We have a wonderful subject to talk about tonight and I took up a little more time than I ought to have, in one sense, but wanted to share with you what I did, so we’re going to try to squeeze it in the time we have. I want you to open your Bible to Romans 8 - Romans chapter 8 - and let’s begin in Romans 8 with some very familiar revelation from God.
Verse 28, which is familiar to all of us, is a good starting point. Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
In our doctrinal study, we have talked about foreknowledge. We’ve talked about predestination, or the doctrine of election. We’ve talked a little about justification. And we will talk about glorification. But the one word that I want you to focus on with me tonight is the word “called.” Called. In verse 28, “Those who are called.” In verse 30, “Whom He predestined these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified.”
Now, one of the most simple words in the English language is the word “call.” We all understand that word. We use it in a daily manner. It’s one of the more common words in our vocabulary. We call our kids to come to dinner in the hope that they will respond. Or we call our husband to come to dinner and hope he will respond. We call our friends on the phone and hope that they will spurn the answer machine option and pick up the phone.
It gets a little more important when a church calls a pastor hoping he will accept the offer to come and shepherd them. And when you are called by your boss, the call becomes equally compelling. I remember as a kid being called to the principal’s office. I remember in college receiving what was called a “call slip” to come immediately to the dean’s office. Some of you have received a summons from a court. A summons is a call you really shouldn’t ignore because if you are summoned to court, you probably ought to show up or you may even get a visit from law officers. Maybe a little stronger than just a summons is a subpoena. A subpoena is a summons commanding the person designated to appear under a penalty for failure to do so.
And so really there are all kinds of calls. There are those sort of minimalist calls that you sort of meekly offer to somebody to get them to the table, or those phone calls you hope somebody might answer, all the way through to the far more serious call from your boss, or call from a church, or from a principal’s office or a summons from a court or a subpoena with a threat for non response. So there are increasingly more compelling kinds of calls.
But in all those cases, you can still choose to ignore them. You can resist any of those calls and go on your way and do what you want. But Scripture reveals a truth about a call, a summons that cannot be ignored and it cannot be resisted. It is the unyielding summons from God. It is a subpoena to appear before Him in His court for the purpose of being declared righteous, being declared just, having all your sins forgiven, and being set free from any judgment or any condemnation.
This is the call that you read about in Romans 8. It is a call that justifies. It is a call that comes according to the divine purpose. It is a call that comes to those who are predestined, those who are elect, those who are chosen. It is a call that leads through justification to eternal glory. Theologians have called this call an effective call, an efficacious call, a determinative call, a decisive call, a conclusive call, an operative call and an irresistible call. It is the call to salvation. It is the divine summons. It is the divine subpoena, not for judgment and not for punishment, but so that you can be declared righteous, free from condemnation, forgiven. It is the call to salvation.
The question is: Can it be denied? Can it be resisted? Is there such a thing as non-compliance? Well verse 30 says, “Whom He predestined, these He called.” So this call is limited to those who are the elect. We’re not talking here about a general call, just a broad-sweeping gospel call, the kind of general call that the apostle Paul talks about quoting the Old Testament prophet, nor are we talking about the Matthew 22 words, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” We’re not talking about what we could call the general call of the gospel, the general outward invitation of the gospel. We’re talking about something that comes only to the predestined and results in justification. And that is why it is called an efficacious call, or an effectual call.
Now, I want you to look at the word “called” here. It’s part of a group of words that come out of a root kaleō… kaleō. Kaleō means “to call into one’s presence,” or “to summon.” It is used, for example, in Matthew 2:7, where it says, “Herod called the magi into his court and they came.”
The word can be used in less serious circumstances, but it is the word that is used in the Scripture to speak of a summons. In fact, it is so descriptive that we as believers actually are “the called.” We are the called, the church is the ekklēsia, not from kaleō, but from ekkaleō. Kaleō to be summoned. Ekkaleō a stronger word, a stronger summons, to be called out and the church then becomes the noun form of that verb, “the called out ones.” So, if you ask what is a church? It is the assembly of those called, summoned.
Now, this becomes very clear throughout the Scripture, not just Romans 8. So I want to do a little Bible study with you. Go back to Romans 1. And I think you’re going to enjoy this, and it’s going to stretch you into a wonderful new category of understanding. “Paul – ” Romans 1:1, “ - a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” He’s a good one to look at for this kind of call because when the call of God came on the life of the apostle Paul, it was a sovereign, divine, gracious, and irresistible summons. He was slammed in to the dirt on the road to Damascus with nothing to do but respond. He is called as an apostle.
Down in verse 6 he’s talking about the “obedience of faith.” In verse 5, obeying the gospel, “among whom you also are the called. You are the called ones of Jesus Christ to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called saints - ” called holy ones. You are the called, the holy ones, the ones called out.
Look at 1 Corinthians 1:1. Again “Paul called an apostle.” He doesn’t mean that’s his title. He means he was called by God, by the will of God, to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. And again, it was not something that he could resist. Verse 2. “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling.” So whatever this calling is, it makes you a saint. In Romans 8 it justifies you. Here, it sanctifies you. And down in verse 9, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” You were called into the fellowship that you enjoy with the Lord Jesus Christ, called by God.
Over in verse 23. “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are - ” here it is again “ - the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Now follow this. If you are among the called, then when Christ crucified is preached, He becomes to you the power of God and the wisdom of God. To the Jews a stumbling block, to the Gentiles it’s foolishness, but to the called whether Jew or Gentile, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
This is a call that makes the one called a part of the called, the ekklēsia. Verse 26. “Consider your calling.” Consider it. Consider your summons. Consider your divine subpoena. “Brethren, there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen.”
And there you have your calling, brethren, is a calling based upon the fact that God has chosen. God has chosen. Verse 30 sums it up by saying, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus.” Christ becomes to you the wisdom of God in righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption by His doing. He chose you, you are the predestined and He called you. Whomever He predestines He calls, whomever He calls He justifies and glorifies. We’re talking here, then, about a calling into the fellowship of the saints, into fellowship with His Son.
Turn to Galatians chapter 1 and see the consistency of this truth. Galatians 1:6. Paul says, “I’m amazed - ” the Galatians were wandering off, being led astray by some false teachers, though they were believers. He says, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ.” And he is saying here that God called you to Himself, summoned you to Himself through the grace of Christ and I’m amazed that you are wandering away from that, chasing after a deceptive, distorted, and different gospel.
Down in verse 11 he says, “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. I neither received it from man, or was I taught it, I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism.” And we talked about that this morning, didn’t we? If you want to advance in Judaism, kill Christians. That’s how passionate they were about their religion. So he was “ - advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. And when he who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me - ” when God was pleased God reached down, knowing it had all been determined even from His mother’s womb, and He called him through His grace when it pleased Him, and He “ - revealed His Son in me that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.”
Paul understood that he was just grabbed by the neck by God and awakened to the glory of Christ and saved and made an apostle. Look at Ephesians chapter 4. And again so that you understand that this is such common New Testament language, Ephesians 4:1. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, plead with you - ” or entreat you “ - walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” This cannot be a general call. This cannot be a call that you can take or leave. It is a calling by which you have been called that demands that you live your life a certain way. Therefore, it is a transforming calling, it is a justifying, sanctifying calling. And so that you are to live “ - with all humility and gentleness and patience and showing forbearance to one another, and be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. This is that one body, that one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
This is a calling to salvation and nothing else. This is a calling into the one body, the one Spirit, the one hope, the one Lord, the one faith, the one baptism, the one God, and one Father of us all. It is a calling then that assumes a response of a life that is walked in a worthy manner. Whenever you see the idea of a call to salvation in the New Testament epistles, it is always this efficacious, effectual, determinative, operative call, the saving call.
Turn to Colossians 3:15. And here it says in this familiar verse, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” Here again you were called into the body of Christ. You were called to peace through Christ, who now rules in your heart. Turn to 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 and again he says what he says in Ephesians 4, does Paul. “So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God - ” listen to this “ - who calls you into His own Kingdom and glory.”
This is a call to fellowship. This is a call into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is a call to holiness. This is a call into the body of Christ, to join with the one Spirit, the one Lord, the one faith, the one God and Father of us all. And this is a call into His Kingdom and glory. And again I say - and theologians who understand the Word of God in its magnificent simplicity have always said - this is a saving call. This is a divine summons. I like to call it the unyielding summons of God.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:14. Verse 13. “We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation.” That’s the great doctrine of election. God has chosen you from the beginning, before time began in the counsels of eternity, inside the Trinity, God chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. Verse 14. “And it was for this He called you.”
You were called because you were chosen. You were called because you were chosen from the beginning for salvation. You were chosen to be sanctified by the Spirit, you were chosen to put faith in the truth, and He called you to that through our gospel in order that you might gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. There you have it again. Election led to a calling, which led to salvation, justification, sanctification, and final glorification.
Again, verse 14. “It was for this He called you through our gospel, - ” for what? “ - that you might gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Putting it all together, whomever it is that the Lord calls, He calls into His Kingdom, whomever it is He calls, He calls to salvation, He calls to faith in the truth, He calls to sanctification by the Spirit, and He calls to eternal glory. This again is a saving call. Second Timothy 1:9. They are made parallel here, end of verse 8. “God.” “God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling - ” that’s two ways to say the same thing. “God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling.” It doesn’t say “God who called us with a holy calling and because we responded He saved us.” It doesn’t say that.
It says “He saved us,” which is to say, “He called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to our own purpose and grace which is granted us in Christ Jesus before time began.” There you go back again. He calls whom He predestines and elects. Unmistakable teaching of Scripture.
Second. Well, 1 Peter 2:9. This is a rich, rich verse. Verse 9. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation - ” these are just grand designations “ - a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Now, I think probably when you study your Bible, every time you come across this word “called” in the epistles you’re going to see it jump off the page. This is not a wishful act on God’s part to call you. It’s not like calling the kids for dinner. This is an efficacious, effectual, determinative, operative call. He “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” He didn’t call you out of darkness hoping you’d come, He “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” That’s where you went when He called you.
When He called you, you came into His court and you were declared just. When He called you, you came into His body and you became a part of the body of Christ. When He called you, you came into the fellowship. When He called you, you became holy. When He called you, you were sanctified. When He called you it was so that you would finally be glorified. Verse 21 says that you were “called for this purpose...to follow in the footsteps of Christ.” It was a call to live your life following the example of the Savior.
Chapter 3 verse 9. “Be harmonious - ” verse 8 “ - be sympathetic, be brotherly, be kindhearted, be humble in spirit; don’t return evil for evil or insult for insult, give a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” This is a call that made you into a person who could be a blessing. This is a call that brought you into a life that you are to walk worthy of. This call has an effect.
First Peter 5:10. 1 Peter 5:10. This is so great. “After you’ve suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ.” What a statement. God has called you to justification. He has called you to sanctification and holiness. He has called you to communion and fellowship with the saints. He’s called you to live a godly and virtuous life and walk worthy of your calling and adorn His name. And He has called you to His eternal glory in Christ.
And He called you because He chose you and predestined you to this end. Second Peter 1:3, well verse 2. “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him - ” listen “ - who called us by His own glory and excellence.” He called us by His own glory. He called us by His own excellence. And He gave us everything pertaining to life and godliness. Staggering stuff, really.
The preacher can call people to repentance. The preacher can plead with people to come to salvation in Christ. We can do our best. Prophets have, and apostles have, and preachers still do. That’s the general outward plea, very different than the inward call that saves.
Finally Hebrews 3:1. Here’s the difference. Here’s the difference. Hebrews 3:1. “Therefore, holy brethren - ” I love that. I have to refer to you more often as that. It’s true, it’s true, it’s all true, separated, imputed with righteousness. “Therefore, holy brethren - ” here it is “ - partakers of a - ” what? What is the word? “ - a heavenly calling.” We’re not talking about the preacher here. We’re talking about God. This is a divine calling, a heavenly calling. You are holy because of this divine calling. This is a glorious truth. Glorious truth, this calling. This is not obscure is it? This is everywhere and there are more. There are more.
What are we talking about here? We’re talking about a calling of God that results in a person’s salvation. And I will say it again. Every use of the word “call” with regard to salvation in the New Testament epistles refers not to a general outward call, but to a specific, inward, efficacious, saving act of God. It is, in that sense, an unyielding summons from God that you will respond to. That is why theologians have called it “irresistible grace.”
I like the word “call” better. And I like the idea of an unyielding summons, because that emphasizes God’s unyielding, saving work, rather than man’s resistance. But nonetheless, it does fit the little outline in Calvin’s theology of the irresistible grace. When God seeks to save and call a sinner out of darkness into His marvelous light, the question is can the sinner resist?
By the way, 1 Corinthians 7:17, I just thought of it, I don’t want to leave it out. “Only as the Lord has assigned to each one as God has called each in this manner, let him walk.” This is speaking about whether you’re single or married or whatever, But again, it indicates that God has assigned to each one. It says “as the Lord has assigned to each one,” another way to say it, “as God has called each.” So what you have here in the word “calling” is a comparison with the word “assigned.”
God has predetermined this by His own purpose in eternity past. He has assigned salvation to some and He reaches out to save them through this call. He calls them out of darkness. He calls them out of unbelief. He calls them out of confusion and chaos. He calls them out of sin and unholiness. This is God’s sovereign, saving call. And He is unyielding in exercising His power to make the elect sinner come into His court, come in and be presented as forgiven, and justified, and on the way to eternal glory.
Now to say this bothers some people. It doesn’t bother me because the Bible says it. It bothers some people. They say, “Well, this isn’t right. It is not right to say God is going to bring sinners to Himself kicking and screaming. To say this is to say that you can’t fight it. You can’t resist it. God’s going to overpower you against your will and violate your freedom.”
And there are many who say God will not violate our free will. I hear that all the time. God will not violate our freedom to choose. And they want to say, “Well look, we can - God makes really strong suggestions. That’s what He does. And, you know, sometimes He’s really convincing. And a lot of times He makes really strong suggestions through good preachers who are really convincing. And we can pray and we can ask God to crank up those strong suggestions. We can ask God to open people’s minds, and open their hearts, and remove their blindness and make them responsive, but not force them to come. We can ask God to give them opportunity, and a whole lot of information and motivation. But in the end, it’s got to be up to them.”
A notable scholar who is very helpful in many of his writings, Norman Geisler, wrote a book called Chosen But Free. And he presents the reality of irresistible grace or this saving calling, this effectual calling as, according to him, making God into a dictator with power that crushes our freedom by dragging us into His Kingdom.
Well, all of that is really needless because that’s not what Scripture says. No one was ever saved against their will. No one was ever brought into the Kingdom kicking and screaming, protesting. No one was ever saved who was dragged against the grain of having dug their heels in. That is not what Scripture teaches. No one has ever been saved against his will. No one ever will be. Everybody who is saved is saved because they will to believe the gospel. In fact, they will with all their heart and soul to believe the gospel. No one is ever saved without being willing. It is an act of the will to believe.
The question is what made them willing? Or better, who made them willing? Was it them? Was it the preacher? That’s what we would have to conclude in that kind of system. Somehow it’s them in the end, and somehow though they were not willing they became willing, they found somewhere they could get a hold of a boot strap and pull themselves up out of unwillingness into willingness. Or the preacher smashed their resistance, and by his preaching he made them willing.
There’s a little verse tucked in to Psalm 110. You don’t have to look it up, just note it. Psalm 110:3. It says this. “Your people will be willing in the day of Your power.” Really good. “Your people will be willing in the day of Your power.” No sinner is ever going to be willing until the power of God comes upon that sinner. There’s nothing in the sinner to make him willing. There’s nothing in the sinner, even under the best of the preacher’s effort. It is only when the power of God makes him willing that he becomes willing.
Am I sure about that? Absolutely. No sinner has the capacity to be willing. Can I prove that to you? Look at Romans chapter 3 - just a couple of passages here. Romans chapter 3. I always think I’m going to have plenty of time and I never have enough. Romans 3:10. “There is none righteous, no not one. There’s none who understands, there’s none who seeks for God.” That’s pretty complete, isn’t it? “All have turned aside, together they’ve become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery in their paths and the path of peace have they not known and there is no fear of God before their eyes.”
I would say that’s a pretty sad condition. That’s a broad way to say the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Nobody seeks God. Nobody on their own is willing. Ephesians 2:1. Here’s why. Ephesians 2:1. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Dead people don’t respond. “You formerly walked according to the course this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit working in the sons of disobedience. You lived in the lust of our flesh, indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just like everybody else.” That’s you. It’s hopeless.
First Corinthians 2:14. “The natural man understandeth not the things of God. They’re foolishness to him.” Second Corinthians 4:3-4. “If our gospel is hidden, it’s hidden to them that believe not; and they believe not because the God of this world has blinded their minds, lest the light of the glory of the gospel should shine unto them.” We went through this in great detail. This is what we mean by “total depravity,” the utter inability of the sinner to be willing.
No sinner left to himself is able. No sinner left to himself is willing to understand, willing to repent, willing to believe, willing to choose God, Christ and salvation. Corruption is far too profound and too spiritually systemic. We can’t choose that. We can’t seek it. The sinner only becomes willing in the day of divine power. God must display His sovereign power in summoning us, in giving us the will to believe. He must make us willing. “Your people will be willing in the day of Your power.”
But it’s not that the sinner comes kicking, and screaming, and protesting, and trying to resist, because when the summons comes, the sinner is made willing. In fact, it is the passion of his heart. When the gospel comes, the sinner is so eager to respond. As lost sinners, people have the freedom of the will. That’s right. Their will is - look at them, look at the sinners. They operate freely. And what do they do? They choose to sin. They just kind of pick and choose which ones.
The lost sinner has the freedom of the will. In salvation we also have the freedom of the will, but instead of choosing sin we choose Christ and the difference is because we have been summoned with a divine call. Jonathan Edwards said, “What we choose is not really determined by the will as if it existed independently. What we choose,” said Edwards, “is really determined by the mind and what it is that the mind thinks is best.” And by the way, the mind is not neutral and the mind is not objective. The mind is corrupt. So what the mind thinks is best is what we choose. We are free to choose what our mind thinks is best, and apart from God and apart from Christ, our mind is corrupt and it thinks that sin is best.
Edwards says, “When confronted with God, the mind of the sinner never thinks that following or obeying God is a good choice.” The sinner’s will is never to choose God. Nothing is stopping him, but his mind doesn’t regard submission to God and the gospel as desirable, so that unless God changes the way we think, our mind will always tell us to rebel against God and the gospel. Which is precisely what we do.
The sinner will resist until the kind of grace comes out of heaven, a heavenly call. I don’t like the idea of irresistible grace because irresistible is negative and I’d rather see it as unyielding summons by God than something negative. Secondly, because irresistible grace is redundant. If grace is all of God, then it is irresistible because it says in Romans that God says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,” also in the book of Exodus. It is by definition irresistible. If God decides to be gracious, then it’s all of Him, enough said.
So I don’t like the word “irresistible” because it’s negative and it’s redundant. And thirdly, it over-qualifies or under-defines grace. Grace is much more than irresistible. The Bible doesn’t call this irresistible grace, it calls it a heavenly calling, a calling to holiness, a calling to sanctification, a calling to justification, a calling to communion with the saints, a calling into the body of Christ. And that word just under-defines that.
How about just calling it a saving call? You might mess up your little acrostic a little bit, that’s okay. This is God’s gift to us, Ephesians 2:8-9. Do you remember that? Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God not of works, that no one should boast.” The whole thing is a gift from God. The whole thing comes as a gift from God to us.
I love what it says in Philippians 1:29. “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake not only to believe in Him but to suffer for His sake.” It’s been granted to you for the sake of Christ to believe. The call brought you to faith. The call brought you to understand. It brought you to conviction, repentance, faith. Clearly, this is a saving call and nothing less than that makes any sense of the Scripture.
It’s like Acts 13:48, where it says, “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” How did those that were appointed to eternal life believe? Because God called them out of their ignorance. He called them out of their confusion. He called them out of their darkness. He called them out of their iniquity, called them out of their sin. And the call was an efficacious call activated by the power of God that brought them into the light, into the truth, into repentance and into faith.
It’s like Lydia in Acts 16:14. It says, “The Lord opened her heart.” I love that. “The Lord opened her heart.” That is the efficacious call. The Lord opens the mind and the heart, and the one who is unwilling becomes willing. Acts 18:27 says, Paul “helped greatly those who believed through grace.”
So we could just call it grace. It is the grace that actually saves. It is the grace that actually saves. The sinner can’t change his will, can’t move his will toward God. Do you remember John 1:12? “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name who were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God.” Nobody would will that unless God first willed it and activated it.
It isn’t because the sinner comes to his senses. It isn’t because the sinner is persuaded by clever preaching, or an emotional appeal. Those are all deceptive illusions. It isn’t because you’re so nice or you’ve made Jesus look so nice. People are saved because God summons them, and He summons them under the proclamation or the understanding of the gospel. Forget all the nonsense. The gospel alone is what God uses to awaken the sinner and He makes him willing, whereas he has never been willing before.
I am a part of a group of pastors and theologians called “The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals,” and happily a part of it. It is a formidable group of leading theologians around the country, and I’m very honored to hang around them. In 1996, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals put out what is called “The Cambridge Declaration.” This is what it says, “Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature.” Good statement. “Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature.” The only reason we think we can will to be saved is because our thinking is corrupt.
It goes on to say, “This false confidence now fills the evangelical world from the self esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works. God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary. God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary, but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. We confess that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable even of cooperating with regenerating grace.”
Further, the statement says, “We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by His grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage from sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life, and we deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.”
Now, I love hymns. Yesterday and today I was reading hymns, reading the Psalms in meter yesterday, because I was given a Bible from the year 1672, 330-some years old. And in the back of it somebody has taken a 150 Psalms and put them to meter and rhyme and I’m reading through. I’m determined to write some more hymns in the years ahead. I just - I love great music. And one of my favorite writers, Charles Wesley - now you’ve got to understand the Wesley brothers, they were anti-Calvinists. And you know what? The Calvinism they were against was pretty bad stuff.
Calvinism had gotten corrupted in the days of the Wesleys and it was harsh and unbending and many of the people who espoused Calvinism were anything but Christians. But Charles Wesley, who wrote so many hymns from an Arminian or anti-Calvinist viewpoint, believing in the freedom of the will and the freedom of the sinner to choose, in spite of his theology knew better. Because listen to what he wrote. You’ll recognize it. It’s from a hymn that he wrote called “And Can It Be.” This is what it says.
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye defused, a quickening ray I woke the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth to follow Thee.” Now only a Calvinist could write that. What? Come on, Charles, fess up. You’re a prisoner in darkness and night, but until God shined the light and broke your chains, nothing could change. This is the glory of this great truth. In the end, it all goes to God.
I want to close. Over the years several times we’ve had Dr. Jim Boice preach here. Great, great servant of God, great scholar, preacher, monumental life. And his books are still a blessing to me. I certainly considered him a mentor. In fact, R.C. Sproul told me one day that the death of Jim Boice was God’s judgment on America. He has left a huge hole. Boice, who loves hymns and wrote hymns, wrote in one of his books about John Newton. It was 1779 when John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace,” which we all know. But I don’t know if you all know the whole story of this man born in 1725 who died in 1807. Let me just read you a little of what Boice wrote about him.
“Newton was raised in a Christian home in which he was taught verses of the Bible, but his mother died when he was only six years old, and he was sent to live with a relative who hated the Bible and mocked Christianity. Newton ran away to sea. He was wild in those years and was known for being able to swear for two hours without ever repeating himself. He was forced to enlist in the British Navy but he deserted, was captured and beaten publicly as a punishment.
“Eventually, Newton got into the Merchant Marines and went to Africa. In his memoirs he wrote that when he went to Africa he went for one reason only, ‘That I might sin my fill.’ Newton fell in with a Portugese slave trader in Africa in whose home he was cruelly treated. This man often went away on slaving expeditions and when he was gone his power passed to his African wife, the chief woman of his harem. She hated all white men and vented her hatred on poor Newton.
“He says that for months he was forced to grovel in the dirt eating his food from the ground like a dog. He was beaten mercilessly if he touched it.” That is, he had to eat it with his face and not his hands. “In time, thin and emaciated, Newton made his way to sea, where he was picked up by a British ship making its way up the coast to England. When the captain of the ship learned that the young man knew something about navigation as a result of being in the British Navy, he made him his ship’s mate.
“But even then, Newton fell into trouble. One day when the captain was ashore, Newton broke out the ship’s supply of rum and got the whole crew drunk. He was so drunk himself that when the captain returned and struck him on the head, Newton fell overboard and would have drowned if one of the sailors hadn’t quickly hauled him back on board. Near the end of one voyage as they were approaching Scotland, the ship ran into bad weather and was blown off course. Water poured in, the ship began to sink. The young profligate was sent down into the hole to pump water. The storm lasted for days. Newton was terrified. He was sure the ship would sink and he would drown.
“But in the hold of the ship as he desperately pumped water, the God of all grace, whom he had tried to forget but who had never forgotten him, brought to his mind Bible verses he had learned in his home as a child. The way of salvation opened up to him, he was born again in the hold of the ship. He was deeply transformed and much later when he was again in England, Newton began to study theology, eventually became a preacher first in a little town called Olney and later in London.”
Of this storm William Cooper - really the very unique British poet - who became a fast personal friend of Newton and lived with him for several years, wrote this. Cooper wrote about the storm in which God called Newton. This is what he wrote. You’ll remember these words. “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform, He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.”
“And so he does,” says Boice. “Newton was a great preacher of grace for he had learned that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. He is proof that the grace of God is sufficient to save anybody and that He saves them by grace alone.”
And now you know when John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,” it was when he heard the call of the sound of God’s grace that he was awakened. And believers ever since have been singing of Amazing Grace, summoning grace as God calls the sinner to Himself. Bow your heads with me.
This great truth, Father, thrills our hearts to the very core that You have stooped down to call us because You chose us for glory. We bless You, we praise You, we thank You. And may we live lives worthy of this heavenly calling, having been called to holiness, called to fellowship, called into the body, called into intimate union with Christ, called to be messengers. May we walk worthy of this calling. And we praise You in Your Son’s name. Amen.