The Holy Spirit and Evangelism Part II, “Irresistible Grace … Effectual Call”

Posted by donna on April 4, 2017

Eph 2vs8.pngFor centuries, church theologians, both scholarly and novice, have been in a bitter struggle about the moment and manner of conversion. This doctrine of salvation has divided serious students and orthodox believers into two camps.

Arminians, following the teachings of Jacobus Arminius, believe that every person, having been made in the image of God, can apply faith in their life. Arminians know that salvation is the gracious gift of God to people, but each person must apply their faith, as small as it is, to receive and activate the salvation freely offered and made known through the Holy Spirit. In short, faith precedes regeneration. Followers of John Wesley and all the denominations that come from that camp would hold to this belief. This would include our friends in the Salvation Army, as well as many brands of the more charismatic or Pentecostal denominations.

Calvinists, following the teachings of John Calvin, hold that God in His grace, supplies believing faith to a person. Faith then, is the demonstration of that regeneration.  The first activity of the Holy Spirit is effectually calling a person into salvation. Calvin, as did many reformers, taught that regeneration, or being made alive in spirit, precedes believing faith. A person hears the words of Christ to no effect, unless God makes them alive (regeneration), receiving the faith from God to believe, and then receiving the benefits of salvation freely given in Christ.

This giving of regeneration prior to faith and conversion is due to the bondage of the will (the readers are encouraged to get Luther’s Bondage of the Will) to sin and depravity. Being dead in sin and trespasses, a person needs to be made alive (given faith) before they can receive and accept salvation.  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.   All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2: 1-5).  Man, left to himself will always resist the grace of God, even when grace is demonstrated. What makes grace irresistible, is God’s determinative action of regeneration, otherwise known as effectual Call. 

This doctrine is known as irresistible grace. Irresistible, because once applied to a person, they are brought to repentance and regeneration because it is an act of God, who cannot be resisted once He has willed to act. This doctrine is also known as operative grace or, from the Greek, Monergistic - regeneration. This simply means that regeneration is an act of God, solely by God, without the co-operation or “synergy” of a person.

In the words of R.C. Sproul,” Effectual calling (see Westminster Confession of Faith 10-1) is effectual because in it and by it God effects exactly what He intends in the operation: the quickening of spiritually dead souls to spiritual life. Calling refers to the Holy Spirit’s inward or secret operation on the soul.” (What is Reformed Theology? Baker Books, 1997; pg. 190)

Augustine observed that the Spirit of God, never works outside or without the Word of God in the operation of the effectual calling of men and women to Himself, which we are in agreement with.

As we pray for people to come to Christ, we have the privilege and responsibility to ask God to open blind eyes, soften hearts, break rebellious spirits and bring saving grace to act upon their souls. This then, is solely the work of the Spirit, in which we can partner by faith, prayer and love, presenting a clear gospel witness to the world.

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).


Willem Fietje AGC President

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