There I was, minding my own business.
It was December of 2002 and the Christmas season was in full swing. I was a senior at Marshall University and most students at school, including my roommates, were home for the holidays, but not me. I decided to stay at school and make some extra cash. Turned out this would be the best decision I ever made.
At the time I wasn’t involved with a church, nor did I have anyone in my life telling me about Jesus. I was simply minding my own business and doing my own thing when something I was totally not expecting happened—I had an interest in reading the Bible.
From my random collection of books, I decided to dust off the Bible I had and started reading the Gospel of Matthew since it was the first book in the New Testament. Being a first-time reader of the Bible, I found the writing to be archaic, clunky, and difficult to understand. But thankfully I had an unusual desire to keep reading a book that was apparently above my reading level.
God didn’t use a specific passage to cut open my heart like a skillful surgeon, but it was sometime around the passion narrative of Jesus when I was convicted of my sins, kneeled down beside my unmade bed, and committed my life to Jesus.
Changed From the Inside Out
At this point in my life I had no desire to know God.
I had no interest in learning about God.
I had no interest in living for God.
And I sure didn’t have any interest in surrendering my life to God.
Unlike my previous experience pretending to be a Christian, this time was different. Something changed inside of me. God changed my life and gave me desires to find my purpose and satisfaction in him. Living for God wasn’t something I had to fake; it was something I actually longed and loved to do.
I was changed from the inside out.
This change was not brought about by my personal effort, praying a magical prayer, or a recent move to the Bible Belt. This change and my new life was brought about solely by God the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is at work in the world. He is actively involved in calling people to Jesus and giving them a new life in him. These two actions of the Holy Spirit are what theologians call effectual calling and regeneration for theological shorthand.
A Call Made by God
God pursues us before we ever think about pursuing him.
God the Holy Spirit graciously invites us into a dynamic and vibrant relationship with the eternal Triune God of the universe through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit initiates and calls us out of our spiritual darkness and malaise to repentance and faith in Jesus (1 Cor. 1:26; Eph. 1:18). Don’t mistake the Holy Spirit for a telephone operator working at a call center making outbound calls and sales pitches. His call isn’t the type we receive on a phone. His call is one that is internal in nature. It is a call made in our souls, by which we answer and receive without question (Rom. 11:29; Eph. 4:1).
Normally the Holy Spirit’s internal call is coincided with the external call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preaching of the gospel with words—not actions—is the primary means God has provided by which God the Holy Spirit effectually calls people to Jesus Christ. In other words, people will not normally respond to Jesus without hearing the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 10:14; Matt. 22:14; 2 Thess. 2:15). My experience and others is the exception, not the rule.
The Holy Spirit’s call isn’t a prank call, either. His call in our life is made to connect us with Jesus Christ. A call to believe in the life he lived and the death he died upon our behalf (Rom. 8:27-29). It’s a call made by God to connect us with himself.
Responding to God’s Call
Following God’s call upon our life is regeneration.
Regeneration “is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us” (Titus 3:4-7). This is the moment we receive a new spiritual life, a heart to love God, and the ability to see and enter the Kingdom of God by faith through Jesus Christ. This experience is described elsewhere in the Bible as being “born again” (John 3:3-15; cf. Ezek. 36:25-27).
This act of regeneration is brought about solely by the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is something the Holy Spirit does for us, not something we do for ourselves. This is what John was getting at when he said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
When the Holy Spirit gives us a new spiritual life, we are made alive to God (Rom. 6:11) and an “active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit…” This work of the Holy Spirit is not preceded by an expression of faith in Jesus, but rather precedes faith. In other words, regeneration is a precondition of faith, not a result of it. We’re only capable of responding to God’s internal call and the proclamation of the gospel because the Holy Spirit regenerates us by giving us a new life.
The Work of the Holy Spirit Towards Us
The work of the Holy Spirit towards us is a sovereign work in our lives, both calling and regenerating us. As a result of his work towards us we are able to respond to the external call of the gospel of Jesus Christ in repentance from our sins and faith in his finished work upon our behalf.