Implications of the Doctrine of Vocation

In the last two posts, we focused on defining the doctrine of vocation and exploring its focus on the neighbor. I think it is important to think through some of the implications that follow from grasping and applying this doctrine to our lives. From my perspective, the ripple effect of these truths are quite liberating and life giving.

All roles and stations in life are significant and important. The doctrine of vocation undercuts any spiritual hierarchy that would elevate one role above another. The role of the mother is no less valuable than the role of the pastor. God is no less present in non-ministry roles. In one sense, this was the whole point of this reformation doctrine. The reformers pulled together justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and the doctrine of vocation. This trio was a destructive force against any system of thought that would degrade the common every day tasks of most people.

In Luther’s words, “As long as the shoemaker or blacksmith clings to these two, to the Word of faith toward God by which the heart is made clean, and to the word of understanding which teaches him how to act toward his neighbor in his station in life, everything is clean to him, even if with his hands and his whole body he deals with nothing but dirt.”

Vocation is the primary arena for loving and serving our neighbor. As finite creatures we are granted a limited existence. We only have so much time, so many relationships, and so much influence. We live out our lives in a few very small geographical locations. We find ourselves in a few different stations in a few different places among a few different people. Vocation helps us grasp that the people, places, and stations of our lives are the arena for fulfilling the command to love.

We are responsible for our little spheres of influence, nothing more. As Wingren says, “One important fact in God’s providence is that I have the neighbor I have.” This perspective frees us from unrealistic thoughts on our roles, responsibilities, and abilities. It also sharpens our focus and beckons intentionality for engaging our actual callings.

Vocation is the context where God spills out his grace to us. This perspective will help us recognize that God is behind the people that love us, serve us, and bring good into our lives. The world will open to us in fresh ways if we can see it with this lens. Worship and gratitude will fill our hearts when we see God behind the activity of our neighbors.

In the words of Wingren, “if he ponders what he receives through the faithfulness of others to their vocations. He receives the good gifts of God love through both prince and preacher.” In other words, God is hidden in the road construction workers and the automobile manufacturers that make your commute to work possible and smooth. He is with the farmer, preparer, and server of the chicken sandwich you eat for lunch. He is disguised in the loving smile and supportive companionship of friends that meet your basic human needs.  His grace is coming at us from all directions. Vocation gives us eyes to see it.

Vocation is the context where God spills out his grace through us. Our stations in life do not exist for our self-satisfaction though they may provide fulfillment. We are parents, children, and employees for the sake of other people. Vocation is the vehicle of God’s love and kindness to the people in our lives.

Wingren asserts that man must look at his “position in his own vocation, not asking what he receives but what he is to do, what God requires of him…Christ frees neither the hand from its work nor the body from its office. The hand, the body, and their vocation belong to the earth. The purpose is that one’s neighbor be served. Conscience rests in faith in God, and does nothing that contributes to salvation; but hands serve in the vocation which is God’s downward-reaching work, for the well-being of men.”

Vocation is the context where God works his grace in us. It is my contention that God uses vocation to persevere his people in the work of salvation. The first post in this series discussed the three temporal aspects of salvation. I will argue in the next couple posts that the present aspect of God’s saving work is accomplished, in part, through the various stations where God places us. God does not just use vocation to benefit us and others. He uses it to rescue us.

Resources on Vocation
The following are some helpful resources on the topic of vocation. My favorite of these is Gustaf Wingren’s work on vocation. Gene Veith has done some excellent work on communicating the concepts of vocation in a contemporary manner. Keller’s work on vocation is also very helpful. 

Creation and the Neighbor

As you might have noticed I have been thinking a lot about creation and its significance for us. Many of my thoughts about this theme have come from an ongoing dialogue with a very close friend of mine, Jason Nichter. For the last five years I have appreciated his brotherhood, his sharp mind, and his deeply pastoral heart. He has done good work on this topic and I am thankful for his willingness to share some of his thinking here.

In previous posts Kory has pieced together for us different building blocks related to creation. In this post we’ll discuss one more implication flowing from our theology of creation: how we view The Neighbor.

We’re informed in Genesis 2 that God built man out of His previously created dust, and breathed life into him. This “creation out of something” pattern (see previous post) is continued in the calling God puts on man to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” (1:28). The creation chain is not started by God throwing ingredients in an oven and seeing what kind of creature comes out. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (1:27). God’s design was to create all of humanity to reflect his characteristics, and none of his creatures to lack significance.

God’s intention for his created men and women to be significant image-bearers is a tremendous compass for us in social settings. God created every person, which means every person that crosses your path is important. The Neighbor who interrupts your reading at a coffee shop – important. The Neighbor who calls you when you’re listening to your favorite song – important. The Neighbor fast food restaurant worker who serves you your spicy chicken sandwich – important. They were all created by God, and as such they are all significant enough to warrant your conscious attention.

Additionally every act of service that we perform – whether related to our occupation, charity, or general good nature – is validated. There is no place of employment beneath us, because we are contributing a good to a community of “neighbors” created by God. There is no act of service without importance – even pushing the breaks on our car to let grocery shoppers cross is contributing to preserving the image bearers God made.

Perhaps this is why after explaining loving God as of first importance, Jesus said, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31). No one understood the neighbor more perfectly than Christ Himself. Indeed through Jesus, God was showing us one who reflected the intended image in creation perfectly (Col 1:15,19), and did so on our behalf (Col 1:21-23). He smashes our breach of his creation by being the perfect creature-lover for us.

So trust Christ’s restoring work done for you. Put away your smart phone when your neighbor is talking to you. Preserve your highest attention for the people around you, and not social media. Be thoughtful towards the person in front of your face throughout the day. God created those neighbors of yours. Let’s celebrate Christ by being like Him for the benefit of The Neighbor.