By Cheri Lynn Cowell
The news traveled fast. “Did you hear? John answered the call.” In our family that could only mean one of two things. Either he joined the military or answered the call into the ministry.
As I grew older the church shifted my view of calling to include other full-time Christian ministries. The unspoken message was that some people were special because they were “called,” while the rest of us were just ordinary—and that was OK by most of us. Yet when we study the Scriptures, another definition of calling emerges, and it is one that turns the whole concept on its head.
One of the clearest expositions on the subject of calling is found in 2 Peter 1:1-11. The apostle begins his letter by addressing “those who . . . have received a faith as precious as ours.” He doesn’t begin by addressing the elite or those who are especially called, but instead he writes to the broader Christian community of believers—to you and me.
Like many letters written during his time, it is helpful to quickly read the entire section of study for an overview. In this cursory reading we discover in verse 10 the intent of this whole section. Here Peter was instructing his brothers and sisters in Christ “to make every effort” to confirm their election and calling. With this in mind we can see within verses 5, 6, and 7 how Peter expected them (and us) to accomplish this. We can also see that tucked within his explanation is his understanding of calling.
He began the letter by assuring us that, as those who’ve received the gift of faith, we have also received everything we need to live the godly life to which we are called. It is through God’s own power and through the promises of God that we obtain the knowledge we need so we might “participate in his divine nature.”
This is Peter’s understanding of calling: You and I have been called to adopt God’s own nature, to become more like him. In so doing we will “never stumble,” but instead receive a rich welcome into Heaven (vv. 10, 11).
Blueprint for Action
Verses 5, 6, and 7 give us a blueprint for how we are to live out this calling to become more like God. Again Peter has invited us to “make every effort.” He said that these things should be our focus and priority.
• He explained that it all begins with the faith we already profess. Faith is the beginning step, but it is only the beginning.
• To our faith we are to add goodness. Some translations call this virtue. In classical Christianity the four cardinal or basic virtues include: wisdom, fairness, moderation, and endurance. A faithful person is to also be a good and virtuous person.
• To this goodness we are to add knowledge so that we can know the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. We are, therefore, called to know God intimately and personally so the knowledge causes us to align our will with his.
• To our knowledge of God we are to add self-control, also known as temperance. Temperance is generally defined as control over excess, particularly needed in a world full of excess.
• To self-control we add perseverance, which works in us a level of patience. Peter knows how our long-suffering allows us to bear all calamities and crosses with silence and submission—producing patience.
• To perseverance we are to add godliness. When we bear afflictions patiently, we experience God in such an intimate and personal way as to impart a deep sense of his loving-kindness and empathy. We become more godly when we see others through God’s eyes—with mercy and grace.
• To this godliness we add mutual affection, a brotherly love that recognizes our mutual inheritance and acceptance by our heavenly Father. It affirms the truth that in Christ we are equal.
• Finally, to mutual affection for our bothers and sisters in Christ, we are to add pure love for all humankind. This is the unconditional and sacrificial love that God first showed us.
Growing in God’s Graces
We like to hear that God is love, and all we need to do as Christians is to love. Yet, as Peter describes it, loving as God loves is impossible without all of the previous steps. Pure love is only available to give from those who’ve climbed this ladder to the top rung. Peter wants us to know that we cannot truly love with pure, God-like love if first we don’t love our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can’t truly love if we haven’t experienced God’s loving kindness, and likewise we don’t know his loving-kindness until we have endured patiently through trials.
This blueprint tells us we can’t truly love as God loves unless we’ve learned self-control, and self-control is nonsense until we gain knowledge of a pure and holy God. And we certainly cannot truly love without goodness and virtue, which comes to us through faith. Peter’s message rings loud and clear—we participate in God’s divine nature of love by making every effort to add to our faith these means of grace.
For further encouragement, Peter explains in verse 8 that if we possess these things in increasing amounts we won’t become ineffective or unproductive. In other words, our lives will produce the fruit that demonstrates our faith. On the other hand, those who do not grow in these graces run the risk of becoming weary and forgetting the promises of God that came with their faith. In a real sense, to grow in grace is simply to take advantage of what God has already done for us.
So the next time you hear that someone has answered “the call,” perhaps you will join me in asking, “Did they accept the call to grow in likeness of God?” When you ask that question, watch the look you receive, and then be ready to explain that all of us are called to confirm our election and calling by growing in the graces of God. And this is a full-time job.
Cheri Lynn Cowell is a freelance writer in Oviedo, Florida.
What Does Calling Mean?
• “If you find what you do each day seems to have no link to any higher purpose, you probably want to rethink what you’re doing.”
— Ronald A. Heifetz, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership
• “Every day is important for us because it is a day ordained by God. If we are bored with life there is something wrong with our concept of God and his involvement in our daily lives. Even the most dull and tedious days of our lives are ordained by God and ought to be used by us to glorify him.”
—Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts
• “I believe the call to every believer is the same—to become more like Jesus and to serve him in our own small corners of the world. But he allows us to choose how we obey this call, and for me this is proof of his great love. He promises to direct our steps, but not to dictate them. He doesn’t say we’ll always understand, but he promises we won’t be abandoned.”
—Jennifer Johnson, “God Does Not Have a Plan for Your Life,” Christian Standard