowhere except in Him, there can be no regeneration in any means outside of His word.

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