Many a faithful follower of Jesus has agonized over the concept of “God’s calling” on his life. This concern is exacerbated by the common declaration, “God has a wonderful plan for your life!” which is too frequently followed by threats about the dire consequences of an individual’s failure to find and follow a hypothetical, predetermined outline in precise detail. “Missing one’s calling” is a pervasive fear among many sincerely devoted disciples. This is another case where a careful survey of New Testament teaching provides both challenge and comfort.
There are seventeen different Greek words that traditional translators have occasionally rendered “call.” Seven of these refer exclusively to “naming” a person or place, or describing its characteristics. Five are simply summoning a person, or gathering a group, and one, epikaleo, describes appealing to or calling upon either God or some person in authority. Only four – and these not exclusively – are used concerning a call from God.
Kaleo (and its passive form, kaleomai), classically, was quite broad. Liddell/Scott lists “to call or summon, to invite to one’s home, to summon to court, to demand or require, or to call by name.”
Klesis, the noun form, could be simply one’s name or reputation, but also a summons, an invitation, or an invocation. L/S notes that only in the NT is it used as a “religious calling”, and in most instances, that is open to interpretation.
Kletos, the participle or adjective, refers to “anyone or anything that is invited, welcomed, called, or chosen.”
We will confine this study to the minority of references that are specifically designated as relating to God.
One of the most common references is to the Lord’s gracious invitation to join his Kingdom. Almost exclusively addressed in the plural, it nevertheless deals with one’s initial conversion. Rom.9:24,25 reminds us that this call extends equally to Jew and Gentile; and a lengthy section of I Cor.7:15-20, as well as I Cor.1:26, stresses that it reaches across all social barriers, the effects of which are summarily erased by that supreme commitment. Peter’s Pentecost sermon also opens the promise to “you, and your children, and those who are far off, whoever the Lord shall call” (Ac.2:39). Rom.1:6 includes “all who belong to Jesus”, and I Cor.1:9 speaks of being “called into (eis) the community [fellowship]” of God’s Son.
Other references highlight the expected effects of that calling:
Gal.5:13 – We are called into a liberty that excludes both bondage to the Law and the excesses of licentiousness.
Col.3:15 – As God’s chosen people, we are called in one Body, to peace (this statement follows a detailed description of the resultant life).
Heb.9:15 – By the provision of the New Covenant, which the writer compares to a duly executed will, the “called” receive a promised inheritance.
I Pet.3:9 – We are “called” to return blessing for cursing, and I Pet.2:21 – to endure patiently whatever suffering results from deliberately following Jesus’ example.
Those who are “called” simply see things differently (I Cor.1:24): they operate in a different sphere (Eph.4:1), with different standards. The life of those who are “called” is one of constant effort toward the goal of conformity to the image of the Lord Jesus (Phil.3:14), continually urged on to greater faithfulness (II Thess.1:11), taking care to become “neither lazy nor unfruitful” in the Kingdom (II Pet. 1:10).
It may surprise you to discover that in only 5 instances are any of the “called/calling” words applied to a single individual! Notice, please, that this count does not include Rom.1:1 and 1:7, or I Cor.1:1 and 1:2, where there is no verb in the text. Translators completely violated the meaning of those phrases when they inserted “to be” in each case, when the grammar of the text simply indicates naming – “called an apostle” and “called [saints] God’s people.”
The only places where a “call” is directed to a single individual are:
Heb.11:8 – Abraham was “called to go out”, and he obeyed.
Ac.13:2 – The Holy Spirit instructed the group at Antioch to send Paul and Barnabas out “for the job to which I’ve called [assigned] them.”
Ac.16:10 – After being “forbidden” to go several different places, and experiencing a vision, Paul and his companions “concluded that God had called us” to Macedonia.
Gal.1:15 – Paul recognizes that it was God’s call that halted his career of persecuting the church.
I Tim.6:12 – Paul urges his young apprentice to “grab hold of the eternal life (see W.S.#28) to which you were called.”
So yes: specific, individual “calling” does happen: but it is by no means the norm. Clearly, there are also other instances of specific instructions being given to individuals; but they are not labeled “calling” in the New Testament. We will look at some of these in the next post. Please also see W.S. #12, “God’s will”.
But meanwhile, be encouraged! Your “calling” is to live faithfully as a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom!
I Pet.2:9 – He has “called you all out of darkness, into his amazing light!”
I Thess.5:24 – “The one who is calling you is faithful!” and will enable us to live faithfully (v.23).
Rom.8:28 – “We know, then, that for those who keep on loving God, he keeps working everything together for good, for those who are being called according to his plan.”
II Tim.1:9 – “He delivered us, and called us with a holy calling … before time began!”
Eph.1:18 – “(I pray that) the eyes of your hearts may be flooded with light, so that you may know the confident expectation [hope] (that proceeds from) his calling!
If you are committed to Jesus’ Kingdom, and to faithfulness to him as King, you have not “missed your calling”! We just need to learn to follow instructions.
And as we saw in the last two posts, we have an excellent teacher for that effort.
Thanks be to God!