28 May 2010


I've been thinking a lot lately (imagine that - I've been thinking, and now I'm going to post about it on my blog! Aren't blogs great?) about the Christian use of the word "call" or "calling." It is especially heavy on my heart as I come to the end of my first year out of the traditional realm of occupation. I remember sitting at summer camp as a teenager and listening to testimonies as the Lord "called" people to different kinds of ministries and vocations (vocation is a funny word to use here, as its Latin root word means "call"!). I never had such a testimony of a specific calling, and that fact caused me to lose confidence in my own walk with Christ for a while.

As I mature in my faith, my uneasiness in regard to my "calling" is beginning to fade. Although I have no specific instruction regarding career or location, I am actively placing myself in the "means of grace" (church, Bible reading, prayer, Christian service, fellowship with others), and it is clear to me that I have indeed been hearing and understanding God's voice in my life.

I can still testify that I have never heard the resounding voice of God calling me to any great job or place. Maybe one day such a specific instruction will come (such specific direction sometimes did come to saints in Scripture, I know). But the absence of a specific calling, although daunting while surrounded by seminarians with such seemingly clear direction, does not take away from my confidence that God has been ordering my steps and guiding my paths. Neither does this lack diminish the sincerity of my listening for His direction. Now, I certainly desire to grow more attuned to His voice, and hope to grow in this manner always. And I have heard the voice of God in my life. But the call I have heard from God is most often general, and not specific. I should add that I do not believe this sort of general calling to be insignificant; I dare say it is most significant, and very biblical.

Last week (and I apologize that it has taken me so long to make a post of this), I began a word study in Scripture of "call" and "calling." I was trying to find the place in Scripture where we Christians take our cues on this whole "called to do such-and-such" and "called to live here and there" thing.

It seemed natural to start with the call of Christ to his disciples. He called them, yes, but his call was simply to "come and follow" Him. I searched Paul's letters, and the other Epistles. When we speak of making our "calling and election sure" or living "a life worthy of the calling we have received," that call, too, is general. The calling of which the New Testament overarchingly speaks is God's prevenient call to salvation. The Greek word (kaleo) can mean one of two things "a calling, invitation to a feast - the divine invitation to embrace the salvation of God" or "to call by name, or bear a name or title, to be named, given a title." The definition which best applies to this discussion is the first, although surely the second applies to the use of the word "calling" in the New Testament as well. The calling which we have received may be a both/and: God calls us to salvation, and in so doing (upon our accepting Christ as Lord) God calls us by His own name - we are adopted as His children, and become joint-heirs with Christ, and therefore bear the name of Christ.

I find very little use of the word according to the way in which we use it today (to a specific location or vocation) in the New Testament. Romans tends to speak of God's "calling," in the sense of a "calling to salvation." "For those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified" (Romans 8:30). "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Paul is quick to speak of his own calling simply as a calling to "be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" (1 Corinthians 1:1). This clearly is the primary call on his life, of which he speaks over and over. I should mention, however, that he does refer to His missionary journeys sometimes as a "call" from God to preach in one place or another. God led Him on his missionary journeys, giving him direction and even visions, and clearly opening and closing doors to along the way (I am thinking specifically of Paul's Macedonian Call in Acts 16). Paul also refers to our stations in life as a sort of calling, but again, this is not his primary use of the word: "Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him (1 Corinthians 7:17). He says something similar in 7:20, but these instructions are referring specifically to the role of husband wife, and circumstance of circumcised or uncircumcised, or in 7:21 to slavery (although Paul wishes for slaves to be free if possible). He is not talking of a location or a vocation per se, but a place in life in which we were found at the time of our salvation.

The consistent use of the word in the New Testament has to do with both God's call which beckoned us to salvation, and our call, as Christians to live a life worthy of Christ. This two calls go hand-in-hand. God called us to Himself, and when we accepted, He began a work in us so that we might be conformed to His image. Therefore we are called to Christ, and called to look and act like Christ, to live like Him and demonstrate His own character by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It will not be hard for us to find the consistent use of "call" in the above sense throughout Scripture:

In Galatians 5:13, Paul speaks of being called to be free in Christ. In Ephesians 1:18 we called to hope and to the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. In Ephesians 4:1 we are given instructions to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. In Philippians 3:14 Paul says, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." In Colossians 3:15 we are called to peace. In 1 Thessalonians 4:7 we hear that "God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life." In 2 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul prays "that our God may count you worthy of his calling." And in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 Paul speaks of a calling to salvation and a holy life together: "But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."

In 1 Timothy 6:12 and 2 Timothy 1:9 we called to eternal life. In Hebrews 3:1 we have a heavenly calling which requires that we fix our thoughts on Jesus. In 1 Peter 2:9 we are called out of darkness into his wonderful light (and called to be a chosen people, royal priesthood, holy nation). In 1 Peter 2:21and 3:9 we are called to follow in Christ's footsteps through suffering.

In 2 Peter 1:3 and 1:10 we are instructed to make our calling and election sure. We do this through godly living and participation in the divine nature, by which we escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. In 1 John 3:1 we are called children of God, and in Jude 1:1 the called ones are loved by the Father.

This general calling to a holy life is the most important call upon a Christian's life.
If I live according to this calling, I'll never have to worry about missing any secondary call to a specific job or place or season of ministry, because when I am living a life in the Spirit, I will hear his voice, and my posture will be to obey.


  1. Sarah, this is a great blog entry. I believe Jesus will use your wisdom and insight on this matter to bring a lot of encouragement, hope, and direction to many Christians, especially the younger type. I'm going to link to this on my blog (and hopefully drive your visitor stats up by at least 1 or 2 more) because I think it is a significant study that is probably more relevant to the average -- and even above and below average -- Christian that most topics we spend time thinking and talking about. Thanks for sharing these thoughts with us. Your efforts will not be in vain.

  2. Sarah, thank you for this blog entry.
    I appreciate it.
    Our general calling IS more important than any secondary calling (job, place, etc). Without the first, we could miss the second IF the second calling is in a place in our lives where the first should be.

    Thank you for sharing and initiating the contemplation..

  3. ...Nice picture at the top.... ;)