It is amazing how we tend to express things and believe traditionally, or by way of general expressions, without seriously looking at the biblical evidence. One major example of this is how we use the phrase, “I am called of God to… [be a pastor, be an evangelist, be a carpenter, or be an engineer, etc.]” Is this a biblical concept or a traditional way of stating why a person wants to pursue the ministry or a profession?
We have to examine every reference to the “call” in the NT, then look at the teachings of the extended concept for ministry. Finally, we will conclude by giving practical suggestions from the evidence.
The concept of the “call” is seen from the following excerpts of the text:
- “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mar 2:17)
- “For the promise [of salvation] is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Act 2:39)
- “So that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be my own,” (Act 15:17 NET)
- “Among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ” [in salvation] (Rom 1:6)
- “I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people” (Rom 1:7 NLT)
- “To those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28)
- “… He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (Rom 9:23-24)
- “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1Cor 1:9)
- “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Co 1:24)
- But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. (1Co 7:17)
- “For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.,, and Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called. (1Co 7:22, 24)
- “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6)
- “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace,” (Gal 1:15)
- “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal 5:13)
- “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” (Eph 1:18)
All the rest of the NT additional references to the “call” have a similarly direct reference to our personal salvation encounter with Christ. (See Eph 4:1, 4; Phil 3:14,15; 1 Thes 2:11; 4:7; 5:24; 2 Thes 1:12; 2:14; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 1:9; Heb 3:1; 1 Pet 1:15; 2:9, 21; 3:9; 5:10; 2 Pet 1:3, 10; Jude 1; Rev 17:14).
Paul gives an overarching principle concerning the “gifts and the calling of God” in Rom 11:29, stating that they “are irrevocable.” Friberg (1347) defines this as being “incapable of being changed, not to be taken back, inflexible.” The context is explaining God’s choice to offer salvation to the Gentiles while temporarily setting aside the Jewish nation until the end times. His graciousness in gifting mercy to the undeserving while calling out a people through the generous offer of forgiveness and salvation is not going to be repented of or changed. This context is not referring to the ministry but to salvation.
There are two passages that give an apparent exception out of the vast predominance of references to salvation.
The first is when Paul [Saul] and Barnabas were commissioned to begin their evangelistic journeys in Acts 13:2, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Both of them had been in the ministry as leaders-pastors-elders of the church at Antioch for several years, and before that they were in the ministry for a number of years (Paul in Tarsus and Barnabas in Jerusalem). So this was not a call to the ministry, but an extension of their ongoing ministry as a purpose of previously being called to Christ in salvation.
On Paul’s second evangelistic journey after being led to not enter Asia or Bithynia, Paul comes to Troas on the Aegean Sea. Paul had been told he could not go south or north and now he was up against the barrier of the Aegean Sea. What would he do? In the evening he saw a vision: “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Act 16:10)
Was this a “call to preach?” Paul had been in the ministry for over a decade and already planted churches in multiple cities. This is not a “missionary call” since he had been doing missionary work and was currently on his second “missionary” journey. It seems obvious that this was God’s intervention to give Paul special direction or guidance for his future ministry. But how are we to understand the phrase, “the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them?”
If we take this to mean the “call” to preach to the Macedonians as God’s call on their lives, then this is an irrevocable call (according to Romans 11:29), and they should remain in Macedonia for the duration of their ministry. Some take this interpretation for contemporary ministries; that is, if God “calls” you to a place or a country you are to stay there for your entire ministry. To leave that place you void God’s call and His blessing on your life.
This apparently was not the case with the Apostle Paul who only remained in Macedonia a few months. The meaning of the “call” in these contexts must mean the same thing as in other texts. God’s salvation call has ministry implications.
Lets back up for a minute and examine a salvation passage that indicates that our salvation is not just related to forgiveness and ultimately heaven, but also implies a practical purpose in Christ’s “calling” us to Himself. Paul described the basis of our salvation in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” God’s gift of salvation is irrevocable! Amen!
Then Paul continues his thought by tying together verses 9 and 10 with the connector “For” to communicate that salvation is not an end in itself, but the means to engage all His saints (whom He has saved by grace) into His ultimate purpose for their lives. All believers are called to salvation by grace for the purpose of fulfilling His plan for their lives.
Paul writes, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). Everyone who comes to Christ in salvation is special. Each is created from birth with special unique abilities and then given special ministry capabilities, empowerment and motivational spiritual gifts for their unique contribution to Christ’s kingdom purpose. Everyone is saved by grace for a purpose to be discovered.
As we perceive our unique “workmanship” [Gk., “creation”] we are to commit to fulfilling it’s purpose with all diligence since “God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (2:10b).
Therefore our “workmanship” is our primary indication for the general direction for our lives. Oftentimes we will need assistance to recognize what our uniqueness is and how we can benefit God’s kingdom now. This is where the body of Christ, the church, plays a critical role in “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12).
What are the indicators of God’s unique workmanship in our lives? Rick Warren designed an acronym SHAPE that is a help in identifying God’s design in each of us. We should help each other discover these attributes God has molded into our lives:
S – Spiritual Gifts (1 Cor 12; Rom 12)
H – Heart or desire (Phil 2:13)
A – Abilities or Talents (1 Pet 4:11)
P – Personality
E – Experience
All of these together will point us in a certain direction (likewise they should indicate a direction that is not wise to pursue). There is no greater assistance we can give each other than to encourage and motivate each other in light of God’s workmanship in each of us so we can fulfill God’s prepared plan for us. Encourage everyone you know in these five areas to recognize God’s leading.
We are called to Him in salvation not just to praise Him for His grace, but also to share His amazing story with the world. Our workmanship will indicate our part in His global plan, and then we are to think strategically about investing our lives for His kingdom purpose as He leads us step by step. The next blog will give a biblical perspective on the will of God followed by a third blog on some suggestions for how He leads us inwardly a step at a time.