Charting a Course for the Church
Part XII: Walking Worthy of the Calling

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called," wrote Paul to the Ephesians (4:1, cf. I Peter 1:15). Although it may not appear to be so in an English translation, in the Greek in which the New Testament was written the words "church" and "calling" are closely related. The verb "to call" is kaleo. A "call" or "calling" is a klesis. The verb ekkaleo - the prefix ek- with the verb kaleo means "to call out" or "to summon forth." The word for church is ekklesia - those who have been "called out" to an assembly -- the "called out" ones. In Scripture, God is referred to as "ho kaloon," "He who calls" (I Thessalonians 5:24, cf. I Peter 1:15, Romans 9:24, Galatians 5:8). The "church of Jesus Christ" is made up of those who have answered the call of God.

There are many aspects to this calling. It is, first of all, a "calling from" and then it is a "calling to." The call of God is a "calling from" the ways of the world. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart . . ." (Ephesians 4:17-18).

Although many Christians, ascetics and others, have greatly misunderstood what the Scriptures mean by "separation from the world," it is just as serious an error to ignore the concept of separation. Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 "our struggle is not against flesh and blood," to indicate that it is not a separation against the world. Neither is it a separation from our humanity - which is both impossible to accomplish on the one hand -- and on the other would be a denial that God's creation is "good" (as Genesis testifies God declared it to be). On the contrary, with Christ as our example (Hebrews 12:1-2), it is a separation that is redemptive in purpose - resulting not only in our redemption, but hopefully in the redemption of others. Such a lifestyle cannot take its clues from the non-Christian world because it seeks to communicate the love and redemption of God to that world - things that cannot be understood apart from Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit of God.

Such a lifestyle must be lived by those who do not fear to be unique. While this involves a conscious effort to avoid all that is evil, it cannot be simply a reaction against wickedness. In other words, it is not defined by being "different from the world" - it is different from the world because it is uniquely defined by God. Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27), "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me" (Matthew 10:29), and "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine" (John 8:31). This learning comes through the Scriptures of the Old Testament and the apostles Jesus chose to found His church - whose teachings we find in the New Testament.

The Christian church has unique goals and purposes which, by definition, the world not committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ does not honor or share. The church has been "called out" to be a "people for God's own possession" (Ephesians 1:13-14, 18, 2:19-22) - uniquely reflecting His character and striving to do those things in this world that are important to Him. Paul wrote to the Ephesians as a "prisoner of the Lord" (4:1) - but he was a prisoner because he was, first and foremost, "a minister, according to the gift of God's grace" (3:7).

It is, then, also a "calling to." This, in turn, has more than one aspect. It is, before all else, a call to fellowship with God -- to enjoy and to be enjoyed by God. It is a call to obedience and faith in the Word this Holy God has given to us in the Holy Scriptures. And it is a call to mission - to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in the world here and now as well as in the age to come.

Both sides of this calling were evidenced by Jesus Christ, "the author and perfecter of faith" (Hebrews 12:2). This involved, on the negative side, a rejection of self-centeredness in His willingness to take human flesh as a servant of God for the sake of man (Philippians 2:3-11). There was also a rejection of Satan and worldly temptations as typified by His temptations in the wilderness. On the positive side, in submitting to baptism, Jesus took upon Himself the ministry God the Father planned for Jesus to carry out. Jesus was thus "the Christ," the "Anointed one," anointed by the Holy Spirit unto the performance of a ministry that was uniquely His - one that resulted in the salvation, and thus the sanctification, of those who otherwise would have been separate from God for eternity (Luke 4:16-21). Jesus said, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).

In Ephesians 2:1-9, Paul clearly describes the grace that God freely gives through Jesus Christ to cover our sins. Immediately after, He writes these words, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Christians may disagree somewhat about what Paul meant here. Was he saying that there are specific works that God has planned for each us to do with an exact timetable for each one? Or is Paul saying that God has designed certain types or classes of works - such as giving to support evangelism and missions or to alleviate the suffering of the poor, or supporting a local assembly of believers by our gifts and attendance, encouraging others in their walk with God, praying for others, and so on? I don't believe it is dodging the issue to say that Paul probably had both in mind. In any case, it is not necessary to resolve this issue fully to understand clearly the thrust of what Paul is saying. Just as Jesus walked in obedience to the will of the Father because it was His "food" to do God's will (John 4:34), His true followers manifest the same character: a zeal (not just an acquiescence, but a zeal) to serve their Lord -- and to serve in every way that God enables them to do so. And in so serving, their work -- though not identical to that of Jesus -- is redemptive -- complementing the mission of their Master.

The motivation for this attitude on the part of the redeemed is made clear in II Corinthians 5:15, "and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." Paul also writes, in his letter to Titus, that the good works of God's people are part of the plan of God for His people (Titus 2:11-14). The author of Hebrews indicates that one of the reasons it is important for Christians to meet together regularly is so that they may "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). Indeed, Jesus Himself made clear that the good works of God's people are meant to be seen and to bring glory to God (Matthew 6:13-16).

But how shall we know which "good deeds" we are to do? Only by being careful to read and to strive to understand the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, and then to live in the same manner as Jesus (I John 2:6) - using the unique gifts and opportunities God gives to each of us to bring glory to Him. They may not be extravagant or spectacular works in the sight of the world - they may involve few people or they may involve many. But they are always redemptive in nature, helping others to understand God and to experience salvation through Jesus Christ.

Those who call themselves "Christians" always have a choice - a choice to have their lives defined by the "calling with which we have been called" or by some other calling. But at this juncture in the history of the world, that choice is somewhat masked by other choices that also appear to be uniquely Christian. The politically correct academic world (in which secular "political correctness" promotes an attitude of contempt for traditional Christian beliefs), the Roman Catholic church in its attempt to bring all Christians into its fold, and the hyper-charismatic "Renewal" movement -- each has its own unique agenda. Each can be distinguished from traditional, orthodox Christianity in significant ways. Each offers the Christian church "success" in different but sometimes eerily similar ways (by appealing to emotional satisfaction rather than to sound doctrine and reason, for example).

The strength of each of these movements should also alert us to the fact that the convoluted thinking of our times leads us away from a true understanding of what God has written in His Word; making it more difficult for us to understand that it might have been at some times in the past. There is relatively farther to go for us to clearly comprehend what God has for us. And, secular society will give very little help in this enterprise! So, the disciple of Jesus today must be determined to discover what it means to follow the calling of God in daily life. Nevertheless, paying attention to how Paul prayed for Christians in Ephesus from his letter to them, we know that it is as possible today, as then, to walk in ways that please God (Ephesians 5:15-17). The Holy Spirit helps us in various ways. Some learning takes place directly from God's Word, some from spiritual teachers, and some over time as we go about living for our Lord (Hebrews 5:14).

We are far from the first to serve God in the midst of a predominantly pagan culture. In fact, throughout Scripture, we find that those who served God were often surrounded by those who were not wholly or even partially committed to the one, true God. The author of Hebrews recites a long list of those who had been faithful to God under trying conditions. Then he writes, "And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised" for as he wrote earlier, "they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (11:39, 13). Each looked to a better future with their Lord - and so each was true to their calling. The church doesn't have to invent a Lord, but to serve the one, true, living Lord. The church doesn't have to invent her mission, but to be faithful to the mission already delivered by Her Lord - "to walk worthy of the calling" with which she has been called. This is what is means to be "the church of Jesus Christ" - to recognize the uniqueness of her calling, and to have that uniqueness determined by submission to the will and plan of God both individually and collectively.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume VII, Part 5, May 1999.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.