What is God’s calling?

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According to some, every believer is called. But others say that God’s calling represents something which is superior to that basic calling. This becomes clear when a calling from God is required to be able to fulfill specific functions, offices or ministries within His people. But what is such a calling from God actually? What is written about it in the Bible?

In general (non-spiritual) sense a calling is a certain inner conviction to achieve something special. For example, in society or for oneself. This is seen as a calling, because it is not a temporal thing but remains someone’s inner conviction over the long term. To image oneself as being born for something or at least to have a great talent for something.

In Biblical sense a calling doesn’t originate from a human being, but comes from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God calls a certain person for a specific purpose, a particular function or task through His Spirit. It is assumed that God already had His Eye on that person prior to the calling.

That a calling originates from God cannot always immediately be distinguished from the general calling which originates from a human being. An important criterion is how someone thinks to have received God’s calling. A calling which only originates from a human being – the general calling – is useless to God.

The spiritual calling develops an inner aspiration in a human being, although it originates outside that human. It is God that develops and maintains it. The inner certainty supposedly will follow that for which God had called that person. Depended on its obedience to the calling, God will grant that person the necessary gifts and talents. Whoever has a Biblical calling is led by the Holy Spirit for that particular calling.

Word study
In the Bible the first spiritual calling for a certain office mentioned is that of Moses. He was literally called by God (Ex 3:4). This is expressed by the Hebrew word qara‘ – calling/naming. The spiritual calling of Moses is further specified by the calling of Bezaleel (31:2). He is to make the parts of the tabernacle as a skilled worker. Another example is the Judge-prophet Samuel (1 S 3:10). God also stated that He called the people of Israel (Is 42:6; 43:1; 55:4).

In the New Testament (NT) the Greek word klesis, from the verb kaleo – calling, is used to express God’s calling (Rm 11:29). But the word klesis is in the NT almost always used for that what precedes a conversion. The emphases then is upon the state in which the convert then was (Rm 11:29).

Another meaning which klesis has is that of being invited to join His people. These are quite different meanings then the spiritual calling for a certain purpose or function (Mt 22:14); the main issue of this article.

Listening to God’s calling
It is certainly important to test each inner conviction whether it really originates from God’s calling and not from one’s own ambition. So, normally a calling is only just obeyed after prayer and contemplation. It may be expected that God will make Himself known and (more and more) clarity will follow about what the calling entails.

Thus, preceding confirmations can help to get certainty about a calling. But certainty can sometimes come from confirmations while acting out a calling (Acts 5:38-39). Doing what a calling requires is a holy cause, since the calling comes from God and serves a purpose for Him. So, also during the performance of the calling a believer still needs to be tuned onto God’s calling.

The believer needs to let itself be guided and eventually be corrected by (the Spirit of) God. When all goes well a calling develops during its course. It is complementary to and depended on spiritual growth.

In general sense God is not dependent on whether a believer answers His call. He wants to grant it to someone and that person needs to do its best in His plan of salvation. If that person pertinently refuses, then He will call someone else.

Power of the calling
A calling characterizes itself in remarkable perseverance and tenaciousness. If that is lacking, then it seems that it’s not a calling but a whim. Someone with a calling stands out. Not only is such a person fully at its place in that calling, but also has vigor and effectiveness. The believer is ‘energized’ by God (Ri 13:25). The believer knows how to achieve goals or at least is successful in its performance of the calling, but can also fail and/or make mistakes.

It’s not strange that those which Christianity nowadays regards as ‘saints’ or believers of great stature often were believers with a spiritual calling. They had exceptional influence which was remembered by many generations.

This power of the calling is a combination of human talents and those of the Holy Spirit which also work complementary. God uses the personal talents for the calling. In a sense a certain person is called for a particular calling in a particular setting.

It’s an idle activity to try to distinguish the human aspect of a calling from that which is of the Holy Spirit and specify that. The power of the calling of a believer is a sign of the special mercy of God which He works through people.

Different levels of calling
Someone who is called by God for a certain calling can also receive other callings. How do those relate to each other? The following levels of calling exist:

1. Basic calling of faith
Every human being will be called by God prior to becoming a believer. A human being needs to confirm that calling by accepting faith, live according to it and seek spiritual growth. Many are called, but few are chosen (Mt 22:14).

2. Elementary callings
God will use each believer for elementary callings, when a certain growth in faith is reached and responsibilities associated with it have become daily routines. An example of an elementary calling is basic evangelization, both within and outside the people of God.

3. Temporary callings
Depending on the needs within a (local) community of believers within God’s people a believer can be called by God to accept a (temporary) calling. For example, leadership or being an assistant/helper. These callings belong to the exceptional callings.

4. Calling for an office
The (local) community of believers within God’s people is equipped with the offices mentioned in the Bible, like that of an elder (shepherd), for which a believer needs to be called by God.

Offices are special callings within God’s people. They are internal functions. Someone often exercises an office over several decades (a set period) and that ends due to age of the believer or changed needs and developments within of the community of believers. This calling belongs to the exceptional fixed callings.

5. Calling for a ministry
The (local) community of believers within God’s people is equipped with ministries mentioned in the Bible, such as a holistic evangelist, which requires an exceptional calling by God of a believer. People (in the past) sometimes have confused offices with ministries, but ministries are far less fenced-off and fixed then offices. But a ministry doesn’t exclude an office. Someone who holds a ministry of God can also hold an office and vice versa.

The difference between an office and a ministry is that the latter is a special calling for God’s people which can be both an internal and an external function and have multiple functionalities. Someone often exercises a ministry over a longer period depending on age of the believer holding it. A ministry asks quite a lot of the person called for it, but ministers mostly do function very long in their ministry. This calling belongs to the exceptional comprehensive callings.

One of the most important ministries is that of a missionary. Not be confused with the office of apostle. The calling of a missionary is being sent by God. Such minister is not only involved with the establishment and strengthening of the (local) community of believers, but above all being focused on evangelization (reaching those outside of God’s people). The missionary not only has extraordinary knowledge of the Bible and its wisdom, but also has great knowledge of human beings and insight in the (spiritual) world. Sometimes they also fulfill a temporary calling, like miracle worker, announcer of prophecies or being a healer.

Ending a calling
Contrary to what is believed, namely that a specific calling stays with a person until one dies, special (and thus also exceptional) callings do always end. The confusion arises when a believer with a certain calling dies while practicing the calling. It turns out that an extraordinary great number of martyrs under the believers had a special calling. But that believers practicing a calling die shouldn’t be a surprise, since ‘the world’ is turned against God.

In some Christian denominations also a ridiculous and also unbecoming rule exists stating that those holding an office or ministry will (have to) keep executing their exceptional calling until they die. That points to the fact that these do not distinguish levels of callings. The only callings which actually can remain until death are the basic and the elementary callings.

So, exceptional callings will be ended by God. This can happen in a natural way, for example that a believer reaches a certain age (Nm 8:25) or when the set goals for it are met (Jz 11:23). In that way a certain exceptional calling can also become available for others.

Each calling, of whichever level, can also be ended by God when the called person goes against that calling by doing sin and/or rebelling against the responsibility of the calling (Nm 20:12, 24). Some however think, that God doesn’t allow (in the New Covenant) that a believer can go against its calling, since that person would then also go against God which supposedly is impossible. This thinking is based on the dogma of the almighty power of God.

But nowhere in the Bible is it written that God calls people as robots or that He behaves as a tyrant to them. The opposite seems true. So, (believing) people can, in the Eyes of God, go too far in rebelling against Him.

If God takes someone’s calling away, other that the natural way, this often leads to very negative consequences. The (believing) person in question experiences the loss in the power of the calling and sometimes also the loss of the Holy Spirit. This will not only give a great disappointment, but sometimes also a deeper and further resistance and openly rebellion against God and His will.

People who fall away from faith not seldom become convinced enemies of God. This has to do with vanity (haughtiness) of humans. They experience the punishment of God as unjust and treason to their person, although God only acted in the interest of His people and to uphold His order.