Types of God’s Calling

Article / Produced by TOW Project

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

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

Romans 1:6

…including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:28

All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

1 Timothy 2:4

[God] desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20

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

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

Understanding God's Call on Our Lives (Click to listen)

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

John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975, 2008), 48-54.

The Universal Call to Work

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Before we can discuss the possibility of God’s guidance to a particular kind of work, we must recognize both that God created people to work and that he commands people to work to the degree they are able. At the beginning of the Bible, God builds work into the essence of humanity. He creates people in his own image, and he himself is a worker. He puts Adam in the garden for the purpose of working it. Later, in various parts of scripture, God commands all people to work to the degree they are able. Work continues through to the very end of the Bible. There is work in the Garden of Eden, and there is work in the New Heaven/New Earth.

Genesis 1:27-28

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Genesis 2:15,19-20

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.….So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

Exodus 20:9

Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

2 Thess. 3:10

For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

Revelation 21:24-26

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 

Isaiah 65:21-22

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

Based on these passages, we could say that everyone is “called” to work, as long as we recognize that in this sense “called” really means “created” and “commanded” to work. God created you as a worker, and he commands you to work, even if he doesn’t mail you a specific job offer. It can be difficult to discern the particular work God may be calling you to, but there can be no doubt that he made you as a worker and that he expects you to work, to the degree you are able.

Calling to Life, Not Only to Work

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Although we are focusing on God’s call to work, work is only one element of life. God calls us to belong to Christ in every element of our lives.

Colossians 3:17

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Our jobs are not necessarily the most important aspect of our calling or our service in Christ’s work of redemption. First, we must remember that work is not limited to paid work. The work God leads us to may be unpaid work, such as raising children or caring for a disabled family member or tutoring students after school. Even if we are called to paid work, God probably doesn’t call many of us to jobs that would prevent us from also serving others through unpaid work.

Even if you have a paid job, the most important work God calls you to may be outside your job. Your job may meet your need for money — which in itself fulfills part of God’s command to work — but it may not fulfill all the other purposes God has for your work. We have seen that caring for children and for aged or incapacitated people is a kind of work, and many people who do it also have another paid job. On the other hand, a so-called hobby could be the most important work God is leading you to. You might work at writing, painting, music, acting, astronomy, leading a youth group, volunteering at a historical society, maintaining a nature reserve or a thousand other kinds of work. If something like this is your calling, you will probably engage it in a more serious way than someone else to whom it is a leisure activity, yet you may still earn your living in some other way. There is a distinction between work and leisure.[1] But any given activity could be work — paid or unpaid — for one person, and leisure for another.

Second, we must take care not to let work dominate the other elements of life. Even if God leads you to a particular job or profession, you will need to set limits to that work to make room for the other elements of God’s call or guidance in your life. If God leads you to be married and to be a small business owner, for example, then you will have to balance the time and responsibilities of both callings. Work should not crowd out leisure, rest and worship. There is no formula for balancing work and the other elements of life. But take care not to let a sense of calling to a job blind you to God’s calling in the other areas of life. For more on this, see the TOW Project article "Rest and Work."

God’s Guidance to Particular Work

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At this point, we are now able to delve into the possibility of God’s guidance to a particular task, job, career or type of work. We have seen that:

  1. Everyone is called to belong to Christ and to participate in his creative and redemptive work.
  2. Everyone is commanded to work to the degree they are able.
  3. God calls us to a whole life, not just to a job.

Putting these together leads us to conclude that your profession is probably not God’s highest concern for you. God is much more concerned that you come under the saving grace of Christ and participate in his work of creation and redemption, whatever your job may be. Exactly what kind of work you do is a lower-level concern.

Although getting us into the right job or career is not God’s highest concern, that doesn’t mean it is of no concern. In fact, the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit is to guide and empower people for the life and work to which God leads them. In the Old Testament, God gave people the skills needed for their work on occasion, as we have seen with Bezalel and Oholiab in the building of the tabernacle. But now the Spirit routinely guides believers to particular work and gives them the skills they need (1 Corinthians 12:7-10).[1] He provides guidance for both what kind of work people do and how to do that work.

Read on to explore how God guides people to particular work

The Steering Committee of the Theology of Work Project regards all gifts, skills and talents as coming from God. The gifts of the Spirit discussed in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14, Romans chapter 12, Ephesians 4:11-16, and 1 Peter 4:10-12) are not limited to the particular abilities listed in those passages. Nor are they limited only to uses in the church. This article does not attempt to prove this position, but merely to acknowledge it. For more, see the discussion of 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 in 1 Corinthians and Work at www.theologyofwork.org.