Pristine Grace

The Executing of Grace in Man
Effectual Calling
by Mike Krall

Having examined the condition of man in his depraved state in our essay on the necessity of grace, we saw that unregenerate man's will is subject to his darkened mind and to his twisted affections. Then in the work of the Father in eternity in our essay on the inception of grace, we saw how He was sovereign in choosing the objects of His grace. In our next essay, we saw the work of the Son in purchasing this redemption for those whom the Father elected. We have now come to the work of the Holy Spirit who applies the saving grace in the hearts of the guilty sinners for whom Christ died. The term commonly used by many to describe this work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a sinner is 'effectual calling.'

When the work of the Holy Spirit is subjectively looked at in the heart of the sinner, it is called regeneration and, contrary to popular belief, it precedes the exercise of faith. In order for us to see this clearly, we must again look at the condition of man in his unregenerate state. If we think that man somehow possesses the ability to save himself by believing, we will not grasp the truth that the work of the Spirit is needed in order for man to repent and believe.

The condition of man in his fallen state is one of total bondage to his sinful nature. As we have seen, man's will is only free to choose what the mind understands and affections desire. Since man's mind is darkened (Ephesians 4:18) and his affections perverted to love sin (Ephesians 2:3), he will never choose Christ.

What must take place in the soul of a sinner so that he will choose Christ? First man's mind must be illuminated by the Spirit to see the truths presented in the gospel. Many can sit under the preaching of the word time after time and never see the urgency of the gospel message simply because of a darkened mind. If man is to be saved, the Spirit must then enlighten the mind to spiritually perceive these truths. But that is not enough since man's affections also play a part in any choice he makes. An enlightened mind, in itself, still will not desire the things of God. The affections must desire Christ. Again, this is the work of the Holy Spirit as He places in us a desire to follow after Christ. The third thing that must take place is a deep conviction of our sinful condition. To have our mind enlightened and affections changed will not suffice if we do not see our deep need of a Savior from our sins. This inward work upon the soul of a sinner is totally the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Man is so depraved in his unregenerate state that he needs 'grace before grace' as someone once put it. This is the regenerating of man's dead spirit which must precede his act of faith.

Some may ask "If regeneration precedes my faith where does my free will come in?". As we saw in our chapter on man's depravity, the will of man is not free from his mind and affections. He will NEVER choose what is good unless his heart is good. The tree must be good for the fruit to be good (Matt.12:33); therefore man's will is not really free, but is subservient to his nature.

Our Lord in John 3:3 speaks of the necessity of regeneration in order to understand the things of God. He states that the new birth is needed in order to see the Kingdom of God. Our faith does not cause the new birth, it is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus said "you must be born again", the word "must" is indicative not imperative meaning that He was indicating something needed, not commanding something that to be done. 

This is where some press the doctrine of which we alluded to before called prevenient grace; the belief that the Holy Spirit, somehow under the preaching of the Word, brings man to the point of neutrality at which point they can then accept or reject the gospel. From the stand point of man it does appear as though that is what happens, but let me give a few reasons as to why this cannot be the case.

The first reason to reject this as unscriptural is that it denies that God is all-powerful and able to accomplish His purpose (Job 42:2). To say that the Holy Spirit cannot save someone is to take God down from the throne and put man's "free will" there in His place. The second reason to reject this as unscriptural is that it denies the all-sufficiency of Christ's work which is where the work of the Holy Spirit springs from. I can do no better than to quote Loraine Boettner in his excellent book entitled "The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination" p.173. "If He (Christ) had only paid the penalty for sin without also earning the reward of eternal life, His people would only have been raised up to zero point. They would then have been on the same plain as Adam before he fell, and would still have been under obligation to earn eternal life for themselves...We must remember that the gospel is not GOOD ADVICE, but GOOD NEWS. It does not tell us what we are to do to earn salva- tion, but proclaims to us what Christ had done to save us." The third reason for rejecting this doctrine is that it gives grounds for boasting on the part of the saved sinner. If the only difference between myself and a sinner in hell is that when we were both brought to the point of neutrality I "accepted it" and he "rejected it", than I have grounds to boast. If Christ and the Holy Spirit cannot take all the credit then it is not all grace and if it is not all grace then it is not grace at all. A final reason to reject this false doctrine is, like the false doctrine of universal atonement it destroys the harmony of the Trinity. Those chosen by the Father and redeemed by the Son must be the same ones sanctified by the Spirit. This is precisely what is meant by: GOD SAVES SINNERS! It is not as one preacher described it: "the Father, ignorant of who He wishes to save and the Son dying for no one in particular to secure nothing for sure; and the Holy Spirit hoping to accomplish something somehow for somebody that might have been in the mind of Christ when He did something on the cross for nobody in particular." No! God (Father, Son, and Spirit) actually saves sinners. He does not just make salvation possible. The Apostle Paul expounded this very thing in Romans 8. There we read in verse 30 "whom He did predestinated, them he also called". Here we see the inward call that comes only to the elect. This cannot mean the outward call of the gospel simply because in the next phrase we read "and whom He called He also justified". Here is a clear indication that those who receive this call mentioned ARE justified. And if that is not enough the next phrase says "and whom He justified them He also glorified". What could be plainer? The idea flowing from Romans 8 is to show that all things work together for good to the elect because God is sovereignly working in their lives to conform them to the image of His Son. The ultimate goal of those that are called is glorification. That is why nothing can be laid to the charge of God's elect since Christ is their intercessor. Any other interpretation would make no sense and certainly gives us no comfort. What comfort would it be to someone who is called if all things did not work together for good. Paul did not say all things were good, but that all things work together for good! If the called are not ultimately glorified then all things are not working together for their good since the good referred to in that verse is the ultimate glorification of the child of God. Any serious student of Scripture should do an in depth study of Romans 8 from verse 28 to the end of the chapter. There he will see the work of the work of the triune God in our calling, justification and our glorification. In addition the importance of Christ's work of intercession will be seen as having little comfort if the doctrine of a universal inward call of the Holy Spirit is true. If God the Holy Ghost initiates the work of grace in the heart of sinners, what effect should this have on our lives? First, in the lives of those outside of Christ this doctrine should strip you of all pride and self-exaltation. Every effort on your behalf to earn your salvation should be laid at the foot of the cross at Calvary. In order to repent and believe you need to be enabled by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Cry to God for this enabling work of the Spirit to work a work of grace in your heart. Secondly, to the Christian this doctrine should cause us to have more reliance on the work of the Spirit in our Sanctification. If He began the work, he most surely is needed to finish the work (Galatians 3:3). This should drive us to total weakness as we "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" as the Spirit works in us to "will and to do of His good pleasure". This should strip the Christian of all pride as well as the unregenerate so that we see that we are no better than the worst of sinners and that the only differ- ence between us and the lost is the free and sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is only this doctrine of the irresistible grace that leaves no grounds for boasting (Ephesians 2:9), for those that hold to this biblical teaching can say when looking at the worst of sinners " but for the grace of God go I". As has been our custom up until now we continue to apply this doctrine as well as those in the previous chapters to the work of evangelism. Since it is the purpose of this book to see the effect this has on the preaching of the gospel we must mention here as well that this doctrine should strip us of all carnal methods of evangelism. We need not bring the gospel with "deceit and guile" (1 Thes. 2:3) for it is through the foolishness of preaching that God saves them that believe. "So shall my word be that go forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I send it." Isaiah 55:11 Let us show reverence for God's Word and the power of the Holy Spirit to quicken the dead sinner and then we can preach the gospel with power, trusting that God will do with it as He pleases.