“The Doctrine of Vocation” October 30, 2011
1 Peter 2:9-10 1 Corinthians 7:17
One of the teachings recovered by the Reformation was something theologians
call the doctrine of vocation. It’s one of my favorite subjects.
I preached on this five years ago.
But it’s something we need to be reminded of often.
Because it brings the grace of God to everyday life.
INTRO: On my India trip I stayed in hotels and in homes.
One of the hotels was in a city were we were conducting a pastoral training class.
This was not a very fancy hotel. Just to give you an idea—
I stayed for three nights, I ate breakfast and supper in the hotel restaurant.
I also picked up the tab for our missionary’s breakfast and supper
(Actually, you picked up the tab.)
And when I got the bill—three nights, breakfast and supper for two for three days—
it was only $60. So this was not a very swanky place.
But it had a doorman.
This gentleman was there every day in the same brown uniform and flip flops.
My room was right next to the front desk. And the first day as I went to open
my door, the doorman said: Sir, sir! Key, key!
I didn’t know why he wanted my key but I handed it to him.
He opened my room and stepped inside.
In order to turn on the electricity in the room, had to put the key in a slot on wall. He did that. Turned on the lights. And then did a little Indian bow and stepped out.
The next time I came to my door, he was behind me saying: Sir, sir. Key, key.
And I thought. I don’t need this. I can open the door myself.
And proceeded to do so. When I looked back, his face had fallen.
I realized, after talking to my friend, that this man was not looking for tips—
this was his work, and he took it very seriously.
So every time after that, I would hand him my key,
and he would open my door and check my room with great dignity.
I thought about him as I prepared this message.
Most likely he was not a Christian, probably a Hindu—and yet, in the seriousness
with which he took his menial job, I caught a glimpse of something good.
There is a glorious teaching in Scripture which theologians have called
the doctrine of vocation.
This doctrine was once lost to the church. It was recovered in the Reformation.
What is the doctrine of vocation?
The word vocation comes from the Latin verb “to call.”
Doctrine of vocation is the doctrine of calling.
It’s the teaching that God summons people, he calls them, first to salvation
and then to serve Him in particular areas of life.
As we will see in a moment, for the Christian, doctrine of vocation
is really the outworking of another great biblical truth—priesthood of believers.
Christ has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.
If you are a priest, then you are holy, and all you do is holy.
Your work is holy. It is not just a job, it is service to God.
Because you are God’s priest, you are able to serve and glorify Him,
in whatever vocation He calls you to pursue.
The great power of this teaching is that it transfigures ordinary life.
All your duties, all your work, is work that God himself has called you to do.
It has purpose, it has dignity.
No matter how difficult, lowly, or hard it is,
God himself has called you to it, so it is of eternal importance.
As I said, Luther and the Reformers rediscovered this teaching
and it transformed the church.
Christians began to look at the Christian life in ways that they
had not seen it for centuries. Resulted in an outpouring of joy,
and tremendous transformation of church and society.
We need to be reminded of this teaching today.
We need to be reminded how the church lost it for years, consequences of that.
We need to see that there are always forces inside and outside the church
that are at odds with this teaching.
We need to see again how precious it is.
Let us look at the doctrine of vocation, will do so under three headings:
1. The historical setting
2. The biblical basis
3. The contemporary challenges
MP#1 The historical setting
The church during the Middle ages taught that there were two classes of Christians,
followed at two different tracks called the spiritual estate and the temporal estate.
The spiritual estate was considered the high road of Christian life.
It was a better, holier, more god-fearing way of salvation.
The way a Christian entered the spiritual estate was to go into church work—
to become a priest or to take monastic vows as a monk or nun.
All other Christians in the temporal estate, which was the low road to salvation.
Temporal means earthly, rather than eternal.
This would include all Christians who devoted themselves to other work
besides church work—farmers, merchants, laborers, housewives.
There was nothing sinful about this work—
but you would simply never achieve the same level of holiness as the other.
So if a person really wanted to please the Lord and live a spiritual life,
and do things that would count for eternity—
there was only one way, become priest, monk, or nun.
And many, many did—left ordinary lives, entered monasteries.
How did the Church get to this point?
In the fourth century, Roman Emperor Constantine declared that Christianity
was the official religion of the
Everyone became a Christian by royal decree.
How do you live a genuine, serious Christian life in a setting,
where everybody is considered to be a Christian by birth?
The answer was a movement called monasticism.
In the monastic movement, like-minded Christians, serious about the Christian life,
got together to live out their faith. They took Christ’s commands seriously.
They prayed and had devotions on a regular basis.
They agreed to follow certain rules of conduct. They worked together.
They were living at a higher level than the superficial Christianity of the masses.
And there were some great Christians in the early monastic movement.
But over time, the monastic movement caused a huge problem.
Over time, the basic terms that the Bible applies to all Christians, were narrowed
so that they only applied to people who had chosen this way of life.
“To convert” no longer meant to leave sin and come to faith in Christ,
meant to leave worldly profession, become a monk or nun.
“Religion” no longer meant the totality of the Christian faith,
it meant being in church work. A religious person was a monk or nun.
“Spiritual” no longer meant living by the power of the Holy Spirit,
it meant living a monastic life.
And people began to think that this was a surer way to get to heaven.
So if you were a person who was concerned about your spiritual condition
and really serious about following Jesus—there was only one path.
You had to take vows of priest, monk or nun.
This lead inevitably to legalistic thinking that salvation itself was earned.
Well, there was a young German man named Martin Luther who was
very concerned about his salvation.
What did he do? He became a monk. He opted for harder, higher way of salvation.
He was very serious about it. He believed the eternal destiny of his soul depended
on being a very good monk.
He studied, he prayed, he fasted, he performed rituals. He went to confess his sins
so often that his confessor got tired of him and begged him not to come back till
he had more interesting sins to confess. He said:
“If ever a monk could get to heaven by his monkery, it was I.”
In spite of all his efforts, no peace, growing sense of his sin, futility of efforts,
Though study of Romans, he heard the Gospel for the first time.
Holy Spirit opened mind to the glorious truth there is only one way of salvation—
and that is by faith in what Jesus has done, not in what we do.
By grace alone through faith in Christ alone.
Martin Luther was truly born again and converted.
And one of the results of his conversion was that he rejected the idea that the
that the monastic life is a better, holier, more God-pleasing way of salvation.
With that Luther rejected the two-class view of Christianity.
He said: It’s not just priests, monks, nuns who are called by God, serve God.
All Christians are called by God, so all serve Him, no matter what work do.
Wrote a book called The Babylonian Captivity of the Church
argued that the church had been taken into captivity by this teaching
that the really holy way to God is by taking religious orders.
This is the way Luther put it:
“. . . the works of monks and priests, however holy and difficult they may be, do not differ
one bit in the sight of God from the works of the laborer in the field or the woman going
about her household tasks, but all works are measured before God by faith alone.”
The work of monks and priests is not any more holy to God than a farmer in a field
or a housewife cooking in her kitchen. God measures them by faith in him alone.
There’s another place where Luther says something funny about diapers.
All of you young fathers who have kids in diapers are going to hate me for this.
But you young mothers are going to love me.
Luther says natural tendency of a man is to think caring for the baby beneath him:
“Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights
with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores?”
Luther says: That’s our natural tendency.
But then he asks: What does Christian faith say?
It looks upon all of these tasks and sees that they are God’s calling.
When I help the mother take care of our child
“I am serving people God has made and serving God’s will
and I am certain that it is pleasing in God’s sight.”
Then he says:
“God, with all his angels is smiling—not because the father is washing diapers,
but because he is doing so in Christian faith.”
God smiles on all your work when you do it in faith.
By doing it in faith, he means believing that God has called you to this work.
This became one of the great themes of the Reformation, repeated over and over.
MP#2 The biblical basis
How did Luther come to this conclusion? And not just Luther, other Reformers.
Let’s consider the biblical basis of this teaching about vocation.
The basis was re-discovery of biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers.
The teaching of the day that said priests are a special class of super-Christians.
But the Bible says that all believers are priests.
1 Peter 2:9, written to all believers:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,
that you may declare praises of Him who called you out of darkness into marvelous light.”
Teaching doesn’t just appear in the NT, has root in OT church. Exodus 19:6
“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my
treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of
priests and a holy nation.”
When the Lord said to Israelites, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests,”
they already had priests—they had a whole tribe of priests, the Levites.
God wasn’t saying, you don’t
need priests in the
He commanded that there be a special office of priest in the OT church.
So what did the Lord mean
when He called all
A priest is a person who is holy. He’s set apart for God.
A priest is a person who has an intimate relationship with God.
A priest is a person who offers sacrifices and makes intercession to God for others.
A priest is a person who devotes his life to serve God.
This is what Lord was saying to the Israelites.
Through the Messiah, through the salvation I provide—
every of you will be holy, set apart for me, whole nation.
All you will have an intimate relationship with me,
All of you will offer sacrifices of life to me, make intercession to me,
All of life will be devoted to my service whatever your work.
This all came to glorious fulfillment in Christ, New Testament Church.
Priesthood of believers doesn’t mean that don’t need ministers,
pastors, elders and deacons. Christ commands church to have officers.
Doesn’t mean that we can do away with lawful spiritual authority.
Means that when God calls a person to saving faith in His Son,
then Christ makes you a priest with Him to serve God.
That means that you are holy. God has set your life apart for His service.
Means that you can have an intimate relationship with God.
Means that you can offer your life as a sacrifice to Him.
Means, as a Christian, don’t have to pursue a particular work to truly serve God.
You serve Him where ever He has called you.
Not only did that do away with this idea of two different classes of Christians—
it brought a dignity and purpose to every part of life.
This is the work God has called me to do.
This is where I am serving him and pleasing him.
One of the places where this had immediate repercussions was in marriage.
The spiritual estate, being a monk or nun required vows of celibacy.
Christians said, Wait a minute.
If we are priests before God—then marriage itself is a calling.
Resulted in many monks and nuns marrying each other.
Luther married a nun, Catherine von Bora.
Married Katie to vex the Pope, spite the devil, and glorify Father in heaven.
Another place this had immediate repercussions was in business.
Because being a monk or nun also required a vow of poverty.
Christians said, Wait a minute.
If we are priests before God—then business itself is a calling.
Although the purpose of business is not simply to make money,
making money and capital investments are essential aspects of business
and there is nothing unholy about it.
The marketplace is a legitimate calling in which to serve God.
When Christians during the Reformation rediscovered the priesthood of believers
and the doctrine of vocation, it filled them with spiritual joy.
I’m a businessman and I’m a priest. I’m not second class citizen in Kingdom.
I’m serving Christ as I serve other people in business.
I’m a housewife and I’m a priest. I’m serving Christ as take care of my children.
My marriage is a calling in which I can serve God as I serve my spouse.
My church membership is a calling in which I serve God by serving believers.
Every sphere of life a calling from the Lord.
No work that is not truly respectable and highly important in the sight of God.
There is priestly sacrifice in all our vocations.
Serving others involves self-denial.
The father, coming home from work dead tires, has presented his body as a
living sacrifice for his family. So has the mother who drives her kids to soccer
practice when she has many other things she would rather do.
So has the worker who put in long hours to do the best job possible
for the business customers. Christian does this by faith.
Vocation is where sanctification happens.
Christians grow spiritually in their good works and in their relationships.
MP#3 The contemporary challenges
But as wonderful as this doctrine is, it is challenged in every generation.
Let’s consider the contemporary challenges to the doctrine of vocation—
there are challenges that come from both inside and outside the church.
1. Let’s start with challenges from inside the church:
Christians today are just as susceptible to creating two classes of Christians
Sometimes we imply that only missionaries, pastors, church-workers
are serving God full time. Other Christians serving the Lord part-time.
as they work church and ministry things into their schedules.
So, if you sell cars for a living,
you can serve God part-time by teaching Sunday school,
But to serve God full-time, you have to quit selling cars and become a pastor.
That’s no different in spirit from what the
Let’s reject that thinking. All Christians can serve God full time in all callings.
Another way the church attacks the doctrine of vocation is by saying or implying
that the only way a Christian can serve God in a so-called secular job,
is by using it as a platform for witnessing to non-Christians.
The idea is that if you are witnessing, then you are serving God. If not, you aren’t.
By all means witness when you can.
It’s wonderful when Christians tell people about Christ in the workplace.
I once knew a man who told me how there was a time in his life when he was a
wreck. He didn’t know the Lord. He was drinking heavily. Marriage on rocks.
A salesman he had known for years came by his business.
After his presentation was over, they shook hands and parted.
And then a few minutes later, this same salesman knocked on his door again and
said: I wonder if I could just have a few minutes of your time personally?
I’ve known you for a long time and it seems you are struggling.
He lead him to Christ. Man who told me this had been a Christian over ten years.
That’s wonderful—to be a witness for Christ in the workplace.
But remember, you also serve Christ by giving attention to your calling.
A Christian accountant serves Christ by giving attention to his client’s books.
A Christian computer programmer is called by Christ to program computers.
Martin Luther said:
“God doesn’t want a shoemaker who puts crosses on shoes,
he wants a shoemaker who makes good shoes.”
And that good work itself, contentment in it, the Lord uses as a witness.
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:11.
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your
hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that
you will not be dependent on anybody.
Outsiders are those outside the faith. You win their respect by attentiveness
to your vocation—and that respect brings honor to Christ.
We are heirs of the Reformation, glorious doctrine of vocation,
priesthood of believers—let’s be aware of challenges from inside the church.
2. But let’s not ignore challenges from outside the church.
I think that the biggest threat to the doctrine of vocation from outside
is our culture’s idolatry of personal fulfillment.
Few years ago I spent some time with a young man who had a good mind,
and lots of opportunities, and parents who were encouraging him—
but he was paralyzed by the idolatry of personal fulfillment.
Every time he would start down a path of work or education would get hard
or he would foresee boredom and would say—I don’t want to do this for the
rest of my life. I said: What is God calling you to do?
But he had no category for that.
Was talking to one of our PCA campus ministers recently and asked what his
greatest challenge was. He said it was convincing young Christian men that
they ought to take marriage seriously and see it as a worthy calling.
Many of them delaying marriage, very low view because can’t see how it is
personally fulfilling when freedom of single life much better.
For Americans, the highest value is personal fulfillment.
Making your decisions based on what will fulfill you.
Not letting the expectations or demands any other people make on you
influence your decisions—whether parents, peers, spouse, or society.
That’s being real. That’s being true to your dreams.
We applaud that. We encourage it.
But where is God in that? Where is the sense of calling?
Essence of a call is that you don’t choose it. It chooses you.
How does God call you? Through people and providence.
He calls through people who give you direction and counsel and example.
Through your parents and teachers and other wise people in life.
He calls through circumstances and responsibilities and opportunities of life.
And sometimes we push against that because we don’t think
it’s going to be personally fulfilling. But in fact, fighting God’s calling.
And sometimes our callings are not going to be fulfilling.
We live in a fallen world. Callings full of boredom and troubles and
disappointments and setbacks. But the answer is not to check out.
How often have we all heard stories about a man or woman going off to find
himself and leaving marriage and family behind?
John Calvin, writing about calling said this:
“The Lord knows that the human mind burns with restlessness . . . every individual’s
vocation therefore, is a post assigned to him by the Lord, that he may not wander about in
uncertainty all the days of his life.”
Wow, doesn’t that go against the spirit of the age.
My callings in life are posts assigned to me by the Lord.
I’ve been called to be a son, husband, father, brother, pastor, church member—
and the Lord wants me to stand at my post. Let’s hold on to that, not allow the
restless idolatry of personal fulfillment to make us discontent
CONC: Praise God for Martin Luther and all the other great Reformers
he used almost 500 years ago to recover what was lost to the church
for hundreds of years. Our lives are all the richer for it.
Praise Him mostly for the wonderful work of Jesus Christ who made it possible,
by his death on the cross for all of us to be called as priests—
set apart as holy, representing and serving God in our various callings.
Luther preached a famous Christmas sermon in which he asked—
What did the shepherds do after they saw the baby Jesus?
What would the appropriate response be to such an amazing experience?
The chorus of angels, the personal invitation to the manger,
the sight of the eternal Son of God in human flesh.
Surely men who witness something that great are destined to great things—
surely they would leave their secular jobs and do something great for God.
But what does the Bible say:
“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God.”
Luther put it this way:
These shepherds do not run away into the desert, they do not don monk's garb, they do not shave their heads, neither do they change their clothing, schedule, food, drink, nor any external work. They return to their place in the fields to serve God there.
And that’s exactly what you are going to do tomorrow—
You are going to return to your place in the fields—
Your family, your school, your workplace—
Because you are a royal priest—called to serve your God.