The Called of Jesus Christ
“Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6).
When something is important, it has many words attached to it. Just think of the thousands of words attached to the automobile industry, for example, or to the music trade. A hi-fi addict has a vocabulary all his own, and that vocabulary is important to him. Even a hunter or a fisherman will have words and terms that are meaningful only to his crowd.
God’s people are important to God; and because they are important, He has many names for them. Sometimes He simply calls us “children.” Other times He prefers to call us “saints.” Occasionally He uses other descriptive names, such as: members of Christ’s Body; branches in the Vine; priests, “my peculiar people”; “beloved ones”; and the name in our text—“the called of Jesus Christ.”
What an exciting title for God’s people—“the called of Jesus Christ.” Not many of us are called by anyone great, the President or the Queen, for example; but here we are called by Almighty God! Called to belong to Jesus Christ! What a thrilling evidence of God’s grace that He should stop to call us.
Let’s think together about four different aspects of this gracious calling: we are called out; we are called together; we are called forth; and we shall be called up.
First, we are called out.
This is the very meaning of the New Testament word for church—ekklesia, “the called-out assembly.” Jesus called His disciples “the men which Thou gavest me out of the world…” (John 17:6). “They are not of the world,” He said, “even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). We have been called out of the world and therefore do not belong to any part of its thinking or living.
Now, Jesus makes it clear that we are in the world physically, but not of the world spiritually. Our position is something like that of a deep-sea diver: he is in the water, but does not really belong to the water. The fish around him are very much at home, but the diver is definitely out of his element. In fact, Jesus prayed: “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Peter was one of the men Jesus Christ called; and his calling made a great difference in his life. In fact, as you read Peter’s two letters in the New Testament, you discover that he repeats the word called several times. “But as He which has called you is holy, so be ye holy…” (1 Peter 1:15). God has “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). We have been “called to inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9); and best of all, we have been called to share His glory (1 Peter 5:10). We are the called of Jesus Christ; we have been called out.
All of this is because of the grace of God. We could never have called upon Christ to save us had He not first called us through the Gospel. Here is how Paul explains it: “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). God chose us—then God called us. We are “the called of Jesus Christ” because God graciously chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. No wonder Paul writes: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
Have you responded to His gracious call? It is not a matter of character or culture or conduct: it is purely a matter of God’s grace. “For ye see your calling, brethren,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:26-37,” how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…” God calls us, not because of anything in us that pleases Him or merits His salvation, but because of His grace! He calls us out of this present world-system, into His family and fellowship, to belong to Him eternally.
Second, we are called together.
I like that simple description of the early church in Acts 2:44—“And all that believed were together…” Satan is the divider; Christ is the One Who puts things back together again. Christians are the called of Jesus Christ, and as such, we are called together.
An isolated Christian is a “freak of nature,” like an isolated bee. You can raise bees; but you could never raise a bee. Christians are sheep, and sheep by nature like to flock together. We are members of the same spiritual Body, and members of the body stay together and work together. We belong to each other because we belong to the Lord, and we want to be together.
The local church is not an accident or a human achievement: it is a divine appointment. The foundation for all of the work of the Lord is the local church. This does not mean that God does all of His work in the local church; but it does mean that whatever work is done must ultimately come back to a local body of believers, people who are praying, giving, sharing, working. I believe in the local church, and I believe that the local church deserves the very best I can give to it. I thank God for the extra-church ministries that God is using these days, but none of them can take the place of the local church where God’s people are “called together.”
What are the “spiritual magnets” that draw us together as Christians? Acts 2:42 lists some of them: “and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Many people today would rearrange that list and put prayer or breaking of bread first, but God would not agree with their ideas. The list begins with teaching—doctrine. The basis for fellowship is the Word of God concerning the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The local church is not built on programs, or personalities, or promotion. It is built on Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word. We live in a day when some men want to minimize doctrine and Bible teaching, yet the Holy Spirit puts doctrine first on the list! Any “togetherness” that by-passes Bible truth is not going to last very long or grow very strong.
After doctrine comes “fellowship,” a word that is greatly abused by some of God’s people. To some Christians, “fellowship” means gossiping after church over a pot of coffee and some apple pie. The word “fellowship” means to have in common. Christian fellowship—the enjoyment we have with one another—is really a by-product of what we Christians have in common. Friendship and fellowship go together. We have received the same new nature; we love the same Saviour; we feed on the same Word; we seek to obey the same indwelling Holy Spirit; and because of these spiritual treasures we have in common, we want to be with one another.
“Breaking of bread” may refer to the Lord’s Supper, or it may refer to the common meal in the home; but the meaning is the same. We belong to each other and we want to share with one another. After all, the Lord’s Supper was an exotic meal. Jesus took two very common objects found in every home, and He gave new meanings to them. In Eastern lands, eating together is a sign of friendship and is almost like making a covenant. The Lord’s Supper, and even the common meals in the church family, remind us that we have been called together.
“Prayer” is not last because it is least, but it is last because its effectiveness depends on the presence of the other elements. The church that abandons doctrine will never have an effective prayer ministry. Christians praying together in the local church do so because they need each other, and because the work of the Lord progresses as men pray. We are called together to pray together. To be sure, we can pray individually at home; but there is a special power to collective prayer. When the early church prayed together, “the place was shaken.”
We are called out; we are called together; and third, we are called forth.
Listen to what Jesus said in John 17:18—“As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” We are not of the world spiritually, but we are in the world physically. Christ has called us out of the world that He might send us back into the world to bear witness of Him.
The greatest need in many of our churches today is a burden for lost souls. The Moody Church grew out of the Sunday School that D.L. Moody founded, and the Sunday School grew out of Mr. Moody’s burden to reach the lost in the city of Chicago. We are called together to hear the Word; then we are called forth to herald the Word. We are called together to worship Christ; then we are called forth to witness for Christ.
“He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6). Churches were never meant to be mutual admiration societies, where we sit and enjoy each other. Churches were meant to be armies that invade the enemy’s territory and capture people for Christ. We have been called forth to sow the seed, and if we are faithful to sow, and to water with our tears, then we shall one day reap the harvest.
I recall that Dr. Ironside told about an exclusive group of Christians who were holding a meeting, and outside the hall they hung a sign that said JESUS ONLY. The wind blew some of the letters off the sign, and it read US ONLY. I fear that US ONLY is the sign that would be hung outside many churches today, churches made up of people who have forgotten that we have been called forth to share the Gospel with a lost world. “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23) is still Christ’s command to us today.
There is a fourth aspect to our calling: we shall be called up.
The Apostle John’s experience in Revelation 4:1 is a picture of what will happen to believers when Jesus Christ returns: John heard a trumpet voice from heaven which said, “Come up hither!” I believe that very soon we shall hear the sound of the trumpet and the voice of the archangel, and Jesus Christ will come in the air to take His Bride away. “Caught up…in the clouds” is the way 1 Thessalonians 4:17 describes it; and that word “caught up” conveys several important meanings.
It means “to catch away speedily,” as in Acts 8:39. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye!” This is why it is important for us as believers to live in fellowship with Christ all the day long. It would be embarrassing to have the Lord return and find us doing something out of His will! The word also means “to seize by force” (see John 6:15). I am sure Satan will do all he can to keep the Church from leaving Earth to meet Christ in the air, but Satan will not succeed. Christ defeated Satan at the cross, and nothing can separate the Church from the One Who died for her.
Another interesting meaning to this word is “to claim for one’s self,” as a bridegroom claiming his bride. We often think of what the rapture of the Church means to us as believers; but have you ever considered what it means to Christ? Think of how long He has waited for the full consummation of His work on the cross! Think of the joy He will have in presenting His Bride to the Father!
Finally, the word “caught up” also means “to rescue from danger” (see Acts 23:10). Christ has delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). The Church will not go through that awful Tribulation period, because “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). He will rescue us from that time of trouble when God shall pour out His wrath upon the nations of the world. In this world we shall have tribulation, and it will get worse as the hour of His return draws near; but we shall never experience The Tribulation described with such vividness in Revelation 6-19.
We are “the called of Jesus Christ”—called out, called together, called forth, called up. Have you responded to His call? Have you made your “calling and election sure?” (see 2 Peter 1:10). If so, are we living up to His gracious calling? “Walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1).