Friday, April 23

The Effective Call, Or How People Come To Seek God

Yesterday, in response to a question from Mr. Standfast, we looked at God's command that people seek Him and considered it in light of the pronouncements in scripture that there are none who seek God. Here's how that post concluded:

All this, of course, brings us to an impasse: a God who can command nothing less, and people who persistently (or intransigently might be a better word) refuse to submit to that command. We know, of course, that there is a solution to this impasse, for we know from the testimony of scripture and our own experience that there are people who find God (or who are found by Him).

Today I want to look a bit at how the God who requires that people worship Him (and seeking Him out or turning toward Him being the first step in giving Him His rightful due), and people who choose to turn their backs on what they know of Him are brought together. What we have come to is the stalemate of Romans 3: a God who can justly require no less, and the whole human race that consistently falls short of those requirements (Romans 3:23). Any reconciliation of that problem in our actual experience--and our actual experience is where I want to focus this piece--is, of course, grounded in the means of reconciliation accomplished in Christ Jesus. God can be justly reconciled to people who have refused to seek Him through the propitiatory work of Christ on the cross (Romans 3:25, 26).

How is it then, that people who are of a mind set that is hostile to God, and out of that hostility refuse to submit to God's commands (Romans 8:7) come to willingly belong to Him? How is it that people who dislike the knowledge of God so much that they traded it for something they know, deep down, is a lie (Romans 1:25), come to be His sons and daughters who cry out to Him, "Abba! Father!" (Romans 8:14, 15)? Well, if you're really looking up those verse in Romans 8, you probably already can see that the solution to our problem has something to do with the work of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we are brought into our relationship as adopted sons and daughters who can have the confidence of a child who knows that their father wants only good things for them and that he can always be approached in the boldest of ways. We come into this relationship of trust toward God rather than animosity through the work of the Spirit.

Calvinists (as Tim has reminded us) like to call this work of the Spirit the inner call, the inner call being the work of the Spirit that is successful at bringing people to Christ, or the work that causes people who are existing in a state of hostility toward God to seek Him out and embrace Him. This is distinguished then from what is called the outer call, the call of the gospel that goes out worldwide to all people, the call that encompasses those commands to seek God, a call that is always rejected unless it is accompanied by that inner work of the Spirit that turns people who are, as a result of the fall, naturally hostile toward God and His outer call to them, into people who see the value in the gospel and who embrace God and the call of the gospel.

We can see this always successful call here in Romans 8, too. Verse 30 tells us that there is a sort of call that always leads to justification:

....whom He called, these He also justified.... (NKJV)

The grammar leaves no room for this sort of call to be unsuccessful. Every person called in this way is justified by God, and since we know that we are not justified unless we believe, we know that everyone who is called in this way is successfully brought to faith. Those who receive this effective call come to embrace God and the gospel through faith.

We can also find this successful call in 1 Corinthians 1: 23-24.

....but we preach Christ crucified....

Here you have the message of the gospel going out to everyone--Jews and Gentiles alike. There are two responses to this message calling people to the crucified Christ. Most reject it: the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness...

The Jewish people, by and large, saw the message of the gospel as offensive, and the Greeks, in general, thought it made no sense. But rejection is not the whole story:

but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

There are some who welcome the message of the gospel because instead of being offended by it, or thinking it silly, they see that it really is a message of power and wisdom--the way to know God and overcome evil. And what is it that distinguishes this group of Jew and Greeks who welcome the preaching of Christ crucified from those who reject it? It's the call--the successful one. Those called in this way see the message of the gospel differently than those who reject it. They understand what it is worth to them--that these are the very words of life, rather than offensive rubbish.

It is through this inner work of the Spirit, this effective inner call, that we discern the value of the gospel, that we are turned from those who are at enmity with God into those who willingly receive Him and the message of the gospel. That's why Paul can say in his summary statement at the end of chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians that it is "of God" (or out of God's work) that we are in Christ Jesus. It is through the effective work of the Spirit within us that we were changed from the sort who reject God and His message to the sort who see the true value in the gospel and in coming to the God Who made us. In other words, we do not put ourselves into Christ Jesus through faith, but we are brought into Christ Jesus through faith--faith that comes about through God's work within us, calling us successfully to Him.

God solved the problem of the impasse between God and man, first of all by sending Christ to die, and then, on the grounds of that effective work of Christ, seeking men and women and enlightening them to the truth and value of the gospel, so that they turn from their natural hostility to God and come to worship and love Him. So we can join Paul in saying, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord ."