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Gospel Call, Regeneration, & Conversion | The Work of Christ and Salvation

As taught by Zach Thompson.

In this equipping time lesson, we learn about God's acts of calling, regenerating, and converting sinners and the application of that.

Gospel Call, Regeneration and Conversion

Good morning everyone! This morning, we are going to continue going through our series on the work of Christ and salvation. 

Today, we’ll be covering the gospel call, regeneration, and conversion. 

Review the Order of Salvation timeline

Before time

 1. Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)

Being saved

 2. The gospel call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)

 3. Regeneration (being born again)

 4. Conversion (faith and repentance)

 5. Justification (right legal standing)

 6. Adoption (membership in God’s family)

Worked out in this life

 7. Sanctification (right conduct of life)

 8. Perseverance (remaining a Christian)

 9. Death (going to be with the Lord)

The End

 10. Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)

We’ll be starting on that second dot on the timeline. It’s the green one. This represents the moment when someone becomes a Christian. As you can see on the timeline, there are actually 5 different realities that happen here. We are only going to cover the first 3 today.

Calling, regeneration, and conversion. 

These three represent the experience of salvation up to the moment when someone is converted, then the other two on the bottom side of the line are justification and adoption. Those are the immediate and instantaneous results of this moment of conversion. 

We mentioned this last week. All of these are distinct realities that we can see in Scripture. But often in our own experience of salvation, they are tied up together. It’s often difficult to tell the difference between the moment when the Holy Spirit gives us a new heart and the moment we decide to turn and follow Jesus. As we experience them, they are tied up together. 

So as we work through our time this morning, I want to walk through each of these realities and talk about what they mean and where we see them in the Bible. Then we’ll close our time with some applications. 


So let’s start with calling. I would guess that if you think back on your life, most of the times when you have heard people talk about calling, they are talking about something with the direction of their life or their vocation. What has God called me to? What is his will for me? 

That is not what we are talking about today. It’s important, and there is a right way for us to think about that. But when the Bible talks about calling, it isn’t talking about which college you should go to or who you should date or what you should do for a career. 

When the Bible talks about calling, it is almost always talking about being called into salvation. 

By the grace of God, we hear the gospel, and by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit beckons us to turn from our sin and trust entirely in Jesus Christ. This is the gospel call. 

And there are two categories here that I want to make explicit:

There is an external call and an internal call. 

The external is when we preach the gospel. As we preach the gospel, we tell people about who Jesus is and what Jesus did and call people to repent and come follow Jesus. And we do this without discrimination. It’s a general call. We don’t pick and choose to whom we preach because we don’t know who will and will not believe.

The internal call is something that we can’t control. It’s an act of God, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith. This is what’s known as the effectual call of God or the particular call of God--when God summons someone to himself.

This internal call is like in the morning if I go into Cara and Leah‘s room, and I look down at one of them, and I say, "Cara wake up. Leah wake up." It’s the beckoning call of the father for those on whom his affection is set. He is waking them up so that they can be with him.

And in our case, we won’t wake up until he calls. 

Now maybe you hear this distinction, and you want to ask a question. If God is the one who ultimately calls people, then why are we wasting our effort? Why should we preach the gospel if God is the one who is going to change their heart anyway? 

There’s a good answer to this. It’s this: 

The Bible says that both things are true. We call people, and God calls people. 

We call people without considering whether they will or won’t believe. Like Isaiah 55:1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

Isaiah isn’t preaching assuming that none of the people will respond. He is offering water to a thirsty man and food to a hungry man. He knows they need it, but he also knows that they may not be willing to recognize it. 

And the Bible is absolutely clear that if we don’t preach the gospel, then people won’t believe the gospel. 

Think of Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!' "

They won’t believe unless they hear, so preach the gospel.

Faith comes by hearing. 

We could look at so many other places. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 or Acts 1:8. 

But if you are a member of Christ Fellowship, I don’t think I need to convince you that you need to share the gospel with everyone. So I’m not going to spend more time on this. 

But here is the reality where we need to spend a bit more time. 

God is the one who ultimately calls people to himself, not us. 

If we preach the gospel to a group of people whom God is not calling, then it is like we are preaching in a graveyard. 

It doesn’t matter how much you plead with a rock, it will not stand up and talk to you. 

1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."

The natural person won’t accept the things of God. It takes supernatural intervention. 

If you are talking to a corpse, it doesn’t matter if you scream or plead or threaten or whatever you do, the corpse won’t respond. It’s dead. 

If God is not working, then our preaching is powerless.

God must call them. This is the internal call–the particular call.

Think of Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Who is doing the calling here? God is. God calls people to himself. 

John, 6:44, “No one can come to me, unless the Father, who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” 

Who could have been a better preacher than Jesus? Jesus himself just said that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them.

And this isn’t something that should cause us to despair! This is actually a huge load off of us! 

When someone doesn’t respond to the gospel, it isn’t ultimately because you fumbled the ball. That’s not an excuse to intentionally be sloppy in the way we talk about the gospel, but it’s something that should be a comfort to us. 

God uses means. He uses people to accomplish his purposes. In his sovereign grace, he has given us the gift of being the voice that his people hear as God calls them to himself. 

What a gift to us! 

God uses the external call of the gospel proclamation as a means of initiating belief in the heart of those who are his. The external call precedes the internal call. 

But what exactly is the difference between someone who responds to the call of the gospel? This is our next point. 


Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. It’s what we are talking about when we say that someone is born again. 

We are about to look at Scripture to see where we get this, but here’s the reality: No one will respond to the gospel until this happens. 

Remember, preaching to people that God isn’t calling is like preaching in a graveyard. A dead man will not RSVP to your party. It doesn’t matter how many invitations and text messages that you send him. 

In John 1:12-13 it says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

This isn’t a reference to a pre-existence or a spiritual procreation with a heavenly mother before time. This is regeneration. It’s clear that he’s only talking about those who receive him. It’s not something that applies to all humanity. He gives us the right to become children of God. Why? Because we have been born of God. 

Just a couple of chapters later, Jesus made it clear that we have to be born again when he spoke to Nicodemus in John 3, “ 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' 4 Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?' 5 Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." 8 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.' ” 

Jesus said that we must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. He said that we have to be born of water and the Spirit. When he says “water” there, that isn’t a reference to baptism. That’s a reference to physical birth. You must be born physically, and you must be born again–spiritually. 

You are spiritually dead, and you must be given life–regeneration. 

Or think of the promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” 

Do you remember Lydia in the book of Acts? Acts 16:14 says this, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”

God opened her heart to pay attention to what was said.

We could look at references all day: (Eph 2; Jer. 31; Col 2:13; James 1:17-18; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 23; Mt 19:16-30; 2 Cor 5)

But think about this. How do you know when someone has been given new life? 

I think the answer isn’t too different from how you would answer the question for yourself. How do you know that you are alive? 

If someone asked you this, what would you do? You don’t try and find your birth certificate. You don’t go and ask someone who was there. Excuse me, were you there when I was born? You wouldn’t go through an existential crisis if someone asked you this. 

You would probably laugh at them. Of course, I’m alive! I’m breathing. I’m right here in front of you. The living acts like someone who is alive. 

When someone has been given a heart of flesh, they will respond to the gospel. They’ll feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and they’ll turn to Jesus again and again and again. 

You’ve probably heard a story like this. There is someone who has heard the gospel a hundred times, but then on the hundred and first time, it is as if they are hearing it for the first time. I’ve never understood this before. I’ve never heard someone say it like that. In reality, they’ve heard it a hundred times, but this time, they have a heart prepared by God to respond.

At that moment, they truly felt their need and understood the gospel. Their darkened mind is illuminated by the Holy Spirit. It’s like their heart was a dark room where they had to feel around to get anywhere and now, it’s as if someone has turned on the lights, and they see that everything is an absolute wreck, and they need Jesus. 

That is the type of moment that describes the effectual call of God on a heart that has been given the life of regeneration. 

And there when we have a heart that is prepared by God, and we see our need before God, and we are called to come to God, the next step is clear. 


After the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts and we hear the gospel, we will turn away from death and toward life. This is conversion. 

Conversion is our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation.

Louis Berkhof says that conversion is a change in the “governing disposition of the soul.”

It’s genuine belief and genuine repentance. Turn and trust and be found in Christ.

This is the actual moment of turning from a trajectory that leads to death to a trajectory that leads to life. 

That’s why we use the word repent. Repent simply means “to turn.” It’s a change of direction that’s wrought by faith in God.

Conversion happens by saving faith. Saving faith includes understanding the gospel, approving of the gospel, and trusting the gospel. 

Conversion is the natural response of someone whose heart has been made new and who has heard the gospel. When the Holy Spirit causes us to have hearts of flesh, we finally understand the depth of our need before God and the sweetness of fellowship with God.


Why would a hungry man not eat a meal? Why would a tired man not desire sleep? 

Think of someone who has been walking in the desert for weeks. He had some water in a pack, but he ran out, and he was on the verge of death. If this man walks up to you, and you offer him water, do you think he would turn you down? 

He knows how thirsty he is. He knows that he will die if he doesn’t take it. 

This is conversion. The spirit enlivens our hearts so that we can simply recognize our need and drink deeply of the waters of salvation. 

Or think about it another way. If a man on the other side of the room looks you in the eye and waves you toward himself, you might feel kind of uncomfortable. Who is that guy? He looks kind of arrogant. I don’t really want to get too close to him. You would probably just act like you didn’t see him and walk the other way. But if you knew that this man who beckoned you to himself was the king of the world, then you better believe that you would respond. This king who holds the power of life and death in his hand–-you don’t ignore that man. You walk forward humbly.

When the Holy Spirit has given us new hearts, and he calls us through the gospel, we finally understand our need. We finally understand some semblance of his majesty and grace. And we turn to him. 


  1. Be bold, God is working. 

  2. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from proclaiming the gospel. God will use your weakness. 

  3. This isn’t an excuse to be thoughtless in our gospel presentations, but as we seek to preach and reason with people the best that we can, we can be comforted knowing that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to give them a new heart so that they would respond. 

  4. It’s not your job to regenerate hearts. Your job is merely to preach the gospel. People won’t respond until the Holy Spirit moves in them. 

  1. Pray for souls. Salvation is God’s work. 

  2. The most effective and eloquent preacher in all the world is powerless without the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. God is the one who moves hearts.

  3. The story about Ryan Fullerton challenges our notion that we live in a “hard” place to live for the gospel.

  1. Look for signs of life.

  2. If it seems like God is warming someone’s heart, then lean in. 

  3. If you aren’t a believer, but it seems like God is warming your heart to himself, then respond. That doesn’t happen naturally.


  1. Glorify God for His work in you.

  2. We tend to think about other people as we consider things like this. I would encourage you to take a moment and remember that if you are in Christ this morning, then everything we just talked about is for you. God did this work in you, so fall before in gratitude for his grace on you. 


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