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The Call Of God


In this article I will look at two opposing dangers with regard to our understanding of the call of God. We can make it too "special", or we can take it too casually. Both extremes are dangerous. First I will look at the danger of making the call of God too exclusive.

When you hear someone say that they have been "called by God", don't you get the idea that they are (or at least feel they are) pretty special? To be called by God IS pretty special, when you put it up against being called by anyone else. But it can be dangerous spiritually if we start thinking that God has called some people and not called others.

Although there are differences in the circumstances of each individual, God's call to salvation is for everyone. The Bible says that it is not God's will that anyone should perish. (2 Peter 3:9, and Philippians 2:10-11) It says that God's spirit has spoken to all of us, even the heathen who have never heard of Jesus. (Romans 1:19-20) Everything about how the gospel is preached indicates that it is for all. We are instructed to share it with "every creature" (Mark 16:15) and we are told that "whosoever believes" will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). From beginning to end, it is clear that the call is to all.

This is important because there is a widespread teaching that only certain people have been selected by God, and the others are without hope. To the average person this seems to fly in the face of everything the Bible says about God loving everyone, and about him not being a respecter of persons. (Acts 10:34) Nevertheless, the doctrine has persisted because of two words that I will now discuss: "elect" and "chosen". The teaching is that God has elected (or chosen) some people to be saved and others to perish, based entirely on his own whim.

The best verse to help us in understanding what these words really mean is the one that says "Many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14) It's like an advertisement for dancers for a musical on Broadway. The ad goes out to everyone, and a lot of people apply for the position. There is an audition, and at the end of the audition, some applicants are "chosen" and some are not. In other words, the call has gone out to everyone, but for one reason or another, not everyone makes the final cut. Being "chosen" by God does not cancel out his universal call and his desire that all should be saved; but it does have a lot to do with how we have responded to his initial call. He is looking for certain qualities in us. His final decision to "elect" certain people and "reject" others is going to be based on those qualities or actions that he asks for from us.

Strangely enough, this concept of election is abhorrent to the very people who teach the doctrine of election most strongly. They want to believe that God chose them without any thought at all about how they have responded to his call, or about how humble, faithful, loving, or honest they are. How sad that they should have missed this obvious truth!

We have a similar problem with people who feel that unless they have some bolt of lightning from heaven, God has not told them to do anything... they are free to just go on living their lives selfishly and indifferently. They think that the call which goes out from Jesus to all of his followers (as recorded in the Bible) does not apply to them unless accompanied by some other (usually emotional) experience. We show them something that Jesus has said in the Bible and they say, "Well, if God tells me to do that, I will," or "That may be true for you, but not for me." In other words, they reject Jesus and the Bible because they haven't had some personal revelation. This too is very sad.

In both cases people are failing to see that the call (to salvation and to obedience to Jesus) is universal. They imagine that a "calling" to obey has to have some "specialness" about it that is not really necessary at all. Most people do get other nudges and hints from the Holy Spirit, but the bottom line is that Jesus has spoken as the mouthpiece of God, and we are required to act... with or without emotional thrills.

But what about the other side of this coin... the important role that God does play in our walk of faith? We can treat his role too casually and end up in trouble too.

In particular, I'm thinking of the scores of potential members that we confront every year. They come to visit us, go out distributing books with us, often spend a trial week with us, and sometimes they even join, but still they fall by the wayside.

It is very hard to tell these people at the start of our relationship that they are almost certainly not going to survive, and that the reason is because they think that all of the power lies in their own will. They may be attracted to our friendliness, the idea of having a purpose for living, the appeal of being able to quit their jobs, the thought of adventure and travel, or maybe even just an opportunity to be free from the influence of their parents. But until they see their encounter with us in terms of an encounter with God, they are not going to have the seriousness about what they are doing that is needed to get them through those first few trials. What we are offering people is a life and death eternal opportunity that is going to be attacked by the forces of evil in every way possible. The unbelievable failure rate of new or potential members is evidence if nothing else.

We caution potential members about not being too quick to bring the subject up with their families or at church, but they ignore us and we never hear from them again. We tell them that there will be spiritual assaults as the devil comes at them with irrational fears, but they ignore that too, telling us that it's all very clear to them, and they are not like others who have fallen away; they have what it takes. Once again, it isn't long before we're getting a phone call saying, "I am having a lot of doubts, and I think that I need to slow down and think about where this decision is leading me." They, too, disappear into the great bottomless void.

By all means, do what you can to urge others to live the kind of life we are living. Impress on them all of the benefits and advantages that we have in our present lifestyle. But know this, that until they come to see their decision as a response to a direct call of God, they will be stunted, unstable, and very likely ill-equipped to make such a decision.

I can accept that some people may even forsake all, move in with us, and begin to function as fulltime members without fully seeing their decision as a response to a call from God. They will see it more or less as a human decision based on human criteria (someone to help look after my children, a place to stay while I pay off my debt, a fun experiment in living an alternative lifestyle, etc.) Membership in our community is a replaceable option as far as our spiritual journey is concerned; but living by faith in obedience to Jesus is not. It is God's plan for each and every one of us. And whether one is in the community or out, this is the call that they need to discover, and then keep foremost in their minds. We should do all we can to impress this on them.

One ex-member told us on his way out that each member of the community has their own secret "contract" about how far they are prepared to go, and if we push people beyond the terms of their contract, he said, they will leave. I can appreciate that people would not allow themselves to be pushed into doing anything immoral. However, the contract this ex-member was talking about was one like people make when they start a new job: They will stay as long as it suits them, and leave when it does not.

What we really want members to have is a contract with God. And the terms on that contract are not open to negotiation. God expects everything... including our pride (which is probably the number one reason why people reject the idea of living with others in the first place). Have you signed that contract? Write whatever you like into your contract with us, but do not even think about cheating on the terms of your contract with God. It's all or nothing. And if you sign your family, your possessions, your reputation, your livelihood, and your life and soul over to him, then it matters little to me whether you are in our community or out, because nothing will stop you from moving on in obedience to Him. (Unfortunately, we have not seen evidence so far of people leaving us and still moving on with God, although we believe that such is a possibility.)

When you are doing something in response to the call of God, you will treat it with the seriousness that it deserves. Some of those verses that the predestinationalists like so much are expressing an important truth that we may have missed. Jesus said to his disciples, 'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain. (John 15:16) Obviously, in their natural understanding of what happened, the disciples DID make a choice at some stage. But Jesus wanted them to know that prior to that HE had been the one who took the initiative. Our "choice" can only be in response to HIS choice, and when we think it is otherwise (especially when we think that it is just some far out or fun idea that popped into our heads) we are going to fail. Our "fruit" is going to fall away.

I remember Robin reporting to me as a fifteen year old that he had prayed that God would kill him before he would let him fall away from serving him. It was such a shockingly radical thing for such a young person to pray. But Robin is still with us today. He did not have some kind of a secret contract with a human organisation. Instead, he had the real thing with the real Boss.

So, in conclusion, we see that making the call of God too special often becomes an excuse for thinking it is only for the other guy; whereas taking the call of God too casually can make us think we are only responding to a human invitation to join a human organisation.

God is speaking to you, and how you respond is all-important.
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