I have no memory of the moment of my own calling. Raised by godly parents in the nurture of the church, I didn’t pray a salvation prayer or walk an aisle or have a sudden revelation. I don’t actually remember a time when I didn’t love Christ. My Christian testimony—the story of how I came to faith—is pretty boring. At least, that’s what I used to think. As a teenager, I would hear other people’s testimonies and shrink a bit lower in my seat. I had no dramatic history of drugs, sex, and rock ’n’ roll. I had no moment when everything fell apart and Christ stepped into the wreckage. For years I struggled to see how my story had much in common with other people’s. But when I dismissed my own testimony, I failed to appreciate the fact that the same amazing grace saves every wretch—whether she is four or forty years old.
The Bible contains a rich variety of stories of God’s calling. God called Abraham out of a pagan family (Gen. 12:1–3; Josh. 24:2), but he called Isaac as a child of the covenant, brought up in the knowledge of the Lord (Gen. 26:2–5). God seized Lot “by the hand,” physically overcoming his reluctance and delivering him from imminent destruction (Gen. 19:16), but he called Jacob and Joseph in their dreams (Gen. 28:10–22; 31:11–13; 37:1–11). God called Samuel as a young boy (1 Sam. 3:1–14) and Isaiah as a grown man (Isa. 6:1–13). He called Cornelius while he was praying (Acts 10:30–32). He called Moses while he was at work (Ex. 3:1–6). He called Zacchaeus out of a tree (Luke 19:1–10), and he called Saul while he was walking down the road (Acts 9:1–6). In various times and places and life circumstances, God calls his people.
For all the outward variety in our testimonies, we actually have a common story. The congregational song Psalm 136 highlights this:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever. . . .
to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever; . . .
to him who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever; . . .
It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever. (Ps. 136:1, 4, 16, 23–24)
We were once dead, and now we are alive in Christ.
The song God’s people sang at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chron. 7:3–6) unites the voices of all worshipers to praise God for their one testimony. The verses of the psalm delight in God’s work of creation (Ps. 136:4–9), his redemption of Israel from slavery (136:10–16), and his kind provision of the Promised Land (136:17–22). As the singers join the refrain, “his steadfast love endures forever,” they together retell their mutual story of God’s mercy. They belong to a people who have experienced God’s redeeming love and who will go on experiencing it forever. The final section of this psalm parallels and applies the covenant history of Israel to the testimony of each Israelite: The Lord “remembered us in our low estate . . . and rescued us from our foes . . . he who gives food to all flesh” (136:23–25). God created his people from dust, delivered them from sin, and graciously provides for them. His love endures forever. This was the shared story of God’s Old Testament people, and it is our story in the local church today.
How did God call you? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines God’s calling this way: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”1 This work of the Spirit is displayed to individual people in individual circumstances. You may have felt him draw you as a young child or after decades of rebellious wandering. You may have come to him in the quiet of your own home or during a public worship service. You may have resisted his call for many years or relaxed into his embrace the first time you heard his word. From around the local church, our stories are each slightly different. We came to Christ sooner or later, alone or in a crowd, with more or less obvious effect. But somewhere along the way, God, by his Spirit, called us. We looked on Christ with Spirit-enabled love, and we trusted him with Spirit-given faith. The details of our testimonies may vary from person to person, but our fundamental story is identical: we were once dead, and now we are alive in Christ.
In the church, we all have one testimony. We are the people God has called.
- Westminster Shorter Catechism, in The Confession of Faith Together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism with Scripture Proofs, 3rd ed. (Lawrenceville, GA: Christian Education & Publications, 1990), Q&A 31.