A Walk Worthy of the Calling: Ephesians 4:1-3
Just to lay my cards on the table: whenever the New Testament references the calling of believers, it is always a reference to our salvation or its fruits in our lives, what theologians have termed the effectual call of God[i]. Yes, there is the general call of the Gospel that goes out to all the unsaved, but when the writers of Scripture use it to describe a believer, the antecedent is always salvation or its necessary demands on our lives[ii]. The modern language of God giving each of us our own calling in life in service to him doesn’t have a scriptural home to attach to. This distinction is important to understand when thinking through Ephesians 4:1-3, which states, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The wrong view that God has a specific “calling” or mission for each of us that we individually receive from him and we set out to live makes a mess of this verse. With this wrong view, Ephesians 4:1 is simply telling us to hear from God what our mission in life is, get on that track, and don’t let anyone convince you to get off it. You need to walk worthy of that calling; your life path needs to stay focused on that calling you received from God. The rubber meets the road here when a young man feels that he may be “called” to pastoral ministry, but through various circumstances he may be unable or unfit to do so, and it brings dejection and depression. I’ve seen it and it’s heartbreaking. And it misses the point of Paul here: our calling is to united to Christ by faith in whatever lot God has placed us in. And that lot in life must be walked in accordance with our calling, our salvation. Or put another way, the calling of every believer is to be united to Christ, and the calling comes with a demand: walk accordingly. If we have been united to Christ by faith for our justification, then that union with Christ bears out in our sanctification as well, our daily living and growing in the Spirit. That is Paul’s point, here in Ephesians 4, and again and again in the epistles of the New Testament.
But Paul puts some meat on those bones in Ephesians 4. He describes how that walk is to look: humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, unity, and peace. The central theme here is our relationships to one another. All of these descriptors are ones that are seen in how we relate to others. Of course, the larger context of Ephesians makes that clear as well. Paul has spent several chapters expounding the beauty of God in bringing salvation to the Gentiles. Yet this instantly created an opportunity for the Devil to sow discord. Jews and Gentiles didn’t like each other very much. Now God is putting them together in the same church. Oil and water don’t mix… until they do, by God’s sovereign providence. And this is Paul’s point: Christ has reconciled sinful man to a holy God, the ultimate wall of division. So it makes no sense for any smaller thing to sow division within the church. We were reconciled to God through Christ, and that necessarily means we are reconciled to one another. The wall of hostility was broken down between us and God, and so then the wall of hostility must necessarily be broken down between Jew and Gentile, or slave and free, or man and woman, or black and white, or old and young. Walking according to our calling means that our lives must reflect our very salvation by our love for one another. In humility, we think more highly of others than we do ourselves. In gentleness we are soft and tender to each other even if wrath and anger are more natural responses. In patience we are eager to wait for one another, being slow to anger. We bear with one another by remembering that we too are sinners saved by grace alone, recognizing our own sins and weaknesses are a drag to others as well. We are eager to maintain unity and peace by overlooking small offenses, lovingly confronting serious ones, and working hard to repair and maintain broken relationships. This is the call of the Gospel. This is walking according to that calling. The church needs this reminder now more than ever, as we bring this Gospel to a world eager for division and disunity.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.
[i] Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray has a wonderful exposition of this doctrine and its place in the ordo salutis
[ii] The list is too extensive to review each use of the word ‘call,’ but even those uses where it seems to describe a condition in life, singleness for example in 1 Cor. 7:17, Paul immediately makes it clear in verses 21-24 that the calling he is referring to is our moment of conversion. This seemingly applies to Paul’s introductory statements of his epistles as well, stating “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He is here expressly stating that the very purpose of his conversion is his apostleship, to be the minister of the Gospel to the Gentiles.