Friday, February 25, 2022

Effectual Calling in Romans

The "call" of God is one of those doctrines that many non-Calvinists seem to underestimate.  Paul is especially fond of this term in Romans, and it comes up multiple times in Romans 9, often viewed as one of the most Calvinist passages of the New Testament.  What sparked this post was hearing a non-Calvinist who, while discussing Romans 9, seemed to suggest that people are "called by faith."  That phrase is not a Biblical one.  It's certainly not part of Paul's technical, theological concept of calling.  If one was desperate to make a connection, the closest one could probably find is James' statement about Abraham believing and being called the Friend of God (James 2:23).  In Paul's theology, however, the term "call" is sometimes used in a very precise way to describe a powerful act by God.

Paul uses a noun form of the word (Kletos) to refer to people who are called, including his call to the apostleship of Christ, and us who are also called to be saints.

  • Romans 1:1  Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
  • Romans 1:6-7 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 8:28 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.

Paul also uses it as a verb (kaleo) to refer to the action of God in calling:

  • Romans 4:17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
  • Romans 8:30 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.
  • Romans 9:7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called
  • Romans 9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 
  • Romans 9:24-25 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

God is the one calling the shots.  He's the one deciding how things will be.  His call is powerful and determinative.  When God says, "you are not my people," they are not.  When God calls them his children, that's what they become.  

It's reminiscent of Genesis 1, when God speaks the world itself into existence.

Notice particularly in the golden chain that predestination and calling both precede justification, which in turn precedes glorification.  Some non-Calvinist systems treat calling as though it were after justification, as though Paul were using the term "call" in the same sense James uses it in James 2:23.  In fact, though, the call of Romans 8:30 is an effectual call, a powerful call, that brings about the faith by which we are justified.

In Calvinism, we often refer to the "call" as it relates to the golden chain as "Effectual Calling," also known as Irresistible Grace.  Although the latter phrase fits the mnemonic better, the former is more clear.  It is a pity that it has not been as popular a description in the last half century.

This technical, theological concept of an effectual call is distinct from what we call the outward call: namely the gospel message itself.

Paul's usage in 1 Corinthians is similarly interesting:

  • 1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:17-18 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:20-22 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

The usage can be divided this way:

1) People being called (e.g. "you were called" by God).

2) People being called to be something 

    a) To be an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9)

    b) To be saints (Romans 1:7)

3) People being called to some objective

    a) To peace (e.g. "called us to peace")

    b) To some "vocation" / walk / job (1 Corinthians 7:17-18 and 24)

The most interesting usage is the first one, with the interpretive lens as to this calling's role in salvation being provided by Romans 4:17.  Paul specifically employs the regenerative metaphor of quickening the dead (in the first instance, Sarah's dead womb) and treats God's call as powerful and dispositive.

That's different from some of the other uses of the same word, such as us being called to particular careers or called to a certain lifestyle.  In some cases, those calls can be understood as commands, but the bottom line is that they are a bit different from the kind of call that raises the dead.

This principle of an effectual call and its connection to the order of salvation is well illustrated by two texts: 

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

(πιστὸς ὁ καλῶν ὑμᾶς ὃς καὶ ποιήσει) He calls ... will do

  • 2 Timothy 1:9  Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

The latter verse becomes even more obviously a testimony to the effectual call, when you see the rest of the immediate context:

  • 2 Timothy 1:8-11 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.

This is one of those truly beautiful and glorious passages of Scripture that exalts the glory of God in the salvation of those whom he powerfully calls.

But it's not just "the called" (the objective noun), nor "call" (the verb), but also "the calling" (the nominalization of the verb).

  • Romans 11:29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
  • 1 Corinthians 7:20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
  • Ephesians 1:18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
  • Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
  • Ephesians 4:4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling
  • Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:
  • 2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 

Think about Romans 11:29: in what way is "the calling" of God something that's even "repentable" in the first place? What could even raise that question?  The answer is that the calling is an exercise of God's power.

Likewise, consider Paul's doctrine of the "hope of his calling" (Ephesians 1:18 and 4:4).  Why would the calling of God be something provides hope?  The answer, again, is that it is a powerful calling.

In short, when reading Romans 9 it is important to recognize the effectual call for what it is: a powerful act by God that brings into existence something that wasn't previously in existence.