Every disciple is a called disciple. Every follower of Christ is called to live for Christ. The Christian is not just saved from an eternity apart from God, but is saved to live a life like Christ’s while here on this earth. God called each believer to follow Christ. And God calls each believer to do something for him, to live a certain life for him, to become a certain kind of person for him. And this calling is not just for the special disciples, the intellectual or the super-spiritual. If you are a child of God, you are called by God.
As Paul wraps up his letter to the Romans, we get a glimpse into his calling. And though many of the specifics of Paul’s calling are unique to him, we learn a lot about our calling as we learn how Paul approached his call. The way he treats the life God gave him gives me insight into how God wants me to treat my life with him.
“And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel” (vs 20).
Paul’s calling – to preach the gospel where it had never been preached before – was the driving ambition of his life. In fact, it was the reason he had been delayed in visiting the Romans. Apparently he had planned to go Rome several times, but was unable to because he was waylaid by open mission fields. Paul wanted to preach the gospel; Paul loved to do what God put him on earth to do, and in this context of Romans it is easy to imagine an exciting and fulfilling life for Paul. But when we peel back the call itself, we see something else.
Acts chapter 9 tells us the story of Paul’s call, how Paul was persecuting the church, how God knocked him off his donkey, and how God used Ananias to deliver His message to Paul. Just days after Paul’s conversion, God explained the call in his life this way, “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
From one point of view, this call seems hard if not impossible. And it does so happen that Paul endures severe hardship in the service of this call, and eventually suffers martyrdom for preaching the gospel. But from another point of view – the one that dominates Paul – the calling is a pleasure, a joy, a glory, even his life’s ambition. When Paul writes the Romans and calls his life’s work his “ambition,” he has already suffered greatly, but it is as if none of that matters. The call to preach the gospel, to do the thing God put him on earth to do, far outweighs the trials that come with the work.
The word he uses for “ambition” is telling. It is a kind of love. In fact, it can be literally translated as a “love of honor.” Paul loves to do what God called him to do. Paul considers it his highest honor to be called by God to proclaim the gospel and he will do it until there is no breath left in his body.
We often shy away from our calling because we are afraid of what God will make of our lives. “I’ll give you everything but…” or, “do with me what you will, just don’t make me a…” These all too common reactions miss the logic and the power of God’s call. God made you and formed every corner of your being. In the end, only he can make of your life everything it was intended to be. Your calling is nothing to be afraid of. We cannot consider it drudgery. We must make it our ambition – our honor and driving love – to do what God called us to do.