Examples of “Calling” in the New Testament

As the pages of history turned, the need for “calling” did not diminish. If anything, the requirement for human agents to accomplish specific, divine missions increased.

John the Baptist is a case in point. Called “from birth,” commissioned from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:5ff), John was bred for the work of announcing the Messiah. His entire life was devoted to his God-given commission. John (apparently) had little choice in the matter. He didn’t train as a priest (in the footsteps of his father) or as a carpenter (in the manner of his cousin). He was a prophet pure and simple, preparing himself for the day that the “Lamb of God” would appear by the Jordan for John to identify and proclaim. John himself explains that this was the purpose and reason for his entire ministry (John 1:31).

The Apostles provide yet another example of “calling.” In their case, the voice doing the calling was not a disembodied presence but the voice of God wrapped in the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus found Peter, Andrew, James, and John laboring in their boats, when he came across Matthew at his tax tables, when he bumped into Philip and subsequently met Nathaniel, he issued the same kind of call we find in Old Testament times: I have a mission to accomplish … I want you to help me do it … Come, follow me.” In each instance, the Apostles were confronted with the same decision facing Old Testament characters: should they listen to this call … should they accept? Like Moses before them, they thought the trajectory of their lives was set and ordinary: sheep-herding … fishing … tax-farming for the Romans. In each case, they were wrong. God had other plans. God needed them for his own business, not for theirs. And so, the call … the unexpected, intrusive, life-disrupting call.

No New Testament character so powerfully demonstrates the pattern of “calling” as does Saul/Paul. A Pharisee, member of the Sanhedrin, persecutor of the church, Paul’s life was set … his mind made up. Until God decided to brush Paul’s preferences aside and place a call on his life. The Damascus Road. The voice from heaven (“You will be told what you must do”—Acts 9:6). Three days of physical blindness and awful, spiritual insight. The instructions to Ananias (“This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name”—Acts 9:15). His commissioning words: “The God of our fathers has chosen you”—Acts 22:14.

But this was not the only time Paul heard the call of God on his life. Remember how the first missionary journey began, with the Holy Spirit intruding into a worship assembly: “”Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Remember the vision of the Macedonian Man, from which Paul concluded “that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10). Remember the dream at Corinth and the affirmation of Paul’s calling: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you …” (Acts 18:9-10).

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