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God's Will and Your Vocation

A Message by R.C. Sproul

How can you be sure that the work you are doing is what God wants you to be doing? Where do the people of God fit in the world and in the church? God has given us guidelines in Scripture to help us find our vocation. In this message, Dr. Sproul will look at some of these guidelines and discuss the principles, as you seek to find "God's Will and Your Vocation."

From the series: Knowing God's Will

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    God's Will and Your Job

  2. article

    Ordained by God

  3. devotional

    God's Will and Your Vocation

God's Will and Your Job

R.C. Sproul

When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: What is your name? Where are you from? What do you do? The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter.

What do you do? is obviously about one's occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations.

We are all familiar with the aphorism "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the element of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work.

Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation--God himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation he conferred upon our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources--in short, work.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam's fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the Fall. To be sure, our labor has added burdens attached to it. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.

Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark upon a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly aware of the question, How can I best serve God with my labor?

Vocation and Calling

The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning "calling." In our secular society the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. We will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid upon us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, Am I in the center of God's will with respect to my vocation? In other words, Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do? Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact upon the shaping of my personality.

If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: " 'Let there be light'; and there was light." God also calls his people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in his family. In addition he calls us to serve him in his kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. But still the question faces us: How do I know what my particular vocational calling is?

One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. As a high school graduate embarking upon college, I remember that a great deal of discussion centered on one's major and career aspirations. At that time it seemed as if everyone were setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the fifties was one that opened up literally thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering.

I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the seventies. Stories circulated about Ph.D.'s in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled.

A hundred years ago the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today roughly 3 percent of the population is now employed in farming—a radical decrease in one particular occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations.

Excerpt from Can I Know God's Will? by R.C. Sproul

Ordained by God

Douglas Kelly

In the 1950s, a very popular song proclaimed “He’s got the whole world in his hands!” Insofar as it had any theological content, it presumably spoke of the beneficent control by the Lord of all that He has made. That is not too far from the meaning of “common grace.” That is to say, in spite of the world’s sin and God’s just judgment upon it, the mighty Creator-Redeemer has never abandoned His creation; He always keeps His hand upon it so that it will be sustained, pardoned, and renewed in order to fulfill its purpose to bring Him eternal glory.

God, whose covenant is ordered in all things and sure, has His hand upon “the whole world.” Central to His eternal purposes is the calling out of a covenant people (in both Old and New Testaments) in order to redeem them from sin to lasting fellowship with Himself, to restore the whole cosmos as their environment of bliss, and through it all to glorify His holy and loving character. The Holy Scriptures pre-eminently are concerned with the multitude of saints who are divinely chosen to be transformed from corruption into the likeness of Jesus Christ Himself. Everything else is working together for that supreme purpose (see Rom. 8:28–30). Above all else, God’s hand is upon this elect people.

Yet, notwithstanding His particular and exquisite care over His chosen people, “He has the whole wide world in his hands.” Those who are not among His chosen, as well as every aspect of their environments — seen and unseen — are in the divine hands. How else could “all things work together for good to those who love the Lord,” unless He had under His control “all things”? Thus, Ephesians 1:11 makes it clear that He “works all things after the counsel of his own will.” The eternal, now incarnate, Son of God has “all things under his feet” (Eph. 1:22) in order that He may minister to the grand development of His body, the Church. This eternal Son is “before all things” and in Him “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). All things are “of him and through him and to him,” and one day all of them will bring Him glory (Rom. 11:36)!

God’s constant control of all reality is such that one day both the saved, on their way to heaven, and the lost, on their way to hell, must unite in one last confession (gladly voluntary from the former, and unhappily forced from the latter): “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). The biblical doctrine of common grace reminds us that every aspect of creation (including sin, punishment, and hell) must ultimately redound to the honor of Christ and the glory of the Father. Some of the more visible and happy results of God’s control of this “whole wide world” for the triune glory in a redeemed cosmos must await the future, for it is true that “… we see not yet all things put under him” (Heb. 2:8). But a gladsome, hidden day is coming, which, as Hilary of Poitiers once said, makes visible all other days. Until that day, Christ, to the glory of His Father, is progressively “putting down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:24–26).

To this God-glorifying, redemptive purpose, the Sovereign One generously extends His non-saving, and yet undeservedly beneficial grace, to multitudes of people who willfully ignore and hate Him, and He even extends such grace to wild animals, parched grounds, and stormy seas. For long years, He held back the devastating flood of Noah (Gen. 6:3,13). Before the incarnation of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God kindly withheld His judgment from idolatrous, pagan nations (Acts 17:30) until they should have time to repent. Indeed, He sent the pagan nations wonderfully good gifts: “rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). God mercifully poured beautiful sunshine and refreshing, life-giving rain upon the just and the unjust, as Christ reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:45). The “nature Psalms” often celebrate God’s good favors (His common gifts of non-saving grace) upon fields of corn, pastures clothed with flocks, singing birds, mellow wine, fragrant oil, and cedars full of sap (for example, Psalms 65, 104, and 145).

God granted the indescribable blessing of mutual, human friendship to otherwise selfish persons who live and die rejecting the divine love (see Matt. 5:46). Loving friendship, if not rooted in the love of God is no evidence of eternal salvation; yet it is an undeserved benefit from God’s goodness, nonetheless. Splendid abilities have been divinely lodged and spiritually “watered” within talented sinners, who will never be regenerated. Not only do the hanging gardens of Babylon owe their beauty to God, mathematics and astronomy owe their utility to the Spirit of God.

Every direction we turn, there are signs of God’s gracious favors freely given to all of nature and all of humanity for divine purposes to be accomplished even through the recalcitrant and ungodly. Let us turn the eyes of our faith very briefly to four channels (or means) of God’s common grace: family, culture, state, and church. These means are being employed by God to prepare for His Son’s final triumph on the Last Day.

The Puritans called marriage one of the sweet relics of Eden. Marriage of a man and woman is ordained of God as the nursery of church and state, and the presupposition of all the blessings of human culture. It is the normal context for the development of psychological wholeness and moral consciousness, the first and last school, a life-long safety-net, and, for many, the anteroom of a happy eternity. Human families (even very ungodly ones) are the birthing places where many who receive that second birth come from. Without the benefits (genetic and environmental) that they derived from unsaved families, they could never have become what they were made in the kingdom of God. Is it any wonder that Satan is so viciously attacking normal family life in our declining Western culture? It is a means of common grace, whence those who are chosen to saving grace are so often taken, and for that reason alone, the enemy of men’s souls hates it.

The broad stream of human culture has always been a means of non-saving grace that has benefited the saints and glorified the Lord. Saint Augustine spoke of using pagan culture similar to the way that the departing Israelites “spoiled the Egyptians.” Basil the Great, in an address called “The Advantage of Pagan Classics for Young Christians,” spoke of Moses benefiting from Egyptian learning and Daniel from Babylonian science (chap. 3). Saul of Tarsus was “graced” by the teaching of Rabbi Gamaliel, as John Murray has pointed out (Works, II, p. 115). It has been a two-way street: although the church has made possible viable law codes, science, technology, parliaments, universities, and hospitals, it could not have done so without considerable raw material from the broader culture.

Human government was ordained by God to prevent anarchy by punishing the wicked and praising the good (1 Peter 2:14). Thus, as believers we are to pray for the government (1 Tim. 2:1–2) and pay our taxes (Rom. 13:6–7) that we may live godly and honest lives. Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship in order to avoid an unnecessary flogging (Acts 23:24–29), and he appealed to the court of Caesar to avoid being torn apart by the Jerusalem Jews (Acts 25:11). Thus the Apostle to the Gentiles lived to preach more sermons, write more letters, and win many a soul to Christ. So, while legal systems cannot convey saving grace, they may well convey non-saving grace (not to be belittled in the advancement of the Gospel).

God’s Church is primarily focused on providing the means of saving grace to the elect. Yet it has always conveyed very gracious benefits even to those who will not be saved. Sir Winston Churchill is alleged to have said that the British Empire began collapsing when the pulpits no longer proclaimed the realities of heaven and hell. Where the Church is strong, crime is low and good manners prevail. These alone may not save the soul, but they are gracious benefits from God that keep life on earth from being hellish for all persons, and establish an atmosphere in which many find the Lord. Like other channels of common grace, they provide the context for many for entrance to that city “which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11: 10). And they show the human race something of who God really is (Matt. 5:45), and nothing could be more significant for all of His image-bearers.

God's Will and Your Vocation

Vocational calling is something we tend to associate primarily with full-time pastoral ministry, and indeed, much of what the Bible says about God's call has to do with the call to ordained office. However, a brief survey of Scripture indicates that the Lord has always called people to vocations other than the pastorate or other offices in the church. Under the old covenant, for example, God called particular men to be kings of Israel. Exodus 35:30-35 explains how the Lord gifted Bezalel and Ohaliab with skills in architecture, metalworking, textiles, and so forth to help build the tabernacle. It's safe to assume that these men used these gifts to do other "nonreligious" jobs before and after the tabernacle was constructed.

When it comes to the gifts God has given, we find important teaching in Romans 12:1-8 on gifts in their relation to service in the church. Note how Paul indicates that not all Christians have the same gifts. Some are gifted to teach. Some have a particular aptitude for generosity. Others might be particularly gifted in serving the physical needs of their fellow believers. This list of gifts and graces is not exhaustive but representative, so there are many other ways that our Creator may gift His people. Moreover, as the Lord has always gifted people for service outside the church, we can make a secondary application to vocations that are not church offices. Just as God has not given the same spiritual gift to every believer, He has not granted the same skills and desires to everyone. No one is qualified for every job in the church, and no one is skilled to do every job in the world.

In light of that reality, Paul's admonition that we think of ourselves soberly makes a great deal of sense (v. 3). We are to think of ourselves appropriately, subjecting ourselves to critical self-examination so that we might discern our gifts and desires. In other words, we must subject ourselves to critical self-examination, asking ourselves where our talents and interests lie and being honest with ourselves about the answers. It is not humility to do absolutely everything we are asked to do. In fact, doing so can harm other people because we cannot do a good job when we are ill-equipped.

Critical self-examination is vital for discerning our vocation. If what we desire to do is permitted by Scripture, can contribute to the good of others, and is something we are able to do well, we can be confident that our desire matches God's calling.

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