Request your free, three-month trial to Tabletalk magazine. You’ll receive the print issue monthly and gain immediate digital access to decades of archives. This trial is risk-free. No credit card required.Try Tabletalk Now
Already receive Tabletalk magazine every month?
Verify your email address to gain unlimited access.
Scripture describes God’s call on our lives in a multitude of ways that stretch from broad to precise. So, where do we start if we want to form a biblical understanding of the different ways that the Bible speaks about the call of God? We often start in the wrong place, thinking about our specific context, our lives, our situation. Instead, we should begin with God and His call. We are talking about the almighty God of the universe, whose sovereign decree is executed in creation and in His ongoing providential care of all His creatures and all their actions. He has, in His sovereignty, redeemed us. This God, our God, has placed calls on our life that frame who we are and what He expects us, commands us, calls us to do in this world He has made, this world in which we are His servants. We can summarize the ways that the Bible uses these themes—God’s almighty rule, His claim on our lives, His intention for us and the world, the gospel of Jesus—according to two categories of callings: creation and redemption. Each of these words—creation and redemption—gives us a window through which to see the different calls of God.
Looking first at creation, we can consider the call of vocation. God calls us as humans created in His image to diligent work in the world that He created. God did not make Adam or any of his children to be lazy. They wouldn’t live perennially in God’s basement, doing nothing but unlocking new levels in the latest video game. Nor did God leave it up to Adam as to how he would engage with creation or what he would do. God called Adam—commanded Adam—to exercise dominion over creation even as he worked in and cared for the garden of Eden (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). After the fall, this work became much more difficult, filled with thorns, but the call didn’t change. By the sweat of his face, Adam would continue to exercise dominion over creation by working and keeping the world that God had set him in (3:17–19). And this work would be done to God’s glory. In this calling, all human beings, all sons and daughters of Adam, find the call of God to a vocation. And by vocation, I do not mean necessarily a wage-earning profession. The CPA, ditch digger, soldier, homemaker, retiree, and elementary school student are all pursuing God’s call on their lives through God-honoring work.
Next, keeping in mind our focus on calls rooted in creation, we consider the call of marriage. God did not intend for humans to pursue their call to diligent work alone. God looked at Adam as an individual and definitively declared his situation not good (Gen. 2:18). So, He created Eve, a helper suited to Adam, and called them both to the marriage covenant, a covenant in which a man and a woman commit themselves to one another for life. Eve was Adam’s helper in both the tasks of multiplying and exercising dominion. Likewise, unless a Christian has a specific call to celibacy (1 Cor. 7:8–9), he or she is called to find a spouse and, if God so blesses, to bear children. This calling creates multiple derivative and gender-specific callings—husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister—each one with roles and responsibilities to be carried out to the honor and glory of God alone.
Third, in creation God wrote His law on the heart of every person (Rom. 2:15), giving them a call to holiness (Lev. 20:26). This law finds a more specific codification in the Ten Commandments and, ultimately, full display in the person of Jesus Christ. This law calls for perfection that no sinner can meet, but our inability because of the fall to obey the law does not void the law’s call on us to be perfect as God is perfect, to do this and live (Gal. 3:10). Thus, though marred by sin, every human knows God’s call to holiness, to moral perfection, and feels guilty for his sin.
Fourth, as families multiplied into nations and after God dispersed the nations in response to the tower of Babel, government and trade developed within cultures to produce structures of accountability and authority. All of this, especially the choice of who bears authority in any culture or group, is ordered by the express will of God (Rom. 13:1–4). Because God orders society’s authorities, all built around families, He calls everyone to obey the authorities that He places in charge. The call to obey authority is ubiquitous, from the husband’s headship in the home to the president’s rule over a country, from the employee in a business to the child in a home. The only time that disobedience to authority is justified and warranted is when an authority asks someone to sin. God’s call to obey authority also holds those in authority responsible to pursue God’s righteousness in the world as they exercise power. In this way, God’s call to obey authority provides structure and accountability beyond the individual family, guarding against the chaos and injustice of anarchy.
A simple word study on the topic of calling in the Bible would reveal several more of God’s calls to all people, but what we have considered so far summarizes how the basic calls of God are ubiquitous and applicable to any person at any time. And humanity’s experience is that each of these areas of calling, far from showing humanity’s ability to fulfill them, instead has shown how these callings have been venues for sin and depravity. But God, before Adam and Eve left the garden, had already begun to speak of the redemptive work He would do one day through the serpent-crushing Messiah (Gen. 3:15). This Messiah, through His life, death, and resurrection, would pay for the sins of His people, provide the righteousness that they could not achieve, and fulfill all the calls of God on His people. This Messiah is Jesus Christ, and in Him we find both new calls and renewed calls from God.
As we consider calls from the perspective of redemption, we know that God has been patient with the sin of humanity throughout the ages but now calls everyone everywhere to repent and believe in Christ (Acts 17:30). This is the external call of the gospel that Christians carry into the world. Pastors preaching from pulpits and Christians evangelizing their neighbors extend to everyone the free offer of the gospel: Repent and believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. This is now the one great redemptive call laid before every man, woman, and child. This call drives the New Testament church, it fuels world missions, and it is laid on every Christian.
As this external call sounds forth, there is also, when a person is born again, an internal call that accompanies it. Salvation is of the Lord; it is His monergistic work. He knows His own, and He calls them by name (John 10:27). When a sinner is redeemed, the Holy Spirit regenerates him so that he can receive and rest in Christ Jesus as He is offered in the gospel. In this way, the internal call of the gospel is always effectual because it is always and only performed by God. The external and internal call of God mark the New Testament age. These two calls chart and explain the explosion of the church from a ragtag bunch of Galileans to a worldwide body of redeemed sinners from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
The effectual call of God through Jesus that converts us also begins the work of conforming us into His image (Rom. 8:29). That doesn’t mean that we are all becoming more like Nazarene carpenters-turned-itinerant preachers. It means that God’s work of sanctification in us operates within the guard rails of the creation callings that are already operational in our lives. Under the power of the Holy Spirit, we now fight against sin and pursue holiness. We receive our call to vocation, and we work as unto the Lord with all our might. The husband embraces his call to marriage and loves his wife as Christ loved the church. The wife embraces her call to marriage and submits to her husband as the church does to Christ. The godly child obeys her parents as unto the Lord. The Christian embraces his call to holiness, pursuing holiness in grateful response to God’s grace. The Christian in authority does not lord his authority over others. The Christian under authority joyfully submits to and obeys authority, knowing that God is behind it all. In this way, the major calls of God on our lives—the call to vocation, the call to marriage, the call to morality, the call to submit to authority, the external call of the gospel, and the internal effectual gospel call—work together from creation and through redemption to accomplish God’s purpose in the world, His own glory through the worship of Jesus Christ in the church.