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What does it mean to be called by God?

People claim, oftentimes falsely, that they have received God’s call—especially to preach or witness for Jesus. Indeed, the Bible does speak of God calling people, but what does that really mean and how can you know that God has called you?

On the Day of Pentecost when God’s Holy Spirit was given to His Church, we find this:

“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call’” (Acts 2:38-39).

Here, Peter addresses the fact that God is calling specific people, and later he writes to those who have been called; those who are now part of the Church of God:

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Throughout history, God has called people for His unique purposes, and we have the extraordinary example of Abraham:

“Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran” (Genesis 12:1-4).

It is also important to note how willingly Abraham responded to God’s call:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Of the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1:5). In other words, Jeremiah was predestined before he was even conceived to be called during his lifetime! That also happened to Cyrus, king of Persia, for God named him and appointed him to return the Jews from Babylonian captivity and to cause them to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem—this was written in the Book of Isaiah about one-hundred-fifty years before the birth of Cyrus (compare Isaiah 44:28—45:1-7).

Of course, the greatest example of God’s predestination and calling is that of Jesus Christ. Consider the overwhelming number of prophecies about Him and the very explicit details which were written long before His birth (compare, for example, chapters 49 and 53 in the Book of Isaiah).

With God’s calling comes great responsibility! The Father sent His Son, Jesus, to be the Savior of the world (compare John 12:47; 1 John 4:14). If you are called by God, it is to do His Will, and that involves a role in the Church of God. The Church of God is composed of those whom God has called out of the world, as Jesus said about His disciples, and, by extension, all who will have come afterward:

“‘If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you’” (John 15:19).

In praying to His Father, Jesus spoke of those who are called as being separate from the world (compare John 17:14-17). Why? Because being in the world and embracing this society, its customs and practices, is not living according to the spiritual laws of God—it is in fact, “enmity against God” (Romans 8:6-7). Those who are called are to live lives which are unmistakably different from those who are not called, and the Apostle Paul clearly explains what it means to be called by God:

“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24).

To be called by God includes great potential for those who finish their calling:

“Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life” (1 John 2:24-25).

Paul wrote to the brethren in Thessalonica encouraging them to “…walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). He, as he did so often in his epistles, reminded them of the tremendous goal ahead for those whom God calls.

We find more details about the future in God’s calling:

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

However, today is not the time when God is calling everybody to salvation! Now is the time God is calling a select few to be, what the Bible calls, “firstfruits” (James 1:18), and to be in the First Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 20:4-6). This fact is shown in the Holy Days of God—specifically in the meaning of the Feast of Pentecost. Leviticus 23:15-22; Exodus 23:16; 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:9-12 all describe this annual Holy Day of God as depicting the firstfruits of harvesting in the spring—while the fall feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day, represent a much greater harvest and period of judgment. A fuller explanation is available in our booklets: God’s Commanded Holy Days; The Meaning of God’s Spring Holy Days and The Meaning of God’s Fall Holy Days.

Jesus called His disciples a “‘little flock’” (Luke 12:32), and history has certainly proven that very few people have ever been a part of the Church of God. Paul explained to the brethren in Corinth about whom God has chosen to call:

“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

Very few people have been called by God at this point in time! In fact, Jesus said that not all could even understand His teachings—only those to whom it was given (Mark 4:10-12). Being called by God means that He has initiated contact; otherwise, we would not even have access to the Father or to Jesus Christ, and this is what Jesus explained:

“‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…’” (John 6:44); and, “‘…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6).

Is God calling you to salvation? Jesus said, “‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:32). Are you able to understand the truth found in God’s Word—and believe it? Are you acting on the truth you understand—without compromise? Have you come to believe the gospel—the good news of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus preached (Mark 1:14-15) and what the Church of God is commissioned to preach in our time (Matthew 24:14)?

If you are called by God, here are some first steps by which to prove your calling:

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  (Romans 10:8-16)

Once God calls us, we must grow in our calling—as the Apostle Peter explains:

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,  as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:2-11).

When God calls you, you have a responsibility to respond to His calling and strive to live in accordance with His Word. God’s true calling will be your only opportunity to inherit eternal life when Christ returns.

Lead Writer: Dave Harris