1 Corinthians 1:18–25
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
This series of messages was born in Hebrews 6:11 which says, "We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope to the end." In simpler words that means: God wants every one of you to be persistent and passionate in your pursuit of full assurance. He doesn't want you to live with fear about the future. He doesn't want you to be uncertain that you have eternal life.
Living and Dying with Full Assurance of Hope
He wants every one of his children to live and die with the full assurance of hope—like my father-in-law did as he approached his death a little over a week ago. A few days before he died, Dr. Henry wrote a letter to my father and said, "Pam and I recognize the sovereignty of God and are pleased to be used in whatever manner He sees fit for His greatest glory." This is the way the saints talk when they enjoy the full assurance of hope.
That's what God says you can have. The way we have been pursuing it in these weeks together is to focus our attention not on ourselves and our emotional ups and downs, but on the invincible purpose of God. I have stressed the paradox that if we can redirect our attention away from the subjective sensations of assurance onto the objective foundations of assurance, the sensations themselves will be deeper and stronger.
So we have been looking steadfastly on what God has done, objectively, outside ourselves to save us. We have seen that he chose us freely and unconditionally in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. He predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son in holiness and love. He vindicated the worth of his glory in the death of his Son so that he could pass over God-belittling sins without belittling God. He laid the foundation for justifying the ungodly by laying all our sins on Jesus. And he worked a great reconciliation between himself and us when all his holy wrath against us was drained to the last drop at the cross.
And today we look at a sixth work of God that he undertakes for our salvation—a sixth foundation for full assurance, namely, the omnipotent, free, compelling call of God.
The Call of God as a Foundation for Assurance
At first glance the call of God does not look like a foundation for assurance. If somebody calls you on the phone and invites you to dinner, is that really a foundation of assurance that you will get there, or even that you will want to get there? So we have some work to do here so that you can see why the call of God to eternal life is in fact very different from a human invitation to dinner. It is a powerful, irrevocable foundation for full assurance. It is an objective saving work of God that overcomes everything in its path and creates what it commands.
To see the full force of this great work of God let's do what verse 26 says to do: "Consider your call!"
1. God's Call
God is the one who calls.
1 Corinthians 1:9, "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." So it's clear this call we are talking about is God's call. He is the one who calls. He always does it through the gospel. 2 Thessalonians 2:14 says, "He called you through our gospel." The call of God is not exactly the same as the preaching of the word of the gospel (which we will see in a moment) but it never comes without the gospel. God's call is what happens when the gospel comes with irresistible force. It's the gospel with an omnipotent supercharge.
2. An Effectual Call
The call of God is effective; it creates what it commands.
This is what makes God's call so different from a phone call inviting us for dinner. God's call comes with the power to do what it demands. To see this you have to distinguish this call of God from the general preaching of the gospel or witnessing to a friend. The call of God may or may not come in those acts of witness.
A Call Goes Out to All People in One General Sense
Look at verses 22–24, "The Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
Consider carefully what's happening here. Paul preaches Christ crucified. He tells the story of Jesus dying to save sinners. He offers Christ to everyone who will receive him as the power and the wisdom of God. So in one crucial sense Paul and God are calling all people to take Christ into their lives as power and wisdom. And that's the way we should witness and preach—indiscriminately, to Jew and Gentile and every race and people and tongue and tribe and nation.
Some Respond with Faith, Others Do Not
When we do, the same thing happens that happened when Paul preached. Some listeners stumble over the gospel as unacceptable. Some say it is foolishness. But some respond and say, "This Christ is the true power of God and the true wisdom of God." And they believe and are saved.
But what makes the difference? The answer is in verse 24: Christ is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but "to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God." In other words, the preaching of the gospel is not exactly the same as the call of God. All the Jews and Greeks were hearing the preaching of the gospel. But some were rejecting it. But some were accepting it. Who were they? They were the ones that God called. "To those who were called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [was received as] the power of God and the wisdom of God."
So the call of God is not like a phone call inviting us to dinner. That's what the gospel is. All are invited to dinner. And whosoever will may come. But the call of God is what happens when the gospel comes with irresistible force. It's the gospel with an omnipotent supercharge. It creates the response it commands, namely, faith.
"Those Whom He Called He Also Justified"
Paul teaches this in that great verse 30 in Romans 8: "Those whom he predestined he also called and those whom he called he also justified." Notice that everyone who is called is justified. How can this be, since "we are justified by faith" as Romans 5:1 says? The answer is that the call of God creates what it commands, namely, faith. All the called are justified because all the called believe. The gospel comes with an omnipotent supercharge and their hearts are changed and they say, "Christ is the power and the wisdom of God!"
Romans 4:17 describes this supercharged, omnipotent call of God like this: "He gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist." He calls things that are not as though they were—and they come into existence.
The Call of God Creates What It Commands
You can see the power of this call if you compare it to the power of your own call. If someone is sleeping when they should be awake, you might call out, "WAKE UP!" And the very call itself will create what you command.
Well, that's what God does. Only God does it when we are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:2–5). He doesn't just wake us from sleep with his call. He wakes us from spiritual death, the way he did Lazarus from physical death. John 12:17 says Jesus "called Lazarus out of the tomb." He called, "Lazarus, come forth!" And the omnipotent call of God created what he commanded, namely, life. It's the same thing God did when he created the universe. He said, "Let there be light!" And there was light.
If you are a Christian this morning, that is the way you became one. God did it. You were spiritually dead. Christ and his Word and his lifestyle and his promises meant very little to you. You did not love him or trust him or enjoy him. You were dead to all these things. Then one day God called you. And you rose from the dead. And the sprouts of spiritual life broke through the ground and you tasted true faith and love and joy in God for the first time. Because God did it. I want you to know that this morning so that you give him the glory. And so that you feel yourself standing in the rock solid foundation of the assurance of faith in the call of God. It may have been shattering and cataclysmic like a thunderbolt of power. Or it may have been as quiet as the way a stem of grass splits a concrete sidewalk.
But if you today can say from your heart, "I embrace Jesus as the power of God and the wisdom of God in my life," then you have been called. It has happened to you. You have been created a new person by the call of God. That's the second thing to consider about your call. The call of God is effective; it creates what it commands.
The next thing to consider about your call is why God does it this way. What's the purpose of an omnipotent, supercharged call that creates what it commands? The answer:
3. Designed to Guarantee God's Purpose in Election
The call of God is designed to guarantee God's purpose in election.
Ephesians 1:4 says that "God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love." He predestined us to be his children and to be like his Son (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:29). But we are all by nature unholy and blameworthy and unloving and not like Christ. So God's purpose of election will fail if he does not call us with infallible power and create in us the faith and the holiness and love that he predestined us to have. The call of God guarantees the purpose of God in election.
Consider Romans 9:11. Here Paul says explicitly that the call of God is designed to guarantee the purpose of election. He says that Jacob was chosen not Esau "in order that God's purpose of election might continue not because of works, but because of the one who calls." The purpose of God in election stands because of the call of God in salvation.
The same thing is taught in 2 Timothy 1:9. "God saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and the grace he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago." The call of God accords with purpose and grace given ages ago. The call is infallibly effective, in order to guarantee an infallible purpose of election. God does not elect and predestine and then stand back and wonder if his electing purpose will come to pass. He brings it to pass with his omnipotent call that creates the faith it commands.
That's the meaning of Romans 8:30: "Those whom he predestined he also called." The call is the guarantee of the predestined effect. That's the third thing to consider about your call: it is designed to guarantee the purpose of God in election.
4. Brings Us into Eternal Life and Glory
God's call brings you into eternal life and light and freedom and glory.
- 1 Timothy 6:12, "Take hold of eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses."
- 1 Peter 2:9, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
- Galatians 5:13, "You were called to freedom, brethren."
- 1 Peter 5:10, "After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you" (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Peter 1:3).
In other words, virtually everything we hope for—life, light, freedom, glory—is ours because of the call of God that comes to us with omnipotent power in the gospel, creating what it commands. If you embrace Christ this morning as the wisdom and power of God, that is what happened to you and that is what belongs to you.
5. An Irrevocable Foundation for Full Assurance
The call of God is an irrevocable foundation for full assurance.
Romans 11:29 says, "The gifts and call of God are irrevocable." God does not reverse, or repeal, or cancel his call. The whole point of an omnipotent call that creates what it commands is to guarantee God's invincible purpose in the lives of his people. If God has called you, you are justified, and if you are justified, you will be glorified.
Jesus put it like this in John 10:27–29: "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand." Those whom God calls God keeps (Jude 1).
If you are outside this experience today, realize how utterly dependent you are on the call of God in your life. Humble yourself before him, wake up from the dead, hear the gospel call: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:32; Romans 10:13).
Note: In John 10:3–5, 16, 27, Jesus is the one who calls. But this is not a contradiction of 1 Corinthians 1:9 or Galatians 1:6, 15, etc., because 1) the call of Jesus is the call of God. "The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:24). 2) No one responds to Jesus' call without the inner drawing of the Father (John 6:44, 65) which is the irresistible call of God the Father within the call of Jesus.