“THE CALL OF GOD”
My friends, in our text for today the Apostle Paul makes reference to the high calling of God. Turn in your Bible to Philippians 3.12-14:
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
All through the Bible we read of the call of God, but it’s something most people are not very clear about. In an effort to help you see and understand the workings of God somewhat more clearly in the saving of the lost and the subsequent sanctifying of the believer, I want to deal with this thing referred to as the call of God.
Let me call your attention to eight characteristics of the call of God:
Characteristic #1: THE CALL OF GOD IS A SOVEREIGN CALL
Sovereignty can be defined as “The biblical concept of God’s kingly, supreme rule and legal authority over the entire universe.” Sovereignty has to do with God’s absolute, independent right of disposing of His creatures in fulfillment of His purpose. Sovereignty is unconstrained as God acts according to His good pleasure. His sovereignty is without proper obligation because God has independent right to His creatures. The implication of such right is that God may bestow or withhold salvation without prejudice to any of His attributes. If God is bound by anything it is only those covenants and promises that He has sovereignly chosen to make. Therefore, God’s sovereignty may be exercised without in any way compromising His justice, His mercy, His majesty, or His truth in saving or in not saving an individual soul.
Sovereignty is seen in Ephesians 1.9-12, where God’s absolute freedom in connection with the salvation of sinful souls is seen:
9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
A reasonable question at this point might be what does this have to do with the call of God? Romans 8.28-30 shows how the call of God is related to the sovereignty of God:
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
The call of God, then, is a sovereign call. How so? Because God is sovereign in matters related to salvation, and the call of God is such a matter. As a matter of fact, who would dispute that God is sovereign in everything?
Characteristic #2: THE CALL OF GOD IS A MISUNDERSTOOD CALL
The call of God is a call that is always and in every case a call extended to sinners. The reason for this is that everyone is a sinner. You are certainly a sinner. If you do not know Jesus Christ, you are dead in trespasses and sins. And because of the effect of your sinfulness on your perceptive ability and upon your reasoning ability, the call of God is frequently misunderstood.
Take, for example, the case of Abraham. Living in Ur of the Chaldees and completely estranged from God, there came a day when the LORD said, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land I will show thee.” That occurred in Genesis 12.1. At that same time God made a number of profound promises to Abraham.
But Abraham, being a sinful and therefore very unperceptive man when it came to spiritual things, completely misunderstood what was happening between him and his God. As a result, Abraham took and then abandoned the place God called him to and went to Egypt. After sinning greatly in Egypt he then returned to the land God had called him to. Back in the Promised Land, Genesis 13.4 tells us that Abraham “called on the name of the LORD.”
Everything is now fine, right? Abraham had responded to the call of God. He is where he is supposed to be and he has now “called on the name of the LORD.” All is right with his soul. Or is it? My friend, all is not right with Abraham’s soul in Genesis chapter 13.
With some of you, what happened to Abraham has also happened. You have heard the call of God, or you thought you did. You responded, or thought you did. You even called on the name of the LORD. There was only one problem with Abraham. If he had died right then he would have gone to Hell, because he certainly was not saved.
You see, it is not until Abraham believed in the LORD and it was counted unto him for righteousness that he was actually saved, and that occurs in Genesis 15.6. Twice the Apostle Paul attests to that experience as the occasion of Abraham’s justification. What does this mean? This means Abraham completely misread what was going on. “I must be saved now. I called on the name of the LORD.” Wrong. There are many people who have called on the name of the LORD and will die and go to Hell because they are not saved, having completely misunderstood the call of God.
How about you? Has this happened to you? There are some sitting near you in this auditorium who can give testimony similar to Abraham’s. They called on the name of the LORD, but they were lost until they really were saved at a later time.
Characteristic #3: THE CALL OF GOD IS AN EFFECTUAL CALL
“Pastor, the way you say it, it doesn’t matter what I do. I thought I was saved, but I’m not. I might as well stay home and watch TV instead of waste my time going to church.” That, my friend, is exactly how an unsaved man would think. However, that is not at all how lost people are urged and commanded to respond.
It is true that the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” However, that is a reference to the general call of the gospel that is extended to every lost soul. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, so the invitation is extended to one and all. And how should you respond to the invitation to come to Christ? Of course, you should come to Christ. However, for those who have not obeyed the gospel, we turn to our Lord’s remarks in Luke 13.23-24:
23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
Notice that you are commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ to strive to enter in. That’s an order and it’s not an option. And since you cannot succeed in your attempts to come to Jesus Christ except the Father draw you, John 6.44, you don’t need to concern yourself with being saved without proper authorization.
Recognize that there is a general call to salvation and there is an effectual call to salvation. With respect to the effectual call of God, may I direct your attention back to Romans 8.30, where Paul points out that “whom he called, them he also justified”? In other words, there is an effectual call of God to which the ultimate response of the sinner always results in justification.
Characteristic #4: THE CALL OF GOD IS A SELECTIVE CALL
Does everyone end up being saved? No. Not everyone is saved. If God calls to salvation, which abundant scriptures show He does, and if there are few that be saved, as the apostles stated without being refuted by the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 13.23, then the call of God must be selective.
Is the call of God selective? You answer that question. However, do not answer until you consider that God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, instead of Abraham’s brother. And how do we know Abraham had a brother? Because his nephew Lot traveled with him. But not Abraham only. Consider the fact that God called Isaac instead of Ishmael, and Jacob instead of Esau. Is the call of God selective?
Why did the Reformation take place in Europe and not in the Middle East? Why did the First Great Awakening occur in the American colonies and in England and not in France, where the French Revolution turned into a blood bath? Is the call of God selective?
Why did God send Jonah to Nineveh instead of Babylon? Why did the Lord Jesus Christ not work His works in Tyre and Sidon, where He said they would have repented of their sins, instead of Capernaum and Chorazin, where they did not repent of their sins? The answers to these and hundreds of other questions can only be that the call of God is selective.
Characteristic #5: THE CALL OF GOD IS A SEPARATING CALL
I don’t have the time to give you chapter and verse for everything I am about to say, but I can. So listen to me while I tell you what happens when God’s call goes out to a man or a woman. Sometimes this occurs after exposure to the gospel, sometimes this occurs before exposure to the gospel. Sometimes this occurs gradually, while in the lives of others it occurs quickly. But it always occurs. That is, the call of God is a call to separate. What happened in the life of Abraham is a picture of what happens whenever God begins to deal with a sinful soul. There is a call to separate.
It is not always a call to separate geographically, or even to separate socially. However, there is always a separation. In your heart and in your mind the tug begins. It is a tug away from sins. It is a tug away from the affections of this wicked world. You suddenly find yourself in a crowded room, all alone in your thoughts while the others are laughing. And as with the Apostle Paul, only in less dramatic fashion, you begin to estimate the value of everything you possess and see around you, and compare them to eternal things, or to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Maybe the specifics vary from individual to individual, but one thing is certain. If mankind is one large herd of wickedness and sin, the call of God begins to separate that called one from the rest of the herd. Oh, he is as lost now and as in danger of perdition as he has ever been. However, there is a stirring going on in his life, even if he doesn’t know what it is.
Characteristic #6: THE CALL OF GOD IS A SAVING CALL
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
If this is an effectual call and not a general call, then it will be a call that brings the sinful soul face to face with his own wickedness in the sight of the Holy One, with his own helplessness before the One who is all powerful, and with his own lack of merit before One who is gracious and merciful to save.
How is this done? God is well-pleased to accomplish this through the use of means. The preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, Romans 1.16. And gospel preaching rightly includes hot and straight preaching that exposes the sinner to his own sinfulness in the sight of God, his own guiltiness before God, and his desperate need of the Savior, God’s Son, who suffered and bled and died so that we might be saved.
Has that happened to you, my friend? Has your sin been pointed out to you? Have you been laid bare in your guiltiness before God? Do you recognize that you are undone before the thrice holy God because you are an unclean man? Does the stench of your own sin wrinkle your nose?
Only if you are called of God with a saving call will you come to Jesus Christ for the cleansing that only His blood can provide. For you see, when you are called of God you are not called to God. Rather, you are called to His Son Jesus. And when you come to His Son Jesus, the Savior, the sufficient Savior of sinful men’s souls, you will be saved from your sins.
“Oh, but pastor, I want to come to Jesus. I just don’t know how. I want to come to Jesus, but for some reason I don’t come now.” Friend, the strange thing is, no one is ever told how in God’s Word. If you are called of God to come to Jesus Christ, either under the preaching of the gospel, or in response to the preaching of the gospel, you will come. Sometimes in the presence of a pastor, sometimes not. But you will come to Jesus Christ, for there is salvation in no other.
Characteristic #7: THE CALL OF GOD IS A SERVING CALL
Let’s say you are called by God and you think you come to Jesus and find forgiveness of sins. But your life never amounts to anything for God. You never grow. You never serve God in the church. There is never really any prayer life. Never any devotional life.
Guess what? You were never saved. You see, the call of God, if it is a saving call, is also a sanctifying call. God did not call you to faith in Christ, God did not save you from your sins, to sit on your duff and say you are a Christian. Saved people are saved to serve, Ephesians 2.10:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Saved people are supposed to work and to grow spiritually, Second Peter 1.5-8:
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Peter wrote shortly before his martyrdom, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Second Peter 3.18.
Finally, Characteristic #8: THE CALL OF GOD IS A CALL TO GLORY
This is what Paul was specifically referring to in Philippians 3.14 when he wrote, “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” It’s a call from on high, and it’s a call to up high. And it’s a call from God to God through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 3.1 refers to saved people as “partakers of the heavenly calling” with much the same thing in mind.
Please do not leave thinking there are eight different calls of God. The single call of God that I have set before you is a single call that has a number of characteristics, some of which I have brought to your attention.
It is sovereign. It is oftentimes misunderstood. It is effectual. It is selective. It is separating. It is saving. It is a call to service. It is a call to glory.
If you are called by God in this fashion you will be convicted of your sins, convicted enough to then come to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Yet it will not end there, but that same call will affect and order your life all the way to glory.
 Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 109.
 Ephesians 2.1
 1 Corinthians 2.14
 Genesis 12.2-3
 Genesis 12.10
 Romans 4.1-5; Galatians 3.6
 Matthew 22.14
 Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 181-182.
 James 1.18
 John 3.6; 6.63
 Acts 4.12
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