Shorter Catechism Q. 31
Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
Jer 35:17; John 6:63; John 10:2–5
Do you remember how you became a Christian? Perhaps you were struck by a passage of the Bible. Maybe it was something you heard in a sermon. Perhaps it was a book that you read, or someone you talked to, that made you realize there was more to words printed on a page, and something behind the human voice. There was Someone calling you. You heard that Someone’s voice.
The exact circumstances that lead to our conversion, of course, vary from person to person. Yet sinners alienated from God all have basically the same need. So even though the exact circumstances of conversion are different from person to person, there is a basically same pattern.
The first step is the Savior calling us. But have you noticed something amazing? Two people might read the same Bible, hear the same sermon. But one responds by rejecting the message, while the other responds by being drawn to the Person. How is it that both hear the same “calling,” the same “voice” of the Savior, but one responds by rejecting Him and the other respond by receiving Him?
We can understand this in terms of two different “callings.” There is a “general calling” which goes out to everyone. Many physically hear with their ears and read with their eyes the message of the Savior. And since they did hear the message, they will someday have to give an answer for rejecting the message (see Jer 35:17 above).
On the other hand, there is an “effectual calling” which indeed comes by hearing, but penetrates also into the heart. The Shepherd calls, and the sheep follow. The difference is the Holy Spirit’s effectual calling. We hear the Savior calling because the Holy Spirit impresses upon us our deep need for him and his mercy for us. The Holy Spirit persuades us to respond to the Savior with faith, and gives us the ability to do so.
So how did we become Christians? The Savior called and the Holy Spirit made that calling an effective means of our salvation. So what does this mean? First, our salvation is from first to last the Savior’s design. He started it, and he will see it through. God does not leave things half-done, or half-undone. What he has begun by calling us, he will finish by leading us to glory.
Secondly, we should learn a lesson from those who heard but rejected. If we are his sheep, we ought to be attuned to the voice of our Shepherd. Let us learn his voice well.