The New Perspective: On Being “Called”

[This material has been relocated from the preceding post. It occurred to me that this material really didn’t add to the baptism discussion but remains important in its own right. So I moved it and fixed it up just a little.]

newperspective.jpgN. T. Wright argues that our “justification” occurs after we are saved, when God declares us saved. If “justified” doesn’t mean saved, then just when are we saved? Wright argues this happens when we are called.

But “called” sounds so much like “invited.” Surely many have been called and not responded! I mean, how many have heard the gospel message and refused to turn to Jesus as Lord?

The Calvinistic response is that God only calls the elect–those chosen before the foundation of the world–and so all who are called are saved. Thus, only the elect are truly called by God. And verses such as Romans 8:30 certainly sound like that–

(Rom. 8:30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Wright appears to either be a Calvinistic or at least to accept the perseverance of the saints (once saved, always saved). But I’m not, and I think for good reasons. Just how do we explain Paul’s use of “called” while acknowledging that many who hear the gospel reject the gospel?

I thought I’d poke around in the Old Testament prophets and see if they might shed some light, especially since Wright demonstrates so well that much of Paul’s thinking is built on the prophets, especially the latter portions of Isaiah.

In Isaiah “call” sometimes takes on a special meaning.

(Isa. 41:2-4) “Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service ? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow. 3 He pursues them and moves on unscathed, by a path his feet have not traveled before. 4 Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD–with the first of them and with the last–I am he.”

(Isa. 41:8-13) “But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

(Isa. 42:6-7) “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

(Isa. 43:1-2) But now, this is what the LORD says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

(Isa. 45:3-4) I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. 4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.”

Now, we should immediately notice that God frequently refers to the Israelites as “called” (or “summoned,” which is a translated for the same Hebrew word) by God, even though they were, at times, in rebellion against him.

Interestingly, Isaiah also makes a point of Abraham having been called.

(Isa. 51:1-2) “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; 2 look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many.”

The flow of this passage is call and then blessing. Isaiah skips right over “obedience” and even “faith,” although we know these were essential.

If Christians are the spiritual heirs of Abraham and of Israel, then we must also be called. And so, the sense of “called” for Christians seems to be much the same as saying the Christians are added to God’s covenant with Abraham and the Israelites. Once you are in covenant relationship with God, you are among God’s called people–a community that traces its spiritual roots all the back to Abraham.

Hence, if we think in covenant terms, as Wright so-often urges, “called” starts to make better sense–

(Rom. 8:30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Try this for a paraphrase–

(Rom. 8:30) And those he predestined, he also [brought into the covenant]; those he [brought into the covenant], he also [acquitted]; those he [acquitted], he also glorified.

(I’ve decided that “acquitted” works as well, if not better than, “declared vindicated” and takes much less typing.) (“Predestined” is for a later post–one of these days–if it’s my destiny.)

To test this theory, let’s try Romans 9, a difficult chapter–

(Rom 9:23-26) What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” 26 and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.'”

That’s the NIV. Now for the paraphrase–

(Rom. 9:23-26) What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also [brought into the covenant], not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea: “I will [bring into the covenant] ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will [bring into the covenant] her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” 26 and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be [brought into covenant as] ‘sons of the living God.'”

This actually makes pretty good sense, and it’s surely true to Paul’s thought. The passage is all about who is in God’s covenant!

Okay, if this theory of mine is right, then Wright is entirely correct to treat “called” as the saving event. We are saved when we are brought into right relationship with God–covenant relationship.

Now, Romans 8:30, quoted above, places “called” before justified, which makes perfect sense if “called” means saved and justified means acquitted or, equivalently, declared saved.

[supplemental material in response to comment by Alan Rouse below]

This is an intriguing point. The Hebrew word in the Isaiah passages is qara’, meaning “called.” In Hosea, the Hebrew word is ‘amar, meaning “said,” but which can also mean “called.” However, as you note, the word generally used of a divine call is qara’.

In the Septuagint, the second “said” in Hosea 1:10 is translated with the same Greek word twice translated “called” in Romans 9:25-26. But the “said” in Hosea 2:23 is translated “said” in the Septuagint (as in the Hebrew), so Paul evidently paraphrased Hosea 2:23 to insert “called” to make his point. Paul does fairly treat “said” as meaning called in context.

His point is to exemplify Rom. 9:23-24,

(Rom. 9:23-24) What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

And so, certainly for purposes of Paul’s theology, we can safely figure that whatever Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 are referring to is the sort of “calling” Paul has in mind even if the language isn’t as parallel as Paul’s paraphrasing suggests.

(Rom. 9:25-26) As he says in Hosea: “I will call [“said” in the Septuagint and the Hebrew] them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call [“said” in the Septuagint and the Hebrew] her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” 26 and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called [“called” in the Septuagint but “said” Hebrew] ‘sons of the living God.'”

The thought of the Hosea passage is that God will, by divine decree, cause people who formerly were not his people to become his people. “Called” or “said” does not mean invite but means “cause to be” or even “transform into.”

(Rom. 9:25-26) As he says in Hosea: “I will transform them into ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will transform her into ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” 26 and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be transformed into ‘sons of the living God.'”

Try the same substitution with “invite” and the translation become nonsense.

Nonetheless, I think my case requires some further evidence. Let’s see …

(1 Cor. 7:17-24) Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you–although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

This is same Greek word as used for “called” in Romans 8 and 9 but in a context far removed from predestination. But, once again, “invited” just doesn’t fit that well. The problem is particularly acute in v. 22–

22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave.

This is clearly referring to a call that effected a change in status–a change from being outside the Lord to inside. “Saved” or “transformed” works. “Invited” does not.

Consider also–

(Gal. 5:7-8) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.

Well, “invites” refers to people not yet saved. Paul is speaking to the saved. But “saves” still works. Compare 1 Pet. 3:21.

Looking at the Old Testament evidence, Zephaniah 1:7 is of interest–

(Zep. 1:7) Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.

“Invited” is the same word as “called” in the Isaiah passages. This is obviously an invitation that succeeds–all who receive this invitation are made holy.

Also, consider–

(Joel 2:32 ESV) And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

Here, the idea is that God calls the very same people who call on him.

The first half of this passage shows up in the New Testament in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:32 and in Romans 10:31, in both cases treating the prophecy as applicable to Christian salvation (This is part of the same passage that prophesies the coming of the Spirit on men and women.)

The reference to “survivors” or “remnant,” as in the KJV, is part of the background of such verses as Romans 11:5–

(Rom. 11:5) So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.

The remnant is not only called, it’s saved.

Now, I readily admit that “call” is often used in the Old Testament to mean invite and many passages bemoan the refusal of many to respond to God’s call. The argument isn’t that “call” means “saved” or “effectively called” all the time.

Rather, the argument is that “call” in the Old Testament is sometimes used of a divine summons that effects its purpose, especially in passages with Messianic overtones. In these passages, the called are those who respond to the call.

(And although I know even less Hebrew than Greek, it’s clear to me that Old Testament Hebrew provides a very limited vocabulary compared to English (my sons say Spanish is like this, too). Thus, many words do double, triple, and quadruple duty compared to the more precise modern English vocabulary. And so it’s no surprise that the word has different meanings in different places.)

Paul then takes this word–and more broadly, this concept–and extends it to Christians. We are “called” just as Abraham and Israel were called. The call was effective.

Does this mean that God’s call is irresistible? No. I know many people who’ve resisted it quite effectively.

And so, Paul also uses “called” in its special Old Testament sense meaning “effectively called,” for which there is no exact English (or Greek) equivalent. But the effect of the efficacious call is to save and transform the called person.

But “called” also means that Paul sees us as a continuation of the called community, the covenant community. We are all called because we are all part of the called community.

And we far too often ignore the community part of the call. We think we were saved to be individuals relating to God in a very personal, very individualistic way. But the call is really as much about being added to a living, serving community as it is about being saved.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in New Perspective, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to The New Perspective: On Being “Called”

  1. Alan says:

    I would just point out that in Rom 9:25, where he is quoting from Hosea 2:23, the underlying Hebrew is not the same word as, for example, Isa 41:9. And similarly in Rom 9:25, the passage being quoted (Hos 1:10) the underlying Hebrew word is not the same word. In the two Hosea passages, the word is more precisely "say" or "said". So even though they are the same Greek word, that masks a distinction in the Hebrew. Since your article is examining the evidence in the Old Testament, those passages would not make the list. And I think, even in the Greek, the contextual usage of "called" in those cases is distinct — they were "called" a certain name, rather than being called in the sense of being summoned.

Leave a Reply