What does it mean to be called by God? It seems like it’s something we understand but can’t explain. Is it an inward, individual thing where God does something in a person’s heart to lead that person into service? Or might it be a community concern where the church finds a place of service for a person? Or could it be that we need a personal encounter with God to see what he has planned. We can open the Bible and find all sorts of examples that would suit any of the these.
A Theology of Calling, part 1
This first part is designed around what a calling from God is not. For all of the examples of calling that we can find in the Bible there are certain things which are not calling or that diminish or even disqualify one’s calling. These are hard question yet strangely enough are quite relevant to the church today. Here are seven things that are not God’s calling.
- Nobody has a calling to sin
There are sex cults. There are wealth cults. There are cults of personal visions. And there is the calling of imminent sin. All of these are very popular and have been for centuries. We see the sex cults in the news and reject them out of hand. That seems easy enough. They amount to little more than an orgy with a deity attached for convenience.
The wealth cults are all about increasing personal gain and comfort. They use God’s word for profit, and it’s a problem that has plagued the church since the beginning. It’s easy to pursue with envy that middle-class ease.
Identifying these sins amounts to collecting some low-hanging fruit. It takes little discernment to see what those sins are. But sometimes these things creep into the more personal areas of life.
Nobody is called to a defense of sin. No homosexual is called of God to pastor a church. Likewise no polygamist is, either. (I Tim. 3:2) Of course people who are in relationships outside of the creation model may seek a relationship with the Lord. But their position in the fellowship of believers is another matter. That is a question of role and calling. Sometimes it’s a question of sin and sometimes not. In either case the standard has been set by God.
- Nobody is called to oppose God’s kingdom
This might work out in several ways. There are those who practice, or so they say, the ethic of the kingdom but fail for whatever reason to give glory to God.Sometimes it’s pride, sometimes just irresponsibility. In any case it’s all about the individual’s efforts and successes. This is where service works and “outreach” get relabeled as “mission” work. It seems everyone wants to work but nobody wants to see people come to Christ. That should raise questions in everyone’s minds. In other words, God isn’t calling servants to not see people called to Himself.
- Nobody is called to deny Jesus as the Christ
It seems silly to say this, but God does not call a person to lead in a “Christian” church without a commitment to Jesus Christ. It seems to be self-evident.
The excuse is generally wrapped around a re-definition of who Jesus is. That was the error noted by John in his three letters. In that situation it was some proto-gnostics who were redefining the person Jesus into something of a separate physical/spiritual dualism. Today it’s a new dualism, a divergence between the historical Person and the ethical person. They’ve redefined Jesus into something other than who He was/is. And with a Jesus who is merely ethical, whose other moral attributes are set aside, it’s easy to find a calling in an alternative universe of understanding.
- Nobody is called apart from the community of believers
It’s not hard to day to find a para-church group. They’re everywhere.Many of them exist to give support to and to build up the local church. But a few of them, and I won’t name names here, hold the historic church in low esteem. They say that the church has failed so they go out to do the evangelism that the church is not doing. They may be correct in their criticism of the church. But the disrespect shown for the one set of relationships established by God in Acts goes outside of Biblical instruction.
Then there’s the individual who, with no support from the church, says he/she is called of God to do such-and-such. Then churches are asked to join in, generally with their funds. The nature and origin of this “calling” is often not brought into question. (We compound the error by going along for the ride.) “If the work sounds good then it must be of God” seems to be our delusion.
You might be called to something if the church leaders ask to you clean the kitchen or vacuum the floors. If you’re not willing to do that perhaps you should reconsider what it means to be called.
- Nobody is called to comfort
To be called is to serve. It’s not always convenient and not always pleasant. Sure there are times when those called to service enjoy some rest and other bits of God’s grace. But that’s not the point. Sometimes a local church may be too generous with its leadership, providing a nice income and, at times (not always, but at times) diminishing the place of service. Honest conversations should be had in each fellowship. (In my opinion, a pastor should be neither broken nor fattened by the fellowship.)
A calling is not to be rejected because it is hard or to be accepted because it is in line with one’s talents and abilities. You may find pleasure in the work God calls you to do but finding a place of pleasure is not the starting point for finding God’s calling. One’s calling is not determined by either ease or difficulty. Those are our perceptions and nothing more.
- Nobody is called to abandon responsibility
Have you been called to go to the mission field? What if you spouse disagrees? There are two things at play here. First, we can get in a hurry — too much of a hurry. It takes time to pray and share a vision. Spouses often come along later. But not always. If your spouse never comes to agreement then perhaps you have misunderstood this calling.
Then, if you spouse never comes around to agreeing with you, are you called to abandon that relationship. That’s highly unlikely. If you are married is that not God’s calling? Is not marriage and its proper maintenance a basic function of the mature Christian? Is not faithfulness in general and especially in marriage a requirement for Christian leadership?
Maybe God is calling you to abandon that marriage and find a spouse who agrees with you and will serve with you? God might be calling you to divorce and remarriage. Really? Oddly enough this is not an uncommon sentiment. But that’s all it is — the sentiment of a person more concerned about the feelings of the moment than about faithfulness to God.
- Nobody is called just because he/she is qualified
Don’t get me wrong here. God sometimes, dare I say often, calls a person to serve based on His preparation of the person for the task. But one should not assume that, because one has a particular skill, that God wants you to serve in a particular function. For instance, a skilled public speaker may not be called to pastor or teach. God’s calling does not begin with the skill.
These seven things are not indicators of God’s calling a person to ministry. Several of the are exactly the opposite of calling to service and are actually a calling to repent of sin being covered up. We forget that God’s calling is about Him and not about us.
Part 2 will be about callings to service in the Bible. Then part 3 will conclude with some observations, with Scripture, about maintaining one’s calling. Stay tuned.