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.
Pastor regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our staff page.