Every sincere Christian has, no doubt, asked himself at some time or other in his life. “What is my calling?” Young people are particularly interested in the subject of their life’s work. Some young people are concerned to the point of worry about their choice of vocation. Older Christians sometimes wonder if they have missed their calling. They still ask themselves, “Am I in the position where God desires me to serve him?” There are some of us who wonder if we have any particular calling at all. Is the former called to till the soil as the doctor is to minister to the sick? Has the factory worker a calling as well as the teacher?
In all our discussion about callings we are apt to forget that there is a fundamental calling common to all Christians which defines the specialty of God’s children in the world, and in a very concrete way affects their Christian witness. It is the supreme calling to which all other callings are subordinate. Paul describes it briefly in the first chapter of Romans when he writes, “called to be Jesus Christ’s” and “called to be saints.” The word “called” here refers to the sum total of life’s purposes. According to commentators it has the idea of “profession” or “vocation.” A man’s profession is the thing he does in life. It is his work. He is identified with it and known by it. There is such a close association between the man and his life’s work that we can hardly separate the two. A physician may plan to spend a pleasant evening of recreation with his family when an emergency call comes demanding his services. The physician denies himself the enjoyable evening to answer the call of duty. We expect it of him because we consider it part of his calling. He cannot shake himself loose from it. It is with him day and night.
So it is with the fundamental calling of being a saint. It is the profession or vocation of all Christians. The business of being Jesus Christ’s men and women is not a hobby or avocation. It is not something we play around with; it is our supreme job in life. We are, first of all, identified as Christians in the world. We cannot shake off our association with the calling of being saints without violating our real vocation in life.
FIRST AND ALWAYS
If, then, being a Christian or being a saint in the world is the supreme calling of all Christians what is the relationship of this calling to other professions or vocations in life? It is obvious that we cannot exercise our calling to be saints in a vacuum. We must be Christians in some context of life. This area or context of life must be determined by seeking earnestly God’s will. There must be, on our part, complete self-surrender and a seeking for guidance. Often God’s direction comes through an inner conviction or by outward circumstances. The point to emphasize in our seeking to know God’s will is to remember that our calling to be Christians is primary. The other tasks or duties arc secondary in this sense that they are the domain or area of life where we exercise our supreme calling as Jesus Christ’s men and women. Let me put it this way: we are first of all Christians and then lawyers, doctors, nurses, farmers and factory workers. We are not all these first and then Christians. Even a minister of the gospel, a missionary of the cross, or a Christian School teacher is, first of all, a Christian. This fundamental calling to be saints needs emphasis today to point up our obligation as witnesses in all areas of life. We would certainly want Christian teachers, lawyers, and farmers to be proficient in their professions but only because it reflects on their being Christians. We expect them to be the best in the field because they are called to be Jesus Christ’s men and women. But we expect also that they shall be more than just good practitioners in their fields. We expect they shall be saints reflecting the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ and positively identifying themselves with him.
The example of the apostle Paul should make this clear. Paul was undoubtedly one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever known. Yet when we study his life in the book of Acts and particularly his letters, we do not get the impression that the supreme aim of Paul’s life was to be a great missionary. Rather it was something else. Listen to his words in the book of Philippians, “Yea, verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings…I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.” Here again we have the word “calling.” This time Paul calls it a “high” calling. From the context it is plain that this high calling was the calling to perfection. It was a growing more and more in the qualities of sainthood. Paul’s whole life’s purpose could be summed up in one thing: to be like Christ. It is only when we recognize that the supreme calling of life is to be a saint that we achieve true integration. To witness to the fact that we are Jesus Christ’s, that we are his followers, is the supreme calling; the other things we do arc the areas of life where this supreme vocation is exercised.
Finally, we might inquire what this calling implies in a concrete and personal way. Perhaps we could sum it up under two headings. It implies being and doing. First of all, it implies being. Someone has said, “The supreme achievement of the universe is sainthood,” and when he said it he was referring to a quality of being. This being a saint involves the culture of the heart. It is bringing every thought into obedience to Jesus Christ; it is working with our affections, motives, and ideas so that they will conform to the pattern of Jesus Christ. It is constantly adjusting our wills to harmonize with the will of God. In short, it deals with transformation of character so that it becomes obvious that we are Jesus Christ’s. This doing in order to be is a vocation. It is something we are busy with an the time. It is a full-time job. Perhaps we Christians are not fully aware of the importance of this cultivation of the inner qualities of soul in relationship to the everyday functions of life. We forget that all we do and say in the world is a reflection of these inner qualities and testifies of the truth and grace of Jesus Christ.
Finally, this calling to be a saint implies doing, and the best way to describe this doing is to use the word service. To be a Christian means to serve in whatever context of life God has placed us. That being a Christian and serving go together follows from Paul’s description “called to be Jesus Christ’s.” Christ is our pattern. The Lord said of his own ministry, “I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” It is a bit unfortunate that we have developed distinctions among types of service that imply a kind of hierarchy. We use the term “kingdom service” to refer to a special area of religious or ecclesiastical activities. We realize that this is a misuse of the term so we add another adjective and use the term “special kingdom service.” We know, of course, what is meant by these terms and would in no wise minimize the work of ministers and missionaries, but it is unfortunate that many of us feel we are not serving the King unless we are performing specifically religious duties. All service for the Lord is kingdom service. Even a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple is such a distinct kingdom service that the Lord says it shall not lose its reward.
The Lord Jesus Christ himself gave us an example of how a Christian should serve. On the night of betrayal he girded himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. This was ordinarily the duty of the slaves of the household, and not one of the disciples would humiliate himself to wash the others’ feet. Apart from the fact that this act of Jesus had profound symbolic significance with respect to his cross, it certainly was also performed to show us that we are to consider no service done for others for his sake as too insignificant or humiliating to perform. This kind of service is all-embracing, all-inclusive. It involves the Christian all his life long. It is his vocation. He must put all his energies into this supreme calling. It isn’t something he can forget about at times, and take seriously on occasion. Nor is this calling reserved for especially talented or brilliant Christians, or for ministers, missionaries and teachers. The janitor works as hard at this profession as the professor. The vocation of being a Christian is so important that the Lord makes proficiency in it the standard of true greatness. “He that is greatest among you,” he said, “let him be your servant.”
The challenge of all Christians today is to make the world feel the impact of a life dedicated to the supreme calling of sainthood. This is not only a challenge but an honor for we are called to be Jesus Christ’s. Does the world know this and identify us with our common and supreme vocation?