Russell and Duenes

God Called Me to be a Ditch-Digger: Part 2

with 2 comments

I left off last time with God “calling” Paul and Barnabas to a specific work. The Holy Spirit specifically said to “set them apart.” But is this the kind of “call” that evangelicals are speaking of today? I don’t believe it is. When we look at this particular call closely, and Paul’s call to be an apostle in particular (Barnabas is also called an apostle in Acts 14:14), we notice a few things. First, Paul’s “call” to his apostolic ministry was given to him specifically by a supernatural “light” on the Damascus road and confirmed objectively by Ananias. Second, Paul was morally obligated to obey this call, for he says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” It’s like the call that Jonah received. Paul also gives objective evidence that he has been called as an apostle (miracles, planted churches, his sufferings). When God wanted Paul (and in this case, Barnabas) to go to a specific place (e.g., Macedonia, Acts 16:10) or stay in a place (e.g., Corinth) he spoke to him audibly in a dream or by a voice. But I don’t think this is how people use the word “called” today. They don’t mean, “Woe to me if I’m not a missionary.” And they certainly aren’t saying, “God told me in an audible voice to be a hedge-fund manager.” Could God speak to people the way He spoke to Paul? Yes, and I’ve no doubt that He still does. But this would be rare, would not be for everyday vocations, ministries or decisions, and could not be equated with “inner impressions” or “feeling a sense of calling.” Being called to a unique, one-time apostolic ministry is qualitatively different. We should understand that Paul is talking about this unique calling every time he says that he is “called as an apostle.”

In Romans 1:6-7, Paul says that the saints are also “the called of Jesus Christ.” Here he is referring to all the saints, and thus, the call they have received is a sovereign call of God to respond to the gospel in faith. God creates faith by this call and thus, it is his effectual call which he gives to all those he saves and redeems. Romans 8:28 gives the same meaning when it says that God works all things together for good “to those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul goes on to say that “those whom God called” he also justified and glorified. There are many other Scriptures that refer to this sovereign call to salvation. This call would surely include unique sovereign purposes that God has for each of his children, but those purposes are known to him alone.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks quite a bit about “calling.” He says that “as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk” (1 Cor 7:17). He says we should “remain with God in that condition in which we were called” (v.24). So “called” again means called to salvation as a disciple of Christ. Paul sometimes talks about the nature of this call, that is, what it entails. For example, he says, “You were called to freedom, brothers” (Gal.5:13). God has called us for the purpose of sanctification (1 Thess.4:7). God has “called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim.1:9-10). We have been called to following Christ’s example in suffering (1 Peter 2:21). But all Christians are called to this, no matter what their ministry or vocation. I simply cannot find biblical warrant for speaking of an individual, subjective, “inner sense” calling to a vocation or ministry.

Now, having said all this, we may just be talking about semantics. But my experience tells me it’s more than that. So here’s what I’m after. I see a problem with talking about God “calling” me to a specific ministry or vocation because I think it lends itself to a sense that, since God has certainly called me to something specific, then I’ve just got to find exactly the right one. This seems to paralyze people. Unless they feel that call, they won’t move forward. Further, when thinking of “called” in this way, people may feel that they were “called” to a vocation or ministry, but may be disappointed or disillusioned if this “called to” ministry or job doesn’t turn out as they had hoped. I think what’s happening is that people are saying that God has “called” them to something that, in reality, they simply wanted to do and felt a strong attraction to; and God bless ’em. There’s nothing wrong with doing ministries and jobs that we want to do so long as God does not specifically forbid them and they are not flying in the face of practical wisdom.

Finally, my biggest reason for trying to bring clarity to this is because I think that the way we use “calling” today has a strongly individualistic bias to it. When we’re all out trying to find our special and specific “calling,” it seems to me that we often forget what God has called all of his people to be doing all of the time. God calls us to be holy people, consecrated to him, loving and serving each other by the power of His Spirit, doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with him. God calls us to sing his praises and to offer our corporate, as well as our individual, lives to him in worship, in all that we do. And God calls us to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us.” This is our calling, and we do well as God’s special possession, the church, to stay focused on it. I certainly believe that God gives each of us different motivations, inclinations, opportunities and gifts such that His sovereign purposes in history are carried out. And if we’re sensitive to the Spirit’s influence, opportunities will abound for us to move into arenas of life with Christ’s redemptive love, using the gifts and talents and passions he has given us. And there’s tremendous freedom here; so I need not say, “Woe to me if I don’t work in the nursery on Sundays, since God has called me to it.” Working in the nursery on Sundays, working as a plumber Monday through Friday, and  working as a missionary to the urban poor on Saturdays are all great things to do, and we have the freedom to do them. But I don’t think we ought to confuse the doing of them with what the Bible says is our “calling.”



Written by Michael Duenes

April 15, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology, Work

2 Responses

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  1. Great thoughts!

    Though it would be easy for the semantics to get in the way, I think that your point is well-conveyed. The universal callings that God has given us, as a church, are both clear and crucial. Vocations, while they may be an important part of life, are not directly related to the primary calling of the church as a whole, nor of individual believers.

    What one does in life is never as important as why it’s done (motive), how it’s done (character) and on whose strength it’s done (power). Those three things are the most vital. Therefore, we must walk in faith and diligently obey the commands of God.


    April 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    • Well said, Silas! Keep up the good work on your own blog, my friend.



      April 17, 2010 at 8:10 am

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