God’s Will and the Internal Call

“If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

- 1 Corinthians 9:16

Deuteronomy 29:29 speaks of God’s will in two senses: His secret will, by which He has ordained whatsoever comes to pass, and His revealed will, which provides us with His moral law. As we have seen, we cannot make decisions according to the Lord’s secret will, for it has not been revealed to us in advance. Instead, we evaluate the options before us based on what the Lord has revealed. This means that we can do whatever we want as long as it does not involve sin or causing undeserved harm.

We do not believe that divine special revelation continues. That is, the Lord does not currently speak to His people today in the manner that He did through the prophets and Apostles. Instead, He speaks to us objectively in His inscripturated Word, namely, the Bible. That does not mean, however, that the Lord in no way guides us subjectively, that He does not give us personal inclinations and desires to lead us in particular directions. As far as such guidance for  choosing our vocations, Reformed thinkers have long spoken of the internal call and the external call, particularly in the case of pastors.

With respect to full-time vocational ministry, the internal call refers to an individual’s inward, subjective desire to serve the church and the personal sense that God has actually chosen him for that task (1 Tim. 3:1). For those men called to the pastorate, this often comes in the form of a yearning to preach. Paul, for example, had such a yearning, as we read in 1 Corinthians 9:16. If a man has the sense that the Lord wants him to be a pastor, that may be an indication that God has called him to that vocation, though in itself the internal call is not sufficient. The man also needs an external call, an affirmation of his intent by the visible church.

We will talk about the external call further in our next study. However, as we conclude today, we will note that although the internal call has traditionally been associated with a call to the pastorate, it need not be exclusively associated with full-time vocational ministry. If God has made all Christians a royal priesthood, enabling them to offer spiritual service to Him in any lawful vocation (1 Peter 2:9), then there is no reason why we should not be able to speak of an internal calling for every believer. If we feel a strong desire for a particular line of work, that may be an internal call leading us to a specific vocation even if that vocation is not full-time ministry.

Coram Deo

When we are making decisions, particularly in the realm of our vocations, it is helpful for us to ask ourselves what kind of work is most compelling. Although God does not promise us an easy life, that does not mean He necessarily calls us to do something we absolutely hate. Our desires, provided they do not contradict Scripture, can help us discern the right course of action to take.

Passages for Further Study

Jeremiah 1:4–10
Galatians 1:11–12

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