(This post first appeared in the new release of the ESV Mens Devotional Bible)
What does it mean for a man to be “called”? Roll the question over in your mind; perhaps there’s more to it than what you see. “Called” is not a trifling word. At the very least, it implies a caller. And as Sinclair Ferguson has noted, “called” is one of the New Testament’s most frequent one-word descriptions of the Christian. When God repeats himself, men should listen up.
Perhaps you think of a call as a quest to which a man dedicates his life—guys like William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King. Maybe “calling” brings to mind your pastor or a missionary your church supports, who often speak of feeling called. For some, a man’s calling is just another way to talk about his work; “calling” means my job or career.
It might surprise you, but in Scripture, the idea of calling is not initially a career path we pick, a cause we choose, or a code we use for unlocking God’s will. Biblical calling is, first of all, something done for us. It is God’s summons to the Savior, and to his service.
God’s Summons to the Savior
Can you remember the day, the event, the message, or the year where you felt directly and personally drawn to follow Jesus? For some it was dramatic, a life-defining event marked by emotion and commitment. For others it was a slow dawning, like the morning sun that scrubs away the night shadows until a new day sparkles with life. For me it was a season of stops and starts, irresistibly toddling toward God for reasons I could not comprehend. But regardless of your story, there was eventually an undeniable truth that arrested your attention: God called you to himself (Rom. 8:30).
Few things are more remarkable than the reality that the Creator of the universe stoops to summon sinners. “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). This is not a generic net cast over the nameless sea of humanity. This summons is passionate, particular, and personal: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’” (Isa. 43:1).
It is tempting to think this call says more about us than about God. We do possess inexplicable value to God (Ps. 8:5–8; Matt. 6:26), but the primary point of his summons is not to certify our significance. Sinners are not special trophies God wanted to win or some kind of mind–blowing deal he just couldn’t refuse. No, the highest glory from the call radiates not toward the called but toward the Caller himself (1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 2:8–9).
On March 10, 1876, the first phone call was made. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, called his assistant, Thomas A. Watson. “Come here,” said Bell to Watson in the historic call, “I want to see you.”
Thomas Watson never assumed that the first call to him was really about him. Watson did not jump from his seat and go all NFL, spiking the phone to the ground and pounding his chest like a franchise superstar after a spectacular catch. No, Watson saw the larger picture. The first phone call happened not because of the guy being called, but because of the inventor.
The creator called; the recipient responded.
In a manner immensely profound and infinitely splendid, God’s effectual call to salvation says far more about him than it does about the ones he has called (Eph. 1:3–14). More magnificent than any human invention, the instrument for this first call is not a device but a message—the glorious gospel of a suffering and risen Savior (2 Thess. 2:14). This means the first call is the most important call. And it isn’t about what we do or where we go, but about whom we follow (Rom. 1:6).
This first call is the grounds for a second. The first determines who we are—children of God redeemed by the blood of God’s son, Jesus. With our identity established, the second call plots the course for our lives; it is the summons to his service (John 13:13–17).
(Part 2 to follow)
ESV Men’s Devotional Bible © 2015 by Crossway. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.