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Often, churches and preachers cause those who join the church or follow the preacher, to think that they have been “called by God” and thus “elect” and “chosen”, and perhaps even “sanctified”. They do this in order to keep people happy, so that they will stay in that church or remain as followers of the preacher. In that connection, they might quote such passages as this one:
Hebrews 3:1 […] holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling […] (KJV1769)
But, that is something the apostle Paul wrote to certain people of his own day, in the first century. They were “called” and “holy” (separated to God). The question is, what about people of our day? What does the Bible really say about calling, election and sanctification?
Again: The things that for instance the apostle Paul wrote to the saints [a] concerning their calling and election and sanctification – can those things in some way be applied to people of our day? This article takes a closer look at that matter.
Even the word “predestination” will be considered here, and the concept of “being called into the ministry” which some talk about.
a In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.
It appears that often, when some preacher has managed to catch a person’s interest and made him or her a member of his church, that person is told that he or she has received a “spiritual calling from God”.
Now, were it so that joining a church is the same as being “called by God”, then an incredible number of people in the different churches of this world would be “called ones”. But, things are not quite that simple.
(A note: One of the things that have confused some people in regard to this matter, is the dogma regarding a “true church”. That is originally a Catholic dogma, but many other churches have copied it and modified it and used it for their own purposes. In short: Many a church claims that it is “the true church of God”, and that its members have been “called by God”. However, the “true church” dogma will not be discussed here. The article naa010.htm has some notes on that matter.)
So, how can one know who has been called by God? What is the biblical teaching regarding calling and election and related matters? In order to understand this matter in more depth, let us first consider certain other things which have a bearing on those questions.
The Scriptures indicate that God plans to save virtually all of mankind. That includes the matter of resurrection. But, there is time and place for everything.
Believers certainly should study the Bible, but that must be done with discernment. Those who study the New Testament, must keep in mind that when it talks about “the saints” and their calling and election and so on, that refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, and things connected to them.
Putting that in other words: One does not become “called”, “chosen”, “elect” or “saint”, by reading about those who were that.
Here are some “calling”-related things the apostles Paul and Peter wrote to certain saints (these are translations, of course):
1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (NRSV)
Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling (NRSV)
Hebrews 3:1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession […] (NRSV)
2 Timothy 1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began (NRSV)
2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. (NRSV)
Even here, one must keep in mind that one does not become called, elect or holy, by reading about those who were that. The above-quoted things were said to and regarding the first century people whom those letters were written to.
Most churches and preachers endeavour to keep their members and followers happy. In some churches people are told that they, or some special part of the church in question, make up the first-fruits group of 144000 of Revelation 14:1–4.
However, as all should be able to see, that first-fruits group consists of those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century or earlier. They were first. People of our day are not and cannot be that.
The article nta030.htm has some notes on the 144000 and the great multitude and the difference between those two groups.
Here is one type of calling that Jesus called people with:
Luke 5:32 I did not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners. (MKJV)
That calling was an exhortation to change one’s ways and to turn to God and his son Jesus.
One aspect of the saints’ calling is mentioned in this passage in the apostle Paul’s letter to Corinth:
1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (MKJV)
Those people had received a calling to be in Jesus’ company, spiritually, and also literally in the heavenly sphere. (The articles nba040.htm and nxa100.htm have more on the matter of Heaven.)
By the way, regarding the saints’ calling – Paul mentioned even an inheritance that was in store for them. We read:
Hebrews 9:15 And because of this He is Mediator of a new covenant, so that, death having occurred for redemption of transgressions under the first covenant, those having been called out might receive the promise of the everlasting inheritance. (LIT)
To the saints in Thessalonica, Paul wrote about God calling them to his Reign:
1 Thessalonians 2: […] 12 for your walking worthily of God, who is calling you to His own reign and glory. (YLT)
Indeed, those people had been called to God’s Reign (Kingdom).
Different New Testament passages show that the saints had been called to repentance (a change of life), and to be joined to Jesus and be in his company. They had been called to salvation, to a heavenly inheritance, to a blessing, to a Reign, to be God’s children, to everlasting life.
Please note that their calling also meant, during their earthly lives, persecution and suffering, and in some cases even martyrdom.
A side-note: In a letter to certain saints, the apostle Peter mentioned calling (1 Peter 1:15), and in a poetic way cited certain Old Testament passages, including the words “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 4:9, citing Exodus 19:6 or Exodus 23:22). Some have thought that to mean that the saints were literally “priests” and “kings”, and that even people of our day could be that. It is not so, of course. The article noa030.htm has more on that subject.
Matthew 22 records how Jesus spoke a parable regarding a wedding, including people who were called (invited) to that wedding. In that parable, a ruler was arranging a wedding for his son. Obviously, this referred to God who was preparing a wedding for his son Jesus. (Cf. Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb”, NLT04.)
It is in Matthew 22:14 we find the words “for many are called, but few [are] chosen”. That is something Jesus said to certain priests and Pharisees. He gave them a warning. – That verse must not be taken out of its context. The story begins here:
Matthew 21:45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. Matthew 22:1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 “and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4 “Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ 5 “But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 “And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 “But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 ‘Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 “So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 “So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.” 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. (NKJV)
Again, it is obvious that the king of that parable, verse 2, symbolised God, and that that king’s son, same verse, symbolised Jesus. And again, the words “many are called, but few are chosen”, verse 14, were a part of a warning which Jesus through that parable gave to certain priests and Pharisees.
Some preachers have lifted verse 14 out of its context and used it for tickling their followers’ egos, by causing them to think that they are the few who have been “chosen”. In that way, those preachers have given their own church an air of “exclusiveness” – that it is “only for a few, only for the chosen ones”. (That sells. Who would not want to belong to “God’s chosen ones”.)
But again, that parable was not about churches or preachers or about anyone in our day. Jesus spoke that parable as a warning to certain priests and Pharisees. Those who rejected Jesus, would not be welcomed to the wedding.
As you can see, in the case of that parable the word “calling” refers to an invitation to a wedding. That had to do with being joined to Jesus, under the New Covenant. And yes, there was a real wedding feast to come, for the saints. This one:
Revelation 19:5 Then a voice came from the throne, saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!” 6 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 7 “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” (NKJV)
Many churches and their writers do not say much about the fact that when the saints received the Holy Spirit, they became betrothed to Jesus. It is true that the New Testament does not spell out this matter in any detailed manner, but a number of passages mention that betrothal, or refer to it. Here is one of them, in the apostle Paul’s letter to the saints in Corinth:
2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (AKJV)
(“Espoused” = “betrothed”.)
Paul had done his part as God’s servant, in the process of betrothing people to God’s son Jesus. The betrothed ones – the saints – all together formed Jesus’ bride. A part of that matter was that those people were given the Holy Spirit as a “pledge”.
2 Corinthians 1: […] 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. (NASB77, highlighting added)
It can be said that when the saints were betrothed to Jesus, they received the Holy Spirit as a pledge or guarantee of that they would in due time receive all of the (spiritual and heavenly) inheritance which they had been promised.
That was quite a calling and election, for those people.
When Jesus knew that he was about to be killed, he spoke to his apostles. The apostle John recorded that event. Among other things, Jesus said to those men this:
John 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. […] 19 “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. (NKJV)
This tells us that Jesus had called (chosen and appointed) the apostles whom he was talking to on that occasion.
Keep in mind that that was regarding the men who were at the table with him at that time.
The article naa110.htm has some notes on John 15, the parable of the vinedresser and the vine and the branches and the fruit. That is, how the apostles were to produce a spiritual harvest for God.
The following considers a number of other things that are connected to “calling” – election, sanctification and predestination, and even the concept of being “called into the ministry”.
Colossians 3:12 records how the apostle Paul spoke of the saints in Colosse as the “elect of God” (AKJV). The Greek text has eklektoi tou Theou. In that phrase, the adjective eklektos refers to persons who had been “picked out”, “selected” or “chosen”.
But, really what did the saints’ election consist of? In other words: What purpose or destiny had they been picked out for? One of the aspects of that matter is mentioned here:
2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (NRSV)
That tells us that those people had been elected (chosen) as “first-fruits” for salvation.
Again, one must keep in mind that Paul wrote those things to and regarding people of his own day, in this case the saints in Thessalonica. They were a part of the “chosen ones”, the “first-fruits”. (The article nta030.htm has some notes on that first-fruits group, the 144000 of Revelation 14.)
So, the saints were and are God’s chosen ones – the elect of God, if you please. They were chosen as first-fruits for salvation. And again, God had chosen them, as a group, to be joined to his son Jesus in a union which in many ways is similar to a marriage.
What is the scriptural teaching on sanctification? In other words, how did the disciples become “saints” (the same as “sanctified”)? And anyway, what does the word “sanctify” really mean?
Word origins: The English words “sanctify”, “sanctified” and “saint” come from Latin, the verb sancio (“to consecrate”, “to make holy”) and the noun sanctus, “sacred”, “holy”.
Now, the New Testament was written in Greek and not Latin. The Greek word which for instance the AKJV translates as “holy” (around 165 times) and as “saint” (circa 60 times), is the adjective hagios. (Yes, the same Greek word has been translated in two different ways, both as “holy” as well as “saint”.)
In the normal Greek of those days, the adjective hagios referred to something that had been dedicated (ceremonially consecrated or set apart) to the Greek “gods”. (Cf. the verb hagiazô/hagizô, “to hallow”, “to dedicate”.) However, in the Greek text of the NT, the word hagios mostly refers to things or people that were dedicated to the true God. In the case of the saints, the meaning is that they were set apart, as a special people for God and his son Jesus.
The Greek text of the NT contains also the noun hagiasmos, 1 Thessalonians 4:7 and nine other passages, referring to the same matter. Again, the saints’ “sanctification” consisted of that God had set them apart, as a group for a special purpose. That is also what most occurrences of the word “saint” in the New Testament refer to.
Many bible-translators have put into Romans 8:28–30 the word “predestinated”, in connection with the matter of calling. Let us consider that passage in the apostle Paul’s letter to the saints in Rome.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (NKJV, highlighting added)
This was something the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Rome, people of his own day. But exactly what did he mean, “predestined”? The article nba030.htm has more on this, but in short: Apparently, God had in advance chosen and then set apart a group of people, planning a special future for them.
Whether that meant that specific individuals were chosen in advance, or whether that was more a matter of planning for a group of that kind (which is most likely), is beside the point here. What is important, is to keep in mind that when Paul mentioned “predestination”, that was in regard to the saints whom he was writing to. In the first century. Again, the article nba030.htm has more on the matter of predestination.
The New Testament shows that Jesus specially called and taught and commissioned certain people, such as the apostles and the seventy, and sent them out as his messengers. They were to proclaim the Good Tidings.
But, there is no connection between that, and the modern-day concept of “being called into the ministry”. Here, it can be good to know that the concept of “ordaining” or “ordination” does not have any support in the Greek text of the New Testament. The saints did not have any mortal priests. The resurrected Jesus was their only priest. The articles nea020.htm and nea010.htm have some notes on these things. See also the article nsa070.htm.
The saints were “called”, “chosen”, “elected” and “sanctified”. They were the “first-fruits” in God’s “harvest-work” here on Earth. Their calling and election was unique.
But, the fact that those people were “first-fruits”, makes it clear that there is to come a larger harvest, at a later time. The Bible shows that in what we today view as “end time”, there will be formed a much larger group, another “harvest” for God – a great, innumerable multitude of people who will turn to God.
There is also the matter of resurrection. The article nba080.htm has more on that subject.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
Matthew 16:18, “I will build my assembly, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it”. What and where was the ekklêsia or assembly which Jesus said he would form? Was it an earthly religious organisation as some claim, or something else? → naa010.htm
Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1–4? → nta030.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm
Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → nxa100.htm
Are believers a “royal priesthood” or “kings and priests”, as some say? How should one understand 1 Peter 2:4–9? → noa030.htm
John 15, “I am the vine, you are the branches”. The parable of the vinedresser, the vine, the branches and the fruit. → naa110.htm
On the word “predestination” which appears in many bible-versions. → nba030.htm
What does the Bible say about ordaining or ordination? How did the saints choose their elders? Were those elders “ordained”, and did they function as “priests” of some kind? → nea020.htm
What does the Bible say about elders? What was their role in the saints’ fellowships? → nea010.htm
On the words and concepts “clergy” and “laity”. → nsa070.htm
What does the Bible say about the matter of resurrection? → nba080.htm
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