This is part of a series of posts in which I will be critiquing my old book, “Calvinist Verses? Responding to the Errors of Calvinism.” When I began writing that book at the beginning of 2012 I was an Open Theist and began to lean towards the Classical Arminian position some time during that year. The following is one of my old posts which was part of the previously mentioned book. This post was originally posted on 5/8/2012. My critique of the original post will be in bold.
For part one of this post click here,
for part two click here.
“Called” is another word that Calvinism fills a meaning beyond what the Bible gives it. In Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast. This parable is meant as a rebuke on the Jewish nation for not receiving the Messiah. In it Jesus is foreshadowing that soon God will invite the Gentiles into the kingdom while leaving Israel in her blindness.
The feast was ready, but those who were invited had not come, so the master of the feast told his servants to go out and invite anyone they happened to meet. Many indeed answered the call, but one guy who came showed up dressed in inappropriate attire for such a formal occasion. This man was thrown out. Then Jesus turns from the language of the parable to more theological language. He says, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (vs. 14). He uses the term “called” to correspond to the parable’s word “invite.” By doing this Jesus gives us a clear meaning of the word we will now be dealing with in Romans chapter 8.
When someone is invited to something it carries a couple meanings with it. Firstly, it conveys the meaning of being welcome. If we are invited to someone’s party, no one can accuse us for showing up. If someone says “Hey, what are you doing here?!” we will simply produce our invitation and all will be satisfied. The invitation proves that we are welcome. We cannot be accused of crashing the party. But as the parable shows, being invited is also an honor that must be valued. Those men who were invited but didn’t show up, or the man who didn’t feel responsible to make any effort to make himself presentable, were all rejected as unworthy of the invitation. Though they had been invited, they were not found worthy of the invitation, so it was revoked. The word “called,” like the word, “invited,” means that one is welcome to join in but also responsible for properly valuing the honor he has received.
“Called” is often used in Paul’s letters in such a way that makes people think that those who answer the invitation of the Gospel are somehow more specifically invited than those who did not respond. Calvinism teaches that there are two calls. One is the “general call.” Reformed Theology says that this is the invitation of the Gospel, and it is for all men. But the other kind of call is the “effectual call.” Calvinists teach that this is a special inward call that only the “elect” are given. God is believed to work in their hearts in such a way that they cannot resist. Through the “effectual call” people are drawn irresistibly to faith in Christ.
Paul often calls the saints “the called.” This gives many the impression that these saints were called in a way that unbelievers were not. For this reason Calvinism has made a distinction between the two kinds of calling mentioned above. Reformed Theology explains that only those who received the “effectual call” are given the title “the called.” The second group hears the Gospel, but since they have not been predestined for salvation God doesn’t call them with irresistible grace. So, without this enabling grace they remain in their sins and are not rightfully designated as “the called.”
But the need for this distinction is a simple misunderstanding of why Paul labels the churches he writes to with this honorable title. Israel had always thought they were special in God’s kingdom. They didn’t understand the predestined plan of God to make a holy people from all nations. So, when the Gentiles began receiving the Gospel and becoming “co-heirs” with Israel, many Jewish unbelievers and even Jewish believers cried foul (Eph. 2:19). They claimed that Gentiles could never share an inheritance with Israel as God’s people. But as an Apostle with a pastoral heart, Paul wrote many of his letters to his Gentile churches in order to encourage them that they were every bit as much a part of Israel as their Jewish brothers in Christ. For this reason he had the habit of calling them “the called,” or more clear yet, “the invited.” This encouraged them that they were not party crashers.
When Paul uses the term “the called” he is not emphasizing that those individuals were called and others were not. Instead he is emphasizing that they are legitimate members of God’s household. They are not second class citizens and God’s kingdom. They are the invited of Jesus Christ and have every right to be part of “the Israel of God”! (Gal. 6:16)
In the paragraphs above I use a parable to define a term that is used in other places in a different way. By so doing I robbed myself of a very significant biblical concept. As I often am when reading my old posts, I am saddened and disturbed by the fact that I so boldly opposed such an important evangelical truth due to my own prejudice and ignorance. I made an important term about how one comes to saving faith into a “nice and encouraging” thing for Paul to say to Gentile believers. Shameful!
Calling in Different Words
Before we look at some verses that use the term “called,” lets look at verses that reveal the theological concept to which it refers but with different terminology.
A woman named Lydia, a seller of purple fabric of the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God, heard us. The Lord opened her heart to acknowledge what Paul said.
For we know, beloved brothers, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance …
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
I have other sheep who are not of this fold. I must also bring them, and they will hear My voice. There will be one flock and one shepherd.
For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:2-5
Such passages teach implicitly, if not explicitly, that God is the One that leads individuals to salvation by the work of His Holy Spirit at the preaching of the word. I cannot imagine how anyone could argue that everyone who hears the Gospel is affected in the same way as taught in these passages. The Lord does not open everyone’s heart to acknowledge the truth of the Gospel as the Lord did for Lydia. Not everyone who hears the Gospel hears Jesus voice of truth and is brought into the flock of God. The Bible teaches that God does a unique work in certain people’s hearts that successfully brings them to saving faith. This unique work of God’s grace is often referred to by the use of the term “call.”
How Called is Often Used
The term “call” always refers back to the time when one was brought to Christ. It is a term referencing the conversion of believers. But it is presented as God’s role in conversion. Conversion takes place by repenting of our rebellion, trusting in Christ and confessing His Lordship in Baptism. But the term “called” refers to God’s work done to bring people to the place of repentance, faith and confession.
For observe your calling, brothers. Among you, not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty men, and not many noble men were called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise…. But because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, whom God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
1 Corinthians 1:26-27, 30
In this passage we are told explicitly that not all people are “called.” That is, not everyone is brought to saving faith by the converting grace of God. And when Paul contrasts those who were “not called” with those who were “called,” he changes the terms and says of the called that they were “chosen” by God. The effective calling of God is the first evidence that one has been elected to salvation by God’s grace. And Paul says emphatically that those who are in Christ were brought into Him by God.
Therefore, brothers, diligently make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble.
2 Peter 1:10
What doubt would there be in the “calling” of those to whom Peter wrote if “calling” just means invited to salvation by the Gospel? They would not need to make sure they heard the Gospel, they would know it already for sure. Peter is telling them to “test themselves to see whether they are in the faith” 2 Cor. 13:5). They are to test whether they have really been called and elected. He does this by asking them to scrutinize their initial conversion and consider whether or not they are bearing fruit that accompanies salvation in Christ.
But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, we preach Christ as the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:23-24
In this passage the Gospel call goes out to all, “but those who are called” in an effective way rejoice in the truth of the Gospel.
What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He previously prepared for glory, even us, whom He has called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?
Who are those who have been called effectively from the Jews and Gentiles? They are those whom God had prepared before hand for mercy.
The term “called” is often used throughout the epistles to refer to a work of God’s grace which effectively brings people to saving faith in Christ. And it is clear that this special work of grace is not granted to everyone who hears the Gospel. We might recoil at the implications of such teaching, but what can we do but accept it since it is in the Bible? From experience I can tell you that I was as prejudiced against this biblical fact as anyone else, but after bowing my own understanding to the plain teaching of Scripture regarding this topic, I have discovered that my prejudice was unfounded. There is nothing in such a doctrine that impugns the character, justice or love of God. Though there is much in it that will correct our false understanding of God’s character, justice and love!
The Jewish/Gentile Context
In my old post above, I mentioned that the term “calling” was associated with the Jewish/Gentile controversy of the first century. This was a valid point, though my understanding of how it fit into that controversy was inaccurate. It is true that the term was meant to validate those Gentiles who had come to faith in Christ, but it was much more than encouragement from Paul’s “pastoral heart.” The term was filled with deep theological significance.
In Romans 9 Paul wrestles with the reason why Gentiles were coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah and the majority of the Jewish people were rejecting Christ. I will briefly give Paul’s answer to this question but will have to reserve a full explanation for later when we address Romans 9 in future posts.
It is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel
…in order to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He previously prepared for glory, even us, whom He has called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles…
Paul teaches that not everyone who is born a Jew is part of God’s chosen people. God’s plan was always to create a people made up of individuals from every nation. These individuals were predestined to be God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ. They were not going to be God’s chosen people because of their physical relationship to Abraham, but because of their spiritual relationship to Jesus Christ. This group of individuals would constitute God’s chosen and holy people, namely the Church of Jesus Christ. Their salvation would bring glory to God’s Son and would magnify God’s grace.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills.
As indeed He says in Hosea: “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘Beloved,’ ” and, “In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”
Why were so many Jews not believing in Christ in Paul’s day? Because God had judged the nation and handed them over to the rebellion of their own hearts. By this means the Gospel was forced away from the Jewish nation and to the Gentiles. God was “calling” out a particular people whom He had foreknown as His chosen people and predestined to be adopted as His children through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). Those whom He had foreknown and predestined He was also calling persuasively to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And those whom He was calling He was also justifying through faith and faithfully leading to eternal glory.
I do not agree with everything that Calvinists teach about effectual calling. From my understanding they say more than the Bible teaches when they imply that the effectual call of God to salvation is monergistic. I do not believe that God unilaterally causes someone to be regenerated (i.e. born again) and that their repentance and faith then follows as an inevitable result. But I do see that “call” is used to refer to God’s“effectual” (successful, efficient, effective, powerful, etc.) work in bringing someone to genuine repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ. And I believe it is clear from the Bible that not all people receive this “effectual call.”
To Be Continued…