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Catechism Class: LD7,Q20, The Effectual Call?


The Effectual Call?

LORD’S DAY 7 Q20. Read Romans 8:29-32

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

Romans 8:29-32

In reformed circles we speak about God’s ‘irresistible grace’ or ‘the effectual call’ of God upon the life of the sinner.     Since salvation is all of the Lord, it is God’s prerogative to save whom he will, and since he has chosen his own people from before the foundation of the world, those whom he calls to him will surely come.  Jesus said, John 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. And John 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.  But what about those scripture verses that teach us that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world?  Even the mention of the doctrine of Irresistible Grace sends some evangelicals into apoplexy! So, in this lesson, we’re going to consider three common misunderstandings, which the catechism will help us to get some clarity on. UNIVERSALISM, the idea that Christ’s death is for all, so all humanity must already be saved.  DECISIONAL REGENERATION, where the call of God can be rendered ineffective by human indecision. SEMI-PELAGIANISM, where God has gone most of the way for us to be saved, but there is still something we must do. 

Image by waldryano from Pixabay

Listen to this lesson as a PODCAST.

Let’s explore some of the issues…

1. Universalism.  

Can an atheist, without any faith or belief, die and go to heaven? Since all men and women, boys and girls have inherited Adam’s sinful nature, and are under just condemnation because of their sins, are then, we all saved, since Jesus has died and risen again?  Are we not all the recipients of Christ’s saving work.  There are certainly some who think so. We call them, UNIVERSALISTS. People who think that Christ’s death saves even those who are of different religions or none, that Moslems, Hindus, and so on are going to be in heaven, because Christ died for all men, even atheists can be in heaven!  Our instructor in the Heidelberg Catechism deals with this very question. He asks, in Lord’s Day 7, Q20, ‘Are all men, then, saved by Christ as they have perished in Adam?’ The answer we must give is ‘No, only those who by true faith are ingrafted into Him and receive all His benefits.’  John 1:12   John 3:16  

2. Decisional Regeneration. But doesn’t our salvation depend upon our decision?  Surely we are taught in Genesis 6:3, that God’s spirit will not always strive with a man, and that if we don’t respond, God could stop calling us and we will never be saved.  This is of course completely alien to the Biblical teaching that God has chosen and redeemed his people, and ‘who can resist his will’ –  for example in Romans 9:19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

However, when you read that line in context, (actually when you just read the whole verse!) you will find that it teaches nothing of the sort.  The verse is given in the context of God’s judgement upon ALL mankind, not a single sinner.  See the last part of the verse, where God restricts the length of time a man can live on this earth to 120 years (then). You can see the difference this makes.  God is not going to tolerate the sin of MANKIND for ever, he is going to judge them for their sins.  The application for this is that God is immutable, he cannot change, and he must still judge the sin of mankind, and there is a day of judgement coming for us all, and we, like Noah, must have faith in God, so that we can be safe on that awful judgement day.  So Genesis 6:3 has nothing at all to do with the urgency of making our ‘decision for Christ’ nor with the false notion that God can call you to be saved today, and completely abandon you tomorrow.  The probation of man ends with death – and there is always room at the cross for a repentant sinner who will come by faith alone.   

3. Semi-Pelagianism. The objection that I hear most to this biblical doctrine of the effectual call of God’s elect, is framed something like this, “But surely SALVATION IS FOR THE WHOSOEVER! Jesus has died for all mankind, to offer us salvation, – but it is up to us to take it – or to leave it.”  The person who believes this will often go on to quote John 3:16 – one of the most misquoted evangelical proof-texts.   Think this one through very carefully:-

  1. When ‘proof-texting’ this verse, evangelicals seem to over-stress the word ‘whosoever’. The ‘whosoever’ has an inbuilt modifier and cannot be read without that modifier, just because it suits your own theories better.  That ‘whosoever’ is conditional upon belief on the part of the one who would experience Christ’s forgiveness.  It is not ‘whosoever,’ it is ‘whosoever believeth!’  Jesus confirms this in John 6:44   
  2. Whosoever will, actually WON’T!  In our unregenerate state, we are DEAD in our trespasses and sins and can’t make any decision to come to life.  Birth is not for ‘the whosoever’ – it is something that we have no choice in.  It is for this very reason that our instructor emphasises that we must be INGRAFTED INTO CHRIST. So ‘only those who by true faith are ingrafted into Him and receive all His benefits.’  It is he who chooses us, and ingrafts us into his people and causes us to grow and survive and blossom.  Paul uses this illustration too in Romans 11:16-20  As sinners we neither have the will, or the ability to respond to the call of the Gospel in our own strength or by our own decision.  
  3. But God loves the WORLD!  Was Christ’s death for everyone in the whole world? Is it that he wants to save us, but isn’t omnipotent enough to do so?  The Greek word translated as world is simply κόσμον.  It could simply mean the created world, the earth and the universe.  But is this the primary meaning of the text, when Jesus was speaking about how a sinner may enter the Kingdom of God?  Is there not a more contextual application of the verse?  There is…
  4. The solution.  I don’t insist that anyone else agrees with me on this matter, but I think that the belief expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism is that Christ’s death is SUFFICIENT for all the sins of all mankind, but is EFFICIENT only for those who are His, by election from before the foundation of the world.  In other words that the fulness of God’s wrath for every sin, whatever and whenever, was laid upon Jesus at the Cross, and he bore it for us.  See LD6, Q17  But how is that atoning work applied to our hearts!  Only by grace through faith in Christ, and since grace cannot be earned or deserved, and faith is the gift of God, then only those whom God has chosen can receive the forgiveness for sin obtained by Christ at the cross.  So the catechist is quite correct when tells us that only those who by true faith are ingrafted into Him and receive all His benefits are saved. 

In our next lesson, we’ll ask, ‘What is true faith?’

© Bob McEvoy May 2021

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