Basic Reformed Theology 5
The Holy Spirit enables a sinner to believe. He is efficacious in His work and we call that “Irresistible Grace.” The Father elects, the Son redeems and the Spirit applies the work of Christ’s redemption. Each person of the Trinity effectually works in our salvation.
The External and Internal Call
Through the preaching of the gospel, all men are called to repent and believe (Mt. 28:18-20; cf. Mk. 16:15(?)). The external preaching reaches all who are within the earshot of the message. Yet we know not all who hear the preaching of the Word believe. When the gospel is faithfully preached, God uses the message to externally call all who hear to repent and believe. God commands repentance and faith through His preached Word; He calls them through the Word to believe. If they do not repent and believe then they will perish in their sins. The gospel imparts “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” but the unbeliever “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them” (1 Cor. 2:6, 14). The preaching reaches the ear but does not touch the heart; the sinner cannot or is not able understand it.
Some do believe. Why? We learn from the Bible that through the preaching, some are effectually called (the internal call). God who predestines calls them (Rom. 8:30). An efficacious call enables them to respond. The call is invested with the power to enable the person to enter into fellowship with Christ: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. Rom. 1:6, 7) He “called” us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pet. 2:9). God does not call in vain: “who saved us and called us to a holy calling…” (2Tim. 1:9). These “call” passages all mean something like a summons. The call is more than a mere invitation (though it includes that) since it comes from God to those whom He predestined: “And those whom he predestined he also called…” (Rom. 8:30). An example of how that worked can be found in 1 Thess. 1:5, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” That internal call came through the external call of the gospel (not apart from it). God cannot fail to draw the sinner whom He predestined and called — the two (predestination and calling) remain inseparable. Paul says of himself and the Jews (as well as the Gentiles): “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (Rom. 9:24)!
Regeneration and Faith
Spiritually dead men cannot heed the call unless the sovereign Holy Spirit enables them. Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.” (Jn. 6:63) The Spirit must give life and this “life” denotes new birth, rebirth or regeneration (1Pet. 1:3, 23). This new birth is by the Spirit and from above (Jn. 3:5, 6). The Spirit’s work of rebirth is mysterious like the coming and going of the wind: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn. 3:8) Just as we cannot control the wind so we cannot determine the work of the Sovereign Spirit. We cannot see or enter heaven without being born “of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3-7). The “water” in Jn. 3 is another way of referring to the work of the Spirit as in Ezekiel 36:25-27 (not referring to baptism) — a cleansing or washing by the Spirit (cf. Titus 3:5).
Paul said that we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3) but God made us alive (Eph. 2:5). That life is none other than the new birth Jesus spoke about. Jesus says we must be “born again” (Jn. 3:7) or “born of God” (1Jn. 3:9; 5:14; cf. Jn. 1:12, 13)! The Spirit changes us by making us alive and in turn we see and understand the things of God. The Spirit enables us to “understand the things freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Because we have been born again by the Spirit, we can see and enter the kingdom God (Jn. 3:3, 5)! For that reason we call all believers a “new creation” (2Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). This new birth is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and man does not cooperate in his new birth!
So faith and repentance must be viewed as divine gifts. God gives repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2Tim. 2:25, 26) and faith (Acts 13:48, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”; Eph. 2:8-10). Luke says Paul helped those “who through grace believed” (Acts 18:27). Paul says this of the Philippians, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (1:29). It has been granted to them to believe!
• Man will always resist the Gospel. The external call makes man more culpable. If he refuses the invitation and command to repent and believe, he only has himself to blame! The Spirit is not at fault for not converting the sinner — He has mercy on whom He has mercy.
• Man is obstinate as well as dead in his sins. But man cannot be viewed as being omnipotent against God. That is, man’s utter rejection and refusal can be overturned. God can make a man alive in Christ Jesus. As God can change the king’s heart (Prov. 21:1), give sight to the blind and make the lame walk (Mt. 11:5), so the Lord opens the heart to respond to the gospel (Acts 16:14, “and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul”).
• The Spirit will never fail to regenerate whom the Father calls into fellowship of His Son! If God is faithful by whom we were called into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9), then would He fail to affect His purpose? At His time, God will call specific sinners to enter into a living fellowship with His Son to be forgiven, cleansed, justified, sanctified and glorified. That is, no person will enter into Hell because the Spirit was not able to regenerate him.
• We do not know how the sinner will respond. We only know that we must earnestly plead with the person to repent and believe. The Spirit can will convert when and where He pleases.
• The Spirit’s work may go far and never truly convert (as in Heb. 6). They could have a taste of spiritual things and yet come short of new birth. Many have been convicted and affected by the preached word and in either short or long time, they grow cold and indifferent to the gospel they seemingly warmed up to.
• No person is impossible for God to convert and save. Since the Spirit is sovereign, at the appointed time, the sinner whom the Father elected will be converted. Therefore, we can never say that the person’s opportunity has closed or that his obstinance is too great to overcome. There is not a sinner that cannot be powerfully converted when God wills it.