3 Lessons From Paul About Walking in Our God-Given Calling

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We hear the word “calling” thrown around in both the church and the secular community, but what exactly does it mean to walk in our calling?

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, calling is defined as “a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.” I find it so interesting that “conviction of divine influence” is included in their definition. Truly, not every dictionary includes acknowledgement that calling has to do with the divine. “Calling” in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a strong urge towards a particular way of life or career; a vocation.”

While a secular dictionary may have a variance of definitions of the word — some with reference to God and some not — calling in biblical terms is a divinely initiated invitation to live out God’s purposes for our lives. According to Holman Bible Dictionary, calling is an “invitation, summons, commission, or naming.” As this definition suggests, calling means not only to be called to an area of service, but it is also an invitation and a naming. When we are called by God, we are told a piece of our identity and purpose in Him.

To further understand the word “calling” in terms of Christian service, it is also helpful to look at how the word “apostle” is used in the Bible. Paul speaks on numerous occasions of his calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles. His use of the word “apostle” is key in helping even those of us not necessarily called to plant churches or travel as missionaries understand our own callings. “Apostle” means “sent” or “one who is sent out.” Just as Paul was chosen by God to preach to the Gentiles, we, as Christians have also been “sent” and commissioned by God to a particular area of service by God — and He is the One that reveals that to us (Ephesians 2:10).

In Galatians, Paul essentially gives us the blueprint of what calling in biblical terms looks like. Though he is writing with the purpose of defending his apostleship against the accusations of false teachers and seeking to correct the church and uphold the Gospel, we can gain so much from looking at his words about what it means to live out our God-given callings and retain the right focus in the process.

3 Things We Can Learn From Paul About Calling:

1. Our calling comes from God.

In Galatians 1:1, Paul starts his letter to the Galatians by identifying himself as “Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”

Paul’s words may seem arrogant, but he says what he does not to put himself on a pedestal but defend his apostleship against attacks from others who claimed he wasn’t a real apostle and establish to his readers the greater power behind his calling.

As we see here by Paul’s words, our calling by God is that which is initiated by God and gives us the foundation to do what we are doing. Not only is our calling that which gives us the authority to do what we are doing, it also helps us continue along the right course when the going gets tough. How so? When we look further into the word “apostle,” not only does it mean “sent,” a further shade of meaning exists. As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary suggests, “apostle” is one given a task to fulfill, but the emphasis is on the one who sends, not one sent.

When we are starting out, bogged down in the middle, or trying to make a good finish in our calling, we may feel like we don’t have what it takes. Though we are called by God and are given authority to do what He has called us to do, our ability to do what He has called us to is not based on who we are but on who He is. Paul says this later in Galatians 6:14 when he says he boasts of nothing but the cross.

Calling is that which always starts with God and is meaningful because it is done in His power and authority. So, in places where we question our ability or have others questioning us, we can always draw on the fact that we are doing what we are doing because God calls us — and the emphasis isn’t on us so much on us as the “sent” as it is on Him who sends us.

2. Our message comes from God.

Not only does Paul emphasize that his calling comes from God, he also emphasizes that his message is from God as well. Note what he says in Galatians 1:11: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it: rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

Again, we must remember that Paul says what he does here to defend himself against attacks against him. In addition, we should note that we are in a different position than Paul in that the Bible has been written in its entirety at this point in history and given to us for our instruction. Paul, on the other hand, was in a unique position in that he received revelation from Jesus to write a good portion of the New Testament. However, what we can take away from Paul’s words is that we, too, carry to others the Gospel which is not a mere work of men, but the divine words of God.

Just as our call is not our own or given by men — neither can our message be man-made. While we may be tempted after our call to go and do our own thing with our God-given talents and abilities, we must always remember that we do what we do in God’s power. We have a responsibility to stay attached to God (as it is only through His power that we do what we do) and ensure our message is that which is in line with the Gospel.

Certainly, there are false prophets that minister in God’s name that declare a gospel that departs from the Gospel given to us in the Bible, but as the IVP Commentary points out, we are only valid apostles (or those sent out by God) as long as our message and mission align with the Gospel. The IVP Commentary says the following about Paul: “His apostolic power is not arbitrary; it is only valid as long as he adheres to the true gospel.”

3. We are accountable to God.

As I’ve alluded to in my previous two points, it might make our heads swell a bit if we focus too much on the “called by Christ with a message from God” theme only when it comes to walking in our calling and leave out the important idea that though we have been called to serve others using our spiritual gifts and share the Gospel of Christ, when we do so, not only do we need to align ourselves with the Gospel — we are always under the authority of Christ.

According to 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (check out 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 for a more complete idea of the different types of gifts), it says this:

There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

If we notice in this verse, there are different kinds of service and working — but the same Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts that we are to use, but although different, they are all used in service to God, under His authority.

As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. We aren’t given a great mantle of authority and sent out to be Christ’s representatives without the heavy responsibility that comes with such a directive of staying aligned with God and His Word with how we use our gifts and live out our call.

This also means we don’t just preach the message of the Gospel and know it to tell others. We have to live it out. In Galatians 1:12-24, Paul points to his own conversion story to show his 180 degree turn from his former life. He urges other Christians to consider how he has lived out the Christian life. I love what the IVP Commentary says on this point:

He [Paul] does not call on his readers [the church members of Galatia] to do anything he has not done himself. He does not simply point to the way; he has lived out the way of faithfulness to the Gospel of Christ. We might well learn from Paul that the best way to challenge others to live for Christ is by our own example.

Conclusion: Our Calling Always Points Back to God

As I mentioned previously, some dictionaries do not reference God when it comes to the definition of calling, simply stating that calling is more about our own impulse toward a certain direction. The difference in a secular definition of calling and a biblical definition challenges us because the definition of pursuing a course of action without divine influence is how many live out their lives.

As Christians, even as we know that calling comes from God, there is always going to be the temptation to define our own calling and use our gifts the way we see fit, as the world does. Yet, as we see with Paul’s discussion of calling and apostleship, which can very much be applied to our lives as Christians as well, walking in our calling is that which is not only initiated and sustained by God — it is that which points back to God.

Acts 17:28 tells us, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Similarly, we are told in John 15:5 that it is by remaining in Him that we accomplish what we were designed to accomplish. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

In Hebrews 3:1 Christ is referred to as an apostle because He was “sent” by the Father to complete a specific mission. As Baker’s observes, just as Christ was sent, He sent out disciples — “thus, all apostleship finds its meaning in Jesus the Apostle, sent by God to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).” Even if we don’t know what that our specific calling is yet, we continue to walk in God’s will and use our gifts to serve others and allow God to show us our purposes in Him.

If we do know our calling, we may be excited by the great assignment God has given us, but with that assignment comes the task of remembering we have been called because of God’s grace and not our own ability. Our message is not our own and must adhere to the Gospel, and lastly, we must preach this Gospel message not just with our words but with our lives.

Though we have been given the awesome task of acting as those “sent” and chosen by God to fulfill whatever task He has called us to fulfill, we are never outside of the boundaries of the Gospel or God’s hand — and this keeps us humble in the process of carrying out our call.

Related Resources:

This is the second episode in our series “Staying True to Your Calling.” Check out Part 1: Being Bold in Our God-Given Calling last week where we explored what it means to boldly declare your identity in Christ and what He is doing in your life and not hide who you are to please others or fit in.

Not yet a follower of Jesus Christ? Check out our Know God page to learn more about what it means to accept salvation or send us an email through the Contact page. We would love to hear from you!

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

1. The use of word “apostle” in the Bible that denoted a person authorized to fulfill certain function that emphasized one who sends, not one sent — taken from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary (as cited above in the article).

2. Correction: The Galatians 6:15 reference in the podcast (when Paul says he only boasts in the cross) can actually be found in Galatians 6:14.

*Updated March 16, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Being Bold in Our God-Given Calling

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“I don’t think she likes me,” I thought to myself as I surveyed the expression of a woman in my Bible study. Whether this dislike from the other woman was real or imagined, I found myself feeling conflicted about sharing during our discussion that day.

I had a specific story that popped in my mind as we discussed the lesson, but I wrestled with the following thought: Would this story be one that would further this person’s negative (in my estimation) view of me or one that would gain me more friends in the group? I wanted to stay silent, but I knew I wasn’t going to grow if I didn’t attempt to share my struggles and be vulnerable with the women in my group. I wasn’t going to add anything to the class by being a mute.

So, I launched into my story. But all the way home I thought about if I should have said some comments differently or remained silent.

Sometimes my insecurity and fear that others will reject me causes me to clam up. I can remember times when I was laughed at or failed in some embarrassing way, and I still struggle to be present and show up and be myself in relationships when it feels easier and safer to hide. Can you relate?

You hide parts of yourself or your story that might be rejected or even hide that you are a Christian around those who might reject you. It feels too hard sometimes to be who we really are, say what we really think, share what we are really going through, and/or openly declare to the world that we are Christians.

Of course, we need to use wisdom in our speech. We should think about what words are exiting our mouths and edit or delete some of our thoughts before they ever make their way into our speech. We should also use wisdom and discernment in our actions around others. There were times that Jesus chose not to minister openly in public because He did not want to catch the attention of authorities who wanted to kill Him. Yet, in certain situations, we shouldn’t delete ourselves or edit who God has called us to be to present ourselves as a more socially acceptable package to others.

Jesus Boldly Walked in His Calling

In John 8:12, we see how Jesus boldly lived out His identity. In this passage He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

At first glance, these words may not seem profound in terms of revealing who Jesus was. As modern-day Christians, we are quite familiar with the idea that Jesus is the light of the world. However, to Jesus’ audience of the day, these words were bold indeed. Jesus spoke these words either during or right after the Festival of Tabernacles, which commemorated God’s deliverance and provision when Israel was in the wilderness

During the festival, a lamp-lighting ceremony took place every night in which large lamps in the Court of Women were lit. These lights would remind the Israelites of God providing a pillar of fire to follow in the desert. With His statement, Jesus points to Himself as the true light of the world, or “pillar of fire” that should be followed — possibly one evening while these lamps were lit, or shortly after the festival, when these images would be fresh in his listeners’ minds.

Earlier, Jesus identifies Himself as living water (John 7:37). With these words, just as with His description of Himself as the “light of the world,” Jesus uses an image from the festival. At the festival, priests dipped pitchers into a pool of water and poured the water on the altar to celebrate God’s provision of water to Israel in the desert. By saying He is the Source of water, Jesus claims to be God because it was God who gave the Jews water in the wilderness. With both His claims to be living water and the light of the world, Jesus essentially reveals He is the Messiah. Obviously, there were going to be those present in the crowd who had a problem with Jesus’ claims, and they were not shy about speaking up.

Immediately after claiming to be the light of the world, the Pharisees challenge the validity of his claim. Jesus maintains His stance with the Pharisees, replying: “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I come from and where I am going … I stand with the Father, who sent me” (John 8:14, 16). Later, before He slips away, He brings His statements about who He is to a climax by saying, “Very truly I till you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).

What can we learn from Jesus’ bold proclamation of identity?

1. We should never hide the person God has called us to be.

God has chosen us for different callings, but the ways He uses us can often be unusual, and we may try to dilute our purpose and the giftings He has given us around those who may stare at us and call us strange. However, Jesus never compromised who He was to fit in. He was secure enough in His identity that He didn’t need to have the approval of others to feel good about Himself and knew that in order to do His Father’s will, He needed to walk in His identity and purpose — and we must do the same. I love what Ann Voskamp shares on this point in a recent blog post:

You are not too much. You do not have to disappear. This can change all the things beating loud in your heart. To feel the truth of this … Don’t take it down a few notches. Take risks — and take all of you to the table. It can feel terrifying — but it is far more terrifying to live anything less than being fully seen — so his work can be fully seen in you.

2. We must be prepared for opposition.

Jesus didn’t run away from opposition, He was prepared for it and met it head-on . Similarly, we needn’t hide our identity but be prepared to answer those who challenge us, knowing that our answers may sway their opinion and even cause some to come to Christ (1 Peter 3:15, 16). While the Pharisees weren’t swayed by Jesus, there were those in the crowd listening to their exchange that came to believe (John 7:31).

Recently, I went to lunch with some individuals that had different religious beliefs than my own. I went into the lunch confident of my biblical knowledge, but was stunned to find them very well-versed in certain Bible verses and slinging out verses that I had not previously studied. While we won’t always know in advance what people will say and know how to respond to every accusation or point that our opposers raise, we can and should prepare ourselves for opposition by knowing God’s Word and different belief systems we may encounter. Jesus calmly answered back with truth. He wasn’t flustered by the Pharisees’ comments. He didn’t run. He took the time to explain and answer their questions so they could understand, but He wasn’t taken aback or unprepared when the opposition came.

3. We need to rely on God’s view of us.

It’s easy to look at a passage of Scripture such as this where Jesus announces who He is and then gets attacked for it and not get the full weight of what Jesus experienced, but if we place ourselves in His shoes, we can imagine just how stressful constant opposition must have been. Jesus was accused of being demon-possessed, working in Satan’s power, you name it. Yet, Jesus never forgot the One who had sent Him or His purpose.

We, too, friend, must always rest on this foundation or else we will easily get discouraged, rattled, or doubtful about our own calling when we are constantly surrounded by those who disagree with the Gospel message, question our calling, or tell us that we don’t have what it takes. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the truth of how the Father sees us or we will collapse in the face of crushing opposition.

To clarify, though, being ourselves isn’t a justification to act in sinful ways and do whatever we want. In today’s society, you’ll hear people defend bad behavior or sinful choices with, “This is just who I am,” or “I am just being me.” Unfortunately, these individuals use this defense for behavior that is harmful to themselves and others. A calling in biblical terms is that which is given by God and sustained by God, and thus, does not go against the principles in God’s Word.

The Reason Some Will Oppose Us

The truth is that when some oppose us, it won’t have anything to do with us. Jesus told the Pharisees later in the chapter that they could not recognize Him as Messiah because they did not belong to God, but rather, their Father the devil (John 8:42-47). Ouch! Many times when we are walking in our God-given calling, we will receive resistance, even from Christians.

Remember, the Pharisees weren’t heathens that didn’t believe in God. They were religious leaders that everyone looked up to and tried to emulate! Is it possible, then, that if we are walking with God and acting in His will that when some who claim to be believers oppose us, that these individuals are not walking in the light, but rather, walking in darkness? I have had conversations with individuals who claim to be Christians that believe errant doctrines about salvation and God, but these individuals have never accepted Jesus as their Savior and believe there is nothing wrong with adding to or deleting certain truths of Scripture.

Often, when we receive resistance from others, it will boil down to two things regarding these individuals: 1) They don’t know God or aren’t truly walking with Him in a relationship, and so, can’t accept truths from the Gospel. 2) They are walking with God, but haven’t yet encountered certain truths in Scripture. The Bible gives us guidelines for those scenarios where we disagree with fellow believers, telling us to be patient and understanding with new believers and make every attempt to live in unity with believers we don’t agree with (Romans 14:1; 1 Peter 3:8). However, in our attempt for unity, we shouldn’t cover over the truths of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t water down the truth, but instead, He offered the path to salvation to whomever was interested (even His enemies).

Conclusion:

In all scenarios, whether with unbelievers or fellow believers, we need to boldly live out who we are and declare what God is doing in our lives — confident that we are following the example of Jesus, who never tried to change or cover up who He was in order to fit in. Jesus always did the Father’s will, even if it meant inciting the fury or hatred of others. As Christ-followers, we must do the same.

Let’s pray: Lord, following you is tough. It will lead us to dicey situations where we want to cover up who we are and appear more likeable or “normal” to those around us. But You’ve called us to be different. You’ve called us to be a light to others and do what You’ve called us to even when we might be met with opposition or persecution. Help us follow Your example. You never took the easy road in order to save Yourself or fit in. You always did the hard but better thing in being truthful about Your identity. Help us do the same. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

This is the first post in a brand new series on calling. Check out the articles throughout the month for more on being true to your God-given calling. Leave a comment below on your God-given calling and where you currently are on the journey. We’d love to hear from you!

For a better understanding of the ideas in this article, read John 7 and 8 in its entirety.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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