One of the things I like to do in my sermons is provide ways for my hearers to think about who they (we) are as Christians. To do that, I often lean into specific words or phrases that helpfully paint the picture of Christian identity.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago I pressed home the point that one of the fundamental realities that mark Christians out from the world is that of “faith” or “belief.” We are, after all, those who believe in Jesus Christ and trust (i.e. have faith) in Him alone for our salvation. Therefore, Christians are rightly called “believers.”
Another word that adds to our understanding of Christian identity is the word “followers.” We believe in Jesus and we follow Jesus. That is, we do not merely tip our hat to Jesus with some vague profession to “believe” in him and then go about our private lives as if he doesn’t exist (or at least we shouldn’t). In other words, we are his disciples and we want to live as he lived (cf. 1 John 2:6), obeying all that He has commanded (cf. Matt 28:18–20).
As we follow Jesus, however, we need to remember that though there is one universal call to follow him, there are many different ways that call plays out in our individual lives. For some of us, we follow Jesus into vocational ministries, like being a pastor or an international missionary. For others, they follow Jesus by being the best doctor or teacher or farmer they can be for the good of their neighbors and the glory of God.
This is an important point to remember. Historically, some have tried to separate the sacred and the secular. There have been times when professing Christians have taught or implied that some callings are sacred, having to do with God, and others are merely secular, a bit less important than truly holy callings. But that isn’t a helpful way to think about the world or vocations or life.
In fact, the distinction between the sacred and secular was partly broken down in the Reformation era of the 16th-century. Martin Luther once wrote,
“The entire world is full of service to God, not only the churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, and the field of the townsfolk and farmers.”
For Luther, Calvin, and the tradition that flows out of them, whatever you did, whether you were a farmer or doctor or pastor, was holy before God because it all aimed towards the same ultimate goal: God’s glory (cf. 1 Cor 10:31).
What I want you to see in this post is simply this: there is one call to follow Jesus but following Jesus will play out in a diversity of callings. That is, every person is called to follow Jesus, but not every person is called to follow him in the exact same way. Your life and my life will look different as we follow Christ.
One Call, A Diversity of Callings
In order to see this in the Bible, let’s look at John 21:17–25.
The One Call: Follow Me—the first thing to see is how Jesus calls Peter to “follow” him. It occurs two times in the passage (21:19, 22). Jesus is walking with Peter and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (likely the John who wrote the Gospel of John) is walking behind them (21:20). When Peter sees John following, Peter wants to know what’s going to happen to this man. What does his future hold? Jesus had just told Peter that he could expect death (we will see that in a moment). So what could John expect? To paraphrase Jesus, “what’s that to you, Peter? Don’t worry about him. You follow me” (cf. 21:22).
This is an echo of the earlier ministry of Jesus. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus had called the disciples to leave everything behind and follow him. In Luke 5, the disciples do just that. “And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:10–11). Now, here in John 21, at the end of Jesus’ ministry, we see Jesus pressing in on the call for Peter (and us) to be his disciples. Peter, “You follow me.”
This, friends, is a universal call to follow Jesus throughout our entire lives. If you’re a human being, if you have human DNA (and you do), regardless of your ethnicity, socio-economic status, educational level, or occupation, and despite your faults and failures, the call of Christ is for you to come to him. Turn from sin, forsake walking in the ways of a godless world, and set out to follow Jesus, the sovereign, saving, and satisfying Messiah.
Have you considered that call? Have you made the decision to forsake sin and follow Jesus? In other words, have you become a Christian? And note this: we don’t follow Jesus because he promises an easy life (he doesn’t) or perfect health on this earth (nope) or financial gain (sorry), we follow Jesus because eternity hangs in the balance. Come to Jesus and follow him because he is your only hope for the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life (cf. 1 John 5:12).
But remember, following Jesus isn’t something you do once and then leave him behind. It’s a call to a life of followship, a life of discipleship, learning more and more, with each passing day, week, and year, what it means to live as a student of Christ for the glory of Christ. Every day we must wake up and by the power of the Spirit, pursue Jesus. It won’t be easy to follow Jesus each and every day, through all the cultural chaos and challenges we face. But for the joy set before us, by the power of the indwelling Spirit, we press on in the call to follow Jesus.
One Call, A Diversity of Callings—now, even though there is one universal call to follow Jesus, the way that works out in your life and my life will be different. I think this is the principle we glean when Jesus responds to Peter. Jesus tells Peter that he is going to die. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)” (21:18–19). By the time John writes his Gospel, it is likely the death of Peter has already happened. Though we are not sure how accurate the historical record, evidence suggests that Peter was crucified upside down during the reign of Nero.
But the calling of Peter to die in this way for the glory of God is not the same future John was called to. Instead, when Peter asks “what about this man?,” Jesus says, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me” (21:21–22). I think Peter was saying this: if my future is some horrific death, what is his? Jesus responds by telling Peter not to worry about John’s future. The future of John lay in the hands of King Jesus. Peter needed to focus on Peter. Peter needed to concern himself with his own faithfulness.
The principle I think we should see is that the way we follow Jesus, what that looks like in terms of our individual callings, is diverse. Some of you are called to follow Jesus faithfully as stay-at-home moms, or administrative assistants, or basketball coaches, doctors, or counselors and to do so to a ripe old age. For others, you might be called to follow Jesus by moving to the Bolivian jungle and laying down your life as a martyr. Whichever way it goes, whatever God has called you to at this moment and in the moments to come, aim for your own faithfulness.
And know this: my calling is not more important or better than yours. What God has called you to do, the way he has ordained your path to unfold as you follow Christ, is not the same as mine and nor is it less important than your neighbors. Our God has ordained all of our lives and work for the same ultimate purpose: the fame of Jesus’ name (cf. 1 Cor 10:31). In this sense, as Luther and Calvin and the Reformation tradition taught us, every calling is sacred.
In closing, then, hear the call of Jesus today. Turn from sin and come to him for the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Follow him all your days. And then, as you pursue his will for your individual life, realize that though it will look different than those around you, the aim is the same. Faithfully follow Jesus into whatever he calls you for the joy of all peoples and the fame of Jesus’ name.