During one of Paul’s missionary journey’s, the apostle made his way to the city of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-5). When he arrived in a new city, it was his custom to begin his missionary work in a synagogue and it was no different in Thessalonica. Three Sabbaths in a row, Paul explained, expounded, and systematically set before the Jews the truth of Christ. He laid out from the Old Testament why Christ came and showed how Jesus died as the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world. Paul preached and proved that it was necessary for Jesus to rise victoriously from the grave for our justification, and while he preached, some believed and some believed not.
The auditorium was full of listeners. One man begins to weep receiving this glorious message of salvation while one man becomes angry. One person trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of his soul, while another laughs at what seems to him to be a foolish proposition. One man forsakes all that he knows concerning his old religion of works for salvation and leaves it behind, yet another man hardens his heart.
Why did one repent of his sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and the other reject him? They both heard the same message, sitting in the same building by the same preacher. What was it that brought some to unite with Paul and Silas while others of the multitude assaulted with envy? What made the difference? The gospel is the greatest message in the world. God will forgive you, completely, of all your sins and you can stand before Him complete, clean, and have everlasting life! Why do some believe this great news, but others reject it? The answer: grace.
Some of the confusion concerning God’s grace in salvation comes from a misunderstanding of what happens when a person is saved and confounding what is known as the general call and the effectual call. When Paul preached in the synagogue, he openly called all men to repent and come to Christ. The Bible says that “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” When the gospel of Jesus is preached and sinners are urged to come to Christ, they have been called by the preacher, based on the authority of Scripture. The promises are sure – come to Christ in repentant faith, and you will be saved. That’s the general call of the gospel and week after week, some believe and some reject.
There is another call in the Scripture – not a call by a man, but by God. This effectual, or powerful call, is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. In an act of sovereign grace, God the Holy Spirit resurrects the spiritually dead sinner to life, and this is called the new birth. The Holy Spirit uses the instrument of His preached Word, to call sinners unto salvation. When the Spirit calls the sinner, the sinner comes to Christ.