Fuller

God's Transformational Calling

by Mark D. Roberts, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership

© Copyright 2021 De Pree Center. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Living as a Called People (1 Corinthians 1:1-2, 9)
Part 2: Calling from a Caller (1 Corinthians 1:1)
Part 3: Calling: Invitation and Summons (1 Corinthians 1:2)
Part 4: Calling Isn’t Just for Religious Leaders (1 Corinthians 1:2)
Part 5: Called to Be God’s Special People (1 Corinthians 1:2)
Part 6: Called Together (1 Corinthians 1:2)
Part 7: Called by a Faithful God (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Part 8: Called into the Fellowship of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Part 9: Called to Believe the Good News (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
Part 10: The Surprise of God’s Calling (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Part 11: Called to Peace in Relationships (1 Corinthians 7:15b)
Part 12: The Time of Your First Calling (1 Corinthians 7:17-18)
Part 13: Can You Be a Real Christian in Your Ordinary Life? (1 Corinthians 7:20)
Part 14: God’s Calling Transforms Our Reality (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)
Part 15: Called to Belong to Christ (Romans 1:5-7 (NRSV))
Part 16: CGod Works in All Things for Good (Romans 8:28)
Part 17: Called According to God’s Purpose (Romans 8:28)
Part 18: Called to Unexpected Freedom (Galatians 5:13)
Part 19: Called to Hope (Ephesians 1:17-18)

Subscribe to Life for Leaders

Life for Leaders is emailed to your inbox each morning, free of charge.

Part 1: Living as a Called People

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:1-2, 9 (NRSV)

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. . . .

God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Focus

Today’s devotion begins a series focusing on calling in the letters of the Apostle Paul. The doctrine of calling or vocation is both theologically essential and practically transformational. It can give us a whole new way of living. The fact is that God is calling you to a life of deeper purpose, community, and hope. Will you hear and respond to his call?

Devotion

As you probably know, I’ve been working my way through the Gospel of Luke for many months. I had planned to get back to Luke right after Easter. But before resuming our slow amble through Luke, I’d like to write some devotions that focus on calling in the letters of Paul. We’ll return to Luke in a few weeks.

I should explain this change in plans. Several months ago, I was asked to write an article on “Call, Calling” for the second edition of InterVarsity Press’s Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. I jumped at this opportunity for two main reasons. First, I’ve spent a good bit of my academic life focusing on the Apostle Paul and his writings, both in my Ph.D. dissertation and in my commentary on Ephesians. I find Paul’s thought fascinating and am glad for the chance to dig in more deeply into one of its key facets. Second, and more importantly, I’m eager for the opportunity to do additional study of the biblical idea of calling because it is so central to the work of the De Pree Center. On our website we describe our mission as helping leaders “respond faithfully to God’s callings in all seasons of . . . life and leadership.”

As I started working on biblical passages for my dictionary article, I kept thinking to myself, “Oh, I can’t wait to share this with my Life for Leaders readers. Such great stuff!” I figured I’d write a bunch of devotions on calling after finishing Luke. But my eagerness to let you in on what I’d been learning finally overcame my plan to finish Luke first. So, I’m doing a few weeks on calling before returning to Luke.

We’ll begin our investigation of Paul’s understanding of calling by focusing on the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. In the opening verses we learn that: 1) Paul is “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1:1); 2) the Corinthian Christians are “called to be saints” (1:2); and 3) they were also “called into the fellowship of [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:9). That’s a lot of calling in just a few verses!

Paul’s emphasis on calling reminds us that it is a crucial theological idea, one that deserves our close attention. But calling isn’t one of those speculative notions that keep theologians busy but has little to say to ordinary Christians. On the contrary, the doctrine of calling is one of the most relevant and transformational of Christian truths. It’s something we all need to understand more deeply, whether we’re theologians or teachers, attorneys or assistants, pastors or presidents, millennials or third thirders.

One reason we need to study the idea of calling – often referred to as vocation – is that what we find in Scripture is strikingly different from the way calling/vocation is talked about in our culture. The Bible knows nothing of the equation we often make between vocation and occupation. My calling may or may not overlap with my job, but they aren’t the same thing according to Scripture. Moreover, my calling, from a biblical point of view, is not necessarily something that aligns perfectly with my personal passion. I don’t discover my true vocation only by paying attention to my own longings, desires, and delights, though these are surely relevant. Paying attention to what Scripture says about calling will correct common misconceptions and open us up to a fresh experience of God’s grace in our lives.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin to dig into 1 Corinthians. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on your own sense of calling, whatever that may be. The questions below will help you examine how calling functions in your life.

Reflect

Would you say you have a sense of calling in life?

If so, what is it? Where did you get it? How does your sense of calling make a tangible difference in the way you live?

If you don’t have a sense of calling today, has that always been true in your life?

How do you feel about the idea that you might have a calling from God?

Act

Talk with a wise friend or your small group about calling. What do you learn about calling/vocation from listening to others, to their ideas and experiences?

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for the opportunity to learn more about calling. Thank you for the things written by the Apostle Paul. Thank you for the things I will learn through this devotional study in calling.

Thank you also, gracious God, for being a God who calls, a God who initiates with us, a God who summons us into the work of your kingdom. Help me, Lord, to be open to hearing your call in a new way. To you be all the glory. Amen.


Part 2: Calling from a Caller

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:1 (NRSV)

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.

Focus

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, explains that he “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” His calling was not something he invented or chose for himself. Rather, Paul’s calling was something he received from God. Biblically speaking, to have a calling is to have a Caller. When we accept our calling, we acknowledge the gracious sovereignty of God over our lives.

Devotion

Today is the second installment in our devotional series on calling in the letters of Paul. As I explained yesterday, before we continue our slow walk through the Gospel of Luke, I want to spend some time reflecting with you on the idea of calling and its implications for our lives.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a fine place to start. The second word of this letter, both in Greek and in English, is “called” (klētos in Greek; 1:1). That word will appear two more times in the opening verses of the letter. From the outset, Paul wants the Corinthians to understand what it means to be called.

Paul begins by focusing on his distinctive and particular calling “to be an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1:1). Though there are many nuances of this calling, basically an apostle was one who was sent (apostolos in Greek is derived from the verb apostellō, which means “to send, dispatch”) to preach the gospel and plant churches. Paul understood his apostolic responsibility to include ongoing care for the churches he had planted and nurtured, which is why he wrote letters to the Corinthian church and several others as well.

Paul understood his calling as similar to that of the Old Testament prophets. To the Galatians he explains, “God . . . had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace” (Galatians 1:15). This echoes the call of Jeremiah, to whom the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Like Jeremiah, Paul did not seek to become God’s special envoy. It happened because of God’s initiative. Paul is “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1), not by the will of Paul, the early church, or any other human organization.

Thus, if we’re going to make sense of the biblical notion of calling, we must begin with a foundational truth. If you have a calling, then you have a caller. A calling isn’t something that exists by itself. It isn’t the same as an inner sense of purpose or meaning, though it can be closely related to both of these. Calling isn’t something you invent. Rather, calling comes from the caller, or perhaps we might say, the Caller.

If you see your life in terms of calling, then you are acknowledging the existence and authority of the One who calls. You’re agreeing that you are not the ultimate captain of your existence. Since God is the one who calls, your calling is a response to God’s gracious initiative. Biblically speaking, if you accept the fact that you have a calling, then you are choosing to live under the sovereignty of the Caller.

You can see what a difference this can make in how you think about and experience life. If God has called you, then your life isn’t random and meaningless. If God has called you, then you aren’t the king of your own realm. If God has called you, then God’s will for your life is all important. If God has called you, then you are part of God’s grand plan for creation. If God has called you, then the Sovereign of the universe is guiding your life and seeking relationship with you. If God has called you, this makes all the difference in the world.

Reflect

Do you think about your life as a response to God’s calling?

Have you ever felt that God was calling you to something specific, to a particular role or responsibility?

As you go through an average day, to what extent do you experience life as being under the gracious sovereignty of God?

Act

Set aside a few minutes in the morning to think about the day ahead. Consider what difference God’s calling might make in how you think, feel, and act.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for calling Paul to be an apostle. In so many ways, we are the beneficiaries of this calling. We wouldn’t have Paul’s letters if you hadn’t called him. So, thank you!

As I think about my calling, Lord, help always to keep in mind that I have a Caller. Help me not to claim my calling as if it’s something I own and control. Rather, may I respond to your call upon my life with obedience and gratitude.

Help me to live this day, gracious God, as a called person, as someone guided by my Caller. Amen.


Part 3: Calling: Invitation and Summons

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NRSV)

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.

Focus

When God calls us, it’s both an invitation and a summons. God reaches out to us in loving grace, inviting us into his family and his family business. God does not force us to comply. Yet, the one who invites us is also the Sovereign of the universe. His invitation comes with unique authority as we are summoned by the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Devotion

Recently I received in the mail a letter I was not expecting. I wasn’t especially glad to receive it, either. Emblazoned on the envelope in bright red all caps were the fateful words: OFFICIAL JURY SUMMONS ENCLOSED. The Superior Court of California was summoning me to jury duty.

I had mixed feelings about this summons. Partly, I felt a sense of duty to participate. In fact, several years ago I was the foreperson of a jury and that experience gave me new appreciation for our legal system. Yet, as I gazed at the summons in my hand, I also felt a sense of dread. As much as I want to do my civic duty and serve as a juror, the thought of missing many days of work is a daunting one. My work doesn’t stop when I’m not doing it. It merely piles up higher and higher.

But a summons is not something one should ignore. As the State of California reminded me, “Failure to respond may subject you to a fine, incarceration or both.” A summons carries substantial authority and needs to be taken seriously. So, in a few months I’ll respond to the summons by making myself available for jury duty.

In our effort to make sense of the biblical notion of calling, we’d do well to keep in mind a summons to jury duty. In fact, if you look up the meaning of the Greek verb “to call” (kaleō) in the standard New Testament lexicon, you find these options: to call, call by name; to invite; to summon. The first meaning is like what we do in English when we say, “I’m called Mark.” The other meanings are of greatest interest to us here, however. When God calls, this is a kind of invitation. God doesn’t use his superior power to force us to respond. Rather, God invites us to join his family and his work. He extends this invitation with grace rather than compulsion.

But God’s invitation comes with distinctive clout. Though God does not compel us to accept his invitation, it really is a summons. It comes, after all, from the Sovereign of the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords. So, in 1 Corinthians 1:2, when Paul writes that the Corinthian Christians – and by extension, we ourselves – are “called to be saints,” he doesn’t mean they have received an invitation they might ignore without consequence. Rather, when we are called by God, we are summoned by the supreme authority. God’s invitation comes with unique clout. We would do well to take it seriously.

As we consider our relationship with the Lord, we hold in tension the way in which God’s calling is both an invitation and a summons. We hear the invitation in so many passages of Scripture, including for example, when Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We hear God’s gracious invitation in Hebrews 4:16 as well, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” At the same time, we rightly understand that God is summoning us to follow Jesus with our whole lives and to live each moment for the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:11-14).

On Monday we’ll look more closely into what it means to be “called to be saints.” For now, let me encourage you to reflect on the invitation and summons dimensions of God’s calling.

Reflect

In what ways have you experienced God’s gracious invitation? How have you responded?

In what ways have you experienced God’s summons? How have you responded?

Act

Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about your experiences of God’s call, especially in relationship to the invitation and summons dimensions.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for calling us. Thank you for the ways your call comes as an invitation, an offer, a gracious request. Thank you also for summoning us, for waking us up and speaking with authority as you call us.

Help me, Lord, to receive your invitation with grateful openness. Help me to respond to your summons with heartfelt obedience. Amen.


Part 4: Calling Isn’t Just for Religious Leaders

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NRSV)

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.

Focus

Often Christians talk about calling as something experienced only by religious leaders: pastors, priests, nuns, missionaries, and the like. While it’s certainly true that God calls specific people to specific roles, it’s not true that only a few, select Christians have a calling. In fact, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that all believers in Jesus have been called by God.

Devotion

In the church where I grew up, having a calling or “call” from God was a big deal. It was a supernatural experience that set people apart for special service to God and God’s work in the world. Pastors had a calling. Missionaries had a calling. But ordinary Christians didn’t, except inasmuch as we were supposed to support the called people with our prayers and financial gifts.

Somewhere around 1982, I began to have a feeling that God was calling me into ordained ministry, either as a pastor or a professor or perhaps both. When I notified the elders of my church, I was assigned to the Candidate’s Committee that helped people go through the arduous process of ordination in the Presbyterian church. In my first meeting with the committee, they were mainly interested in one thing, which was put to me in this way: Do you have a call? If so, then they would walk with me along the path to ordination. If not, then I would need to wait until I was clearly called by God into ordained ministry. Calling and ordination went together in our church like coffee and donuts.

As I look back on my experience with the Candidate’s Committee, I’ve wondered sometimes how they would have responded if, to their question “Do you have a call?” I had answered, “Of course I do. I’m a Christian.” Now I realize that would have been rather cheeky of me, not to sort of thing one ought to do when needing endorsement from a committee. But, from a theological point of view, that would have been a fine answer because, indeed, all Christians have a calling. All Christians are called by God.

We see this clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:2, in which Paul addresses the recipients of his letter: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” In the previous verse, Paul referred to his own calling as an “apostle of Christ Jesus.” Indeed, he claimed to be “called . . . by the will of God” (1:1). But Paul was not alone in having been called. In fact, all the believers in the Corinthian church were “called to be saints.”

In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion I’ll examine what Paul means by “saints.” For now, however, I want to underscore the fact that calling was not relevant only to Paul as the apostolic church leader. Every Christian in Corinth was called to be a saint. Moreover, this calling extends to “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus,” or, in other words, to every Christian everywhere. I’ll say it again: Every Christian has been called by God. Every Christian has a calling.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that every believer in Jesus is supposed to be an ordained pastor, a full-time missionary, or a church-planting apostle. Having a calling does not necessarily lead to what we sometimes call “full-time Christian service.” (Actually, the more we understand what calling is all about, the more we’ll realize that “full-time Christian service” isn’t just for pastors, missionaries, and apostles. It’s how all Christians ought to see their lives.) Sometimes God calls people to particular positions of leadership, such as was the case with Paul and his calling to be an apostle. But every single Christian – including you – has a calling. This simple but profound truth can change your life.

Reflect

If you grew up in a church, what sense of calling was common in your community?

If all Christians have a calling, to what are Christians called?

Do you have a sense of calling? If so, where did it come from? If not, why not?

Act

Set aside several minutes to talk with God about your calling. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings. Ask the Lord to show you what is true about your calling.

Pray

Gracious God, it’s a wonderful thing that you call men and women to special positions in your church. I thank you for those with a particular calling to religious leadership.

At the same time, I thank you for calling every single Christian, including me. Thank you for including me, valuing me, and reaching out to me. Thank you for the opportunity I have to respond to your calling.

Help me, Lord, to understand more fully the nature of my calling so that I might respond in faithful obedience. Amen.


Part 5: Called to Be God’s Special People

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NRSV)

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.

Focus

Every Christian has a calling from God. One dimension of this calling involves being set apart by God for a relationship with God and for participation in his kingdom work. To use biblical language, we are called to be saints. God has called us as his special people, not because of our merit, but because of his sovereign grace.

Devotion

In the letter we know as 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says of the letter’s recipients that they are “called to be saints.” Even as God called Paul to be an apostle (1:1), so God called all of the Corinthians believers to be saints. What did Paul mean by “saints”?

Though the translation of the Greek word hagios as “saint” is traditional and common, I would suggest that it’s not particularly helpful in our day. Besides using “Saint” as a name for a professional football player from New Orleans, we call someone a saint if that person is truly extraordinary. If we say, for example, “Anna is such a saint,” we mean that Anna is someone who acts in a particularly charitable and sacrificial way as she does good for others. In the church, “Saint” can be used as a designation of a rare Christian whose life of service to God and people is truly exceptional. In 2016, for example, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was declared a saint – “canonized” is the official word for it – by Pope Francis for her unique life of service to the poor and suffering.

But this is not what Paul had in mind when using the Greek word hagios. The basic meaning of this word had to do with things being dedicated or consecrated to God (or in the Greek word, a god). Hagios is often translated in the Bible as “holy.” Things used in the temple in Jerusalem, for example, were holy in that they were set apart from ordinary usage in order to be used in the worship of God. A person could be hagios if that person was dedicated to God. In the Old Testament era, priests were thought of as holy in this sense.

But so were all of God’s chosen people. In Exodus 19 God chose Israel to be his “treasured possession out of all the peoples” (19:5). The Israelites would be for God “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (19:6). Though some of the people would have an uncommon “holy” role as priests, all of God’s people were set apart for God and his purposes. In this sense, all of them were holy. Or, if you prefer, all were saints.

What was true of Israel became true for believers in Jesus, according to Paul. They were “called to be saints” as the NRSV reads. A better rendering in today’s English would be, “called to be God’s special people.” All Christians are set apart by God for God and his purposes. This is just as true of teachers, carpenters, and realtors as it is of preachers, priests, and missionaries. To be a saint is a little like being an Olympic athlete who is set apart from the rest of humanity for a particular purpose.

The fact that the biblical title of “saint” is not given only to especially worthy people is abundantly clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. This church was quite a mess, actually. People were not getting along with each other as they divided up into opposing factions. Some were engaging in prostitution while others were getting drunk at Communion. The Corinthian believers didn’t earn their sainthood by their good works, that’s for sure. Rather, they were “called to be saints” by God on the basis of grace offered through Jesus Christ.

And so it is with you and me today. If you have embraced the good news of the gospel, then you are a saint, or as I would prefer to say, you are one of “God’s special people.” You belong to God and are a vital contributor to God’s work in the world because God has called you and set you apart through Christ. That is indeed good news!

Reflect

Do you think of yourself as a saint, that is, as someone set apart by God for a relationship with God and for his purposes? If so what difference does this make in how you live each day?

If you do not think of yourself as a saint, why not?

Do you have any clarity about the purpose(s) God has for you in life?

Act

Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about what it means to be a saint, according to 1 Corinthians. Think together about how this designation might make a difference in how you live each day.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for calling us to be your saints, your special people. Thank you for doing this on the basis of your grace given in Christ. Thank you for inviting me to belong to you and your family. Thank you for summoning me into your kingdom work.

Help me, Lord, to see myself as a saint, not in a way that puffs me up, but so that I might know you intimately and serve you faithfully. May I see everything in my life as an opportunity to live out my sainthood for your purposes and glory. Amen.


Part 6: Called Together

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NRSV)

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.

Focus

To be sure, God calls individuals to know him and serve him. But God also calls us in community. Together, we are called to be God’s special people. Together, we seek God’s guidance for our lives. Together, we help each other to hear and respond to our particular callings in life.

Devotion

In a previous devotion I talked about the tendency in the church of my youth to assume that calling was mainly or exclusively for religious leaders, that is, for ordained pastors, official missionaries, and the like.  Yet, we have seen that as the Apostle Paul talks about calling in 1 Corinthians, all believers in Jesus are “called to be saints,” or, as I have suggested, “called to be God’s special people.”

There was another way my early sense of calling was deficient. I was always assumed that calling was something for an individual. God called people singularly to serve him in special ways. I could refer to “her calling” or “my calling” but never “their calling” or “our calling.”

We find something different and more expansive in 1 Corinthians. Yes, Paul was called as an individual to be an apostle of Christ (1:1). But the members of the church in Corinth were also “called to be saints” (1:2). This calling had a distinctly communal dimension. It’s possible to read the Greek here as implying that each individual Christian in Corinth had an individual calling to individual sainthood, but that reading is unlikely, especially given the problem of divisive individualism in the Corinthian congregation.

Moreover, the curious phrase that comes after “called to be saints” underscores the corporate sense of calling. Not only are the Corinthian Christians “called to be saints,” but also they share this calling “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The fact that God calls all Christians is something that binds us together in the church. Even as he chose Israel to be for him a “holy people,” so we who follow Jesus are called to be holy together, not just individually. We receive our calling both in community and as a community.

Why is this so important? Because if we conceive of our calling in purely individualistic terms, we’ll miss so much of what God has for us. We’ll miss the joy and challenge of striving together with other saints to be the holy people of God. Moreover, we’ll be apt to imagine that we’ll hear our personal calling when we are alone, rather than in community with other believers. Though God can certainly call us when we are by ourselves, his calling is often heard and confirmed in Christian community. You remember, for example, that Paul had a dramatic individual calling on the road to Damascus, as the risen Jesus spoke to him in a blinding light (Acts 9). But Paul’s calling was supported and confirmed by other believers who bore witness to the power of his preaching. And, though he doesn’t say so explicitly, surely Paul considered himself to be among the Christians who were called to be saints. Though he had a distinctive apostolic calling, he shared in the calling extended to all believers.

So, as you think about your own calling, it’s fine to seek clarity about the unique way (or ways) God is calling you. But remember that you also share in a calling extended to all of God’s people in community. Moreover, you may very well hear God’s particular calling to you, not when you’re all by yourself on the road to Damascus, but then you are gathered with other believers.

Reflect

Do you think of calling as something shared in community with other Christians? If so, why? If not, why not?

If we are called to be God’s special people together, what difference might this make in the way we think, feel, and act?

Act

Talk with your small group or with a wise friend about the idea of being called together by God. See if you can discover ways in which you share together in God’s calling right now.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for calling us into relationship with you. Thank you for calling us into your work in the world. Thank you for calling us as individuals. And thank you for calling us together to be a holy people for you.

As we consider your call upon our lives, help us to remember the “together” dimension of our calling. Help us to act together in response to your call, so that we might honor you not just in our individual lives, but also in our life together as your church. Amen.


Part 7: Called by a Faithful God

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:9 (NRSV)

God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Focus

Sometimes God’s call on our lives can feel scary. It can summon us to new risks. It can disrupt our comfortable lives. But the more we know God to be utterly faithful, the more we’ll be able – even eager – to say yes to the call of God.

Devotion

I know a man—I’ll call him Fred—who had quite a harrowing experience with a new job. Though he lived on the West Coast, he was recruited by an intriguing East Coast startup. After several rounds of interviews, the company offered Fred a job that he really wanted.  So Fred resigned from his California company and moved clear across the country. On the first day of his new job, his boss called him in for a meeting. “Fred,” the boss said, “I hate to say this to you, but your job has been phased out. And we don’t have anything else for you. I’m sorry about how this is going to mess you up, but we really don’t have any other options.” Fred, as you can imagine, was shocked and disappointed. He had put his trust in those who had hired him, only to be let down by them in a devastating way.

The call of God disrupts our lives. God invites us into a whole new family, the family of his sons and daughters, and this can take some getting used to. God summons us to be set apart from the world for relationship with God and for participation in God’s work in the world. That requires a major life reset. Saying yes to God’s call is costly, even though the benefits far outweigh the costs. But if we’re going to give up things we value in order to heed God’s call, we must surely wonder if God is trustworthy. We wouldn’t want to say yes to God only to be left high and dry like Fred when his new company abandoned him.

The Apostle Paul answers our question about the trustworthiness of God. In 1 Corinthians 1:9 he writes, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” There’s our answer. God is faithful. God can be trusted. The Greek word translated as “faithful” is pistos, closely related to the word for “faith,” which is pistis. We put our faith (pistis) in God because God is utterly faithful (pistos).

How do we know God is faithful? Well, Paul could very well have pointed to the faithfulness of God throughout the centuries as portrayed in the Old Testament. But, instead, he underscores what God has done recently in the experience of the Corinthians. God has given them his grace in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4). God has enriched them in speech and knowledge, generously supplying them with spiritual power (1:5-7). And God has called them “into the fellowship of his Son” (1:9).

When we’re trying to sort out God’s call on our lives, it’s important to remember his faithfulness. This is especially true if we’re in an extended season of discernment, a time in which we really aren’t clear on the particular calling God has for us. It can be unsettling to wait on God, especially if, like me, you’re not naturally inclined to be patient. Yet, if we are confident in God’s faithfulness, then we can trust God even in the silence.

Knowing God’s faithfulness is also crucial in situations when God’s particular calling brings disruption or even sacrifice. If, for example, you sense that God is calling you to take a new job or move to a new location or both, then you’ll be willing to walk out on a limb because God can be trusted. Or, perhaps you know it’s time for you to retire from your full-time job, yet you’re not quite sure what should come next. You’ll be able to take the risky step of retirement even without a thorough game plan if you are relying on a faithful God.

God’s call can feel scary. It can summon us to new risks. It can disrupt our comfortable lives. But the more we know God to be utterly faithful, the more we’ll be able – even eager – to say yes to the call of God.

Reflect

Have you ever sensed that God was calling you to something risky? How did you respond?

How confident are you in God’s faithfulness . . . really?

What helps you to know that God is truly and fully faithful?

Act

Set aside some time to reflect and journal. Make a list of all the ways God has been faithful to you in the last year. (You can go back further, if you wish.) As you remember God’s faithfulness, offer thanks.

Pray

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me! Amen.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness,” by Thomas Chisolm (1923, now in the public domain).


Part 8: Called into the Fellowship of Christ

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:9 (NRSV)

God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Focus

God has called us, not only to believe in Jesus, but also to live in intimate, lasting fellowship with him. As we enter into a deep relationship with Christ, we become members of his family along with our sisters and brothers in Christ. The Christian life isn’t only a matter of believing the right things. It is living each day in true fellowship with Christ and his people.

Devotion

When you hear the word “fellowship,” what comes to mind? I have a mix of memories. The church where I grew up had a “fellowship hall” under the sanctuary. It was dark and dreary, smelling vaguely of dust, stale coffee, and long-forgotten potluck dinners. Fellowship wasn’t limited to that dank hall, however. We had “fellowship” after worship services, times of casual conversation over insipid coffee and, if we were lucky, cake donuts. No matter where it happened, fellowship was relatively brief and superficial.

That’s not at all what Paul had in mind, however, when we told the Corinthian Christians that they were “called into the fellowship of [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). The English word “fellowship” translates the Greek word koinonia, which meant so much more than casual conversation after a religious meeting. Koinonia had to do with sharing something in common (koinos in Greek meant “communal” or “common.”) Koinonia could describe a business partnership, a deep friendship, or even sexual intimacy in marriage. Thus, to translate koinonia as “fellowship” can lead the English reader in the wrong direction. In my book, After “I Believe” (Baker, 2002), I proposed that koinonia should be understood as “intimate fellowship.” I stand by the suggestion, though I might now say, “intimate, committed, lasting fellowship.”

So, Paul says that the Corinthians, as followers of Jesus, are “called into the intimate fellowship of his Son” (1:9). Now we need to decipher what Paul means by “of his Son.” Greek grammar gives us a couple of possibilities. Paul could be talking about the fellowship we have “with his Son.” Or he could be referring to the fellowship we have with other believers through or in the name of God’s Son. Either option works in Greek. So which is it?

Most commentators and translators prefer “with his Son” as the primary sense of the Greek in this verse (see, for example, the NIV’s “fellowship with his Son” or the CEB, which goes with “partnership with his Son”). In this rendering of the Greek, we are called by God into relationship with Jesus Christ. The central reality of Christian faith is “intimate, committed, lasting fellowship” with Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior and Lord.

But there is also a sense in which we are called into fellowship with each other in the name of Jesus. When we enter into relationship with Christ through faith, we are also adopted into the family of God. We are not only in relationship with Jesus, but also with all of those who have a similar relationship with him. So, though I believe Paul’s primary point in verse 9 is that we are called into deep, intimate fellowship with Jesus, it is also true that through Jesus we are called into deep, intimate fellowship with our sisters and brothers in his family.

The fact that we are called into fellowship with Jesus and his people reminds us that Christianity isn’t only a matter of believing the right things. Yes, theology matters, for sure. But biblically-informed theology underscores the profoundly relational dynamic of Christian faith. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has called each one of us into relationship with Christ and, through Christ, into relationship with his people. We share together in a calling to share life together with Christ and each other.

Reflect

Before today’s devotion, would you say that you have been called into deep fellowship with Christ? If so, why? If not, why not?

What helps you to experience in real-time the fellowship you have with Christ?

Do you act as someone who has been called into relationship through Christ with his people? If so, in what ways do you live out this calling?

Act

In the next day or so, choose to do something that helps you experience the intimate fellowship you have with Jesus.

Pray

Gracious God, what a wonder it is to be called by you. Not only have you called us to be your special people, but also you have called us into fellowship with Christ and his people. You have given us an invitation to join your holy family. You have summoned us out of solitary confinement into abiding, deep relationship with you and those who know you through Christ.

God, as you know, sometimes being in fellowship with your people is a delightful blessing, a gift we receive with grateful hearts. Sometimes, however, our experience of fellowship falls far short of what you have intended for us. We have a hard time getting along with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We fight for our preferences, failing to prioritize the needs of others. We focus on our differences rather than our unity in you. We let politics, race, privilege, and status divide us rather than allow your Spirit to unite us. Forgive us, O God, for all the ways we avoid or even damage the fellowship with have with each other through Christ.

Help us, we pray, to grow deeper in our fellowship with Christ, to know him truly and love him deeply. As we do, may we also grow into more intimate fellowship with each other. To you be all the glory! Amen.


Part 9: Called to Believe the Good News

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 (NRSV)

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Focus

Christians believe the good news that God was saving the world through a relatively obscure man who was executed by the Roman government. It’s not hard to understand why, for some, this news is difficult to believe. That was as true in the first century as it is today. But when it comes to faith, we are not alone. God calls to us through the gospel, inviting us into a relationship with him. God helps us to believe the good news that appears to some to be folly. God says “Yes” to us before we say “Yes” to God.

Devotion

For those of us who have been Christians for a while, it might be hard to remember how foolish the good news about Jesus might have seemed to us at first. I know some people who, the very first time they heard the gospel, it made deep sense to them and they responded in faith. But many respond differently at first. The story of God saving the world through Christ just doesn’t make much sense.

The seeming folly of the gospel isn’t new to our time of history. In fact, those who first heard the good news about Jesus tended to think it was nonsense. Both Jews and Greeks, though for different reasons, just couldn’t stomach the thought that God was saving the world through an obscure Jewish man who was crucified on a Roman cross. That was about as far from a sensible salvation story as anyone in the first-century A.D. could imagine.

But, as the Apostle Paul and other early Christians proclaimed the good news of salvation through Jesus, many came to believe in spite of the apparent folly of that message. Why? What made the difference? And what makes it possible for an intelligent person in the 21st century to believe that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19)?

Paul answers these questions by pointing to the call of God. The good news of Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). Those who are called by God are able to receive the gospel in faith, to accept Christ crucified as the power and wisdom of God.

As you might imagine, theologians have for centuries debated this notion of “the called ones” who are enabled by God to accept the gospel. They get into complicated arguments about predestination, election, and free will. There’s no way I can begin to deal with these heavy ideas here. But, no matter how you come down on such doctrines, it seems clear that our ability to respond to the gospel in faith depends profoundly on God’s calling us to himself. When we call out to God to save us, we are replying to God’s prior call to us. We can say “Yes” to God because God has already said “Yes” to us.

This truth matters, not only in the moment we first put our trust in the gospel, but also throughout our lives. Many Christians experience seasons of doubt, times when we’re not sure about our faith. We may feel overwhelmed by intellectual challenges to Christianity. Or we may get caught in the anti-Christian current of our culture. Or we may experience suffering that feels utterly inconsistent with a loving God. When uncertainty digs its claws into our hearts, it’s good to remember that believing the gospel isn’t something we do all by ourselves. God is with us. God is for us. God is on our side. God is inviting us into a deeper and truer relationship with him through Jesus Christ.

Reflect

When you think about your own coming to faith in Christ, did you sense God’s call in any way at that time? If so, how?

As you look back on your conversion, can you now see how God was calling you?

What are the things that make it hard for you to believe fully in the good news of salvation through Christ?

What helps you to believe even if it’s hard sometimes?

Act

Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about the challenges to faith that are real in your life. Share together how God helps you in those times. Pray for each other, that you’ll be able to respond to the gracious call of God on your life.

Pray

Gracious God, how amazing to think of the fact that you have called me. Thank you, Lord, for reaching out to me when I did not know you. Thank you for helping me to believe the good news. Thank you for saving me by grace through Jesus Christ.

And thank you, Lord, for the fact that your grace didn’t stop when I first said “Yes” to the gospel. You have helped me to believe in so many ways and at so many times. Thank you for sustaining my faith when I struggle with doubt. Thank you for upholding me when the suffering of this world seems so inconsistent with what I perceive to be your love. Thank you for giving me strength when I am weak, faith when I am doubting, hope when I am discouraged.

God, today I’m reminded of the fact that I can’t make it without you. And the wonderful good news is that I don’t have to. Your grace comes first. Your call anticipates my response. I am able to love you because you have first loved me. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.


Part 10: The Surprise of God’s Calling

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NRSV)

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

Focus

God doesn’t call us to belong to him because of our accomplishments, our strength, our reputation, or our influence. Rather, God calls us because, through our insignificance, he can show the world the astounding significance of his grace. Thus, even as we are called by God to be his special people, we are also humbled because we know this has nothing to do with our own eminence, but everything to do with God’s preeminence.

Devotion

If you ever have a book published, your publisher will be most interested in the people you can get to endorse your book. Occasionally it seems like publishers prefer “the more the merrier” approach, filling the opening pages of a book with dozens of enthusiastic blurbs. But most publishers are interested not so much in the quantity of your endorsements as in their quality. If you can get some famous people to give your book a big thumbs up then your publisher will be quite pleased. Don’t get all your friends to write blurbs. Focus instead on getting Oprah, Bono, or LeBron. You’ll sell a lot more books that way.

The “get the best” approach to book endorsements makes sense to me, even though I haven’t been especially successful at it. I guess I don’t know enough famous people. Or, perhaps my famous friends don’t like my books. At any rate, I understand the “get the best you possibly can” approach to endorsements.

God, however, doesn’t seem too impressed with that approach when it comes to the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. In the first chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters” (1 Corinthians 1:26). In this case, “call” seems to mean something like, “the situation you were in when God summoned you to believe the good news.” The Corinthians, as it turns out, were not in enviable situations when they were called. They weren’t wise, powerful, noble, or strong. Rather, they were thought of as foolish and weak according to the cultural standards of their day. Paul goes so far as to imply that they were “low and despised in the world” (1:38). Ouch! I’m not sure how I would have reacted to what Paul was saying if I had been one of those Corinthian Christians. It’s hard to be told you’re a relative nobody, even if you know it’s true.

I’m struck by the fact that God did not choose to call the kind of people whom I’d want to endorse my books. God’s calling is not dependent on human accomplishment, fame, wealth, or strength. In fact, according to Paul, God prefers to call people whom the world would ignore or even denigrate so as to show the world just how messed up its values are.

This means if you and I are numbered among the called, the last thing we ought to do is get puffed up with pride. Christians who are full of themselves are people who misunderstand the truth of God’s calling. God chose “what is low and despised in the world,” Paul says, “so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1:28-29). If you’re the least inclined to think you are so awesome because you’re a Christian, you’d better think again. You are a Christian precisely because God is so awesome, so full of grace and mercy, so delighted to choose the lowly in this world as a demonstration of the gospel.

God’s “book endorsers,” if you will, aren’t impressive because of our amazing accomplishments. Rather, we bear witness to the wonder of the gospel precisely because, apart from God’s grace in our lives, we aren’t such a big deal. This gives us the freedom and responsibility to boast to others, not about ourselves and our achievements, but about God and God’s mind-blowing, culture-disrupting achievement of salvation through the humbling death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Reflect

What do you suppose your life would be like if God had not called you to himself?

When you think back to the time when you first responded in faith to the gospel, how was God at work in your life, drawing you, wooing you, even loving you?

Act

In the next couple of days, take time to affirm and encourage someone who, in the world’s eyes, is not important or influential. Do this, not to gain any moral points, but rather to honor God and love someone who is beloved by God.

Pray

Gracious God, I confess that sometimes I can think more of myself than I ought to. I want to be a person of significance and accomplishment. That’s not altogether wrong, I suppose. But I can come dangerously close to thinking that you have called me because of what I have to offer, rather than because of your grace. Help me, Lord, to see myself accurately. Help me to be humble, not in my words and deeds only, but also in my heart. Amen.


Part 11: Called to Peace in Relationships

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 7:15b (NRSV) 

It is to peace that God has called you.

Focus

God has called us to peace in our relationships. This doesn’t mean, however, that we simply “make nice.” God’s peace is inseparable from his justice and righteousness. We respond to our calling to peace by building healthy, holy relationships, and by making sure that all people are able to experience the peace of God. We do this not in our own strength, but through Christ who is our peace.

Devotion

The language of calling shows up in 1 Corinthians 7 more than in any other chapter in all of Paul’s letters. This would seem to suggest that we can learn a lot about Paul’s notion of calling from this chapter. That is true in a way. But the problem is that 1 Corinthians 7 is a notoriously difficult chapter to interpret, and what Paul writes about calling adds significantly to the interpretational confusion. Nevertheless, I believe we can indeed discover more about God’s calling by a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 7.

Paul wrote this chapter in response to problems in the relationships among the Corinthians Christians, especially having to do with marriage. Apparently, certain immature believers thought that, as Christians, they should refrain completely from sexual intimacy within marriage. Their spouses were not enthusiastic about this notion. Moreover, there was confusion about whether or not single people should marry at all. Then there was the issue of Christians who were married to non-Christians. Should a believer in Jesus remain in such a marriage? Or was it better to seek a divorce? And what about if a non-Christian spouse opted for divorce? What should the Christian do then?

In his effort to guide the Corinthians, Paul establishes a foundational principle to applies, not just to the particular issues in Corinth, but to Christian life in general. In 1 Corinthians 7:15 he writes, “It is to peace that God has called you.” The immediate context has to do with marriage and divorce between a believer and a non-believer. But the principle is relevant far beyond this particular situation. In all of our relationships, God has called us to peace. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Colossians 3:15).

Why has God called us to peace in our relationships? For one thing, peace is an essential element of God’s own nature. As Paul will write in a later chapter of 1 Corinthians, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). The world that God created originally reflected God’s peace, God’s pervasive shalom. But, of course, sin came along and peace was broken.

Yet, God has not abandoned us in our brokenness. In fact, through Christ, God has broken that which keeps us from experiencing peace in our relationships (Ephesians 2:14). Christ himself is “our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). His death on the cross not only saves us from sin, but also begins to mend the brokenness in our lives. Christ is in the peacemaking business.

Remember that biblical peace is not the same as being nice. It’s not accepting evil with a smile or ignoring injustice. God’s peace includes the right-ordering of all relationships. It is inseparable from justice and righteousness. Remember Isaiah’s prophecy that is being fulfilled in Christ, “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and for his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:7).

Biblical peace is also not only the absence of conflict. It is life the way God intended: abundant, fruitful, and just. So, in 1 Corinthians 7:15, when Paul says that we are called to peace, he is not saying only that we should try to get along with everyone. Rather, peace in relationships requires their health and holiness, their flourishing and fruitfulness.

You and I are called to peace. We are to imitate our Lord by being peacemakers in our relationships. This pertains to marriage, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 7. But it also informs all of our relationships: at home and at work, in church and in our neighborhood, in our cities and countries. In anticipation of the day when Christ will establish endless peace filled with justice and righteousness, we respond to God’s call to peace no matter where he has placed us.

Reflect

How do you respond to the idea that God has called you to peace?

Are you in any relationships at the moment that are greatly in need of peace? How might you be a peacemaker in these relationships?

How might you be a peacemaker in your family? Your neighborhood? Your church? Your city?

Act

Take some time to reflect on the Prayer of St. Francis printed below. As you do, what does the Spirit of God impress upon your heart? How might you be an instrument of God’s peace in your relationships today?

Pray

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

The Prayer of St. Francis (public domain)


Part 12: The Time of Your First Calling

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 7:17-18 (NRSV)

However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.

Focus

In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul uses the language of calling in an unusual way. “Our calling,” according to Paul, refers to the occasion in which we first put our faith in Jesus Christ. Where some of us might talk about “becoming a Christian” or “accepting Jesus into our hearts,” Paul talked about God calling us. This reminds us that, when it comes to faith, we aren’t the initiators, but the responders. Moreover, it underscores the fact that all Christians have experienced the call of God in their lives.

Devotion

I grew up in a Christian tradition that emphasized “accepting Jesus into your heart.” That was our way of talking about the first time we received God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It was, some might say, the moment of our conversion. So, in September 1963, when I went forward at a Billy Graham Crusade in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, that’s the time I “accepted Jesus into my heart.”

The Apostle Paul uses different language to refer to that experience of saying “yes” to the gospel for the first time. We find an example of this usage in 1 Corinthians 7:17, though the NRSV translation makes it difficult to see. This translation reads, “[L]et each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” It’s possible to understand the Greek original of this verse in that way. But a more literal and, I believe, more accurate translation is found in the Common English Bible, “[E]ach person should live the kind of life that the Lord assigned when he called each one” (7:17, CEB). Whereas the NRSV has God calling us to a distinctive life, the CEB sees calling as God’s act of bringing us to faith in Christ in the midst of our distinctive life.

We see this worked out in 1 Corinthians 7:18. There, Paul asks, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised?” That is an accurate rendering of the sense of the Greek, which reads literally, “Was anyone called, having been circumcised?” In other words, calling refers in this case to God’s action of summoning a person to faith in Christ through the gospel. Whereas I might say that I accepted Jesus into my heart in September 1963, Paul would say that was the time of my calling or even just “my calling.”

Why is this important? There are many reasons. I’d like to mention two here.

First, thinking about our experience of coming to faith in Christ as God’s calling us reminds us that we are responding to God not initiating relationship with God. From one perspective, on a hot summer evening in Los Angeles I decided to follow Jesus. Yet, from another perspective, I was not so much deciding as responding to God’s call. The initiative was God’s as he called me through the preaching of Billy Graham and through the internal stirrings of the Holy Spirit.

Second, when we recognize that our conversion was an experience of calling, this underscores the fact that all Christians are called by God, not just those with particular callings to various kinds of church and missionary work. When you felt drawn to “accept Jesus into your heart,” or to “confirm your baptism by confession of faith,” or however you might say it, you were in fact hearing and responding to the call of God on your life. God was calling you into relationship with him and into a life of sharing in his work in the world.

There’s a sweet P.S. to the story of my first calling. In September 1963, after hearing Billy Graham preach and invite people forward to accept Christ, I told my parents I wanted to go. They were hesitant because I was only six years old. They were afraid that I was just caught up in the emotion of the moment. So, as they told me later, they asked me a number of serious questions about why I wanted to go forward. Apparently, I explained to their satisfaction that I knew I was a sinner and wanted Jesus to save me. So they were convinced I wasn’t just caught up in emotions.

My dad went down to the field with me so I could say “Yes” to Jesus, guided by a trained counselor for children. What I did not know until many years later was that my dad also said “Yes” to Jesus for the first time that night. Twenty-two years later, as my dad was fighting cancer that would one day take his life, he volunteered to be a child counselor for the Billy Graham Crusade in Anaheim, California. Night after night he helped children accept Jesus into their hearts. That turned out to be the last work my dad ever did as a lay minister of Christ. He ended much as he had begun, participating in God’s work of calling people to faith in Christ.

Reflect

In your Christian tradition, how did (or do) people talk about conversion?

Do you think of the time you first put your faith in Christ as the time of your calling? If so, why? If not, why not?

What difference might it make to you if you thought of God as having called you into relationship with God through Christ?

Act

Take some time to reflect on your experience of coming to faith. You may have a clear memory of a distinct time of saying “Yes” to Jesus for the first time. Or you may have grown slowly into faith, such that you can’t quite remember when you first said “Yes” to the Lord. No matter your particular story, as you think about it, do you have any sense of God’s calling?

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for calling your people to you. Thank you for calling me into relationship with you through faith in Jesus. Thank you for helping me to understand, believe, and respond in trust to the gospel.

Lord, when I first said “Yes” to you – whether I know when that was or not – I might not have realized that you were calling me. It might have felt like I was “making a decision for Christ.” And in a sense, I was. But in a greater sense, you were calling me to yourself, reaching out in grace and mercy. How I thank you for your initiative in my life and for helping me to respond in faith. Amen.


Part 13: Can You Be a Real Christian in Your Ordinary Life?

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 7:20 (NRSV)

Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

Focus

Can you be a real Christian in your ordinary life? Some Christians would say “No.” They believe the only way to be a true Christian is to leave one’s normal life and live radically for Jesus. Centuries ago, for example, some immature Christians in Corinth thought they had to leave their marriages if they were going to be true followers of Jesus. The Apostle Paul helped them to see that they should remain in the condition in which they were called into relationship with God through Christ. Not only can we be real Christians in our ordinary lives, but, in fact, God wants us to discover how to live Christianly in the situations to which he has assigned us: our marriages, our friendships, our workplaces, our communities.

Devotion

We can tell from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that these new believers got some things right and some things wrong when it came to living as a Christian. For example, they got it right that believing in Jesus wasn’t just a minor add-on to one’s otherwise ordinary life. They correctly concluded that it meant living in a whole new way, with new values, priorities, and practices. Yet, many of the Corinthian Christians wrongly concluded that this new way of living required a radical change in one’s personal situation. Some who were married to non-Christian spouses, for example, believed that they should leave their marriages in order to be fully committed to Jesus. They assumed that it was not possible to be a real Christian in their ordinary lives.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul sought to correct this misunderstanding of the Christian life. He urged the Corinthians in verse 17 to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” He said something similar in verse 20: “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.” This translation rightly conveys the basic sense of the original language. Curiously, though, what Paul actually wrote was, “Let each one remain in the calling [klēsis] in which you were called.” One’s situation in life at the time of one’s calling (or conversion) was not merely an accident. It was something intended by God, something God planned to use for divine purposes.

So, if we were to ask Paul, “Can I be a real Christian in my ordinary life?” he would almost surely answer “Yes.” In fact, he would tell most believers that God’s plan was for them to live out their faith precisely in the context in which they were living and working when they first said “Yes” to Christ. I say “most believers” because Paul would not endorse every possible context in which a person was called. In Ephesians 4:28, for example, Paul wrote, “Thieves must give up stealing.” So, if your situation were to involve outright sin, such as thievery, it would be right to leave it. But, for most believers, their challenge was to discover how to live as genuine Christians in the context of their calling.

Now we mustn’t turn this into a hard and fast rule. Sometimes our personal context changes for good reasons. My original calling to Christ, for example, came when I was just going into first grade. I’m quite sure Paul wouldn’t want me, at this stage in my life, to live out my faith as a 63-year-old first grader at Glenoaks Elementary School. Moreover, sometimes God calls people away from one situation to a very different one. Abraham and Sarah, for example, were called to leave their home and journey to a new, distant land (Genesis 12:1-3). Yet, for the most part, God expects those he calls to believe and to serve while remaining in the context where they were when they heard and responded to the gospel. This context could, in some ways, even be seen as one’s calling, one’s divine assignment.

The implications of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 are powerful, especially if you sometimes doubt whether you can be a real Christian in your ordinary life. Today, there are some well-intentioned Christian teachers who believe that the only way to truly follow Jesus requires a radical rejection of ordinary life. Real Christians, in this view, aren’t folks who work as teachers, bankers, house painters, and parents. They have to do radical things for Jesus, like move across the world and invest their lives in the fight against poverty. But, while it’s true that God does call some to very different ways of living and working, it’s not true that all genuine Christians must abandon their current circumstances. In fact, from the perspective of 1 Corinthians 7, these circumstances could even be seen as our calling.

Reflect

Have you ever worried that you aren’t able to be a “real Christian” in your ordinary life?

Or, do you believe that, in some way, God has placed you where you are, to live for his purposes in your current situation?

How are you encouraged, challenged, and instructed to live as an authentic Christian in the midst of your workplace, neighborhood, family, friendship groups, and city?

Act

Set aside some minutes for prayer. During this time, ask God how you might live for him today in your “ordinary” life. Follow the Spirit’s lead as you seek to live today for God’s purposes and glory.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for calling us into relationship with yourself through the gospel. Thank you for reaching out to us in the midst of our “ordinary” lives. Thank you for the possibility of discovering what it means to live for you each day in all of the places in which we live and learn, work and play.

Help me, Lord, to discover in new ways what it means to live each moment for you. May I offer to you all that I am, whether I’m at work or at home, in the local market or in my church. Teach me, Lord, to be a “real Christian” in the midst of my “ordinary” life, knowing that living for you is never really ordinary. Amen.


Part 14: God’s Calling Transforms Our Reality

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 7:22-23 (NRSV) 

For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.  You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters.

Focus

You may be the CEO of a major company, a brand-new intern, an entrepreneurial small business owner, a high school teacher, an executive assistant, a firefighter, a student, or you name it. No matter what title you wear at work, it does not define you. What defines you most of all is your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This relationship not only gives you inestimable value and heavenly purpose, but also it helps you see your workplace reality in a whole new light.

Devotion

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul has much to say about our calling. Often, as we have seen in recent Life for Leaders devotions, he uses the language of calling in reference to what we might call our conversion experience. When we first said “Yes” to the good news of God’s grace in Christ, God was calling us into a relationship with God and into partnership in his mission.

Some of the immature believers in Corinth thought that, as Christians, they needed to leave behind their former life, including key relationships and social locations. Paul, however, encouraged people to remain in the condition in which they were called, and to use this situation as a context for serving God and people. Paul also urged the Christians in Corinth to see themselves in a new way in light of their godly calling.

In 1 Corinthians 7:21-24, Paul specifically addresses the case of slavery. It’s hard for us in the United States to relate to what Paul says because our own history of slavery is so evil, especially with its dehumanizing racism. Slavery, in Paul’s day, was nothing to be praised. It involved people owning other people, which is inconsistent with the created dignity of all human beings. Yet slavery in the Roman Empire was not essentially racist, and many slaves were both well-treated and well-regarded. It was common, in fact, for slaves who could become freed persons to choose to remain slaves for their personal benefit.

What should slaves do when God called them to faith in Jesus Christ? Should they try to become free? Should they remain slaves? Paul counsels slaves not to focus on their socio-economic role so much as on who they are in Christ. Whether they are slaves or freed people, they can serve the Lord in their present condition.

Moreover, their calling to Christ helps them to see their reality in a new light. “For,” Paul writes, “whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:22). Because of their calling from God, slaves have a new identity in Christ, to whom they belong as freed people. Those who have been freed from actual slavery also experience a new reality because of their calling. By acknowledging Christ as their Lord, they have become in effect “a slave of Christ” (7:22). All Christians, whether slave or free in their earthly identities, have been “bought with a price” (7:23), the price of Christ’s death for our salvation. Therefore, we are owned by Christ and this ownership overshadows any other socio-economic relationship we experience in life. Slaves can see themselves as profoundly free in Christ, while freed people can see themselves as slaves of Christ. (If Paul were writing today, I expect he might use language that is common to us. Perhaps he would encourage us to think of Christ as our boss, and to see ourselves as his employees.)

What this means is that, though I may very well remain in the condition in which I was when God called me, that condition no longer defines me. My workplace role, for example, matters because it gives me a context in which to live out my faith in Christ. But my role at work doesn’t tell me who I really am. Because I have been called, I now see myself primarily in relationship to the God who called me, to whom I belong, not only as a freed person and slave, but also as a beloved child and a missional partner.

You may be the CEO of a major company, a brand-new intern, an entrepreneurial small business owner, a high school teacher, an executive assistant, a firefighter, a house painter, a student, or you name it. No matter what title you wear at work, it does not define you. What defines you most of all is your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This relationship not only gives you inestimable value and heavenly purpose, but also it helps you see your workplace reality in a whole new light.

Reflect

To what extent does your workplace role make a difference in your personal identity?

Do you ever think of Christ as your boss? If you did, what different might this make to you?

How does being called by God renew and refine your sense of reality?

Act

As you begin work today (or tomorrow, if you’re reading this in the evening), whether your work is paid or not, take a couple of minutes to reflect on what it means that Christ is your ultimate authority. Imagine how you might work differently with this thought in mind.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for calling us to yourself through Christ. Thank you for giving us a whole new way to see ourselves and our lives. Thank you for giving us a new way to define ourselves and our value.

As I go about my work today, may I remember that I am working for you, for your kingdom purposes. May I see myself as your employee even though I may very well have a human boss. Help me to be attentive to your Spirit as I work today. Guide me in all that I do. To you be all the glory. Amen.


Part 15: Called to Belong to Christ

Scripture – Romans 1:5-7 (NRSV)

[We] have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints . . . .

Focus

You are one of Christ’s people because God wants you, seeks you, and loves you. God’s calling is an expression of God’s desire to be in relationship with you. So, though it’s right for you to seek to understand what God is calling you to do with your life, remember that, above all, God is calling you into relationship with him.

Devotion

In the opening verse of his letter to the Romans, Paul introduces himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle” (Romans 1:1). He is an apostle – a divinely-authorized messenger of the gospel, sent to plant and nurture churches – not because he chose this role for himself, but because God chose Paul and made this choice known by calling him. Paul had a distinctive, special calling.

Yet right after introducing himself and his particular calling, Paul made sure the Roman Christians knew that they were also called by God. God had called them “to belong to Jesus Christ” (1:6) and “to be saints” (1:7). In a previous devotion in this series, I explained what it means to be called to be saints, which I paraphrased as “God’s special people.” I won’t repeat here what I wrote there. But I do want to think with you about what it means to be “called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

The Greek behind this translation reads literally, “called of Jesus Christ [klētoi Iēsou Christou].” Almost all English translations agree that “of Jesus Christ” means something like “to belong to Jesus Christ.” You can see that use of language in 1 Corinthians 1:12, where Paul reports that the Corinthians were saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas” or “I belong to Christ.” In Greek they were saying, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” and so on. So, when it comes to Romans 1:6, we rightly understand that Paul identified the Roman Christians as “called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

This phrase reiterates things we have seen previously in this series on God’s Transformational Calling. First of all, we’re reminded that we are Christians because God has called us. Yes, we responded to God’s call through faith. But our faith wasn’t what initiated relationship with God through Christ. God’s call came first. God initiated. We responded.

Second, the fact that we are “called to belong to Jesus Christ” underscores the fact that being a Christian is first and foremost a relational reality. Yes, we are also called to contribute to God’s work in the world. Yes, we are called to live in a way that honors and glorifies God. But, fundamentally, God calls us into relationship with the triune God through the gospel. We are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to be Christ’s people in the world for his sake, to be his servants, his disciples, and even his friends (John 15:15).

You are one of Christ’s people because God wants you, seeks you, and loves you. God’s calling is an expression of God’s desire to be in relationship with you. So, though it’s right for you to seek to understand what God is calling you to do with your life, remember that, above all, God is calling you into relationship with him. The more you live into this primary calling, the more you’ll be prepared to receive and to live out the other callings God has for you.

Reflect

Do you think of yourself as belonging to Christ? If so, what difference does this make? If not, why not?

What other relationships do you have in which the language of belonging might be appropriate? What does this suggest about your relationship with Christ?

Do you really believe that God seeks relationship with you? Or is this one of those things you know to be true but have a hard time really believing deep in your soul?

Act

Set aside some time to reflect on the fact that you have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Think about how this fundamental truth about your calling might transform your life. Talk with God about what you are learning.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for calling me. Thank you for calling me, not only into a life of service to you, but also and fundamentally into a life of relationship with you. I am so grateful that this relationship doesn’t depend on me, but on you.

Help me, Lord, to live each day in relationship with you, attending to your guidance, seeking your glory, enjoying your love. May the fact that I belong to you be the defining reality of my life, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Amen.


Part 16: God Works in All Things for Good

Scripture – Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Focus

Romans 8:28 teaches us that God is at work for good in all things. Even things that feel so wrong and painful will be used by God for good in our lives. This good news is sometimes hard to believe, however, especially when we experience suffering or injustice. When we wonder if God is really at work for good, we are free to cry out to God, to lament, to tell God exactly what we feel. Our merciful God may not act according to our expectations, but he will help us to hang on tightly to the truth of Lamentations 3:23, “Great is your faithfulness!”

Devotion

Romans 8:28 is one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible. I memorized it when I was in fourth-grade Sunday School, and I’ve brought it to mind at least five hundred times since then.

Romans 8:28 contains profound truth related to related to our calling, though this aspect of the verse has received much less attention than the primary clause, “We know that all things work together for good.” Before I get to what we learn about our calling from the secondary phrase, today I want to reflect with you on this verse’s main point.

Like all languages, the common Greek of the New Testament has its quirks. On the one hand, it allowed communication with unusual precision. Yet, at times it also permitted curious ambiguities. We find one of those in the statement, “We know that all things work together for good.” The verb “work together,” sunergeō in Greek, is singular. In English, it wouldn’t agree with the subject “all things,” which is plural. However, when the gender of a Greek plural noun was neuter (neither male nor female), it would actually take a singular verb. So, the NRSV option “all things work together for good” is possible.

But there is another option that is favored by many translations and commentators. You see, in Greek it was also possible for a subject to be implied. Given the flow of the argument in Romans 8, the subject of “work together” could very well be God. Thus, the NIV translates in this way: “And we know that in all things God works for the good.”

For several reasons, I am persuaded that this translation is best. But even if Paul meant to say “all things work together for good,” he certainly believed that this was so because God was at work in all things. Paul did not believe that good things automatically came to those who loved God, as if the world was not shattered by sin. So, whether you go with the NRSV’s “all things work together for good” or the NIV’s “in all things God works for the good,” the basic meaning is the same. Good things happen for people because God is at work. Even though this world is broken, even though evil has the power to wound and to oppress, God is at work. And, in the end, God is working in all things for good.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe this. When we experience suffering, either in our own lives or in the lives of those we love, it can feel as if God is doing anything but working good. When racial injustice dehumanizes people, denying their dignity and even stealing their lives, we can wonder where God is. In these and so many other situations, it can be difficult to believe that God is truly working in all things for good.

What do we do when we’re struggling to believe Romans 8:28? There is no simple answer to this question, but, in closing, let me suggest a few things we might do. First, when we struggle to see God at work in the ways we expect, we are reminded that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). This is both humbling and painful, but it’s a truth worth remembering. Second, we can let God know exactly how we feel, holding nothing back. The Psalms, through which God teaches us to pray, are filled with no-holds-barred lamentation. They give us unprecedented freedom to be honest with God. Third, we cry out to God for the faith to believe, like the man who once prayed in the presence of Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Fourth, we share our struggles with sisters and brothers in Christ who can walk with us, holding us up when we stumble. Fifth, we remember how God has been faithful in the past. The beloved biblical affirmation, “Great is your faithfulness,” comes in a chapter of the Bible that is filled with gut-wrenching lamentation (Lamentations 3). This chapter models for us the freedom of genuine faith, faith that feels the sting of suffering, that wonders if God is still there for us, and that holds on tightly to the faithfulness of God.

Reflect

How do you understand the ways God works for good in all things?

Have you ever experienced God at work in your life in the midst of hard times? When? What happened?

When you struggle to believe that God is at work, what do you do?

Act

If you’re having a hard time right now seeing God at work in difficult things, consider which of the suggestions I made above might be helpful to you, and then do it (or them). If you’re not struggling to believe right now, pray for someone you know who is.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for the good news of Romans 8:28. Thank you for being at work in all things, at all times, always for the good. Thank you for the ways I have experienced this in my life.

Lord, when I struggle to believe that you are working in all things for good, help me to hang in there with you. Help me to be honest with you and with those who can walk with me. Help me to see what I cannot see with my own eyes. Help me to trust all that I am to you. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.

Lord, today I want to pray for people who are struggling to see you at work. Hear their cries for mercy, Lord. Make your presence known to them. Work for good in their lives. Embrace them with your love . . . today! Amen.


Part 17: Called According to God’s Purpose

Scripture – Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Focus

You have been called according to the purpose of God. What is this purpose? Yes, it includes saving you from sin and death. But it also includes joining God in his work of restoring the broken world through Christ. In our words and our works, we can partner with God as he unites all things in Christ. Because we have been called according to God’s purpose, our lives have eternal purpose as well. This purpose shapes both what we do and who we are.

Devotion

In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion I began reflecting on Romans 8:28. No matter how you translate the first part of this verse, it’s clear that God is at work for good in all things. But, though God’s goodness might well be experienced by those who do not recognize him, the focus of verse 28 is on those “who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

According to Romans 8:28, we are called according to God’s purpose. The Greek word translated here as “purpose” means “plan, purpose, resolve, will” (BDAG, prothesis). This word also appears in Ephesians 1:11, where it says, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose [prothesis] of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will.” In Ephesians we are “destined” according to God’s purpose. In Romans 8:28 we are “called according to his purpose.”

What is this purpose that led to our calling? It certainly includes God’s intention to save us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But God’s purpose is broader than personal salvation, as wonderful as that might be. In Ephesians 1:10 we learn about God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.” Through Christ, God is saving, not just individual souls, but also the whole broken cosmos. God is restoring that which has been shattered because of sin.

Immediately following this astounding revelation, Ephesians notes that we have been “destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will” (Ephesians 1:11). God’s purpose is not only to save us from the ravages of sin, but also to enlist us as partners in his saving purpose. This is made even clearer in Ephesians 3:10-11. There we discover God’s plan for the ages, namely, that “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known . . . . This was in according with the eternal purpose [prothesis] that he has carried out in Christ.” The people of God, including you and me, are essential to God’s purpose of letting the whole cosmos know of salvation through Jesus Christ.

To put it simply, God’s purpose includes restoring all that was broken because of sin, including saving fallen human beings. Yet that’s not the end of God’s purpose. His plan also entails calling human beings together as the church so that we might participate in God’s saving, restoring work in the world. God called us because his purpose for our lives involved saving us from sin and death and mobilizing us as his partners. Just as we were once charged with helping the world to be fruitful and full (Genesis 1:28), now we are also charged with helping the world to experience the fruitful and full salvation of God.

Because you have been called according to God’s eternal purpose, your life has an eternal purpose. Your calling is more than your career, your family, your creativity, or your volunteer work. It is God’s summons to join in God’s worldwide work. The more God’s cosmic purpose resonates in your soul, the more you’ll be able to live into this purpose in your career, your family, your creativity, and your volunteer work. God’s purpose will shape all that you do . . . and all that you are as you walk in the good works he has designed for you (Ephesians 2:10).

Reflect

How would you define your purpose in life?

Where did you get this purpose?

To what extent is your purpose a reflection of God’s cosmic purpose?

Do you really believe God has a purpose for your life? Really? If so, why? If not, why not?

Act

Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about your sense of purpose in life and how this relates to God’s cosmic purpose.

Pray

Gracious God, how I praise you for being a gracious, merciful, restoring, creative God. Thank you for your amazing plan to restore and unify all things in Christ. Thank you for intentionally and systematically working out your plan. And thank you that, by your grace, I show up in your plan.

Lord, you have called me according to your purpose. Help me, I pray, to have a deeper and broader understanding of your cosmic purpose. As I grow in this understanding, may I come to see my whole life as a reflection of your purpose. Let everything I do, Lord, glorify you as I walk in the good works you have planned for me to do.

All praise, glory, and honor be to you, O God, who called me according to your purpose. Amen.


Part 18: Called to Unexpected Freedom

Scripture – Galatians 5:13 (NRSV)

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.

Focus

We tend to think of freedom as freedom from something: freedom from oppression, freedom from taxation without representation, freedom from worry, etc. To be sure, the freedom we have through Christ is freedom from: freedom from sin and death, freedom from shame, freedom from emptiness. But our freedom in Christ is also freedom for: freedom for serving others with Christ-like love.

Devotion

In his letter to the Christians in Galatia, the Apostle Paul uses the language of calling in a surprising way. He writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters” (Galatians 5:13). We might suppose that calling is more a matter of obligation than freedom. Yet Paul is clear. We, along with the Galatians, are called to freedom.

But, we wonder, what sort of freedom? We find an answer to this question earlier in Galatians 5. Verse 1 reads, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1). Paul writes this because the believers in Galatia had fallen prey to a version of Christianity that required keeping the Jewish ceremonial law (circumcision, in particular). But the death of Christ fulfilled the demands of the law, setting free those who have faith in Christ from trying to earn God’s favor by doing what the law requires. Not only is freedom from the law offered to us, but also it is part of God’s calling.

For the Galatians, the call to freedom was unexpected. Yet, as we think about the freedom to which God calls us, we might also discover something we didn’t expect. In our culture, we tend to think of freedom as freedom from something: freedom from oppression, freedom from taxation without representation, freedom from fear, and so forth. The gospel of Jesus Christ surely includes freedom from: freedom from judgment, freedom from having to earn God’s favor by works, freedom from eternal separation from God, etc. But there is also essential freedom for dimension of the freedom we have in Christ. This might be surprising to us.

Though we are called to freedom, according to Galatians 5:13 we should not use our freedom “as an opportunity for self-indulgence.” Rather, “through love” we are to “become slaves to one another.” The freedom we have from Christ is freedom from the demands of the law. But it isn’t the freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want to do it. Christ did not set us free to indulge our selfish desires. Rather, he set us free so that we might serve one another through sacrificial, Christ-like love.

That’s an unexpected way to talk about freedom, don’t you think? We have been set free, not only from the demands of the law, but also from that which holds us back from serving others. That could be different things for different people. For many of us, however, the thing that keeps us from serving others in love is our preoccupation with ourselves: our needs, our desires, our feelings, our advancement, our reputation. Yet, as Christ is at work in us through the Spirit, we will find increasing freedom from self-absorption. We will care less about “what’s in it for me” and more about how we can serve others. This is the kind of freedom to which God has called us, a freedom to love others with the self-giving love of Christ (1 John 4:19).

Reflect

How do you tend to think about freedom? More in terms of freedom from? Or do you also think in terms of freedom for?

What holds you back from serving others in a sacrificial way?

How do you experience the freedom you have in Christ?

Act

Ask the Lord to show you how, even today, you might serve someone in the freedom you have from Christ. Then, as God guides you, do it.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for the freedom we have in Christ. Thank you for setting us free from having to earn your favor through our own works. Thank you for giving us freedom from worrying that we are not good enough for you.

Lord, may I live in the freedom to which you have called me. May I be free to give myself away to others, being kind to everyone I meet. May I serve others with Christ-like love, free from self-preoccupation and self-promotion. Set me free, Lord, from all that keeps me from imitating Christ in all I do. Amen.


Part 19: Called to Hope

Scripture – Ephesians 1:17-18 (NRSV)

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.

Focus

When God calls us into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we are given a glimpse of the future. At just the right time, God will restore the broken world, gathering up the shattered pieces and uniting them all in Christ. In that day, God’s peace and justice will fill the earth. Christians are called by God to be people of hope. Christian hope is not wishful thinking. Rather, it is confidence in God’s future. It is a gift from God’s Spirit. When we know the hope of our calling, we are inspired to live each day with courage and boldness, seeking God’s kingdom in all we do.

Devotion

So far in this devotional series on calling in the letters of the Apostle Paul we have seen that God calls us to many things. He calls us to be his special people (1 Corinthians 1:2). He calls us into fellowship with Christ and his people (1 Corinthians 1:9). We are called to believe the good news of salvation through Christ (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). We are called to peace in our relationships (1 Corinthians 7:15), to belong to Christ (Romans 1:5-7), and to unexpected freedom (Galatians 5:13). In the letter we know as Ephesians, Paul prays for the letter’s recipients, mentioning another dimension of God’s calling: “[I pray that] . . . you may know what is the hope to which [God] has called you” (Ephesians 1:18).

The Greek behind this prayer reads more literally, “that you may know what is the hope of his calling.” God’s calling, as we have seen, is primarily God summoning us into relationship with God through Jesus Christ. God invites us to be his special people, living in his love and as walking in the good works he has designed for us (Ephesians 2:10). We learned in a previous section of Ephesians that God’s mission for the cosmos will be culminated in the future when God “gather[s] up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). The universe, shattered by sin, will be put back together through Christ. God’s peace, permeated by righteousness, justice, and blessing, will fill the whole creation.

So, when God calls us through the gospel, we are called to a compelling vision of the future. We are called to hope.

In contemporary culture, hope is wishing for something, longing, perhaps even anticipating that we might get it. Hope sounds like, “Oh, I hope the pandemic will soon be over. Oh, I hope we can start being with people again. Oh, I hope the economy will recover.” You can even hope for things that are quite unlikely: “Oh, I hope we won’t have any more fires in California this year” (even though I’m pretty sure and sad that we will). Hope is longing, wishing, and desiring, whether or not that for which you hope will happen.

Biblical hope is different. Far beyond wishful thinking, it is deep confidence. It is a conviction about the future. Christian hope is knowing that what God has begun in Christ God will complete when the time is just right. We are called, not just to any old hope, but to confident hope.

This kind of hope isn’t something we conjure up through our own efforts. Rather, it is something to which we are called, something given to us as a gift of God’s Spirit. Notice that Paul did not tell the Ephesians to be more hopeful. Rather, he prayed that God would help them to know of the hope of God’s calling. Hope comes from God’s work in us through the Spirit. When we embrace the hope of the gospel, not only do we look forward to God’s future, but also we are empowered to live boldly and courageously every day.

Reflect

Are you a hopeful person? If so, why? What gives you hope? If not, why not?

When you think of God’s future, what do you envision?

Do you live with confidence in the future work of God through Christ? If not, how might your life be different if you lived with the assurance that God will one day restore all things through Christ?

Act

Join the Apostle Paul in praying for yourself and for those you love, that God might grant knowledge of the hope of his calling.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for giving us a vision of the future. Thank you for the fact that, at just the right time, you will restore all things through Christ. We look forward to the day when you will wipe away every tear, when your healing and peace will fill the earth.

God, when we say “Yes” to your calling, we accept the hope of your future. Yet, there are times when it’s hard to be hopeful, times when we feel discouraged or doubting. So, gracious God, we need you to help us to know the hope of your calling. We ask that, through your Spirit, you will stir up confident hope within us. Even when we walk through the darkest valley, Lord, may our hope remain because you are with us.

I pray for those I know who need to know hope today. I think of friends who are going through difficult times, facing economic uncertainty or racial prejudice. I think of those who are exhausted, having spent all of their energy trying to balance the demands of work and family during the pandemic. I think of folks who worry about what will happen to them as they age, people for whom the future feels scary. For these and so many more, dear Lord, I pray. Give them knowledge of the hope to which you have called them. And may this confident hope help them to live fully and fruitfully today. Amen.


Subscribe to Life for Leaders

Life for Leaders is emailed to your inbox each morning, free of charge.