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God’s Calling To Salvation

A study on God’s calling from the Book
Renewal Theology: Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christian Living (J. Rodman Williams)
 Study prepared by William R. Cunningham (1998)

 

The Work of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and rose again for the sole purpose of saving us from our sins. The Bible declares:

(Matthew 1:21 NIV) "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

Jesus has provided salvation but how does Jesus’ perfect sacrifice apply to us? What is the process to salvation?

There are two points that I would like to make concerning the application of Jesus’ work.

  1. Salvation is not fully dependent on us (see 2 Corinthians 5:19). God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ. We had nothing to do with this. All we have to do is receive in order to make what God made available to us a reality.

  2. Salvation is not fully dependent on God (See John 3:16). We have to believe in order to realize the salvation that was provided by Jesus Christ.

The Calling Of God To Salvation

We are able to experience salvation because God calls us to it. God has done the work and therefore we cannot earn salvation only receive it. That is, we only have to answer the call. There are various types of callings. There is a calling to a particular occupation, task, or purpose in life. For example one may have a calling to be a top executive. One may have a calling to be a pastor. However, in this study we will be talking about a different type of call. We will be talking about the call of God to salvation: Reconciliation to Himself.

General Calling

First we must realize that God calls all people to salvation. We will call this a general call. This call to salvation is not always accepted as depicted in the parable that Jesus gave in Matthew22:1-14. Some refuse the call to salvation while other accept and experience eternal life with the Father.

Effectual Calling

Effectual calling is simply the results of the positive response to the general call of God to salvation. It is basically when someone receives the call of God and experiences the salvation that God had already provided. See 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:8-9, 1 Corinthians 1:9, Ephesians 4:1; Hebrews 3:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:14.

God’s Purpose

The call of God is due (if not in part) to His purpose. For example, the Bible says,

(Romans 8:28 NIV) "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

(2 Timothy 1:9 NIV) "who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time"

Why is God calling all people to salvation? The answer lies in His purpose. This purpose can be seen at the beginning when God created man in His own image and for His own pleasure (see Revelations 4:11). So God’s calling can be seen as being prompted by His own purpose.

 

God’s Choice

God’s calling is also due to His choice. He didn’t have to provide salvation for man though He did. He chose to reconcile sinful man to Himself. It was God’s own choice to love us still and save us from the sin that we placed on ourselves.

(Ephesians 1:4 NIV) "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight."

We should also note that the calling of God, by His choice and for His purpose, was before the beginning.

(Romans 8:29-30 NIV) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. {30} And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

See also 2 Timothy 1:9.

 

The Basis of Salvation

Since God has provided salvation, chose to save us, and did all this for His own purpose, we can confidently say that salvation is based solely on God. He calls from eternity past for His purpose and by His choice. All we have to do is receive.

This facts negates the doctrine of salvation by works. There is nothing that we can do to earn salvation from God. For one thing, it has already been provided freely for all people. It is only necessary that we follow the proper procedure, set forth by God, to obtain the free gift of salvation.

Election

God’s choice refers to His election. It is very necessary that we understand the concept of God’s election and God’s elect. First of all, God’s election does not refer to those who God has already chosen to be saved while the remainder are destined for the second death

God’s election in the New Testament is not discriminatory. His election includes all, by their free will, who believes. Therefore, election includes the component of human responsibility since we have the final choice of accepting or rejecting salvation. So we individually must respond to the call of salvation from God.

I should also mention that God’s election does not coerce anyone. It is presented and we must respond. We will talk more about this later.

Our ability to believe is not due to our election as the Calvinists suppose. We are also not elected due to God’s foresight of our faith as the Arminianists suppose.

Calvinism holds to the belief that we are only able to believe or accept the Gospel of Christ to salvation because we were already chosen by God to do so. The Arminians hold that the only reason that God elected certain individuals to receive salvation is because he already knew that those individuals would receive it.

Those who are outside of election (not saved) are still being called to salvation by God. There will always be a call from God to salvation as long as one is unsaved and still living.

Predestination

Predestination also refers to God’s election. See Ephesians 1-4; Romans 8:28-30. We must realize that predestination in scripture ONLY refers to salvation. It is never used in association with Hell, damnation, heaven, etc. See Ephesians 1:5,11; Romans 8:29-30. Therefore, it is very wrong to conjecture that God has predestined some to salvation and others to eternal damnation. Look carefully at Romans 8:29-30.

(Romans 8:29-30 NIV) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. {30} And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This simply tells us that God has already entered into a relationship with those who would believe, i.e., Christians.  It does not imply that God chose who those people would be. For example, I may say that I will be friends with anyone in the "Goodtime" organization. Whoever is part of the Goodtime organization is a separate concern. Whoever is part of that organization, now and in the future, I have already determined that I would be their friend. The same principle applies to predestination and foreknowledge. God has already determined, before time began, that he would have a personal relationship with all of His people, namely Christians, and these people will be in the image of His son Jesus Christ.

Predestination is not pre-ordination. God did not pre-ordain anyone to die. The Bible declares that God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4). We have the choice to accept salvation or reject it (John 3:19).

There is no scripture evidence that suggests that Jesus’ actions were limited to those whom God pre-determined would be saved (would believe). Jesus died for all and we have the responsibility to believe (John 3:16).

The only barrier between the elected ones and the non-elect is unbelief (John 3:19). Jesus didn’t come to save some (those that were pre-ordained for salvation) and condemn others. Non-believers are condemned by their unbelief.

There are two destinations: Life or death. There is only one predestination: The elect-those who would believe.

Foreknowledge

God’s foreknowledge simply means that he has already established a relationship with those who are Christians. To a Jewish person at this time, to know means to enter into personal relationship with. Therefore, to foreknow means to predetermine to enter into relationship with. So God has decided and has established a relationship with all Christians from the beginning of time. See Romans 8:29, 1 Peter 1:1-2, and Romans 11:2. For example see Psalm 139:1-4.

It is very important to realize that God’s election is not based on His foreknowledge. That is, God didn’t choose one person over another because he knew what they would do. No. He has entered into a relationship with the Body of Christ from the beginning. Who is in that body is another story.

Foreknowledge must be the background of election instead of foreordination. The concept of foreordination implies an election to eternal unbelief. It implies that God elects some to salvation and others to reprobation. This is not true though. Foreknowledge leads to election which then leads to saving faith. We will discuss saving faith later in this study.

The Method of calling

God’s calling to salvation occurs by the ministry of the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. The conjoining of these two makes God’s calling effectual. See 1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 1 Peter 1:23,25. The preaching of the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ is the first step in the call of God to salvation. It is also necessary that we hear the word of God proclaimed (See Romans 10:14).

Salvation can only occur if we hear the Gospel preached!

Our goal then is to get people to listen to the Gospel and believe it—in general.

Our pluralistic and global society makes it more difficult for people to listen, hear, and then believe the Gospel. To many people, the Gospel preached may be perceived as simply another religion to try. Therefore, the method that we use to proclaim the Gospel has become increasingly important.

The Bible also indicates that the preaching of the Gospel will be accompanied by signs and wonders to confirm it. This is the principle of communication with confirmation. We all have the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel in our own personal way. Our witness must center on "Christ crucified." See Acts 2:22-36 as an example.

Those sent to proclaim the Gospel are not exclusively church officials (pastors, evangelists, etc.). Normal everyday people may be sent to proclaim the Gospel to an unbeliever. Some examples of this are Philip (Acts 21:8); and Stephen (Acts 8:4). However, we should not proclaim the message of the Gospel unless God sends us since God prepares the way for us. We will see the significance of this later in this study.

Application by the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit must be active in the proclamation of the Gospel in order for salvation to be realized. This point is extremely important for effective preaching of the Gospel and the assurance that salvation is really induced instead of deception. See 1 Peter 1:12 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

Notice that Jesus did not begin to preach until after he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, i.e., after He was anointed (Luke 3:22, 4:2, 4:14). Jesus also told His disciples to wait until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit before they ventured out to preach the Gospel (Luke 24:49). See also Acts 2:4. The same principle applied to Paul the Apostle. He began His ministry after he was empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17,20).

The calling of God to salvation can only be effective if it goes forth with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel must be accompanied by the Spirit to effect salvation in the same way that God created all things: God spoke the word and the Spirit was hovering beforehand to manifest God’s creative words. We must therefore rely on the Holy Spirit when we proclaim the Gospel and not ourselves.

(1 Corinthians 2:1-4 KJV) "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. {2} For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. {3} And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. {4} And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:"

Saving Faith—the Response to the Call

The response to God’s call to salvation is saving faith and is the result of the word of God accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit. This implies that salvation is not based on our natural decision to accept the Gospel. It is not the result of our ability to believe or acceptance of the Gospel message. It starts with the proclamation of the Gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit and the induction of saving faith.

Grace

Salvation has been provided for us by the grace of God. That is, we do not deserve the salvation that God has freely provided for us. We can’t earn so great a salvation so it is not based on us but what God has done. This rules out righteousness by works. See Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 1:29. Salvation originates in grace and is channeled through saving faith.

The Nature of Saving Faith

The nature of saving faith is knowledge, assent, and trust. We will discuss these three below.

Knowledge

Knowledge is the understanding (apprehension) of the Gospel message. So the Gospel must be heard and then understood. Jesus reveals the importance of this process in the parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13. Knowledge is simply to understand the Gospel that you heard. It is really no different then anything else that you hear. The process is simply that you hear and understand.

Knowledge is the first step to saving faith. Knowledge by itself cannot cause salvation but there must be a basic understanding of the Gospel message in order for salvation to occur. Without this step salvation cannot occur because knowledge insures that you are responding to the Gospel message and not simply an altar call or the like.

Assent

Assent is the acknowledgment of the understood proclamation of the Gospel. It is to say Yes to the Gospel message. You can see how important this stage of the salvation process is. This is the point of decision that all who hear and understand the Gospel message must come to. Those who say yes become saved and those who say no remain a non-believer.

Assent, therefore, is the recognition of the truth of the Gospel as well as a personal need for salvation. Assent is not to a body of church doctrines regardless of how correct those doctrines are. Assent is only to the acknowledgment of the Gospel message!

 

 

Trust

Trust is the confidence in God’s promise in the Gospel. It is to totally rely on Christ, to turn our life over to Him and not rely on self. This too negates any chance of salvation by works which is the concept of one saving oneself. We have to trust that God has saved us and made us righteous based on the Gospel message and not by our own works.

The Climax of the Salvation Process

The climax of the salvation process is that we are in Christ and that Christ is in us. We have been united with Christ because of salvation. See Romans 6:11, 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:13. Being in Christ is a unity of relationship. This union in Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17) means that the Spirit of Christ operates through our spirit.

Christ lives in us just as we are in Him (Galatians 2:20). He lives in us and we in him by faith. Christ dwells in us by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9-11). All of this happens through the medium of faith. Christ dwells within the believer’s heart: The center of our existence. Some illustrations of this union can be found in John 15:5 (the fine & branches), Ephesians 4:12,15 (Head & body), and Ephesians 5:31 (Marriage).

Importance of the Process

Too often I have witnessed altar calls where the question is "Do you want to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" or "If you die today would you be assured of going to heaven?" These are valid questions but they do not produce salvation. People may respond positively to these and similar questions but salvation is still not induced.

Salvation is not simply to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. That is not its purpose. The purpose of salvation is also not to go to heaven and avoid hell. It is not for the purpose of assuring that we will live forever with God though these are valid and true statements regarding salvation. Salvation is all about being reconciled to God the Father.

Therefore, it is extremely important that the Gospel be preached with the power of the Holy Spirit, people hear it, understand it, acknowledge it, and become in union with Christ which is to be born again, reconciled to God—SAVED.

If the salvation process outlined in this study is not followed then people will be deceived and I dare say not saved at all. The simple fact is that if a person has not responded to the Gospel then they could not have been born again. Salvation only comes from responding favorably to the Gospel message. There are many people who are deceived by thinking that joining a church, responding to an altar call, or giving their life over to Christ (whatever that really means) means that they are saved. This is emphatically not true. Salvation can only be realized through the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

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