What does it mean to be “called”? Roll the question over in your mind; perhaps there’s more to it than what you see. “Called” is not a trifling word. At the very least, it implies a caller. And as Sinclair Ferguson has noted, “called” is one of the New Testament’s most frequent one-word descriptions of the Christian. When God repeats himself, men should listen up.
Perhaps you think of a call as a quest to which a man dedicates his life—guys like William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King. Maybe “calling” brings to mind your pastor or a missionary your church supports, who often speak of feeling called. For some, a man’s calling is just another way to talk about his work; “calling” means my job or career.
It might surprise you, but in Scripture the idea of calling is not initially a career path we pick, a cause we choose, or a code we use for unlocking God’s will. Biblical calling is, first of all, something done for us. It is God’s summons to the Savior, and to his service.
God’s Summons to the Savior
Can you remember the day, the event, the message, or the year where you felt directly and personally drawn to follow Jesus? For some it was dramatic, a life-defining event marked by emotion and commitment. For others it was a slow dawning, like the morning sun that scrubs away the night shadows until a new day sparkles with life. For me it was a season of stops and starts, irresistibly toddling toward God for reasons I could not comprehend. But regardless of your story, there was eventually an undeniable truth that arrested your attention: God called you to himself (Rom. 8:30).
Few things are more remarkable than the reality that the Creator of the universe stoops to summon sinners. “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). This is not a generic net cast over the nameless sea of humanity. This summons is passionate, particular, and personal: “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’” (Isa. 43:1).
It’s tempting to think this call says more about us than about God. We do possess inexplicable value to God (Ps. 8:5–8; Matt. 6:26), but the primary point of his summons is not to certify our significance. Sinners are not special trophies God wanted to win or some kind of mind-blowing deal he just couldn’t refuse. No, the highest glory from the call radiates not toward the called but toward the Caller himself (1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 2:8–9).
On March 10, 1876, the first phone call was made. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, called his assistant, Thomas A. Watson. “Come here,” said Bell to Watson in the historic call, “I want to see you.”
Watson never assumed that the first call to him was really about him. He didn’t jump from his seat and go all NFL, spiking the phone to the ground and pounding his chest like a franchise superstar after a spectacular catch. No, Watson saw the larger picture. The first phone call happened not because of the guy being called, but because of the inventor.
The creator called; the recipient responded.
In a manner immensely profound and infinitely splendid, God’s effectual call to salvation says far more about him than it does about the ones he has called (Eph. 1:3–14). More magnificent than any human invention, the instrument for this first call is not a device but a message—the glorious gospel of a suffering and risen Savior (2 Thess. 2:14). This means the first call is the most important call. And it isn’t about what we do or where we go, but about whom we follow (Rom. 1:6).
This first call is the grounds for a second. The first determines who we are—children of God redeemed by the blood of God’s son, Jesus. With our identity established, the second call plots the course for our lives; it is the summons to his service (John 13:13–17).
God’s Summons to His Service
God is not like Mr. Bell. His call is not a one-time event. His posture toward us is one of continual calling and invitation. The Christian is urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1) by living the “life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17). In essence, God tells us, “This is who you are,” and then he opens our eyes to how we should live in response to that call. Jesus gives us heavenly CPR, breathing the Holy Spirit into our lifeless lungs, and then invites us into “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
To put it another way, there’s work to be done. But this too starts with God. God is the first and greatest worker, and the Scriptures reveal a God who enjoys his work. He pronounced his creation “good” and then invited his children into the family business. He could’ve kept snapping his fingers and making new babies, gardens, and homes. Instead, he blessed his children with vocation. They make babies. They work the ground. They harvest food. They cultivate the world. Though God certainly works in supernatural ways, his work is more often of the regular variety. He feeds the world through farmers, funds business through bankers, and cultivates beauty through artists.
Yet calling gets more practical too. We are custom-made by our Creator to fill a place and fulfill a destiny. We are summoned to serve a purpose. And arriving at that purpose requires us to answer certain questions that excavate our individuality.
Three Vital Questions
1. How am I endowed?
As created beings we are hardwired with certain strengths and talents. These gifts, some of which are spiritual (Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12:4–11; 1 Pet. 4:10–11), are not accidental. They speak to us of a path God invites us to travel, where we find roles and service compatible with our giftings. It’s like discovering the sport to which our equipment belongs. Exploring the question of endowment (which includes asking others!) helps guide you toward your vocational call.
2. What have I experienced?
The question of vocation meets us on a road already traveled. Men aren’t newborns. They arrive into adulthood having passed through significant experiences. A broken home, a college scholarship, a wayward sibling, an uncle in rehab, and countless other milestones along our journey shape our calling; our calling is vitally connected to our story. Paul’s upbringing, education, and experience with Christ made him a unique witness to the Gentiles (Eph. 3:1–9; Phil. 3:3–11). Luke’s training as a physician probably made him more credible and conscientious as a historian (Luke 1:1–4; Acts 1:1–3). Understanding “who I am” and “how I got to be this way” are crucial questions in interpreting my experience and identifying my calling from God.
3. What do I enjoy?
Men are not dispassionate, lifeless beings. We have passions, desires, aspirations—things we enjoy and feel irresistibly drawn to do. They elicit pleasure from us, and when we’re honest, we often feel God’s pleasure in the pursuit. “God made me fast,” said Olympian Eric Liddell. “And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Vocation often follows passion and ambition. It’s conceived when desire marries pursuit. It explores what makes us thrive. The question of enjoyment asks what pursuit brings us the greatest pleasure for the utmost glory of God.
Our Moving Savior
The first phone call began with the words “come here.” The first call from Jesus began with “follow me.” Following Jesus means we come to him and learn who we are: sons and daughters of the king of the universe. But Jesus never stands still for long, and so our coming to him always results in our following him.
Before Jesus calls us to do, he first calls us to be. From that place of intimacy, where we are loved, known, and accepted, we can learn to hear the voice of God calling to us. He is calling you today.
How will you respond?