The previous article is here: The golden chain of salvation (1)
The following article is here: The golden chain of salvation (3)
The golden chain of salvation (2)
‘And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified’ (Romans 8:30).
These memorable words are often called ‘the golden chain of salvation’. The chain’s first link is divine foreknowledge (September ET article) and its second link predestination.
A destination is the final stop of a journey. When you set off by car or train, the destination is where your trip ends. The prefix ‘pre’ means ‘before’. So ‘pre-destination’ means deciding beforehand where the journey will end.
God has predestined us to one day be like Jesus Christ, ‘to be conformed to the likeness of his Son’ (Romans 8:29). On those days we’re foolishly making a mess of being a disciple of Jesus, we need to remember God has taken personal responsibility to see that one day we will be like Jesus. If salvation depended on you or me, then it would never happen.
Paul teaches that God decided not to treat rebel sinners like rebel angels and condemn each one to eternal darkness, but to cause a number of sinners as great as the sands on the seashore to reach heaven, having been changed into the image of his Son.
The real problem with the doctrine of predestination and humankind is not ‘Why didn’t he send them all to heaven?’, but ‘Why did he send any of them?’ ‘Why didn’t God treat them all as they justly deserved?’
How amazing that, at such cost to the Son, God not only loved these ones but made up his mind that they would all be like Christ.
We believe this because Jesus taught it and rejoiced in it. He said, ‘I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure’ (Matthew 11:25-26).
So, predestination homes in on a person, finds him out and calls him to God’s destination — from wherever he sets out. Zacchaeus set out from Jericho, Abraham from idolatrous Ur, Nicodemus and Paul from the college of the Pharisees. Dionysius and Damaris were on Mars Hill in Athens when they set out. But all were fully transformed into the image of God’s Son.
Of course, they had to hear and obey the Word of God; they turned from their sin, believed in Christ and confessed with their lips that he is alive. We believe in the moral responsibility and accountability of man. But what made them do it?
Listen to Charles Haddon Spurgeon: ‘When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all by myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me … I can recall the very day and hour when I first received those truths into my own soul…
‘One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God … the thought struck me, “How did you come to be a Christian?” I sought the Lord.
‘“But how did you come to seek the Lord?” The truth flashed across my mind in a moment — I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, “How came I to pray?” I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures.
‘How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that he was the author of my faith, and the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day … I ascribe my change wholly to God’ (Autobiography, Vol. 1, pp. 164-165).
The third link in the golden chain is calling. God makes a sincere offer to all men and women that, if they will turn from their sins and embrace his Son as their Saviour, then he will pardon them. This is the general call God makes, referred to in the words of Jesus when he said ‘many are called’.
The Lord gives this great invitation: ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’. He wept over defiant Jerusalem, ‘How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing’ (Matthew 23:37).
The Spirit of Christ in Ezekiel beseeched Israel, ‘Turn! Please turn! Why will you die?’ God makes a general summons to all men to repent; he takes no pleasure in their deaths.
But there is also another divine summons that is specific, personal and inwardly applied. In every instance, when the word ‘calling’ appears in the New Testament (except in the phrase ‘many are called’), it is this effectual summons of God that is being referred to.
This call has the desired effect. It is an effectual call or summons, which creates a response. My father’s twin brother travelled one day by train from Barnstable to Bristol Temple Meads. He was walking along the platform and the announcer was telling people train arrivals and departures over the tannoy.
Uncle Bryn was hardly listening because he already knew where to go. Then there came another announcement which was very different. It said, ‘Will Mr Bryn Thomas from Barnstable please go to the Station Master’s office?’
He heard that call. It was specific and personal to him, and he immediately responded to it. His child was ill and he was being asked to return home. All his plans were changed.
That is like the effectual call. It is specific and internal in its effects. It motivates and brings a willingness to respond positively. So it is with God giving spiritual life and drawing to himself those who, without that call, would remain spiritually dead and far from him.
Lazarus and Lydia
Consider Jesus calling Lazarus from his grave. Dead Lazarus is a picture of every human being in their natural spiritual state — dead in body and soul, bound with grave clothes, lying in a tomb, sealed with some great stone.
If you were to plead, ‘Come forth, Lazarus! We miss you and want you back. If you will get up out of that tomb and return, you’ll find that everything is ready for you’, Lazarus wouldn’t come, as he doesn’t have any innate ability to return.
But let Jesus take our place in front of the tomb and cry ‘Lazarus, come forth’, and it is all completely different. The words are the same, but now the call is no mere invitation. It is an effectual calling, bringing with it the ability to respond. The same God who called the creation out of nothing now calls life out of death. Lazarus, though dead for four days, obeys his Master’s voice.
Or consider when Paul visited Philippi in Greece and spoke to a religious group of women, who met together regularly near a river and prayed together. One at least of this group responded. Her name was Lydia. They all heard the general call of the gospel, for Paul spoke to them all, but Lydia received the effectual call and trusted in Jesus Christ.
Why did she of all the women respond? Because God called her personally. This is how Luke describes it: ‘On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.
‘We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia … The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message’ (Acts 16:13-14).
While Paul was speaking, God was showing Lydia that the message was true. While Lydia’s ears were hearing Paul’s voice, her heart was hearing the Lord inwardly summoning her.
That was why she could respond and become baptised as a follower of Jesus. And it happens just like that today.
No ‘X factor’
It isn’t that there is a special spiritual attribute present in some people, a kind of ‘X factor’ making them more susceptible to becoming a Christian. Rather, the Lord homes in on those he has foreknown and changes hearts formerly closed to truth and to Christ.
Doesn’t this amazing fact tell preachers never to stop preaching the gospel, but to go and tell all men and women that God is willing to save them? Then, as we urge them to trust in the Saviour, God opens their hearts and calls them to himself.