We’re in a little series in the mornings. We’re looking at four words in one verse of the New Testament. We’re putting our mind onto something very great on these Sunday mornings, because it’s easy to put our mind onto very little trivial things. And we’re putting our mind onto the majestic plan of God, which is described in four words in Romans 8:30. That God predestined his people, that is, he chose them and he woke them up. And then he called them, that is he got their attention. And then he justified them, and that is, he washed them. And he dressed them and then he glorified them, that is, he delivers them right to their destination. That’s our subject. It’s a lofty, transcendent subject. It’s a huge subject.
It goes from eternity to eternity. I was very interested to read of the visit of the Dalai Lama. And a report was in the paper, given by the well-known religious leader Paul Roos, the former captain of the Sydney Swans. And he went along to hear the Dalai Lama and he writes in the paper, that he was quite impressed, he was much impressed because it seemed to him to be a message of great common sense. He says in his report that, ”The Dalai Lama gave us tools for living. He taught us, for example, that actions have consequences. He taught us,” he said, “Hope.” And he went on to say, ”We especially hope that our fans will see how we play, and not just whether we win or lose.”
Now, I read this report and I thought to myself, ”This is exactly right.” A man who does not have the Word of God, to explain the lofty plan of God, in the end, is going to just come up with good common sense. If there is no word of God for the Dalai Lama to pass on to us, his message has to be, in the end, just worldly wisdom, what we would call imminent logic. And the great irony is that if you want to get transcendent logic, if you want to really, essentially, do some transcendental meditation, this is the irony. If you want something that is eternal, sacred, majestic, lofty, you have to go to the Scriptures, because that’s where you’ll get uncommon sense, that’s where you’ll get spiritual insight.
It’s a great irony, isn’t it, that the Dalai Lama looks so mystical, and looks spiritual, but may not give anything that is really spiritual. Whereas, I, this morning, look so conventional, boring, middle class, but I’m actually going to give you something which is transcendently wonderful because we’re gonna open up the scriptures together. That’s the irony of this, isn’t it?
Last week, we looked at God pre-destining his people, that is choosing people before history began. That’s the work of God in the past. And this week, we’re looking at God calling people or arresting people in history, that’s his work in the present. And I mentioned, last week, that predestination and calling are very Biblical subjects. They’re very comforting subjects. They don’t cancel human responsibility as though suddenly we’ve been turned into robots. But they do give great honor to God, as we saw last week and we’ll see again this week.
How do pre-destination, God choosing, and calling, God arresting, past, present, how do they fit together? Well, the great John Calvin said they fit together because “pre-destination is not a secret for long.” Who God has chosen is eventually revealed because the people that God wakes up, he calls, and they respond, and they turn around in a brand new direction to the Lord Jesus, and they start following the Lord Jesus.
I want look with you at three things briefly:
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- What is the call?
- Who hears the call?
- Why value the call?
The call of God
The call of God is not just a natural call. It’s not something that you can just explain humanly. If you can explain your Christianity just from your five senses, just from your five senses, you’re probably not a Christian. If you say, ”I’m a Christian because I saw a church, I went to a church, I heard a message, I felt a need,” that’s just a human explanation. It’s not sufficient to explain the call of God. If you can explain totally your Christianity by your experiences, you’ll probably not a Christian. Because if you can say, ”I was raised in a church” or “I decided to become an Anglican” or “I decided to become a Catholic” that is a human explanation which doesn’t do justice to the call of God.
When God calls a person, he turns their heart around. He turns their whole direction around. Suddenly, from having either no interest in Jesus or very little interest in Jesus, this person has a very great interest in Jesus and a growing interest in Jesus. That’s how you know where the person has heard the call of God. So it’s not just an external call, the creation calls to us externally, doesn’t it? It calls to our eyes, it calls to our ears. We see things, we hear things in creation. And creation calls out, you know, ”Look at this. Listen to this. Look at the sky. Look at the ocean. Look at the storm. Listen to the storm. Look at the detail. Listen to the wind.” Creation calls out like that, doesn’t it? But it’s quite dismissible, it doesn’t affect the heart. It doesn’t suddenly turn your whole life around. It’s resistible. You can get the external call, there’s no internal change.
And Christians call to people, don’t they? Especially preachers, they call to people. They call out things like, you know ”Listen to this promise. Listen to this warning. Listen to this story. Listen to this description of the love of God.” But it’s quite dismissible. Many people hear a preacher. The heart is never changed, it’s resisted. And Jesus said, ”Many are called.” Many are called. Thousands hear sermons. There are packed days in this building when people come to funerals. And it’s real life and death stuff and the message is right on the subject of life and death. Everybody hears, hardly anybody seems to be affected.
There’s a difference, you see, between the external and the internal. When God calls a person it’s internal. It’s what is called effectual. It’s irresistible. The person is never the same. Now, we’re very resistant people. We are very resistant. But when God calls to win a person or to arrest a person, he is irresistible. He achieves what he decides to do. He’s sovereign. His grace is sovereign. Nothing will stop him. He achieves his goal. Think of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. He’s very resistant to Christ. He hates the idea that Jesus is the Messiah. And then on the road to Damascus, God confronts him, calls him, totally changes him, and turns his heart around, turns his life around.
And then the Apostle Paul begins to write to every Christian. And he says to them ”You’re called people.” You’re inwardly called people. Your heart has been turned around, your whole life has been turned around. He says in Romans 8:30, “You’re called.” He says in 1 Corinthians, ”God called you.” He says in 2 Thessalonians 2, ”God chose you and God called you.” So the call of God is giving a person a brand new life which is in Christ, a brand new direction walking with Christ, and a brand new destination face to face with Christ. That’s the call.
Now, let’s read our verses from Romans 8 because verse 28 to 30 is our little section for these mornings. The apostle says, ”We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son, that he might be the first born among many brothers.” And this is our text. Those he predestined, he also called. Those he called, he also justified. Those he justified, he also glorified.
Who hears the call?
My second question this morning is, who hears the call? How free is the human heart? How soft is it? How responsive is it? Why is it that someone hears the call and responds, and someone hears and doesn’t respond? We’ve all had this frustration, haven’t we? Whether we’re talking to family or whether we’re talking to friends or whether we’re talking from a pulpit. Why is it that a whole range of people can hear externally and only some will hear internally? Well, I want you to think very carefully with me for the next few minutes because if you get this, it really is a change of thinking.
The man-centered answer to the question, why do some people hear the call and some people don’t, the man-centered answer, what is often called Arminian, named after the theologian of the past called Arminius, who was very biblically weak theologian in his era. The man-centered answer is that a person has the power to accept or reject. The technical name for this is that God has given to people something called prevenient grace, that is, according to this idea, God has given everyone the grace to be able to say yes or no to Christ.
This view says that God calls, you know, he calls for the message of Jesus, and then people decide. They make it their decision, they choose. And if we say yes, we get saved, and if we say no, we don’t get saved. And the difference between the person who responds and the person who doesn’t respond, according to this view, is our will. It’s a very attractive and a very popular view, because free will is considered, by most people, to be an inalienable right, you know, as if we can do anything.
Now, the God-centered answer of the question, why do some people respond and why do some people not respond, what we would call the Calvinistic view, although that’s a disparaging word for many people, but it simply means a biblically strong view, is that a person is disposed to say no. People are, by nature, disposed to say no to Christ. The human will, according to the Bible, is in bondage, it’s in darkness, it’s in chains. So a human doesn’t have two options. A human has only got one option, and that is to keep saying no.
Paul says of unbelievers in Ephesians 4, ”Their thinking is futile. They are darkened in their understanding. They are separated from the life of Christ due to the hardening of their heart.” So the Biblical answer to the question, why does a person respond, is that God must call and change the disposition of the heart. God must call and change the will of the person. It’s no good offering a corpse life. You’ve gotta give life to the corpse in order that it will hear you and respond. It’s no good God offering to us, would you like to be regenerated? Would you like to be reborn? A person needs to be regenerated, needs to be reborn, in order that they would respond.
Now, I can’t think of a better illustration of this than the reading we had in the Old Testament from Ezekiel 36, which we’ve had many times here on a Sunday morning. And we do love this reading. It’s where God says, ”I’ll give you a new heart.” Well, we say, ”That’s wonderful.” Then he says, ”I’m going to remove your heart of… I’m gonna remove your heart of stone, and I’m gonna give you a heart of flesh.” So you see, the biblical picture that’s being painted. I walk out of the building today, and I’m walking home, and I come across a brick on the footpath. And I say to the brick, ”Would you like to become a dog?” And the brick just doesn’t respond. It’s a brick.
The only way that brick is ever gonna become a dog is if I have the capacity and the willingness to make it a dog. You see? God must make our heart flesh, in order that we would respond. That’s how the call works. If he just offers us eternal life, well, it’s pointless. He must give to us eternal life. Think of a New Testament example, remember the Apostle Paul is talking to a lady called Lydia by the river? Acts Chapter 16. And the Apostle Paul is preaching and preaching and preaching and she’s listening. Now, does the Bible say, ”Paul opened his mouth, yak, yak, yak, yak, and then Lydia said, ”Gee, this makes sense. I think I’ll open my heart?” What the Bible says is, ”God opened Lydia’s heart to receive Paul’s message.” Acts 16. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
Now, don’t run with this in the wrong direction. Don’t say to yourself, “Well, this means that everybody should just forget about God until he breaks in and invades them.” Now, all I want you to know is that if you’re a believer in Jesus or if you want somebody to be a believer in Jesus, it requires the work of God to breath into them and to remake them, in order that they wake up and listen and respond. There’s a great New Testament example of this, again, in the book of Acts where we read in Acts 13, a remarkable verse which says, ”As many as God appointed for eternal life believed.” Paul is preaching and it says, ”As many as God appointed believed.”
Now, did the apostle Paul say, at that point, ”Well, this is a complete waste of time now. If nobody believes until God does the work, well let’s fold our arms and sit round and we’ll just wait and see which eggs hatch and then we’ll welcome them.” Now, we read five verses later on, “Paul and Barnabas spoke so effectively, that a great number believed.” Literally, it just says in the original language, ”Paul and Barnabas spoke so that a great number believed.” And there you see these two train tracks working together, that God brings life, and people like us keep speaking the good news of Jesus Christ.
Now, if you can follow this this morning, just try this little test, this little sequence in your head. I wanna ask you which comes first. Which is one and which is two? Do we, one, believe, in order that we would, two, be made regenerate or reborn? Or are we, one, reborn, regenerate, in order that we would, two, believe? Which comes first? Is it that we believe to be reborn or we are regenerate in order to believe? Now, the Biblical answer is that God regenerates in order that a person would believe. And if you take the view, you see that it all begins without belief, you know, that God sits in heaven, and we just sit and think. ”Yes, no, yes, no. Okay, we start with belief.”
If we think like that, it sounds like we’re free, free to choose, which sounds like we’re able to turn whenever we want to, which sounds like we’re not spiritually dead, which sounds like we don’t have a heart of stone, which sounds like we’re pretty neutral, which sounds like we’re pretty lively, which sounds like we’re pretty okay. But the Bible says that we’re totally helpless. We’re like a brick. Not just a brick but a rebellious brick, without God’s work to change us. And that’s why we pray for people. That’s why we pray that God would begin a work of softening and giving new life to a person, and it all is done as we share in the great work, proclaiming the gospel. God works by his Spirit as the word goes out. And there’s no contradiction, these things dovetail wonderfully together.
Now, this is the only way to really understand the human heart from a Biblical point of view. This is the only way we can explain the world that we live in, and really glorify God. This is where the real battle ground takes place between God-centered thinking and man-centered thinking. And we live in an absolute battleground today between God-centered thinking and man centered-thinking. This is where we, of course, understand that the human heart, which has been made in the image of God, is capable of the greatest kindness, it’s capable of the greatest sweetness. We can meet the loveliest, loveliest unbelievers. And it’s also capable, the human heart, of the greatest cleverness because we’re made in the image of God. But because the human heart is infected by sin, we’re also capable of the greatest rebellion against Jesus. We’re capable of the greatest self-interest and the greatest evil.
And that’s how we understand ourselves, and that’s how we understand our newspapers. That’s how we understand the killings that are taking place in our own city, in some of the most salubrious suburbs of Sydney, killings of some of the nicest people in Sydney being committed by just ordinary people. That’s how we understand the sexual abuse that’s taking place in the northern half of our country and the southern half of our country and the western half and the eastern half. And that’s how we understand the sort of religious evil that is done because of the human heart. The human heart is capable of taking anything and abusing it. And that’s why every human heart needs to be reborn.
And that’s why we also praise God because God gave His Son. And by giving his son, he’s able to give to people new life and repentance and faith, and hope and love, and he’s able to begin this great process. And so, the difference between people who say yes to Christ and people who say no Christ is the sovereign grace of God. And we don’t know which people he’s predestined, but we discover eventually which people he’s predestined because they respond to the call. There comes a time where they suddenly inwardly hear, are inwardly changed, and then they begin a brand new direction. And all the time, God still says to everybody in the world, ”Choose. Turn. Enter. Receive.” So that’s who hears the call of God.
The value of the call
Now, my last point this morning is, why value the call? This is not just talk, friends, this is not just words. I was reading this week that a British newspaper has asked readers to send in their sentence of the worst phrases around, the most annoying, frustrating, meaningless phrases. I’ll give you a few examples. One of the people sent in this sentence. ”I hear what you’re saying, but with all due respect it’s not exactly rocket science.” We’ve all heard that, haven’t we? Number two, this is a business one. ”Our own cost analysis of the ongoing target shortfall is that the predicament needs to be addressed proactively.” This is Hillary Clinton running for office in the States. ”We must give people the education and the opportunities they need. The foundation of a strong economy is the investment we make in each other.” And my favorite, ”The bottom line is you wear your heart on your sleeve and when all is said and done, it’s part and parcel of the ongoing bigger picture.”
It’s just a great string of rubbish really, isn’t it? All put into one sentence. The call of God, the call of God is not meaningless talk, it’s highly significant. The reason is that God is calling people to a brand new life which will outlast the world. He’s calling people to a brand new life, and he’s giving them the brand new life. Now, how can so many here, this morning, in the face of what the Bible says, and knowing that there are so many people we care about and love who are totally deaf, totally blind, totally dead to the good news of the Lord Jesus, how can we not be deeply moved that we grasp the things of Jesus Christ?
It’s not come to us because we’re terrific, it’s come to us because of the goodness and mercy of God. I keep thinking, you see, that one of the reasons I’m a Christian is because I’m a pretty nice guy. I keep thinking I’m a Christian, yeah, because God looked and said ”Hey, we could really use that guy.” That has got nothing to do with it. The reason that I’m a Christian is because of the sovereign grace of God. He saw somebody who is rebellious, he saw somebody who would continue to be rebellious, and he set his sovereign merciful love on me. And if you’re a believer, how can you not be deeply thankful, that totally unrelated to you, God has sovereignly and wonderfully woken you up?
To think that he’s caused you to realize the beauty of Jesus, and the work of Jesus on the cross, and the great resurrection, and he’s caused you to value these things, and he continues with you, and he prompts you to keep coming back to him, and he won’t let you wander too far away, and he keeps providing forgiveness every time you come back even though it’s for familiar things, and he keeps working out all the details of your life, all the happy things, all the messy things, all the confusing things, all the painful things, he brings them all together for your good, which the scripture tells us is that we would be like Christ and with Christ. What mercy? What goodness of God?
You may be in very deep need this morning. God knows exactly what you’re going through. God knows why you’re there, he knows what it’s for, he knows how he will bring you through. He is at work in the very perplexing details that have caused you to suddenly call to him, and ask for his help. This is the mercy of God. And then think how God uses people like us. He uses us as his instruments. He uses us to help people to learn of Christ and to know Christ. You may think to yourself this morning, ”I’m not worthy to be used. God could never use me.” I tell you, he only uses sinful people to reach sinful people. He doesn’t have any other instruments. He just has sinful people, like you and me. And he uses people like you and me, to reach other people that they might learn of Christ and know Christ.
You may be in a very hard context Monday to Friday, much harder than any preacher would ever understand. Your work, your situation, Monday to Friday, may really be difficult, much harder than a clergy job. I mean, clergy have such easy jobs, don’t they? I mean, they just ponce around, drinking tea and saying inane things to people, and you’re right there in your coalface. I’m just about to read one of those really strung up crates[SP] of boring predictable jargon phrases, but you’re there in a really difficult context, much harder than anybody would understand. And that’s the very situation where God is able to use you by using your attitudes and your manner, and your kindness, and your patience, and your word in season, and your prayers for people. And God may use you, you see, to be an instrument of his call that wakes up somebody else.
If you’re completely confused by the call this morning, the whole idea of a call and whether you’re called, I would urge you to go back to the basics. Go back and read for yourself the Gospels in the New Testament. And ask yourself, ”If Christ called people, have I understood the call and have I responded to the call?” And if you’re not clear, then come and talk to somebody who can help you to work out whether you’ve really inwardly heard the call and been inwardly changed in order that you might be eternally blessed.
There were two obituaries next to each other in the paper. The wife of Billy Graham, Ruth Graham, 87. The oldest man in Australia has passed away right next door in the obituary column, 110 years old. Two people very long lives, very full lives. Measuring those two humanly, you’d say, ”Well, boy, they really had two long lives, didn’t they?” But measured vertically, measured eternally, one thing we could be pretty confident of is that God called Ruth Graham, caused her to hear. She responded, she followed, for a long, long time she followed. And now he’s called her all the way into his presence because the call of God never stops. It starts the day you turn to Christ and it goes on until you’re face to face with Christ, for eternity. It’s a huge subject. It’s a wonderful subject.
Let’s give God thanks in our prayers now, and ask him to hear our thanks and to use us. Let’s bow our heads. Our heavenly Father, we thank you that you’re a God who calls, and not just externally, but internally. And there are so many of us this morning, who want to thank you for bringing to our inward ear the message of the Lord Jesus, in a way which arrested us and woke us and delivered us and transformed us. We recognize this to be your sheer kindness, and we pray that you would cause that call to be heard by more and more, and that there might be some this morning who hear the call of the Lord Jesus, to respond and follow. We pray that you would also help us, our Heavenly Father, as your servants, to be instruments in your hand of passing on the message of the Lord Jesus in the way we live, the way we speak and, if possible, in those words of gospel information. So hear our praise and our thanks. And hear our prayer that you would use us in your service. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen.