On Vocation–The Basic Principles of our Calling in Christ and in Other Spheres of Life

The goal of this series on Christians in the Workplace* is that we might collectively step back from our daily occupations and consider the question, “Why do I work?” and by answering that most fundamental of questions then answer other questions such as “How do I work?” and “Where do I work?” Each week in this series aims to address a different facet of our employment in the workplace, and our hope is that the end of these weeks you might be better equipped to go into your respective fields and there walk worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

Today’s lesson is entitled, “Vocation,” and its use in this context is quite a bit loaded. As many of you may be aware, the word “vocation” at its most basic definition means “a calling” and is derived from the Latin word meaning “to call.” And when applied to the context of our work in the world, the thought of using the term is really paradigm shifting. For most of the world views their employment as occupation, viz. that which occupies their time, energy, and resources, and not vocation, i.e. a sphere into which we have been called. And this is not to say, for example, that my wife, Haley, who is a public school teacher, was before the foundation of the world designed to be teacher, or that I was designed to be a banker (a fact that I will gladly attest to), but that in understanding that the God we serve is sovereign over all things and ordains all things, we can rest assured that where we are presently employed, whether it fits with our personality or skillset or not, is a place in which our God has placed us to glorify him by exhibiting our primary calling.

So for us to get to that point, viz. the understanding that we are placed in particular spheres to glorify God by exhibiting our primary calling, I want to cover two topics. First, I want for us to step back and discuss who we in Christ are called to be. Only when we have grasped this primary calling will we be able to understand our secondary callings, like our employment. Second, we will take a look at some distortions of the doctrine of calling over the years, distortions that may have affected some of our own thoughts on employment, with the goal of weaning ourselves off of that which is false and turning instead to that which is true concerning our employment.

II. The Basic Principles of Calling
When we think about our calling, it is really the very root of who we are in Christ. For the word, “church,” as it is in the Greek, is the assembly of those who have been “called out.” For as the apostle Peter writes, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1Pet. 2:9). And the apostle Paul speaks of this purpose of God before the creation of the world, writing, “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn of many brothers; and those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified; he also glorified” (Romans 8:29, 30). From this we can see that the first way by which God deals with us in our own lives is that he calls us, predicated on his foreknowledge and predestination that occurred before we existed.

From this, we will turn to what we will call our primary and secondary callings—the primary being that which God has called us all generally to be, and the secondary being those things to which we are particularly called, viz. a job, a church, a neighborhood, etc. And when I use the language of primary and secondary callings, I don’t want the weight of it to be lost in the words. For we might say, for example, that we are primarily residents of North Carolina and secondarily residents of the United States. Or depending on how long you’ve lived in this state, you might say, “I am primarily a resident of the United States, and secondarily a resident of North Carolina.” These primary and secondary callings of which I’m speaking cannot be confused and twisted in this way. To give an illustration, imagine that you are a planet in the solar system, and your primary calling is the Sun. Your life revolves around this primary calling, for it gives you life and you cannot exist apart from it. Your secondary callings are like moons that orbit around you that go along with you as you orbit the Sun, i.e. your primary calling. These secondary callings can change or morph during your lifetime, but your primary calling remains the same. And as the moon is dark apart from the light of the Sun, so too are our secondary callings dark apart from the light of our primary calling.

A. Primary Calling
As regards our primary calling, we have already seen the essence of the purpose of our calling in Romans 8, viz. that we called to fulfill the purpose for which we were predestined—to be conformed to the image of his Son so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Now this calling that ends in us being conformed into the likeness of Jesus has many manifestations, and, to go along with the curriculum, we were called by him, to him, and for him. Again our primary calling as followers of Jesus Christ is by him, to him, and for him.

First, we are called by Christ: Our call to God in Christ did not originate in us, we who were dead in our sins, but it originated in him for the sake of himself. As the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (vv. 1-5).

And Luke is so bold as to write concerning God’s originating grace, documenting Paul’s preaching to the Jews:

Since you [Jews] thrust [the Gospel] aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:46-48).

And so we see that our call to Christ is absolutely by him.

Second, we are called to Christ. Going back to Ephesians 2, we see how we were call to Christ:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (vv. 4-7).

In other words, we were brought to Christ so that we might be, as Romans 6 puts it, buried with him, in order that we might be raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places. We were called to him and placed in him, for apart from him there is no salvation.

And, third, we were called for Christ. Going back to Ephesians 2 again, Paul writes:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (vv. 8-10).

Therefore, we were called to Christ for good works. And not merely for good works as an end in themselves, but that our good works and lives might glorify him. As Paul writes in Colossians:

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (vv. 15-20).

So, brothers and sisters, we have upon ourselves a most weighty and glorious calling, viz. to be images of him who created the universe by the word of his power, a calling which is exceedingly worthy to be the Sun around which our lives revolve.

B. Secondary Callings
So having briefly looked at our primary calling, we now turn to our secondary callings. Our secondary callings, if you will, are where the rubber hits the road of our primary calling. Or as Christ put it, it is where we are salt and light in the world around us. And the diversity of our secondary callings are such that we are dispersed throughout the world. Just as you wouldn’t put salt on a dish without mixing it throughout it or you wouldn’t put all of your lighting in one room of your house, so are we are called to be images of Jesus Christ wherever we are put in this world. To put it plainly, this is our chief purpose in the world—to display the glories of Christ in and throughout a wicked generation. Everything else is secondary. Our wages, our friendships, our talents, etc. are all subservient to our display of Jesus Christ where we are.

Therefore, the writers of the New Testament are quick to admonish us to do everything “as unto the Lord.” If you’re a public school teacher, teach as unto the Lord. If you’re a banker, do whatever you do there as unto the Lord. If you’re a landscaper, a doctor, a pastor, etc. do all these things as unto the Lord. For is to the Lord that we are to give an account, and our display of him where he has put us will be the standard by which we are judged.

However, we are not left without guidance with regard to our secondary callings. For the Lord himself instructed us concerning the two greatest commandments, and they can be fulfilled in our secondary callings. The first command, as you know, is that we love the Lord our God with all of our being, and the second is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

1. Love of God
First, our secondary callings are means through which we love our God. For by doing our work as though we are doing it for him, we do in fact do our work for him. And it doesn’t matter how mundane our jobs are or how unfit they are for our particular skillsets, these jobs, if done as unto the Lord, are means through which we honor him. For Paul commands of slaves, who are of the lowest order, in his letter to the Ephesians:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free (vv. 6:5-8).

In this passage, we can ascertain how our service is to be rendered in our work. Negatively, we are not to be those who work with the end of eye-service or pleasing people. In other words, we are not to work so as to put on a good show. We are not to be hypocrites. Rather we are to work as unto Christ so that our service would be pleasing, first, in the sight of Jesus Christ, and, second, in the sight of others. For if our service is pleasing to Christ, we have nothing to fear, since he knows all things, even the intentions of our hearts. But if our service is only to please people, then one day our façade will be removed and our hearts will be exposed, whether in this life or before the judgment seat of Christ. Therefore, let us work in this life as unto Jesus Christ himself, so that we might be blameless in this life and at the Judgment.

2. Love of Others
Second, our secondary callings are means through which we love our neighbors. Because of God’s providence, each of us is placed in a special position in the world to interact with people who might not otherwise be encountered by a Christian. If we are teachers, we might be placed in a position to minister to a child who might otherwise be without any example of the goodness of Christ. If we are a banker, we might be the only one to speak up against unethical practices of the bank that harm its customers. The possibilities of our impact are endless, and only God knows the steps that he has ordained for us to walk in.

As with our particular callings, our love of our neighbor delves into those things which we might consider mundane. For this reason the apostle Paul writes:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. [And the part on which I wished to focus] Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:25-32).

To put it simply, do not let damaging words come out of your mouth. Are there those among you who gossip and slander others? Do not participate. Are there those among you who do not honor those who have been set in authority over you? Do not join them, but honor those who God has ordained to be over you. Rather than join in with those who demean others, be kind to all, be humble, be gentle, be compassionate, and forgive those who wrong you just as Christ forgave you who wronged him.

However, I would remiss to neglect those who are called to be outside the workplace, whether it is to be a homemaker, a mother, someone who finds himself unemployed, or a retiree—God has called such persons to be where they are in that particular season of their lives, and God can use it to glorify himself through the love of others. To such as these, I encourage you to use the freedom that you have to invest in the lives of others, whether it be those in similar situations or those who come into contact with you through those circumstances, to glorify God in it as best as you can determine, and not let your freedom be an opportunity for slothfulness. For we must all give an account for the stewardship in which we have been entrusted, therefore whatever you do, do to the glory of God.

C. Multiple Callings
It should go without saying, but I will not go without saying it, that each of us are called to multiple callings. The woman who is a teacher, is not only called to be a teacher, but she may also be called to be a wife, a mother, a church member, a voting citizen, etc. Likewise, the man who is called into a secular profession may also be called to be a husband, a father, an elder, a church member, a voting citizen, etc. We are all called to multiple roles.

Though we are called to multiple roles, ultimately we have one Lord, who is God over all in all. Therefore our aim in all of the roles given to us by God is, first, to love him through those roles, and, second, to love our neighbor through them as well. And though we do not have time to cover these things in depth, we must practice our roles so as not to neglect the other roles. For example, the man who works must not work to the neglect of his family, and likewise the woman who is a homemaker must not work to the neglect of the church. There is no secret formula for such things, however, we all of must seek to be filled with the Spirit so that we might be granted the wisdom to manage our roles in the way that they most glorify our Lord.

III. Distortions of the Doctrine of Calling
Just as false teachers have risen among the church in its history, so too have distortions regarding the Doctrine of Calling risen in the church and are prevalent to this day. Historically these distortions are called the Catholic and Protestant Distortions because they arose from those traditions, however they appear in churches irrespective of denomination. Therefore we must consider both, for we might, in our error, succumb to one or the other.

A. The Catholic Distortion
First, the Catholic Distortion of the Doctrine of Calling is that distortion that separates our primary calling from our secondary callings. In other words, it is the view that regards the work done by clergymen, monks, and nuns as superior to the work done by those who work in the world. This is seen in Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea’s, words, saying, “There are two ways of life in the church: the perfect life and the permitted life.” Therefore, to him it was permissible that one should work as a farmer, a servant, etc., but God was more pleased with those who chose to be employed in a spiritual occupation.

Now, it is quite obvious that this is not a biblical understanding of the Doctrine of Calling, for we read in the Bible that the apostle Paul was employed as a tent-maker while he was doing his work as an apostle, and even our Lord Jesus worked most of his earthly life as a carpenter.

However, though this distortion is not biblical, its evidence can be seen even among those who call themselves Protestants. To give an example, the one semester that I spent in seminary was enough for me to see that there were some students there who thought more highly of themselves and their position in their church than they did of others in their church who weren’t pursuing “vocational ministry.” Now, of course these didn’t say this directly, but I could tell from their stories, their complaints, and their slandering that they felt that they were superior to the people they ministered to, even though in actuality they were not spiritually superior, they were just arrogant. For as the apostle Paul writes, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds ups” (1Cor. 8:1).

On the other side of things, those of us who do not make our living in the church may find ourselves thinking that our work in the world is inferior to the work done by pastors, elders, etc. And this is not to say that pastors and others employed in the service of the church are not worthy of great honor for their work, but it is to say that we who are called not to work in the church are not made to be less spiritual or less godly because we do work outside the church. Now it may be true that we are less spiritual and less godly, but this is not true by necessity. For it we do our work as unto the Lord, the service we render to the Lord may be just as pleasing in his sight as the pastor who preaches. As Martin Luther said, “God and the angels smile when a man changes a diaper.”

B. The Protestant Distortion
On the flipside of the Catholic Distortion is that which is called the Protestant Distortion, and this distortion manifests itself in varying degrees: from those who exalt our secondary callings above our primary calling, to those who totally remove the spiritual from the secular. To give some examples of the latter, President Calvin Coolidge said, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there worships there.” And Henry Ford said, “Work is the salvation of the human race—morally, physically, and socially.”

I am confident that there are none of us who think of our employment as Coolidge and Ford did, but we are at risk of falling into this distortion by valuing our secondary callings above our primary calling and seeing ourselves by them, especially if we’re really good at what we do. And we all run the risk of finding our identity in our occupation and not in Jesus Christ. Even in the church, oftentimes our first question to one another when we meet someone new is, “What do you do?”

And the evidence of this distortion hits very close to home for most of us. For from our childhood we are asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And this question lingers throughout our childhood and drives us to pursue at all costs that which we feel we were called to do—that which we wanted to be when we grew up. And so family takes a backseat to education so that the average age that people get married is pushed back later and later, and students willingly take on tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in student loan debt in the pursuit of their calling. And please do not misunderstand me: I’m not saying that everyone should get married right out of high school or that there isn’t a place for student loans, but how many of us, or how many of our children, put the pursuit of our careers in its proper perspective? How many understand that the paths we take to our careers is just as much a stewardship given to us by God as the careers themselves? I fear that there are many in the church who feel that they cannot honor or serve God until they have reached the career or position in life that they feel that they were called to, and they therefore put their spirituality on autopilot until they’ve reached that calling.

IV. Concluding Thoughts
To conclude our time, I hope that what we have studied this morning will cause us to reconsider our present positions in life and ask ourselves the questions, “Is my work honoring to Christ, and am I being a display of Jesus Christ where I’m at? For if we are not seeking to honor Christ in all facets of our day-to-day lives, then we have a distorted view of our calling in Christ and our efforts in being here on Sunday are evidently more for the sake of tradition than it is for true religion. Don’t let your worship of God be confined to Sunday mornings, but let all of your days be as Sundays to you—days set apart to honor and glorify Jesus Christ.

And we cannot do this on our own and in our own strength. For if we try to be imitators of Christ without seeking the strength that the Spirit provides, we will either be very poor at it, constantly failing and being discouraged, or we will be really good at it, being hypocrites and becoming self-righteous.

As way of application, let me ask you, how do you prepare yourself for your work each day? Do you make an effort to rise early before work so that you might spend time in God’s Word and prayer? And I know that some of us our naturally morning people and some are not, but how many of us will not get up earlier to eat breakfast, to drink a cup of coffee, or to read up on the news? If we will do all these things in the mornings, how much more should we who are in Christ seek to be fed by the Word of God, to be awakened and refreshed by his Spirit, and to remind ourselves of the Good News in Jesus Christ? We need this strength and nourishment every day to remind us who we are, who we belong to, and of our calling in this world.

* – This post is based upon the online found in curriculum from Capitol Hill Baptist Church and can be found

Categories: Theology

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