In 2 Timothy 1:9, God is the One “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” For Paul and Timothy then and for us today, what is this “calling,” and when does it take place?
This “calling” is theologically termed the effectual call, which Wayne Grudem defines as “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” (Systematic Theology, p. 693). Backing up one step (and yet part-and-parcel of the effectual call), there is also a general call for salvation that is given to all who hear the gospel. Louis Berkhof defines this call as “the presentation and offering of salvation in Christ to sinners, together with an earnest exhortation to accept Christ by faith, in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal” (Systematic Theology, p. 459).
This general call can obviously be resisted, for many indeed reject the offering of salvation in Christ. However, there is a work of God that renders the general call of the gospel effective unto salvation for some (thus giving us the descriptor effectual), those who God “summons,” as described earlier. This is the work of regeneration, the impartation of spiritual life to the sinner so as to enable him to choose Christ unto salvation (cf. John 1:13; 1 Pet 1:3, 23). “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:14), but, “even when we were dead in our trespasses,” God “made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:5) through the Spirit’s work in regeneration, enabling us to indeed accept the things of the Spirit of God, i.e., the gospel. Rolland McCune clarifies, “[I]t is probably best to consider the effectual call as regeneration itself (i.e., the impartation of life) which secures the sinner’s immediate response of repentance and faith” (McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, volume 3, p. 44).
Balancing the sovereignty of God with the responsibility of man, McCune explains the nature of regeneration further: “God has ways of working with the human volitional apparatus so that it freely and voluntarily chooses to come to Christ for salvation, even while He instigates and controls the entire matter. In fact, in the final analysis, there is really no synergism involved. Calling is all of God” (McCune, p. 46).
So, the calling in 2 Timothy 1:9 is God’s effectual call unto salvation.5 It was for at least Timothy and Paul (“us”) and, in principle, anyone who had likewise been saved and called. The general call to salvation becomes effectual when God regenerates the sinner so as to bring about his voluntary acceptance of the gospel.
In 2 Timothy 1:1, Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.”
Paul was “an apostle of Christ Jesus” in that he was chosen, called, and sent by Christ Jesus to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 26:16–18). This apostleship was sovereignly ordained and took place “by the will of God,” and its purpose was “according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” The richness of this last phrase is worth a closer look.
The Life That Is In Christ Jesus
The life that is in Christ Jesus is eternal, spiritual life. Without this life, we would only sin and live in spiritual death (Rom 5:12–14), only to be punished by the second death, eternal residence in the lake of fire (Rev 20:14–15). This life in Christ Jesus is ours to have as a free gift from God made possible in Christ (Rom 6:23). It comes to us when we believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:31) and, more broadly, it comes to us through the gospel (2 Tim 1:10), which makes clear that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again (1 Cor 15:3–4).
The Promise of This Life
That this life was the content of a promise implies that one gave this promise and that another received this promise. It would seem that God Himself is the One who gives this promise. Indeed, “eternal life” was something “which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). After that, “the gospel of God” was something “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” of the Old Testament (Rom 1:1–2). In the context of 2 Tim 1:1, the recipients of this promise are those who hear about this promise in this present age. Paul’s function as an apostle was to be sent and to go the Gentiles, heralding the gospel, that is, that God promises eternal life to all those who repent and believe and thus find themselves in Christ Jesus, a gospel that we are all to give to everyone who will hear (cf. Matt 28:18–20).
Putting the above together, according to 2 Timothy 1:1, it was the will of God that Paul was sent by Christ Jesus as an apostle for the purpose of bringing about what was promised, namely, that many would have eternal life through Christ Jesus because of their repentant belief in the gospel.
May we praise God as those who believe this gospel and have eternal life in Christ Jesus!
Please join us as we enjoy our Spring Family Banquet on Saturday, March 25, 4–7 PM. Dr. Larry Oats, Dean of Maranatha Baptist University and a former interim pastor for our church (1993–94), will speak of God’s greatness in general with a photo presentation, after which he will speak of God’s greatness in salvation. Cost is $10 each, and guests will be free of charge. Please sign up by March 19 so we can give a accurate number to the caterers.
In 2 John 10–11, John prohibits the readers from receiving a false teacher into one’s house or even giving him a greeting. Does he really mean to say that we cannot be hospitable or even give a decent hello to these false teachers?
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.