The Ordo Salutis: Effectual Calling

Joel Wood

In the Western, North American, capitalist culture from which I write, we have nearly no experience of interaction that isn’t based in some way on a transactional relationship. All of life is seen as give and take. But in our society, we seek to get as much as we are able, while giving as little as we can. Too often we deal with God in the same way. The little “deals” we like to think we’ve made when we’re in trouble, the time spent on Christian Disciplines that are seen later as a waste when we don’t get that shiny new thing we desired, and the “investing” in church relationships and worship attendance that store up hope after hope that God will make things work out in our favor. It can be quite difficult when we find ourselves investing with no real hope of return. Perhaps it’s even more difficult to receive when we know we’ve given nothing.

Effectual Calling is ground zero for detonating that understanding of life and relationship. Put simply, rather than gaining all we can while investing as little as possible, we gain everything we could have ever hoped for while contributing absolutely zero to the relationship. Believe it or not, some push back against this reality. But what exactly is going on? For God, it’s the exact opposite, he gives it all, at least that’s how we see it, and receives practically nothing in return.

Where does this begin? For us, it begins at death (Ephesians 2:5), death in body and soul through our first father, Adam (Romans 5:12). When he sinned, when he rebelled, after having been specially created by our Heavenly Father (Genesis 2:7) and brought into a Covenant of Works (Genesis 2:15-16), he fell and all his natural posterity with him (1Corinthians 15:22). That’s how we arrive on the scene: dead in our trespasses and sins and under the curse of death. God’s enacting of this relationship in space and time begins with his almighty power and grace. I said above that God’s giving all is how we see it. In his eternality, God’s power and grace are in no way diminished. He is never exhausted of them. There is as much left after the first sinner as there is after the billionth. God’s almighty power and grace are the machinery that produce this work. But what is the reasoning this machine works for us? What is the motivation? God’s free and special love (Ephesians 2:4). This truth destroys our transactional understanding of life. God’s free and special love to which He is moved by nothing in us (1 John 4:19). “Deserving” is not a word that applies to us at all in all that we receive in this relationship between us and the God of the universe.

However, the free and special love that God gives does not leave us without dignity. In fact, it grants the elect and the non-elect, a greater dignity than we could ever have hoped for in participating as we are so moved. Even those who are not ultimately saved experience some goodness in their lives through the working of the Holy Spirit. But, for the elect, those who are the receivers of God’s free and special love, He does not, as we experience it, thrust it upon us. God, in his accepted time, the time that he has appointed and is known only to him, first invites us (Mark 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:20). This happens through the Word of the Gospel, maybe privately, with one friend explaining the Gospel of Grace to another or through the public proclamation in public worship, and the Holy Spirit applying that Word to the heart of the sinner. Regardless, God invites all of his elect to Jesus Christ. But how can you expect an invitation to a dead man to be answered? This is no challenge to God of life. He not only invites, but he also draws (John 6:44; 12:32). This is not the wooing of human romance––the heartfelt efforts of a Romeo toward a distracted and disinterested Juliet. This is the enlivening of a corpse (Romans 8:11) to know and experience relationship, as if the world itself is completely renewed. In the work of Effectual Calling, God himself, by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12), enlightens the darkened mind (Acts 26:18), makes new the rebellious will, determining it to obey God’s call, and makes them willing and free, no longer enslaved to the sin-ridden bent of the fallen nature, to say “Yes.” The sinner answers the call of the Holy. The dead gives sway to the Living One. Grace is given. Grace is received. The outer call of the preached Word upon the physical ear drives downward, finding a home in the spiritual ear of the inner man. Grace: full and free! The call of God that is always effective, mighty to save.

When we stand back and take in the grand vistas of Grace, we realize there is no peak in the mountain that we, of our selves, can climb. Nothing can be done to earn God’s love. No transaction is even possible. When we hold nothing in our hands, any purchase we make is truly a gift (Isaiah 55). Truly, the transaction of God’s free grace in our Effectual Calling is a for God a 100% and to us a 0% proposition. All of Him. None of us. All praise to Him alone!

Joel Wood is the pastor of Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, MD, between DC and Baltimore. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is 1/4 of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast, a roundtable discussion about the doctrine, worship, and piety of the Westminster Confession of Faith.