In the Bible we often read the accounts of when God called Abraham, or called Noah, or Moses. The Old Testament is filled with passages describing different leaders, prophets, kings who were called by God for different reasons. Even in the New Testament we read of God calling Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and John for special reasons. And then Jesus, Himself, calling His Apostles to follow Him. Some may think that since that time God no longer calls people like He did in the past but this is not so. Although the age of "miraculous" calling is past (Burning Bush - Moses; Vision of Jesus - Paul), God still calls people through His word.
There are four calls revealed by Scripture and each one is as genuine and Divine today as they were in the past. And I'd like to share with you what these four calls are.
1. The Call to Salvation
18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:18-20
15And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:15-16
This is a call made to every single person in the world. It is the call to believe in God and His divine Son, Jesus Christ. It is a call to accept His sacrifice as our payment for sin. It is a call to express our belief by repenting of our sins and being baptized in His name. It is not spectacular or miraculous as "calls" go. We usually hear it:
- In a lesson from a preacher.
- An invitation to church by a family member.
- A passage of scripture we read.
- A pulling of our conscience urging us to do the right thing and be baptized.
But the call to be saved is the most important message we will ever hear from anyone because it speaks to the condition of our souls for all eternity. Some have asked me why I became a preacher, what was the motivation.
I became a Christian because I sincerely believed Romans 3:23; 6:23 that without Jesus Christ people would go to hell forever, that meant me. I became a preacher because I believed what Paul said in Romans 1:20, ignorance is not an excuse. The idea that people were lost and didn't know it haunted me until I decided that someone had to call them and it might as well be me. For 2,000 years, and until the end of time this first call - to be saved - has first been made by the Apostles and their disciples and since then by every generation of Christians to their world. The call of the gospel is the first priority of the Church and the first responsibility of each individual.
2. The Call to Sanctification
9Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
- I Corinthians 6:9-11
The gospel of Christ calls us to believe and in believing we are united to Jesus and saved from the consequences of our sins. Our sins deserve punishment; Jesus suffers that punishment on the cross on our behalf so we don't have to. But being saved from the consequences of our sins doesn't change the fact that we have a habit of sinning, a habit that is well engraved in our hearts and mind and lifestyle.
In other words, baptism washes away our sins and saves us from hell but it doesn't change our character or habits. The Holy Spirit helps us do that. In Acts 2:38 Peter says,
Repent and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit begins the call to sanctification which is a draw to live a holy and pure life that is like that of Jesus Christ. Every time we are confronted with our sins, every time we become aware of a better way to act, each time we experience the desire to be more like Jesus we are hearing the call to sanctification.
The word "sanctify" means to set apart. It was an Old Testament word that referred to the holy things and people that were set apart by God for special use. The gospel calls us to turn away from disbelief and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord. Sanctification is the call to leave the habits, sins, attitude of the world and embrace the character concern and quality of life demonstrated by Jesus Christ. The gospel calls us to be saved by believing in Jesus; Sanctification calls upon us to remain saved by living like Jesus Christ.
3. The Call to Service
43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
- Acts 2:43-45
6Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
- Romans 12:6-8
The old saying is true - we have been saved to serve. Some, however, have the wrong idea about service.
- We don't serve in order to save ourselves, the cross of Christ has accomplished all of that for us.
- We don't serve in order to make ourselves better people, denying sin and self is what makes us better.
- We serve God in Christ because - it is our natural response to His kindness in calling us out of the world.
- We serve because Jesus served and this is the best way to demonstrate His love
- We serve in order to build the church and provide the resources to maintain the call of God to all Nations.
Sanctification (purifying our lives) is to become like Jesus by avoiding the things He avoided; Service is to become like Jesus by doing the things that He did. Today the call to service is heard:
- Every time volunteers are called for.
- Every time the phone rings for help.
- Every time you see a need and realize you have the resources to fill the need.
- Every time you experience the prompting of the Holy Spirit; the encouragement of the brethren, the urge of your own conscience to say, "Here I am Lord, send me.".
The call to service is seen by some as a nuisance, an inconvenience, and expense, something to avoid - that's because the call to sanctification has been ignored (sinful Christians don't like to serve). For those who are purifying their lives, the call to service is the opportunity to please God by offering something of ourselves. For those who have answered the call to sanctification the call to service is usually the answer to a prayer, not something they feel guilty about if they don't do it.
4. The Call to Suffering
This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.
- II Thessalonians 1:5
11It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
- II Timothy 2:11-12
I think most Christians are familiar with the ideas that we are called to be saved, to be sanctified (in other words to grow and mature in the character of Christ) and called to serve. But so many are surprised, even angry and depressed when as Christians they encounter opposition, inconvenience, trials and persecution. What a poor use of our spiritual energy when we see our sufferings as a waste of time. Some think that being sick, losing our work, encountering opposition makes us lose our value as Christians.
Paul tells us that suffering all by itself, regardless of the circumstances, if done in the Spirit of Christ – is worthy of receiving our place in heaven. It's not that we can trade in our pain for our salvation - that's a work and no flesh is justified by works. The point is that suffering in Christ is equal in value to service in Christ or sanctification in Christ. If what your life is about right now is suffering, struggling – then that is what God has called you to for the moment. And if suffering is what we've been called to at the moment then we must respond in faithfulness and obedience just like when we respond to salvation or service – for He is the Lord of suffering as well.
The Four Calls in Common
The calls come at different times and in different ways but they all have three things in common:
A. They all come from God Himself. Know that when the preacher calls you to repent and be baptized or urges you to be restored – God Himself is calling you. Know that when your heart desires to be right with Christ – God Himself is calling you. Every time the word, the church, your conscience calls you to come to Christ; you have heard the voice of God calling you to salvation.
B. They are all calls for blessing or cursing. There's a simple division and decision in each one of the calls. Each response will bring blessings or curses.
- Salvation or condemnation
- Spirituality or carnality
- Growth or death
- Peace or turmoil
You can't ignore the calls, you must choose and failing to choose is choosing to reject. In the end each person will spend eternity regretting or rejoicing the response they have made to each of their calls.
C. They are all urgent. The calling is gentle, direct and at times dramatic - but it won't always be there. The call to be saved will stop abruptly when you die or when Jesus comes. The call to sanctification is extinguished as we continue in sin and worldliness. Some people get confused thinking that if their conscience doesn't bother them any more when they sin, it must mean that it's okay with God. If your conscience doesn't bother you when you sin it means that God no longer controls you - Satan does.
The call to service, if ignored will no longer find our ear. The call to suffering for Christ can be drowned out by our anger and depression. Each call must be answered now if we are to receive the blessings attached.
Every day in a variety of ways God is calling each one of us. The question is, "are we listening, are we responding to Him. Which call are you hearing tonight?
- Is the Lord calling you to be saved?
- Is the Lord calling you to purify some aspect of your life, walk with Him more deeply than ever before?
- Is God calling you to serve Him in some way you never have before, or with a new attitude? Perhaps join this congregation to serve him?
- Is God calling your attention to the fact that your suffering is valuable to Him and that you should submit to it in faith and patience?