One of the greatest blessings we have been given as Christians is our calling by God. At this time, this divine summons is not directed to mankind at large but only to those to whom God has determined to reveal Himself. When God calls us, He performs a miracle in our minds that results in our becoming more aware of spiritual truth, of our sinfulness, and of God and His claim on our lives.
In John 6:44, though Jesus Christ does not specifically use the words "calling" or "call," He describes God's work to bring us to Him—and the exclusivity involved: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." A few verses later, He reiterates that the Father determines who is allowed to enter into a relationship with the Messiah: "And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father'" (John 6:65).
This calling by God is so rare and valuable that Paul beseeches the Christians at Ephesus to "walk worthy of the calling with which you were called" (Ephesians 4:1). In other words, this heavenly calling sets the bar quite high with regard to the conduct of our lives—our Christian "walk." Similarly, the apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians that he and his companions "pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling" (II Thessalonians 1:11). Clearly, this call by God is not only to be treasured but also properly responded to.
To what, though, are we called? What does this call entail? How do we "walk worthy" of this divine summons?
In I Corinthians 1:1-2, Paul gives us insight into both his calling and ours:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: (emphasis ours throughout)
Paul received a specific calling as an apostle, and those who are sanctified in Christ likewise received a calling as saints. Paul was called, and his calling was an apostle's calling. It is not that he would become an apostle in the future; he already was an apostle. In the New King James Bible, the words "to be" are in italics to identify the fact that they are not in the original—it literally says, "Paul, called an apostle" and "to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints."
The sanctified brethren in Corinth had a saint's calling. They were already saints. That is our calling as well—we are called saints, right now. Paul opens his letter to the Romans in the same way, writing that he was called as an apostle, and those who were beloved of God were called as saints:
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God. . . . To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1, 7)
To really understand our calling, however, we have to understand what it means to be a saint. The word saint simply means "a holy one." It is translated from the Greek word hagios, a word that is most often translated as "holy." The New International Version employs that meaning, rendering "called to be saints" in I Corinthians 1:2 as "called to be holy." II Timothy 1:9 also shows that God "called us with a holy calling." Therefore, our calling is to be a person who is holy—simply meaning one who is separate and set apart, or one who is different.
The common concept of a saint is someone who is super-righteous or perhaps a person who gives all his worldly possessions to the poor. In Catholicism, an individual has to die and go through a posthumous approval process before he or she can become a saint. Once that happens, the saint is worshipped, and even receives a special day to be honored each year. Yet, this is not how the Bible uses the term "saint" or "holy one." Scripture utilizes this word primarily in the sense of one who has been set apart, regardless of his moral quality at the time of his separation.
These Corinthians, then, could be called "saints" even while they were exhibiting a great deal of carnality. After He called them, God declared them to be holy, and they had responded, but they had not yet fully conformed their lives to His superior standard. He considered them to be saints—to be holy—because of their position before Him, rather than because of any kind of personal goodness or character. As we will see, though, saints are expected to grow beyond merely being declared to be holy.
If saints are set apart individuals, called to be separate and different, it begs the question of exactly what they are to be separate from. We can find the answer in Ephesians 2:1-2, where we are explicitly told what God has separated us from:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.
Paul mentions three things God has separated us from: our trespasses and sins, the course of this world, and Satan the Devil.
But our calling does not end there. Yes, God set us apart, but He then requires that we remain apart from those things. If we have been redeemed from Satan, we have to remain separate from him and not open the door to his influence or fall back under his sway. We have to remain free from the defilement of sin and continue to walk according to the course of God rather than the course of this world.
In Part Two, we will see how imperative it is that our calling becomes our vocation, because we need to learn and grow a great deal to prepare for our responsibilities in God's Kingdom.
- David C. Grabbe