Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Called to salvation, holiness and work - Taking a look at the concept of one's vocation

Ephesians 6:7 "With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men."

Have you ever thought of your job as a calling? Both the Bible and the history of Christian thought abound with teachings that declare that not just the preacher, but everyone who carries a responsibility, holds an office, performs duties at a work under a supervisor or boss or who are parents have a calling. Every single person in society occupies what is called a "station" or "standing in life". Theologian Gustaf Wingren notes: Stand is one's station in life. These stations are external and are so arranged to serve others. "It is only before God, i.e., in heaven, that the individual stands
alone. In the earthly realm man always stands in relation, always bound to another. From this it is clear that every Christian occupies a multitude of offices at the same time, not just one: the same man is, for instance, father of his children, husband of his wife, master of his servants, and office holder in the town hall".

Authors such as Wingren explain this truth being part of what is called the doctrine of "vocation". Perhaps you have heard of a "vocational technical school" or you have undoubtedly heard of jobs being referred to as one's "vocation". The term "vocation" is related to a Latin root the carries with it the idea of "calling". In Bible doctrine, the idea of vocation has to do with a Christian living out the will of God and loving their neighbor by means of their current situation or place in life (i.e station). Whether some people realize it or not, various "stations" such as parents, police officers, pastors, laborers and employers are ordained by God to sustain a level of order in this world. 

When a person is called by the Spirit of God to faith in Jesus Christ, only then within the confines of such stations can one see that what they do (whether baker, laborer or candlestick maker) is serving God by serving others through the particular giftings and calling (i.e vocation) He has given them.  Seeing how this truth is spelled out in scripture in relationship to two other "callings" will aid us in seeing why it is so important to understand.

The three callings in the Bible: Salvation, Sanctification and Vocation
Often when Christians speak of "being called", the normal image that comes to mind is either a pastor or missionary being "called" to serve God. Understand though that the theme of "God's calling" is dominate in describing the entirety of the Christian life. The first and most fundamental call is that to salvation. Jesus notes in Matthew 9:13  "But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” It is only when Jesus calls individual sinners by means of the spoken scriptures that there can be a legitimate response unto salvation. (Romans 10:17; 1 Cor 1:9) 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."

The second calling described in the Bible is that of sanctification, which every disciple of Jesus Christ is called to live out and yield to Christ to let Him live out the life through them. We could also call this calling "the calling to holiness", as exampled in 1 Corinthians 1:2 "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours." The phrase translated "saints" literally means "holy ones" or "set apart ones" and thus the Christian by definition is called by God to live a Holy and devout life. For example, consider 1 Peter 1:15-16 "but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 

Thus the calling of salvation and the calling to sanctification provide the foundation and backdrop for the Christian's third calling, the one which we began with in today's post, namely "the calling of work" or vocation. As we noted earlier, vocation explains how any job or profession is duly ordained by God to all kinds of people and professions, not just pastors and missionaries, to affect His Divine order in this world. Only the Christian, having been Divinely affected by saving grace to respond in faith and repentance can see any job as an opportunity to be a channel through which God can use them. 

The ability and opportunity to work was first spelled out in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:8 we see the primary purpose as to why God created man and placed him in the garden: "The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed." Notice here, we see God providing the place and the role for the man - i.e his station. Then in Genesis 2:15, with the perfect man in fellowship with God, we see the purpose for which God placed him: "Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it." We understand that the calling to go to work was the first Divinely ordained institution, with the family being the second at the end of Genesis 2. 

The God-centered view of work (i.e vocation) was lost in the fall, and only can be regained in the New Birth experience of saving faith in Jesus Christ. As Romans 14:7-8 states - "For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s."

Closing thoughts
As we understand God's calling to serve Him by serving our neighbor in whatever field, office or job we hold, we will then more appreciate the larger calling to be holy and the most important calling of them all - salvation.