by Jeremy Walker/
Read all the posts published to date in this 16-part series on the essential truths of the Christian faith.
HOW DO WE COME TO POSSESS THE BLESSINGS OF SALVATION? Part 2
Last week we began to examine the question, “if there are those in utter lostness and misery who are appointed for mercy, and if this blessing of life has been secured for them, their ransom paid by Christ, how does anyone enter into possession of those blessings?” We saw that the answer is that we must be called by God, and we reviewed the necessity and nature of that call. We continue now to learn more about this all-important summons.
The Power of the Call
The reason for the power of the call lies in its author and its agent. As the Word of God is preached or read or discussed, the call comes from God the Father by God the Holy Spirit. In the declaration of the good news, the Holy Spirit comes into personal and purposeful contact with the dead soul of a sinner and he—who previously could neither know nor discern spiritual things—begins to see things accurately, feel things truly, and respond accordingly.
This is a divine act, a sovereign act: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18 NKJV). It does not in any way depend for success on the man who is being called, anything he is, or anything that is in him. The one being effectually called is a dead man being made alive. He is not operating at this point but being operated upon. The Word of God comes, but it comes now in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance (1 Thessalonians 1:5 NKJV). It accomplishes God’s purpose.
The Effect of the Call
Listen to the words of our Lord:
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.…No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.…But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” (John 6:37 NKJV, John 6:44–45 NKJV, John 6:64–65 NKJV)
Here is the effect of the Spirit’s work. Sometimes we speak of irresistible grace, but that might be taken to suggest that the rebellious sinner keeps resisting and is brought to Christ against his will. But what do we have in these words of the Lord Jesus? Not the demonstration of violent force so that a man is moved contrary to his will, as if we are saved kicking and screaming against it. Neither do we find the suspension of a man’s faculties so that he becomes a puppet or a robot. Rather, under the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, his rebellious heart is subdued and he is made willing and so comes willingly to Christ. He is brought from darkness to light by this powerful, effectual call (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV): “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13 NKJV). He is carried from death to life by the potent operations of the Spirit of Christ, and seeing both himself and his Savior clearly for the first time, the sinner casts himself on the Ransomer with repentance and in faith and so finds peace with God as a justified sinner (Romans 8.30 NKJV).
But a further question arises: What does this look like and feel like in the life of the sinner?
The Experience of the Call
There is a real danger here. There are some extremely well-known spiritual life stories, biographies, and autobiographies that trace, sometimes in great and even excruciating detail, the course by which a sinner was finally brought humbly to the Savior. The danger is that, in reading these histories, a sensitive soul might begin to impose that pattern on his or her own life, expecting or even demanding to see precisely the same trajectory mapped out in their own experience. What should be considered merely descriptive becomes unreasonably prescriptive. Much harm can be done by making such histories an absolute standard by which legitimate and genuine spiritual experience must be assessed. Such an approach can leave some genuine seekers suspended in gloom, believing that they cannot come to God without undergoing a particular experience, either in kind or degree. In the same way, some true believers may be left without assurance because they are still looking for something the Lord neither demanded nor promised.
There Is Uniformity
So we must see that there is a measure of uniformity in our experience. Certain things will be and must be part of this experience for all the saints. There will usually be a measure of conviction of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16.8 NKJV). As the Word of God is read and explained and applied, the sinner will come to recognize the accuracy of the divine diagnosis concerning the fallen heart with the excellency of the divine provision for the sinful soul. There may be reasons raised or excuses offered why that sinner is or should be kept from the Lamb of God, but these will be gradually or suddenly addressed or removed. Then, with a willing heart, the sinner—now enlivened by the Holy Spirit—will put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, turning from sin to him, and so be delivered from death and hell, and enter into—usually with increasing awareness and vigor—the blessing of God’s redemption and the joy of salvation.
There Is Variety
Then we must further recognize that there is a measure of variety in our experience, and that this is not only legitimate but appropriate, even to the point of being exquisite. Certain elements will always be present and a certain sequence will never be disordered (for example, repentance and faith will always follow the act of the Holy Spirit by which a heart is made new). However, there may be different timescales involving different degrees of intensity. Some may spend months or even years under conviction of sin, some only minutes or even moments. Some may feel carried to the very gates of hell by their guilt, others may be less deeply, though no less sincerely, troubled. Some may come gradually to feel their need of a Savior, their hearts opened to heed the truth of God, like Lydia (Acts 16:14 NKJV); some may be shaken violently into an awareness of their condition, coming to Christ in a righteous panic, like the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:29–31 NKJV). Some may be very young and tender, gently moved by the Holy Spirit and barely aware of the transition from death to life; others may be older or harder, subject to more apparently vigorous operations of the Spirit of God. Some may be converted the first time the gospel comes to their ears; some may not be saved until they have heard five thousand sermons. But all who are saved have heard the call of God in the gospel and, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, have come to Christ for life, repenting and believing.
Part 8 of a 16-part series drawn from Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith, by Jeremy Walker.
Jeremy Walker serves as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, England, and is married to Alissa, with whom he enjoys the blessing of three children. He has written several books and has blogged at Reformation21 and The Wanderer.