In a previous post, we looked at the general call of the Holy Spirit that goes out to all people. Everyone is given the opportunity to repent and believe the gospel, and Christians are to share the good news to all indiscriminately. So, why do some hear and believe while others hear and reject?
We continue our study of of “Great Doctrines of the Bible (vol. 2)” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) which focuses on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Today, we’ll look at chapter 7, “Effectual Calling.”
Though the gospel call goes to all, it will only be effectual in some. MLJ provides several Scriptures that show that those who are saved are described as being those who are called. First, consider Romans 8:28-39:
For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Notice that those who are called are justified. If you are saved, you are called. If you are called, you will be saved. It doesn’t say those who are called might be justified, it says those who are called are justified. This shows an effectual call of the Holy Spirit that’s different than the general call that goes to all.
In 1 Corinthains 1:2, Paul refers to believers as those who are called to be saints. Later in the chapter, he refers to the preaching of the gospel as a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but “to those who are called” it is the wisdom and power of God (v.24). Believers have been “called” out of the darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). Even the word for church, ecclesia, means the “called forth ones.” Church is the gathering of people who have been called out.
An Internal Work
While the general call to all is external, meaning someone preaches or verbally shares the gospel with another person, the effectual call of the Holy Spirit is an internal work. For example, John 6:45 states: “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God'” This, MLJ argues, is an internal work of God in a person. Notice the result of being taught by God in this way: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45b). So, those who are taught by God in this way will come to believe…not just some but Jesus said everyone. In the previous verse (John 6:44), Jesus teaches, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
In Ephesians 1:17, Paul prays that God would give the people a “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” The only way we can have such knowledge of him is if he gives it by the Spirit. Also note Philippians 2:12-13:
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Who gives us the desire and the will to love and serve him? God does! The Spirit does such a work in us that we want to serve him! Consider other passage such as 1 Thesssalonians 1:5, 2:13; 2 Timothy 2:25; Matthew 22:14.
Why Is the Effectual Call Necessary?
Why does the Spirit work in this way? MLJ states: “Without this work within, no one would ever become a Christian; it is an utter necessity” (69). Scripture teaches that mankind is so corrupt that we would never choose to submit and believe in Christ. In our natural state and without divine assistance, we would forever reject the offer of salvation through Christ. Scripture argues this in many places such as Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
The natural person, void of the Spirit, will set their minds on the things of the flesh: “They find them [the things of the Spirit] dull and boring and uninteresting. They regard them as a waste of time and hate them” (69). Someone who does not have the Spirit finds church, the preaching of the word, and talk about theology boring and drab. However, when the Spirit comes upon a person he or she will love the things of the Spirit.
Romans 8 continues to argue that those in the flesh, void of the Spirit, will not and cannot please God: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (vv.7-8).
First Corinthains 2:14 makes it very clear that the natural person will not accept the things of God: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Scripture makes it clear that man cannot and will not by his own will choose the things of God. Without a work of the Holy Spirit, rebellious man will continue in their rebellion even thought the offer of salvation is made to them continually. Man must be born again from above (John 3).
The Miraculous Work of the Spirit
Seeing from Scripture that man will continue in our rebellion if left to ourselves, Scripture also gives us hope that God will save through the power of the Holy Spirit. MLJ states:
So, then, what is this effectual, internal call that we are speaking about? Well, the most we can say about it is–and this must of necessity be true in the light of these Scriptures– that it is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul. It is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit within us. It is immediate, it is spiritual, it is supernatural, miraculous. And what it does is to make a new mode of spiritual activity possible within us. Without this operation we are incapable of any true spiritual activity but as a result of this operation of the Holy Spirit upon us, we are rendered capable, for the first time, of spiritual activity… (70).
The above mentioned passages of Scripture argue that natural man cannot receive the things of God, but the Spirit does an internal work in a person so that they can receive the things of God (beginning with salvation). For example, in Acts 16 Paul was preaching, the external call, and many were listening. Not all believed, but woman named Lydia did believe. Why? Scripture says “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (v.14). This work of God within Lydia made her able to hear and receive the message of the gospel. Elsewhere, Scripture states that “God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10). Also see Ephesians 1:18, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, and Philippians 2:13.
Some refer to this work of the Spirit as irresistible grace, but MLJ does not like that terminology: “I do not like the term because it seems to give the impression that something has happened which has been hammering at a person’s will and has knocked them down and bludgeoned him. But it is not that. It is that the Holy Spirit implants a principle within me which enables me, for the first time in my life, to discern and to apprehend something of this glorious, wondrous truth. He works upon my will” (73). The work of the Spirit doesn’t go against our will, but the Spirit changes our will so that we desire the things of God.
Praise God for this work of the Spirit, otherwise none of us would be saved!