“And 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.” (Romans 8:28–30, ESV)
For the last two weeks we have been examining the eternal purpose of God, which is God the Father creating a diverse family for Jesus Christ His only begotten Son.
Our understanding of God’s purpose is important for at least two reasons.
First of all it’s important primarily because it’s God’s purpose and anything that God does is important. If God has revealed his purpose to us then we should seek to understand his revelation. But the goal of our understanding is the Father’s glory. As we come to understand the fullness, the richness of the Father’s work of redemption it will lead us to worship Him, praise Him and thank Him for what He has done for us.
Second it is important in light of the implications of God’s purpose. Those implications have a direct and dramatic impact on those God foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified.
God’s purpose gives our lives purpose. An understanding of God’s purpose provides me with the understanding that my life has a meaning that extends beyond the here and now that literally stretches into eternity. An understanding of God’s purpose helps me to understand and deal with the ups and downs of life. While at the same time providing me with comfort and assurance that in all these things God is working for good.
I can be assured of where I am going to spend eternity when I die because of the eternal purpose of God.
I mentioned last week the expression “If you want the job done right sometimes you have to do it yourself.”
That is exactly what God is doing. He insures that His eternal purpose and plan are carried out in perfection.
As we saw last week God has crafted and deployed his plan in such a way that it is not dependent or contingent upon anyone else or anything else for it’s fulfillment.
God is the one who is active; God is the One who is at work. God is the One who foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified. This is all God’s doing.
GOD’S GOLDEN CHAIN OF SALVATION
Last week we began to examine the five golden links in God’s chain of salvation.
The first of the five golden links is God’s foreknowledge.
God’s foreknowledge is a critical component of God’s golden chain because all of the links that follow flow from His foreknowledge.
Foreknowledge includes God’s omniscience but it is more than God’s omniscience. Of course God knows all things. But here is a very important distinction. God’s foreknowledge is not a knowledge of anticipation but rather of determination. We should also say that God’s foreknowledge is not a contingent knowledge but a predetermined knowledge.
Which means that God’s foreknowledge is not based upon any action or decision that you or I may or may not make. The Biblical understanding of foreknowledge is that is a predetermined knowledge.
Several Scriptures reveal the meaning of foreknowledge. We looked at Acts 2:23 last week.
“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23, ESV)
Why was Jesus delivered up to be crucified and killed at the hands of lawless men? For one reason and one reason alone – because God willed it to be so. Because God predetermined that it would happen. Peter makes it clear that what transpired took place “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
The first link in God’s golden chain of salvation is his foreknowledge. The second step flows out of his foreknowledge that being predestination.
Paul says that those whom God foreknew he also predestined. The word predestined means to bring to a predetermined destiny or destination. What is the predetermined destiny or destination for those whom God foreknew? To be conformed to the image of Christ so that, in order that he might be the firstborn or the preeminent One among many brothers.
I will once again urge caution to make sure that we don’t go beyond what the Scriptures say. Predestination as it is used here speaks directly and solely to believers, to those who will come to faith in Christ. All, everyone who comes to faith in Christ is predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ. As I said last week this is incredibly good news, this is a source of incredible comfort as we daily do battle with sin and as we seek to grow in Christlikeness.
The first unbreakable link in God’s golden chain of salvation is foreknowledge and the second link is predestination.
Now we come to the third link which is God’s calling. Those whom he foreknew he predestined and those whom he foreknew he called.
TWO TYPES OF CALLS
In the Scriptures there are two calls. There is the general call and there is a second call that Paul refers to here, which is the effectual call.
THE GENERAL CALL
The first call, the general call is the external universal call to salvation. James Montgomery Boice describes this call as “an open invitation to all persons to repent of sin, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.”
We have examples of the general call throughout the Scriptures. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus issues one such call to salvation.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)
Jesus issues a genuine call; he extends a genuine offer to all who desire to be rid of their heavy burden.
Again in John 7 Jesus declared…
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37, ESV)
Again Jesus issues a legitimate call, a legitimate invitation to all who are thirsty to come to him and drink freely of the water of life that he alone can provide.
The problem is that people left to themselves will never respond to the general call to salvation.
Jesus illustrated this in Luke 14.
“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ”” (Luke 14:15–24, ESV)
Notice that those who were invited didn’t come. Why didn’t those invited to the banquet come? Because left to ourselves we have no desire to come, we not only have no desire we lack the ability to come. Why is it that so many who hear the general call to salvation do not respond? Because in order to respond we all need divine intervention, we all need divine help in order to respond to the call.
If you notice the master wanted his feast to be full sent his servant out the second time not simply to invite people to come but to actually bring them to the feast.
I love how the Master makes it clear that he has plenty of room and he wants the banquet hall to be full! But they had to be brought; they had to be compelled to come. The Master was the one who took the initiative to make sure the feast was full!
I asked the question last week, why do you believe while so many others don’t? Perhaps you’re the only one in your family who professes faith in Christ. Why? Perhaps your family took you and your siblings to church every Sunday and you believed but your brother or your sister doesn’t believe. Why?
Jesus provides the answer in John 6
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. “
(John 6:44a, ESV)
The Father draws us to Christ through the second call, the internal call, the effectual call to salvation.
There is a major difference between the general, universal call to salvation and the internal, effectual call to salvation. We can sum up the one major difference with the word power.
There is no power in the general call to salvation. If we understand this it helps us to understand why two people sitting side by side in the same church service both hear the same message, both here the call to repent of their sins and turn to Christ for salvation and one responds while the other walks away un-phased and remains in a state of unbelief.
The effectual call not only issues the invitation it also provides the ability and the willingness to respond positively to the call to salvation. That’s what Paul refers to in his letter to the believers in Thessalonica.
“because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a, ESV)
John Murray explains it this way “(We are) Called in the sense of executing or issuing a summons. God’s effectual calling differs from a human summons in that a human summons is lacking in power. It lacks the power to deliver. The call of God the summons of God is accompanied with the power to deliver, to move the one who is called. “
THE EFFECTUAL CALL
Contrasted with the general call the effectual call is internal, specific and entirely effective. In other words, it effectively saves those and all those to whom it is spoken.
Now let’s put this into the context of Romans 8. As one author writes “The calling that Paul refers to is the point at which the eternal foreknowledge and predestination of God passes over into time and starts the process by which the individual is drawn from sin to faith in Christ, is justified through faith and is then kept in Christ until his or her final glorification. “
But why is the internal call of God so effective? Because it is God’s call! Remember If you want a job done right you do it yourself, and that is what God is doing.
God’s Word always accomplishes its purpose. Isaiah 55 says…
““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 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 55:10–11, ESV)
Let me draw your attention to the words “but it (referring to God’s word) shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
There is no maybe, there is no hope so, and there is no wringing of the hands. No, God’s call is always effective. You don’t have to worry about missing God’s call. God’s will, God’s word is always accomplished.
THE ILLUSTRATION OF LAZARUS
Have you ever wondered why Jesus let Lazarus die when he could have kept him alive? One of the reasons Jesus let that happen was because when Jesus called him to come forth it perfectly pictures what happens when God effectually calls those who are spiritually dead.
No one doubted that Lazarus was dead. His own sister said to Jesus, he so dead that by this time he stinks! Yet what happened when Jesus called him? He came out of the grave. That is picture of what happens when God calls those whom he foreknew and predestined. When the call is issued the person is brought out of a state of spiritual death to spiritual life.
The proof of spiritual life is that those who are called actually respond to the call. How do we respond? All who are called respond in repentance, they turn away from sin and they turn to Jesus Christ.
There is a very real danger of mistaking human actions for the effectual call of God.
We must be aware of the dangers of superficial responses such as walking the aisle, even making an outward profession of faith or joining a church. There is a very real danger that many mistake those human acts as being born again when all they may have done is respond on an intellectual level.
Donald Grey Barnhouse a gifted expositor of some years gone by addressed this issue with his own congregation. He said to them
“The outward call may bring with it certain intellectual knowledge of the truth; the inward call brings us the faith of the heart, the hope which anchors us forever to Christ and the love which must ever draw us back to Him who first loved us. The one can end in formalism, the other true life. The outward call may curb the tendencies of the old nature and keep a soul outwardly moral, the inward call will cure the plague that is in us and bring us on to triumph in Christ.”
Now this is not to say that the general call is not important because it is. The general call is important because it is through the general call that the effectual call comes.
Let me close this morning with an important question. The question each one of us needs to ask ourselves is “Have I been called?”
Here are some tests that we can apply to ourselves in answering the question. These are taken from the commentary of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
1. Can you honestly say ‘I am what I am by the grace of God?’ Why is it that you are interested in spiritual things? As Lloyd-Jones says “The Christian is a man who cannot understand himself; he can only say I am what I am by the grace of God.”
2. Are you acutely aware that God has been dealing with you? To be called means that God has intervened in your life. And when God intervenes we know it. Again Lloyd-Jones writes; “To be called means that you know that God has been concerned about you, that He has done everything to you, has interfered in your life, has irrupted into your life and laid hold upon you.” When it happens we know it.
3. Have you experienced the ongoing conviction of your sin? If so that is evidence that you have been called. No one apart from the intervention of God in their lives feels bad about their sin. It would go against the nature of the natural man to feel bad about his sin. Therefore when you experience biblical conviction that is something only the called of God undergo.
4. Do you believe that the Word of God is true? If you do that is another evidence that God has called you.
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
(1 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV)
Finally God’s calling brings us to the end of ourselves and points us to Christ while simultaneously creates a hunger and thirst for a living vibrant relationship with Christ.
Let me set your mind at ease as we close this morning. Who can be saved? Anybody who wants to be. There has never been nor will there ever be a person who desires salvation that will be rejected by God.
That’s why we issue the general call to salvation, because it is not only possible for anyone to be saved, but it is through the general call the effectual call comes so that all those who hear the call not only can be saved they will be saved.
Have you heard the call of God? Have you responded to the call of God? Scripture urges you to respond now, today.