We were deaf to his words of warning and affection; now we hear his voice and we want to follow him (John 10:16). God’s work of regeneration transforms elect sinners. It isn’t a complete renewal—that happens at glorification. But it is a real start. And what God starts he always finished (Phil. 1:6).
Salvation is like a treasure that becomes more precious to us the better we understand it. One way of better understanding our salvation is to study what theologians call the ordo salutis, or the order of salvation, the “process by which the work of salvation … is subjectively realized in the hearts and lives of sinners.”[i] Romans 8:30 is the classic text on how God saves: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Embedded in those terms are additional concepts that fill out our understanding of salvation, but this verse provides biblical warrant for itemizing the motions of divine grace. Ultimately, salvation is like a single golden chain, one unified work of God. Still, to get to know our great salvation we can study each of the links in turn.
The first link is election, God’s eternal and gracious choice to save some sinners. But to understand how the elect actually become Christians we turn to effectual calling. The word “calling” rightly suggests that God offers grace to sinners; through “the ministry of the Word” he calls wayward children to come home. But the calling of God is more than an invitation. It is effectual, it actually produces the desired effect. The effectual call is also known as regeneration, God’s one-sided action whereby he brings dead sinners to life in Christ.
Who Are the Called?
Put simply, those who are called are spiritually dead but elect sinners.
God Effectually Calls the Elect
The effectual call is different from the general call of the gospel. The call to repent and believe goes out to everyone who hears it. God is constantly calling sinners to turn from their sins and find life in him. God’s kind providence should stimulate us to repent (Rom. 2:4). The loveliness of nature is an invitation to find the author of this beauty. Our troubled consciences warn us to flee sin and seek righteousness. And, mostly clearly of all Scripture tells the story of God’s redemption so that we might ourselves be redeemed. But all this knowledge of God people naturally twist, exchanging his truth for a lie (Rom. 1:18–25). Only to the elect does God make this call effective for salvation. It is in this sense that Jesus interprets his parable of the wedding feast: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).
Those who are chosen are not elected for any personal qualifications. As God’s eternal predestination is “without any foresight of faith … or any other thing in the creature, as conditions” affecting his choice (ch. 3), so is the effectual calling “of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man.”