[Adapted from Chapter 13 in Wayne Grudem. Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know (Kindle Locations 1299-1313). Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Kindle Edition]
Paul sets forth an order in which the blessings of salvation come to Christians when he writes in Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
The calling Paul refers to in Romans 8:30 is not the type of “calling” that people sometimes refer to when giving the reason they chose one job over another or chose to become a member of a certain church. Instead, this calling is related to those who were “predestined” and who became “justified.” That is, it is a calling that came specifically to all who are believers in Jesus.
This kind of calling is a summons from the king of the universe; it is a summons that can’t be denied, and it brings about the desired response in people’s hearts. This calling is an act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith. Because it comes from God and always results in saving faith, it is sometimes referred to as effective calling.
When God calls people in this powerful way, he calls them “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9); he calls them “into the fellowship of his Son” (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. Acts 2:39) and “into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12; cf. 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3). People who have been called by God “belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6). They are called to “be saints” (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2) and have come into a realm of peace (1 Cor. 7:15; Col. 3:15), freedom (Gal. 5:13), hope (Eph. 1:18; 4:4), holiness (1 Thess. 4:7), patient endurance of suffering (1 Peter 2:20 – 21; 3:9), and eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12).
General Calling and the Gospel Call
But there is a broader sense of “calling” that refers to any preaching of the gospel to anyone, whether they respond or not. In distinction from effective calling, which always brings response, we can talk about the “gospel call” in general, which goes forth to all people, and which is sometimes referred to as external calling or general calling.
The gospel call goes forth through the human preaching of the gospel. Paul makes this clear in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, when he writes to believers that their calling from God came through “our gospel” — that is, the gospel that Paul and others preached to them. That is why it is important that we boldly proclaim the gospel message, trusting that God will, through his effective call, do what he did with Lydia in Acts 16:14: “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”
Not all gospel calls are effective. The job of believers is to explain the gospel message; it is God’s job to make that message or call effective.
Elements of the Gospel Call
There are three key elements that should be a part of every gospel call: an explanation of the facts concerning salvation; an invitation to respond to Christ personally in repentance and faith; and a promise of forgiveness and eternal life.
The facts concerning salvation are basically these:
(1) All people have sinned (Rom. 3:23).
(2) The penalty for our sin is death (Rom. 6:23).
(3) Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:8).
But simply stating these facts isn’t enough. There must be an invitation to repent and believe this good news personally. One such invitation, originally spoken by Jesus many years ago and found in Matthew 11:28 – 30, should still be heard as if Jesus were speaking it to you today: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
To those who respond in faith to the gospel call, God promises that their sins will be forgiven and that they will experience eternal life with God himself. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). As Jesus said in John 6:37, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
How the Call Is Received
After the invitation to respond to the gospel is given, God must bring about a change in an individual’s heart before he or she is able to respond in faith. That change, a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us, is sometimes called regeneration. We play no role in this regeneration; it is completely an act of God.
This change of heart is described in Ezekiel 36:26: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
This instantaneous event changes everything. Once it happens, recipients are, in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “a new creation. The old has passed away … the new has come.” This change, although not always immediately realized, results in a transformed heart that leads to a transformed character that produces a transformed life. All areas of life are changed. A regenerated individual should expect a new love for God and his people (Matt. 22:37 – 40), a heartfelt obedience to his commands (John 14:15), and the Christ-like character traits Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22 – 23).
How the Call Is Responded To
Once God has summoned through an effective call and changed a person’s heart through regeneration, the necessary response is repentance and faith. But since the gospel call is a personal call, it requires a personal response. This willing, personal, individual response to the gospel call, in which a person sincerely repents of his sins and places his trust in Christ for salvation, is called conversion.
Simply knowing and affirming the facts of salvation as stated above in the gospel call is not enough. True saving faith, while it includes knowledge (knowing the facts of salvation) and approval (agreeing that the facts are true), also requires trust. Therefore, one who has true saving faith has moved from investigating Jesus’ claims to believing that these claims are true and from believing these claims are true to trusting in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God. If I have true saving faith, I no longer simply believe facts about Jesus; instead, I personally trust Jesus to save me. The Bible uses strong language to describe this personal trust: we do not just have to “believe Jesus” (that is, believe that what he says is truthful), but we have to “believe in him” (that is, put personal trust in him and depend on him): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This trust involves two aspects: repentance and faith.
Paul preached a gospel “of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). The author of Hebrews says that the first two elements of foundational Christian teaching are “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God” (Heb. 6:1). Repentance means a conscious decision to turn away from your sins, and faith means turning to Christ to forgive those sins. This kind of faith is admitting that you can’t save yourself and at the same time believing that Christ can. Repentance and faith are really two sides of the same coin. For when I genuinely renounce and forsake my sin, I then turn in faith to Christ, trusting in him alone for my salvation. And this initial repentance and faith provides a pattern for ongoing heart attitudes of repentance and faith that continue for the rest of a Christian’s life. As Paul writes in Colossians 2:6, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.”
Questions for Review and Application
1. How does someone become a Christian?
2. Can you explain what it means to truly believe in Jesus? What does it mean to truly repent of sins?
3. In what ways can Christians give evidence of their belief in Jesus?
About the Author: Wayne A. Grudem, Ph.D.
Research Professor, Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary
B.A., Harvard University; M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary; Ph.D., University of Cambridge
Dr. Grudem became Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in 2001 after teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for 20 years. He has served as the President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, as President of the Evangelical Theological Society (1999), and as a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible. He also served as the General Editor for the ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008).
General Editor of the ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008). Member, Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible. Former President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. President of the Evangelical Theological Society (1999)
Visit www.waynegrudem.com to find an extensive (and growing) collection of articles, books, audio and video messages, and answers to questions by Wayne Grudem.
Dr. Grudem has written more than 100 articles for both popular and academic journals. His numerous books include the following:
Politics – According to the Bible (Zondervan, 2010)
Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism (Multnomah, 2006)
Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? (Crossway, 2006)
Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know(Zondervan, 2005)
The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy(with Vern Poythress) (B&H Academic, 2005)
Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Multnomah, 2004)
Business for the Glory of God (Crossway Books, 2003)
The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Crossway Books, 2000)
Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith(Zondervan, 1999)
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 1994)
The First Epistle of Peter (TNTC, IVP 1988)
Dr. Grudem has also edited or co-edited numerous books:
Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood(with Dennis Rainey) (Crossway, 2003)
Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood(Crossway, 2002)
Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan, 1996)
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (with John Piper) (Crossway Books, 1991)
Please view Dr. Grudem’s Resources, Publications & Media for a more comprehensive listing of his work, or visit Amazon’s Wayne Grudem Page.
Articles, books, audio and video messages, and answers to questions by Wayne Grudem: www.waynegrudem.com. Christian Essentials (Scottsdale Bible Church Adult Enrichment Class): http://christianessentialssbc.com/
We may define the atonement as follows: The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation. This definition indicates that we are using the word atonement in a broader sense than it is sometimes used. Sometimes it is used to refer only to Jesus’ dying and paying for our sins on the cross. But, as will be seen below, since saving benefits also come to us from Christ’s life, we have included that in our definition as well.
The Cause of the Atonement: What was the ultimate cause that led Christ’s coming to earth and dying for our sins? To find this we must trace the question back to something in the character of God himself. And here Scripture points to two things. And here Scripture points to two things: the love and justice of God.
The love of God as a cause of the atonement is seen in the most familiar passage in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). But the justice of God also required that God find a way that the penalty due to us for our sins would be paid (for he could not accept us into fellowship with himself unless the penalty was paid). Paul explains that this was why God sent Christ to be a “propitiation” (Rom. 3:25 NASB) (that is, a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath so that God becomes “propitious” or favorably disposed toward us): it was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Rom. 3:25). Here Paul says that God had been forgiving sins in the Old Testament but no penalty had been paid–a fact that would make people wonder whether God was indeed just and ask how he could forgive sins without a penalty. No God who was truly just could do that, could he? Yet when God sent Christ to die and pay the penalty for our sins, “it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).
Therefore both the love and the justice of God were the ultimate cause of the atonement. It is not helpful for us to ask which is more important, however, because without the love of God, he would never have taken any steps to redeem us, yet without the justice of God, the specific requirement that Christ should earn our salvation by dying for our sins would not have been met. Both the love and the justice of God were equally important.
The Necessity of the Atonement. Was there any other way for God to save human beings than by sending his Son to die in our place?
Before answering this question, it is important to realize that it was not necessary for God to save any people at all. When we appreciate that “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until judgement (2 Peter 2:4), then we realize that God could also have chosen with perfect justice to have left us in our sins awaiting judgment: he could have chosen to save no one, just as he did with the sinful angels. So in this sense the atonement was not absolutely necessary.
But once God, is his love, decided to save some human beings, then several passages in Scripture indicate that there was not other way for God to do this than through the death of his Son. Therefore, the atonement was not absolutely necessary, but, as a “consequence” of God’s decision to save some human beings, the atonement was absolutely necessary. This is sometimes called the “consequent absolute necessity” view of the atonement.
In the Garden of Gethsemene Jesus prays, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). We may be confident that Jesus always prayed according to the will of the Father, and that he always prayed with fullness of faith. Thus it seems that this prayer, which Matthew takes pains to record for us, shows that it was not possible for Jesus to avoid the death on the cross which was soon to come to him (the “cup” of suffering that he had said would be his). If he was going to accomplish the work that the Father sent him to do, and if people were going to be redeemed for God, then it was necessary for him to die on the cross.
He said something similar after his resurrction, when he was talking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were sad that Jesus had died, but his response was, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Jesus understood that God’s plan of redemption (which he explained for the disciples from many Old Testament Scriptures, Luke 24:27) made it necessary for the Messiah to die for the sins of his people.
As we saw above, Paul in Romans 3 also shows that if God were to be righteous, and still save people, he had to send Christ to pay the penalty for sins. “It was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). The epistle to the Hebrews emphasizes that Christ had to suffer for our sins: “He had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation [lit. ‘propitiation’] for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). The author of Hebrews aslo argues that since “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins (Hebrews 10:4), a better sacrifice is required (Hebrews 9:23). Only the blood of Christ, that is, his death, would be able really to take away sins (Hebrews 9:25-26). There was no other way for God to save us than for Christ to die in our place.
Dr. Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, received his A.B. from Harvard University, M.Div. from Westminster Seminary, and a Ph.D in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. He is a board member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the author of more than a dozen books -including his magnum opus “Systematic Theology”, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009 – from which this article is excerpted from chapter 27.