With so much talk among Christian pastors and “leaders” today about purpose and meaning, taking risks and doing something radical for God, the “average, ordinary Christian life” seems to be a wasted life. “Certainly,” they say, “God doesn’t call His children to live a life that’s mundane and ordinary. He wants them to take risks, do great things, to live above the ordinary and the mundane!”
They say things like, “Don’t you want your life to count? Don’t you want to hear Jesus say “well done good and faithful servant”? Then be radical! Sell everything you have and go into the mission field! Start a ministry! Get out on the streets and evangelize! Do something great for God, otherwise your life has been wasted, and you’ll be like the servant with the one talent in Matthew 25:24-30 who hid his talent in the ground and had nothing to give his master on the day of reckoning.”
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. There is no such thing as an ordinary, mundane life for the Christian. Being a godly husband by loving, serving, and leading your wife is radical. Being a godly wife by serving and submitting to your husband is radical. Raising your children to know and love the Lord is radical. Being a godly employee by working hard, being respectful to your boss, and sharing the gospel when given the opportunity is radical. In other words, the entire Christian life is radical.
An understanding of the doctrine of vocation can help put an end to “purpose driven,” “radical theology,” because the doctrine of vocation views the entire Christian life as a life of service and love.
What is the Doctrine of Vocation?
The term “vocation” comes from a Latin word that means “calling.” In chapter one of his book God at Work Gene Veith describes the doctrine of vocation like this:
“Before you ate, you probably gave thanks to God for your food, as is fitting. He is caring for your physical needs, as with every other kind of need you have, preserving your life through His gifts. “He provides food for those who fear him” (Psalm 111:5); also to those who do not fear Him, “to all flesh” (136:25). And He does so by using other human beings. It is still God who is responsible for giving us our daily bread. Though He could give it to us directly, by a miraculous provision, as He once did for the children of Israel when He fed them daily with manna, God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other. This is the doctrine of vocation.”
God, in a sense, hides behind human work. He primarily works in His creation, not by the miraculous, but by ordinary means. He chooses to work through vocation. Again, Gene Veith says:
“To use another of Luther’s examples, God could have decided to populate the earth by creating each new person from the dust, as He did Adam. Instead, He chose to create new life through the vocation of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. God calls men and women together and grants them the unfathomable ability to have children. He calls people into families, in which—through the love and care of the parents—He extends His love and care for children. This is the doctrine of vocation.
When we or a loved one gets sick, we pray for healing. Certainly God can and sometimes does grant healing through a miracle. But normally He grants healing through the vocations of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and the like. It is still God who heals us, but He works through the means of skilled, talented, divinely equipped human beings.”
Your Work is a Calling
In the medieval church, only those who had devoted their lives to the service of the Church, such as the monk, nun, or priest had a calling from God. The farmer, cobbler, carpenter, or servant were considered to be far less important, even worldly occupations. The Reformation changed all that. Again, Veith notes:
“In scrutinizing the existing ecclesiastical system in light of the Gospel and the Scriptures, the Reformers insisted that priests and nuns and monastics did not have a special claim to God’s favor, but that laypeople too could live the Christian life to its fullest.”
The Reformers saw from Scripture that all work is a calling form God. God had given everyone unique gifts and abilities for the service of his neighbor.
“The fast-food worker, the inventor; the clerical assistant, the scientist; the accountant, the musician—they all have high callings, used by God to bless and serve His people and His creation,” Gene E. Veith, Jr. God at Work, p.12.
The Real Purpose Driven Life
Real purpose comes from knowing that God is working through us, in our vocations to provide and care for His creation.
However, in vocation we do not benefit God in any way whatsoever. God needs no works from us, it is our neighbor who needs them. God is already pleased with us, not because of our works, but because of Christ’s work on our behalf.
On page 10 of his book Luther on Vocation Gustaf Wingren says:
“Good works and vocation (love) exist for the earth and one’s neighbor, not for eternity and God. God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does. It is faith that God wants. Faith ascends to heaven. Faith enters a different kingdom, the eternal kingdom, which Luther considers just as evident as the earthly realm, with its offices and occupations through which God carries on His creative work.”
The real purpose driven life is a life that loves and serves ones neighbor through vocation. So we serve God by faith, and our neighbor by works.
The doctrine of vocation puts an end to the “mundane, ordinary” Christian life. It shows that seemingly ordinary tasks such as washing the dishes, cleaning the garage, changing diapers, and yes, even going to work every day at a job we may not like, is actually a calling from God to love and serve our neighbors.