According to John Murray in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, the very first step in the application of salvation is God’s effectual calling. That is the subject of chapter 2 of Part 2. The word “effectual” is important, because the Bible does describe a universal call to salvation that goes out to all who hear the gospel. Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt. 22:14). But, as Murray points out, the New Testament predominately uses the term “call” to describe God’s efficacious summons to faith in Christ (Rom. 1:6, 7; 1 Cor. 1:9, 26; 2 Tim. 1:8, 9; 2 Peter 1:10). He writes:
The summons is invested with the efficacy by which we are delivered to the destination intended – we are effectively ushered into the fellowship of Christ. There is something determinate about God’s call; by his sovereign power and grace it cannot fail of accomplishment. God calls the things that be not as though they were (cf. Rom. 4:17).
What this means is that although there is a sense in which the call to repent and believe the gospel goes out to all people indiscriminately, God’s effectual call is for his elect only. Those whom God has chosen in eternity (Eph. 1:4) will, by his gracious and powerful call, come to faith in Jesus Christ. A father calls out to his son who is playing on a crowded playground. Though all the children hear his voice, only the son leaves the playground and comes to his father.
Murray also writes:
Calling is an act of God and God alone. This fact should make us keenly aware how dependent we are upon the sovereign grace of God in the application of redemption.
That calling is an act of God and God alone also reminds us that no one becomes a Christian for reasons within him or her. Conversion to Christ, faith in Christ, obedience to Christ – these are all responses to God’s prior call. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44). This is important because people often want to give purely human reasons for why someone becomes a Christian: “He needed something to make him happy”, “She had to do something about her guilt”, “He’s ‘religious’ because he was raised that way”, “She’s a very spiritual person and this is how she expresses it,” and so on. Did Abraham leave Ur of the Chaldeans because he was bored with home and wanted to live somewhere else? Did Saul the great enemy of the church suddenly have a change of heart and decide he’d rather be persecuted with Christians rather than persecuting Christians? Of course not! The Lord called Abraham to leave Ur, and Christ called Saul to preach the gospel. And every believer in Christ is so, because of God’s call.
If God called no one, the world would be full of religious people, but no redeemed people. And if God’s call wasn’t effectual, none would respond with faith. But thanks be to God, despite our sin and unworthiness, God has called us, sovereignly and graciously, “into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).