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Doctrines of Grace - Effectual Calling

This doctrine has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. While the salvation of God's elect had been secured and purchased by the blood of Christ it was necessary for this salvation to be applied to them, so that they might come into personal possession of that salvation. Bringing the elect to a reception of those blessings in Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit.


The historical definition of effectual calling is given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism as follows:

"Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit whereby convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ and renewing our wills, He persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel."

The general call and the effectual call

Scripture distinguishes between what has been termed the "general" or "universal" call of the gospel and the "effectual" call.

The general call of the gospel can be rejected and indeed is rejected by men and women because of their sinful state. This call is seen in verses such as Isaiah 45:22; Matthew 11:28; Isaiah 55:1. This call is genuine and real and is to be issued by God's servants to all mankind. However, the response to this call is illustrated in the parable of Matthew 22:1-6.

But there is in Scripture an effectual call: that is a call which not only invites and summons but which also carries with it the power to ensure the desired response. The effectual call not only invites sinners to salvation but actually brings them to it. In this call the Holy Spirit makes the general call effectual; it comes through the gospel message to the elect of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Compare 1 Thessalonians 1:4,5.

It is the effectual call to which the Bible refers most often when it speaks of "call", "called", and "calling". Compare Romans 8:28-30; 1 Corinthians 1:23-27; Hebrews 9:15.

The Bible uses the word "called" to describe Christians. Compare Romans 1:6,7; 1 Corinthians 1:9, Jude 1.

The effectual call is the result of God's purpose. The "purpose" of Romans 8:28 is obviously God's purpose of election referred to in Romans 9:11. The Bible says that God's purposes will most certainly come to pass. Compare Daniel 4:35; Isaiah 46:10,11; Job 23:13,14.

To speak of God "trying" to convert people; the Holy Spirit vainly struggling to achieve a goal he longs for but being frustrated and defeated by the unwillingness of men is to present a pathetic and pitiable God unknown in the Bible.

The Bible clearly teaches that all those given to Christ in the will and purpose of the Father will be brought to Him in salvation. Compare John 6:37,39; 17:2; Hebrews 2:13. The Holy Spirit works in accordance with the purpose of the Father and the purchase of the son in applying salvation to His people.

The faith by which the sinner is joined to Christ and justified before God,
is God's gift to the sinner and is inwrought by the grace of the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:8,9; Acts 18:27; Philippians 1:29.

Note that the same thing is also said about repentance - Acts 11:18; 5:31; 2 Timothy 2:25. This does not mean that God repents and believes for the sinner. The sinner is the one who must repent and believe; but it simply explains to us that the sinner does this "through grace". The Spirit of God operating within that sinner enables him and gives him the ability to repent and believe (He persuades and enables us...see definition). This is part of the work of effectual calling.

In effectual calling the Holy Spirit reverses the terrible effects of the Fall.

1. He enlightens the mind                      2 Corinthians 4:6
2. He re-orders the affections                Deuteronomy 30:6
3. He liberates the will                           Psalms 110:3

In doing these things and giving the grace of repentance and faith, the Holy Spirit brings the sinner to a willing and joyful acceptance of Christ. The Holy Spirit does not deal with sinners as robots but as human beings. His work in them is always in harmony with their human "make up". He does not force and coerce; He causes them to be willing. This calling of the Spirit is a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9)

1. It is a calling unto holiness                                  1 Thessalonians 4:7
2. It is a calling out of darkness into light               1 Peter 2:9
3. It is a calling to be saints                                     Romans 1:7
4. It is a calling into the fellowship of Christ          1 Corinthians 1:9
5. It is a calling to follow Christ's example             1 Peter 1:21