We will have forsaken the world to follow our Lord Jesus if we are genuine believers. And surely we will want to find out the purpose of life that God has for us. Eph 2:10 tells us that when we are created in Christ Jesus, God has prepared beforehand we shall walk in good works which we will surely want to discover.
Whenever we talk about God’s will, we are actually talking about His guidance, or calling or ministry for us. The three distinct initiatives of God refer to His directing of our faith journey, His calling, and the service He places us in His Kingdom respectively.
(The material is gleaned from the book, The Disciple, by John Stott with Tim Chester and I took the liberty to paraphrase it.)
It is essential to differentiate between God’s general and particular will first. God’s general will for all believers is Christlikeness. Rom 8:28-29. Particular will concerns decisions such as finding life-work or spouse. Though there are general guidelines or principles laid out in Scripture, specific answers are not given. Take the example of marriage. There are principles concerning marriage, yet Scripture will not tell us whether you should get married or remain single, or which man or woman you should marry.
How can we discover God’s particular will ?
- Yield. Without surrendering our will to God, how is God going to reveal to us ? God will only guide the humble.
- Pray. How bad we really want to know ? Only persistent and sincere prayer reveals our desire to seek His will. And God grants us wisdom generously when we ask for it. James 1:5.
- Seek. Wisdom can come from God through godly counsel : parents or brothers and sisters in God’s family.
- Weigh. Although we yield, pray and seek advice, we must ultimately make the decision ourselves. God does not want us to be like horses or mules without understanding, that is, without exercising our rational minds as we weigh the pros and cons.
- Wait. From Scripture, we learned that most heroes of faith got their guidance after a lengthy period of time. From experience, more mistakes are made in haste or rather than in delay.
God called us according to His purpose. Rom 8:28. It is a more of a calling to a Person rather than to do something. It is a wonderful fact that God cares enough to call us personally and individually. We are called to belong to Jesus Christ and to embrace and enjoy all blessings in our Lord Jesus. Like guidance, we have to differentiate between general calling and particular calling.
What is God’s general calling ?
- We are called to fellowship with Jesus Christ. Rom 1:6. Eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ. God calls us to know and enjoy Him and Jesus Christ.
- We are called to freedom. Gal 5:13. We are free from the condemnation of the law through God’s forgiveness and acceptance into Christ our Lord. We are free from guilt, or a guilty conscience. However it is not freedom to sin or freedom from social responsibilities. It is such a paradox that it is only through serving that we become free.
- We are called to peace. Col 3:15. Scripture is not referring to peace of mind but to peace (shalom) of reconciliation with one another in the one Body of Christ. We are not only called to belong to Jesus our Lord but also to God’s people.
- We are called to holiness. Since God is holy, He also call us to be holy. Holiness is not a false image of detached spiritual piety, but a lively Christlikeness lived out in the world.
- We are called to witness. We are all called to be missionaries. Matt 28:19-20. We have obtained mercy through the gospel of our Lord Jesus and we ought to share this blessing with the unsaved.
- We are called to suffering. Because we are called out of the world by our Lord, the world will hate us. John 15:18-19. The world hates our Lord because He had testified against her evil works. John 7:7. We are called to share in the suffering of our Lord. Rom 8:16-18.
- We are called to glory. It was through suffering that our Lord entered into glory and it will be the same for us. If we share in our Lord’s suffering, we will also share in His glory. God is not calling us for this life only, but also for all eternity in the new universe to come.
In short, the Christian calling is to be called to belong to Christ in this life and beyond, to love one another in the peace of his new community, and to serve, witness and suffer in the world.
If God’s general calling is to be free, holy and Christlike, God’s particular calling relates to our individual different vocation. 1 Cor 7:20 and 24 tell us that we should remain in the condition in which we are called. In the context of 1 Corinthian epistle, Paul gave 3 examples of remaining in our domestic situation, whether married or single, in our cultural situation, whether Jewish or Gentile, and in our social situation, whether slaves or free. Paul had to remind the Corinthian converts then because they believed they ought to change their situation since nothing in their old life could be retained after becoming a new creation in Christ.
Martin Luther said,”Those who are now called ‘spiritual’, that is, priests, bishops or popes, are neither different from other Christians nor superior to them, except that they are charged with the administration of the word of God and the sacraments, which is their work and office.”
Every believer must benefit and serve every other by means of his own work or office, so that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community. 1 Cor 12:14-26.
William Perkins, a Puritan, said,”The action of a shepherd in keeping sheep…is as good a work before God as is the action of a judge in giving sentence, or of a magistrate in ruling, or a minister in preaching. Thus then we see there is good reason why we would search how every man is rightly to use his particular calling.”
These 2 callings should be pursued in balance to serve our Lord Jesus and to serve others. We must bear in mind that God does not work in us only after conversion, but He is at work in us even before our birth in our genetic inheritance, and then later in our temperament, personality, education and skills. God’s sovereignty over us is not only on our spirituality, but also over all sections of our lives.
Discipleship is never an option. We are all called to be disciples of Jesus our Lord. As disciples, surely we will want to know how best we can serve in the Kingdom of our Lord. Like guidance and vocation, we need to distinguish between a general and a particular ministry.
- We are all called to ministry. That is, we are all called to serve. It is the privilege of every disciple. Due to the unbiblical clergy-laity divide, it is sad that many believe ministry only belongs to the pastors and fulltime church workers.
- There is a wide variety of ministries. That is, there are many ways we can serve God and people. In Acts 6:1-4, we learned that both distribution of food and teaching of word were considered as ministry. Even for the distribution of food, we learned that 7 Spirit-filled persons were chosen for that responsibility. There should be no distinction in all ministries whether one is spiritual or secular, superior or inferior, pastoral or social. All believers need to see their daily work as their primary ministry in penetrating secular environment for Christ and glorifying Him in the process.
- The particular ministry to which we are called is likely to be determined by our given gifts. God is not a random Creator; He has not given us natural and spiritual gifts only to be wasted. God has created us as individual unique persons. So each one of us should ask ourselves how best we can serve Christ and others with the present gifts we have without them going to be wasted.