As we saw yesterday, the first calling of the Christian – that which takes precedence over every other concept we might have concerning ourselves – is that we embrace what it means to belong to Christ as His own possession. Scripture will use various terminology to tease that idea out: Children (as belonging to their parents); servants, as belonging to their Master; creatures as belonging to their Creator; the Bride of Christ as belonging to Him in committed (spiritually) monogamous intimacy, and others. But belonging to Him first and foremost – and that, so as to be given to His plans and purposes.
If we were tease out the Bride of Christ motif just a bit, we could take it back to the original nature of Eve’s creation. She was made to be Adam’s “help meet.” One perfectly suited to come along side in his carrying out the mandates God had given to him. Serving together as one. So the Church. Uniquely crafted and given to Christ that we might come along side Him in His cosmic labors for the Father. But how often we are more intrigued by our own ministry – rather than seeing ourselves as vitally involved in His.
Today brings us to the second facet of the Christian’s calling – and one we’ve explored before so I’ll not expound on it much here. It is found in Romans 1:7 where Paul opens his letter with these words: “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”
“Called to be saints.” Holy ones. Set apart ones. Those who have a divine mandate to search out, and live out, the very character of God Himself. Called to be saints.
What a true tragedy it is when people do not see the calling to holiness as primary to any other calling they may truly have, or imagine. It is part and parcel of belonging to Christ. It is why 1 Peter 1:14-16 reads: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” We are to be holy because the One to whom we belong is holy. And because we are to “strive…for the holiness without which, no man shall see God.” (Heb. 12:14)
This does not mean we produce holiness out of ourselves. It means rather that being brought into right relationship with Christ in the new birth and justification, we find that the remnants of indwelling sin must be striven against by the power of the Spirit – every step of the way to glory. We strive to enter fully into what He has already given by grace, the way the Israelites were to strive to conquer the Canaan God had already given them. But strive we do. As J.C. Ryle said so well: “True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions. It is much more than tears, and sighs, and bodily excitement, and a quickened pulse, and a passionate feeling of attachment to our own favourite preachers and our own religious party, and a readiness to quarrel with every one who does not agree with us. It is something of “the image of Christ,” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings.” And that, not without something of our intentionality harmonizing with where God is bringing us.
Once again, Ryle writes: “The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians, is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or twice every week. But of the great spiritual warfare,—its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests,—of all this they appear to know nothing at all. Let us take care that this case is not our own. The worst state of soul is “when the strong man armed keepeth the house, and his goods are at peace,”—when he leads men and women “captive at his will,” and they make no resistance. The worst chains are those which are neither felt nor seen by the prisoner. (Luke 11:21; 2 Tim. 2:26.)”
The history of the Church is strewn with the wreckage of gifted men and women who thought holiness was optional, or that at the least, it took a back seat to the exercise of their gifts. How many gifted men in ministry have excelled there for a time, while their sinful, hidden lives were protected by those who thought the “ministry” was more important than the communication of Christ’s holiness? That somehow their individual ministry was more important than the reputation and ministry of Christ Himself! Think only in terms of our own generation and the litany of names of both national and international prominence in Evangelicalism which have scandalized the cause of Christ. And in every case, because striving after the holiness of God wasn’t a primary calling – something else was.
Beloved, give no thought to some individual calling, until you have wrestled with and obeyed the first calling of belonging wholly to Christ as His to use when, where and how He providentially sees fit and provides; and of pursuing the holiness He delivered you from sin to live freely in.