Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Vocation of Man

1. Man in the Light of Life
Life is the justifying and sanctifying grace of God present in Jesus Christ. Light is witness to this grace by Jesus Christ. This light of life shines on us as sinners and liars. It shines through us in the event of our vocation. Our vocation is the event in which Jesus Christ establishes fellowship with us. He does this as he calls us into the service of his truth and therefore into the service of God and neighbor as witnesses to the truth.

Like justification and sanctification, our vocation as Christians has its basis in eternity in God’s gracious election of us before creation (Ephesians 1:4). From all eternity the Father elected all people for himself in the Son and in the Son elected to be for all people. Our vocation as Christians has its basis in time in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ reconciled all people with God and declares that reconciliation to all people. “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). In other words, Jesus Christ as the light of life shines already on every human being. On the basis of God’s eternal election of man graciously accomplished and already revealed in Jesus Christ, every human being is already ordained and virtually determined to be for God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ, all human beings are foreordained and predisposed to hear the Word of God in Christ and to respond as Christians by the power of the Holy Spirit. This means, first, that we as Christians must be open always to every non-Christian. Jesus Christ died for them as much as for us. Also, we stand in solidarity with non-Christians because those of us who have responded to God’s call today must, like non-Christians, do so again tomorrow. Furthermore, both Christians and non-Christians are freed by, and responsible for hearing, the Word of God spoken to them. The call of Jesus Christ frees all of us to be who we are. Christians know this while non-Christians as yet do not. Knowing that God is calling them to responsibility, Christians take non-Christians with the utmost seriousness. Knowing that God alone decides when his calling will be heard, Christians may endure their indifference and hostility with quiet confidence. Third, Christ is our Savior because he first is Savior of the world.

2. The Event of Vocation
Vocation is a specific act of powerful grace and gracious power by the living God or Jesus Christ toward a specific human being. It first happened in the history of Israel and in the life of Jesus Christ. It now occurs in our lives too. When the call of Jesus Christ comes to us, our lives become part of the real time of the history of salvation and as such make real history in the world around us. At the same time, the process occurring in the event of vocation is spiritual in nature. It involves the self-witness of Jesus Christ by the powerful action of the Holy Spirit. As such it may be known only to the spiritually discerning even though it takes place in history. In addition to being a process both historical and spiritual, the event of our calling is always one in which Jesus Christ speaks directly to us through his Word by the power of his Spirit. Finally, we think of vocation improperly if we imagine it in terms of “stages of faith.” Instead, vocation is our whole calling by our one Lord from the very start.

To describe the event of vocation we may first use the term illumination. The light of life shining on everyone now imparts itself and illuminates us from within. Now we hear and understand the Word spoken and revealed to us. Now we know Jesus Christ as the one claiming our whole being. This total alteration of our existence makes new creatures: we become children of light (John 12:36). We may also describe the event of vocation as an awakening. Awakened by Jesus Christ, we suddenly know, hear, see, and live in a true rather than sleepy way in a true world hidden previously by our nightmarish illusions.

3. The Goal of Vocation
Whenever Jesus Christ calls people, he always calls them to be Christians. The vocation of each person is to be a Christian. While all people belong to Jesus Christ on the basis of his election of them from all eternity, Christians are those who belong to him in a special way because we confess Jesus Christ is our Lord. Jesus Christ sets us in relationship to himself as Lord by enabling us to wake up, open our eyes, get up, and follow him.

Our call to be Christians does not mean we cease being sinners. It means we are able to put on the whole armor of God against sin. While our sin is behind us, it still harasses us presently and we daily require renewed freedom to move forward. But while we remain with all others as sinners, Scripture does differentiate us from others on the basis that we participate even now in fellowship with God in a way which as yet awaits others even as they move toward it. The Gospels in particular refer to this fellowship of Christians with Christ as discipleship. As Jesus Christ our Lord graciously leads us, we gratefully follow in detailed obedience. And Jesus Christ places us in this fellowship with him not only by encountering us but by dwelling in our hearts in the impartation of the Holy Spirit.

This fellowship, the goal of vocation, is the union of Christian with Christ without separation or confusion. This union is Christ’s self-giving to us and our self-giving to Christ which, though unequal to his, is still total. As the Son of God and Son of Man accomplishing our justification and sanctification, Jesus Christ worked alone. But in his prophetic office he wills to involve us as witnesses in what he is and does. Conversely, we as Christians now know and witness to Christ as the source, center, and goal of all we do as our living Lord.

4. The Christian as Witness
The question now is: what is the purpose of our vocation, of our distinctive existence as Christians? Some popular but inadequate suggestions include to live in freedom from the things of this world, to live a distinctively moral life based on love, or to guarantee our future if not present happiness and well-being by saving our souls. In contrast to these proposals, all the biblical accounts of calling portray it as being drafted into a task and that task being to serve God in a particular way as witnesses to his past, present, and future action in the world.

When Jesus Christ calls us to be Christians, he enlists us as active participants with him in the history of salvation. He enables us as his servants or ministers to cooperate with him in his prophetic work as heralds proclaiming the reconciliation of the world with God accomplished in him alone. Christ could better accomplish this work by himself. Out of the infinite riches of divine grace, he calls and enables us to participate in it as well.

5. The Christian in Affliction
We may respond with joyful gratitude to Christ’s gracious call to be his witnesses. But the world will not always greet our witness with similar thankfulness. Instead we will meet routinely with affliction; that is, with pressure, hostility, tribulation, or suffering. So long as our faith remains purely inward, we need not fear affliction. But when it becomes outward, we cannot help disturbing others. Affliction is the response that inevitably follows. To keep silent, however, is to deny our Lord just as Peter did before the cock crowed. And if we are called as Christians to witness, and witness always means suffering, then we cannot be Christians without suffering. It happens without our desire or provocation. It doesn’t make us Christians. But it does happen. Conversely, if we do not suffer at all, perhaps as salt we have lost our flavor (Matthew 5:13), accommodating ourselves too much to the world and being fundamentally deceived about the truth of our witness to Christ.

The suffering we endure specifically as Christians is (1) caused by the world, (2) brought upon ourselves because of our witness to Christ, and (3) set inevitably before us because of our fellowship with Christ.

Our suffering as Christians is caused by the world. The world was created good and loved always by God. To its own hurt, it turned away from God. Nonetheless God moved toward it with salvation, reconciling it to himself in Jesus Christ and, in doing so, reaffirmed the covenant he made with it with its creation. The world as such does not yet acknowledge its salvation. But Christians proclaim it with the name of Jesus Christ. The world, however, regards the singularity of this name as arrogant exclusivity and Christians as narrow-minded hypocrites and respond on the basis of these misunderstandings with greater or lesser severity. For Christians, the important thing through all this is to love their enemies in order to continue as a witness to Jesus Christ.

As witnesses to Christ, we bring suffering upon ourselves. Sometimes, when the pressure becomes particularly threatening in one spot, we should leave, shaking the dust from our feet. At other times, leaving would mean deserting Jesus as the disciples did in the garden of Gethsemane. It depends on whether our ministry in a place has reached its end either because we have fulfilled it or because we are no longer allowed to pursue it. But wherever we go next as witnesses, affliction will overtake us there too. We make ourselves vulnerable to it because, despite our own joy in the glorious news we proclaim, that news makes others uncomfortable.

Jesus Christ, however, is the primary basis of the suffering caused by the world and endured by us as his witnesses. Called into fellowship with Jesus Christ the Lord, Christians are also called into fellowship with the one who rules as the slain Lamb of God. Even so, (1) this fight is good and not evil because, despite its pain, the fight itself indicates that Jesus Christ is with us and speaking through us. (2) The certain future of this good fight is fellowship with the one raised from the dead. (3) Through this fight we are constantly moved forward by the hope we proclaim in the coming definitive revelation of Jesus Christ. (4) Even now God freely blesses us with fruits, such as courage, patience, and the comfort of others, in which we taste the power of eternal life (Hebrews 6:5). (5) We may fight the good fight with full confidence because our lives, even through death, are absolutely safe because hidden with Christ in God. (6) Finally, as those who cannot be separated from God’s love by any power, we are called to live and fight as such. As those freed from the fear of death, we are told to act like it.

6. The Liberation of the Christian
The Word of God goes forth to all people because the Lord who speaks it died for all. Christians are those liberated by the power of the Holy Spirit to hear the Word of God, to know personally the benefits won by Christ for all, and to be witnesses of Christ to the world.

This liberation of Christians is indispensable to their witness. First, we can only attest that the light is not an illusion by actually reflecting at least some of it in our own lives. Secondly, we can tell others of their utter dependence on God’s grace as sinners only if we know the shock of discovering ourselves to be so dependent. Finally, we can only witness to the love, joy, and peace that are ours in Christ by actively loving, enjoying, and peacemaking.

There are several aspects to liberation as this takes place in our lives as Christians. First, we are liberated from loneliness and self-sufficiency, being liberated for fellowship with Jesus Christ and through him with God the Father and our neighbors as brothers and sisters. Second, we are freed from getting hopelessly lost pursuing all possibilities, being freed to witness to Jesus Christ in a particular way as our Lord directs. Third, we are freed from being dominated by ideologies, institutions, and consumerism, being freed to give ourselves to other human beings. Fourth, we are freed from the need for success to live continuously as pure recipients of God’s grace. Fifth, we are freed from confusion for obedient action. Sixth, we are liberated from weighing our moral actions against our immoral ones, moving instead from the forgiveness of all our sins in Christ, toward Christ’s definitive return, through acts of gratitude for God’s grace revealed to us even now. Finally, we are free from anxiety for prayer.

In none of these seven ways may we describe our liberation as finished. But however provisional, our liberation as Christians anticipates both our complete liberation as well as the provisional and complete liberation of all creation. Third, Jesus Christ does not liberate us so that we can offer ourselves as models of liberation or our experiences as windows through which to see liberation. The purpose of our liberation is to give our witness to Christ adequate credibility. So finally, we deny the valid importance of our personal experience of liberation if we focus on that experience rather than on Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.