What Does It Mean to Be “Called”

Question:  What does it mean to be called?ordination

Answer:  It usually means to be selected by God to do some form of full-time ministry.  The bigger question is how that happens?  Undoubtedly God has put it on the hearts of some individuals that they are to pursue full time pastoring or missions, etc.  But this should always and will always be accompanied by gifts God gives to these individuals that are recognized by faithful members of the Body of Christ.  An example of this is Acts 13:1-3 where Paul and Barnabas are said to be called by God and through prophetic utterance the church is told to set them apart for missions ministry.  But they have already been demonstrating gifting and faithful service for years.  Can someone resist this calling or forfeit it by misconduct?  I think so.  Paul said he labored to maintain faithful ministry lest he be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27).

In one sense every Christian is called.  We are all subject to obey the great commission Jesus gave us before he ascended to heaven (Matthew 28:19,20).  We may also say we have a career calling.  But the call to carry out the great commission is the highest priority.  Nevertheless, God often wants us to use our career calling to help establish our witness and enhance our ability to carry out the great commission.  Some are called to make doing the great commission their entire focus, usually with the idea of helping the rest of the Body become more equipped to do their part in making disciples of all nations (Ephesians 4:11,12).


Is Listening to Secular Music Wrong?

Question:  I would like to know if it is alright for a Christian to listen to secular music. I’m not talking about that rap music or singing that degrades women or uses profanity. I’m talking about artists like Luther Vandross who sang nothing but love ballads. And other artists that are gifted who sing some really wonderful songs outside the gospel arena. My brother believes that if the music isn’t honoring God it’s wrong to listen to it. I totally disagree with that. I love the LORD and I love my brother, and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. But I don’t think he is looking at the big picture. The Bible said every good gift and every perfect gift cometh from the father of lights. So whether that person chooses to honor the good LORD or not it’s still a gift from GOD. Paul said everything is lawful but not everything is expedient. If it’s something that’s going to make my brother fall I’ll take it somewhere else. But to say secular music is wrong, I beg to differ.

Answer:  I am in agreement with you on this.  God has gifted human beings with God-likeness and part of that likeness is creativity in musical expression.  I have heard some beautiful music (lyrically and in quality of music).  I can celebrate God’s greatness as I see it expressed through human giftedness.  Psalm 8 says we were created a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor.  That does not contradict the Biblical message of man’s sinfulness, but rather complements it with a message of man’s glorious nature.

Besides, just because something isn’t explicitly Christian does not mean it is false or evil.  Some music is simply a description of a particular struggle or a particular joy.  Otis Redding was “sittin’ on the dock of bay” wasting time because he was lonely.  He was describing a particularly low point in his life with this song.  No, he didn’t give a Christian answer to the problem, but he accurately described a common problem people suffer.

So, of course, I must be careful to evaluate the message of the music.  Most modern songs, for example, are about love relationships and commonly “teach” that a love relationship with another human being is the answer to life.  That is an ungodly message.  But I can celebrate a loving human relationship in the right way using that song.  Also, listening to the world’s music shows me what people are thinking and gives me an avenue into their thoughts and beliefs and into their lives that might help me share the gospel with them.

Martin Luther created one of his greatest hymns, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, using a tune from a bar song.  The apostle Paul adapted a Greek poet/philosopher’s saying into his sermon (Acts 17:28).  He also wrote using a lot of athletic imagery (for example, Philippians 3:12-14), signalling his familiarity with the Greek games.  Being a part of the human community includes honoring that which is positive about the human community as much as decrying what is evil.  Human beings, even unsaved one, do an incredible amount of good things.  We need to affirm this.

When we try to remain aloof from any and every human endeavor that is not specifically proclaiming the gospel, we will find ourselves very much divorced from the life of our community and also very much divorced from opportunities to proclaim the truth.  Building relationships requires common ground.  Appreciating what is good in the arts is one platform of common ground.  I must watch to be careful that I am not so influenced by that common ground that I depart from the uncommon gospel.  But given that warning I can and should learn to appreciate what is good in secular music.

Does a Believing Spouse Automatically Save an Unbelieving Spouse?

Question: A friend of mine brought this scripture up to me last night and I couldn’t give him a good answer that satisfied his curiosity.  The scripture is 1 Corinthians 7:12 – 14,

12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

My friend’s question is regarding verse 14 where it says the unbelieving spouse is sanctified through the believing spouse, making the children holy.  He is taking this scripture to mean that the unbelieving spouse is saved (sanctified) and will go to heaven because the believing spouse is, and that the children will also because “now they are holy.”

I know that salvation is an individual decision, and you cannot go to heaven just because your spouse or parent is saved, but I could not give him an answer that satisfied him.  What does the word “sanctified” here mean in the original Greek?

Answer:  Your friend is being an insincere interpreter.  He is choosing to take the word “sanctified” to mean saved when it is in no way certain that this is what it means.  And because Paul makes it clear in his letters that no one is saved except by believing in Jesus alone for salvation, it is impossible that he could mean here that simply being married to a saved person makes you saved without contradicting himself.  Besides, if that was the case the “unbelieving” spouse would already be saved.  But for all the biblical writers and Jesus salvation results in saved behavior, which includes believing.  So this spouse is not saved.

The word sanctified means “set apart, made holy or made set apart for some purpose, made clean.”  In this particular case Paul is using the word of that which is ceremonially holy or set apart as sacred, clean, pure.  In God’s directions to the Israelites He declared certain things “unclean” or unsanctified, that is, not holy or clean or pure for Israelites. This included certain foods (pork, etc.) and certain conditions (skin infections, bodily excretions, etc.).  But there was always a way to make a person “sanctified” or clean ceremonially through washings and sacrifices.  But if something unclean touched something clean the clean thing became unclean or unsanctified.  Here Paul is declaring, however, that the “unclean” or unsanctfied unbeliever does not make the believer unclean nor their offspring.  This doesn’t mean that they are automatically saved, just that it is permissible for the believer to live with them and it doesn’t make the believer unclean or unsanctified.  There were apparently people in Corinth who were seeking to justify divorce on these grounds.

If the spin your friend is putting on this passage were true we would expect to see it explained in more than one passage and we would expect the church to have endorsed “marriage evangelism” or purposely marrying unbelievers to get them saved.  In fact, however, in this very chapter of 1 Corithians (last verse) Paul makes it clear that a believer is only to marry another believer.

What is the value of water baptism?

Question:  What is the purpose of water baptism? Is it a sign of the believer’s covenant  with the Lord, similar to circumcision? At the very least, it seems valuable to me as a   tangible memory or similar to building an altar of remembrance of one’s new commitment to Christ. However, many today wait a long time to be baptized; this is in contrast to the New Testament times where people seemed to be baptized quickly.

Answer:  There are those who believe that water baptism is essential to salvation.  They will point to such passages as Acts 2:38 in which Peter says “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” and Acts 22:16 where Ananias instructs Paul to “be baptized and wash away your sins.”  But Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 that this is not the case.  He writes:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

If baptism was essential to salvation, Paul could not and should not have separated it from preaching the gospel.  Christ, indeed, would have sent him to baptize if it were required.

But if it is not essential for salvation, or doesn’t actually wash away sins, then what does it do?  And I believe it does what you suggested.  It is a symbol that is an aid to faith.  Faith is what saves us, is what washes away our sins, but baptism gives visible and tactile expression to that faith.  Human beings need to give such expression to our inward beliefs to help solidify them in our souls.

In addition, the outward demonstration of faith given in baptism helps others to be more aware of our faith and acts as an encouragement to their own faith.  The Bible does not emphasize this but it is a reality.  And you are correct that normally new believers were almost immediately baptized upon conversion.  This did not always give much opportunity for a crowd to gather.  So the symbol is much more for the believer than for his or her fellow Christians.

However, there is nothing that says we must be baptized immediately.  The early church began a process of teaching new converts to ascertain whether they were genuine followers of Christ before baptizing them.  This seems to go too much counter to the New Testament example.  But for us to make it a part of a community worship opportunity seems a judicious use of the symbol to help everyone rejoice with the new convert.

Randall Johnson

Other articles on baptism:

Is the Mode of Baptism Inconsequential?

What Does Your Church Believe About Baptism?

Are Paul’s Writings Scripture?

Papyrus Bodmer VIII, Original: Biblioteca Apos...

Image via Wikipedia

Question:  How do we know that everything Paul wrote is true?

Answer:  Jesus told His apostles in John 16:13 that when the Spirit of truth came He would lead them into all truth.  Jesus himself taught his disciples how to interpret the Old Testament (Luke 24).  He was preparing them to lead the church with authority and truth.

Paul often declares himself to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, appointed by Him after the others but in no way less authoritative than them (Romans 1:1, 5; 11:13; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 4:9; 9:1, 2, 5; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11, 12; Galatians 1:1; 2:8; et al).  He indicates that his teaching is to be obeyed (1 Corinthians 14:36,37; 15:1-4; et al).

Interestingly, in 2 Peter 3:15,16 Peter refers to Paul’s writings as “Scripture” (“His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”).  And the testimony we have from Paul and Peter is that the Scriptures are God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and from the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

So from a biblical perspective, Paul’s writings are Scripture that is divinely inspired and produced by the Holy Spirit to give us doctrine and training in righteousness.  They are meant to be taken by us as God’s Word.  Without this assurance we would struggle to really know how to discern God’s will in our lives.  Our understanding of the gospel would be at stake.  We need these authoritative words in order to know how to live before God.

Randall Johnson