What Does It Mean to Be "Called"?

When Christians ask about vocation (or "calling"), we usually mean, "Is God calling me to a particular job, profession or type of work?" This is a significant question, because the work we do is important to God. If work is important, it makes sense to ask what work God wants us to do.

In the Bible, God does indeed call people—some people, at least—to particular work, and gives all people various kinds of guidance for their work. We will explore biblical accounts of these "calls" in depth. Although scripture seldom actually uses the word "call" to describe God's guidance to jobs, occupations, or tasks, these occurrences in the Bible do correspond to what we usually mean by a vocational "calling."

So, as a preliminary answer, we can say "yes," God does lead people to particular jobs, occupations, and types of work. But in the Bible, the concept of calling goes deeper than any one aspect of life, such as work. God calls people to become united with himself in every aspect of life. This can only occur as a response to Christ's call to follow him. The calling to follow Christ lies at the root of every other calling. It is important, however, not to confuse a calling to follow Christ with a calling to become a professional church worker. People in every walk of life are called to follow Christ with equal depth and commitment.

After exploring the call to follow Christ, we will explore the calling to particular work, and show how the cooperative work of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit guides and models our work. Along the way, we will examine related topics such as how to discern God's guidance in work, the community nature of calling, the calling to church vs. non-church work, callings to the creative and redemptive work of God beyond the paid workplace, the importance of how you work at whatever job you have, and the ultimate freedom that Christians enjoy in their work.

Types of God's Calling

1) The Call to Belong to Christ and Participate in His Redemptive Work in the World

In the Bible, the word "call" is used most often to refer to God's initiative to bring people to Christ and to participate in his redemptive work in the world. This sense of calling is especially prominent in the letters of Paul, whether or not the word "call" is actually used.

Romans 1:6—"...including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ."

Romans 8:28—"All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

1 Timothy 2:4—"[God] desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

2 Corinthians 5:17-20—"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

The calling to belong to Christ goes deeper than the kinds of workplace "calling" that form the main focus of this article. For this reason, it is important to start our exploration of calling with the call to follow Jesus. It is a call to a restored relationship with God and with other people and with the world around us. It encompasses all of a person's being and doing. It reminds us that the call to a particular kind of work is secondary to the call to belong to Christ and to participate in his redemption of the world.

In particular, our work must be an integral part of our participation in Christ himself. His work of creation underlies the act of creativity and production in the universe (John 1:1-3). His work of redemption can occur in every workplace through justice, healing, reconciliation, compassion, kindness, humility, and patience (Colossians 3:12). Christ's redemptive work is not limited to evangelism, but encompasses everything necessary to make the world what God always intended it to be. This redemptive work occurs in harmony with the work of creation, production, and sustenance that God delegated to humanity in the Garden of Eden. The Bible does not indicate that the work of redemption has superseded the work of creation. Both continue, and in general, Christians are commanded to participate in the work of both creation and redemption.