God’s act of salvation: God’s effectual call

The Scriptures teaches us to distinguish between two types of calls:

  • A universal call
  • An effectual call

The universal call of the Gospel

Some refer to this call of the Gospel as the external or verbal call.  A valid Gospel offer includes: 

  • a presentation of the plan of salvation 
  • an invitation to come to Christ in repentance and faith, and 
  • the promise of sure forgiveness and salvation. 

This free offer may be met with indifference or outright rejection, and so the invitation may prove unfruitful. Why?

The universal offer of the Gospel is not a sham, nor a grand deception. Deception occurs only when the one who makes a promise does not keep to his side of the bargain.  

If someone hears the Gospel and does not respond to it, the fault for that person not being saved does not lie with God. The problem with unregenerate sinners is twofold: 

  • spiritual inability because spiritual death to make any successful contribution
  • moral insubordination of the person because of inborn enmity with God

1 Corinthians 2 is clear:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)

Every person born after the fall of Adam cannot repent and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith and calling upon God; this is only possible after God regenerates a sinner by giving him/her a new birth by the Holy Spirit. This means that even the good works we might consider pleasing and acceptable to God, cannot save us.  Without the grace of God through Christ, our sinful nature prevents us to please Him, and all BYO-efforts to save ourselves will always come to nothing.

Sinful man is still a free agent, able to make choices for which he must take responsibility.  In his relationships with other people he has the ability to discharge moral duties: he has the obligation to love, be honest, not covet, not commit murder, etc. 

After the fall sinful man lost his free will in regards to his salvation.  He lost the absolute entitlement to exercise free choice as he pleases in regards to his relationship with God. He is like a fish in water that can swim wherever it likes, but it is limited to water.  The sinner can only swim in the lake of sin. 

“A man always wills as upon the whole he pleases, but he cannot will himself to please differently from what he does please. The moral condition of the heart determines the act of the will, but the act of the will cannot change the moral condition of the heart.” (Hodge, A. A. (1869). A Commentary on the Confession of faith: With questions for theological students and Bible Classes; (pp. 225–226). Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work.)

The outward call shows men what they ought to do to receive salvation and therefore leaves them inexcusable should they disobey. 

The effectual call of the Gospel

“By this call, the heart is renewed, and the will effectually be drawn to embrace Christ. The outward call brings men to a profession of Christ, the inward to a possession of Christ.” (Watson, T. (1855). The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (p. 148). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.)

When God calls, He calls sovereignly and effectively by an inward call which goes beyond the ears into the soul and into the heart. This call brings about regeneration which God achieves by the power of his Spirit through the Word.

God does not only offer salvation; He brings it about. It is God who regenerates the spiritually dead soul by his almighty power.  Nothing can resist his almighty power, which means this call is effectual and irresistible.  

The effectual call of the Gospel is a working of the Spirit in the heart of the sinner.  

  • He does not merely heighten our natural faculties and powers, but He acts upon the spiritually dead soul from within, gives it a new birth to produce a new principle of spiritual action.
  • God does not require sinners to mentally agree to the truth of the Scriptures; He gives them an understanding of the Scriptures.  
  • By the effectual call of the Gospel, a sinner is brought to life, resulting in a spiritually and moral response to the demands of the Gospel. 

When the Gospel call is effectual it regenerates the soul.  The new man in Christ has a new view of God, Christ, sin, holiness, the world, the gospel, and of the life to come. He begins to understand of all Biblical truths necessary for salvation which God’s Spirit is revealing to him.

A baby does not ask to be born, and it does not contribute to its birth. Similarly, when the Holy Spirit effectual calls through the Scriptures, his call is based on the completed work of Christ.  By the Holy Spirit sinners are born into the Kingdom of God, not by their own decision, but by God’s sovereign call.  The once spiritually dead mind is illuminated, the eyes of the understanding are opened; the heart is renewed; the will is conquered, and man is made willing to obey God’s gracious call and commands.  

The universal call and effectual call of the Gospel compared

Universal Call Effectual Call
A call from God through his Word
A call to repentance based on the redemptive work of Christ
It is an external call for all, including the elect It is an internal call, only for those whom the Spirit gives new birth
It is an universal call to all who hear the Gospel It is a call limited to those whom the Father gave to his Son Jesus Christ whom He atoned for  by his blood
It is not irresistible  It is irresistible 
Some hear and harden their hearts. Others  respond, but ultimately fall away Those ordained to eternal life are spiritually made alive to respond to the call and believe in Jesus Christ 


The Gospel of Mark records the ministry of Jesus Christ in a quick succession of events:

  • John the Baptist, as the link between the Old and New Testaments, proclaimed the arrival of the promised Messiah (Mark 1:1-6)
  • The Divine approval of the public ministry of Christ when He was baptised (Mark 1:9-14)
  • The calling of the first disciples.  This calling was effectual: they left their nets at once (immediately) and followed Jesus (Mark 1:18)
  • Christ demonstrates his power over the Evil One (Mark 1:21, 39)
  • Christ heals many (Mark 1:29, 40)

All along the disciples accompanied Christ.  They learned, observed and were trained to become fishers of men (Mark 1:17).  They learned about the stubborn hearts of the Pharisees (Mark 3:5), and they observed the large crowds who followed Christ and whom He healed (Mark 3:7-10)

Mark then records something very interesting:  Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.” (Mark 3:13) With Him were The Twelve and other who became disciples through his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). 

He then began to teach them.  According to Mark, the Parable of the Sower as the first parable Jesus told. 

The teaching locked up in the Parable of the Sower was extremely important for the Apostles and other disciples to grasp at that point of their discipleship training.

  1. Read Mark 4:13.  What is the implication of the remarks of Jesus in this verse?


2.  Read Mark 4:14, Luke 8:11.  What does the seed represent in this parable?


3.  Do all who receive the seed of the Word respond?


4.  In what way is responding to the Word, and bearing seed (a crop) different?


5.  Read Mark 4:26.  What did Jesus want the disciples to know about their future task of sowing the seed of the Word and the harvest?


6.  Mark 4:11-12.  What do we learn here about the universal and the effectual call of the Gospel?


7.  In Romans 8-10 Paul explains God’s modus operandi (so to speak) in bringing sinners to the new life in Christ.  

7.1  Read Romans 8:28-30.  What are the Divine actions of God in relation to our salvation?


7.2  Read Romans 8:31-32.  On what does our calling, justification and glorification rest?


7.3  Read Romans 9:1-5.  Were the Jews spiritually “underprivileged”?


7.4  Read Romans 9:5-6.  Why can Paul say did God Word not fail? In what does the Parable of the Sower help us to understand  Paul’s argument?


7.5  Read Romans 9:11 and John 1:12-13.  Who becomes children of God?


7.6  Read Romans 9:24.  Who are called into the family of God?


7.7  Read Romans 10:13-16.  How does God call sinners?


7.8 Read Romans 10:17.  What is the connection between the Word of Christ and faith?


8. Read 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

8.1  According to verses 12 and 17, what was Paul’s primary ministry?


8.2  Verse 12 and 14:  Who opened the door and who made it possible?


8.3  Verse 15:  Describe the reaction to Paul’s message.


9. Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.

9.1 verse 2:  to whom did Paul preach the Word of God?


9.2  Verse 4:  Some did not receive Paul’s message.  Why not?


9.3  Verse 6:  Who gives light to receive the Gospel?


10.  Read Acts 13:44-53.

10.1  Verse 46:  How does Paul describe his ministry? (Think about the Parable of the Sower)


10.2  Verses 48, 50.  How was the seed of the Gospel received?


10.3  Verse 48:  Who believed?  Why?


11.  What do you understand about the universal call of the Gospel, and the effectual call of the Gospel?


For further study

  • Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24
  • John 6:61-71
  • John 10:22-30
  • John 17:1-5
  • Ephesians 1:3-14
  • 2 Timothy 1:8-12

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