THE FOUR GREAT CALLS
By Wayne S. Walker
One of the amazing marvels of modern technology is the cell phone. Nearly everybody has one. I do not own one right now. I did, but my older son borrowed it, and to make a long story short, he lost it, so I no longer have it and never replaced it. However, my wife and younger son both have one. They are practically ubiquitous. It is almost amusing to see what I consider “little kids,” twelve, ten, even eight, running around with their camera phones snapping pictures of everything in sight and texting all their friends.
However, I shall let my younger readers in on a little secret. Back in the “dark ages,” when I was a young boy growing up at home, we did not have cell phones. Nobody did. They were not invented yet. So, if you were expecting an important phone call, you just had to hang around the house, stay near the phone, and wait for that old “land line” to ring. This raises an interesting question. From whom might you be expecting that important call?
Might it be a boyfriend or girlfriend? Could it be Grandpa or Grandma inviting you over to spend the night at their house for a special occasion? Or would it be your teacher or maybe the principal to talk about some matter at school? If you were a bit older, might it be your employer, or, if you were looking for a job, a prospective employer?
Not many of us ever expected a call from the mayor of the city or the governor of the state, and most surely not from the President of our nation. And no one would have even thought to await a telephone call from God. Yet, although we know that God does not necessarily utilize the telephone, the Bible teaches that God has called people. “Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered’” (Jeremiah 35:17).
God called Israel, not on the phone but through His law and the prophets, yet they did not listen. To use the vernacular, He kept calling them, but they would not pick up and answer the telephone. Therefore, they were ultimately destroyed. And God is still calling people today. Are we listening? Will we answer? Each of the next four issues of this bulletin will contain an article about one of “the four great calls” that God has for mankind.
The Call of the Gospel
The first of the four great calls is the call of the gospel. “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). What is the gospel?
Our English word “gospel” comes from two Anglo-Saxon roots and basically means “good news.” It is used to translate a word in the original language of the New Testament that literally means “good news” or “good tidings” or “good message.” The gospel is obviously very important to Christ because He told His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). From this, we conclude that the gospel is a message which can be preached.
Furthermore, we learn that Christ wants this gospel message to be preached to “every creature.” He is talking not about cats and dogs, horses and cows, or elephants and giraffes, but about human creatures, mankind, people in all the world. Thus, we understand that God intends the call of the gospel to be universal. It is for everyone. But what is the substance of that message? “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” It is the message of salvation for all mankind through Christ.
Paul confirms this. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Of course, this raises the question, salvation from what? Paul sets forth his thesis here and then explains it through the rest of the book. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is true of all responsible human beings. The call of the gospel is universal because the problem which it is intended to solve is universal.
So, we all sin, but why do we need to be saved from sin? “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Sin has a penalty attached to it, and that is death. The “death” under consideration here is not physical death but spiritual death, the opposite of “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Hence, because of our sin, we stand condemned to eternal death. However, God does not want that and has devised a plan to save us. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is the essence of the gospel message.
Therefore, based on what Paul says, no one can be saved from sin and its penalty apart from hearing and responding to the call of the gospel, and this response involves obedience. How do we know this? Notice what Paul says will happen to those who do not hear and respond to the call of the gospel. “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
In summary, all responsible human beings have sinned and are under the penalty of spiritual death. However, God loves us and wants to save us, so He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. He then revealed His plan for our salvation in the gospel, which includes His terms which we must obey to receive it. Just as God chose the Thessalonians for salvation and called them by the gospel, so He calls all people in every generation through the gospel. “…Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). Have you heard and obeyed the call of the gospel?
The Call of Death
The second great call from God is the call of death. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28). The call of the gospel is universal, but God gives each individual the choice of responding or not. The call of death is also universal, as well as the two to follow, yet in these there will be no choice. We shall respond to this call, except for those alive when Christ returns.
God ordained physical death as a consequence of the fact that sin was brought into the world. We remember how God created man in His own image, male and female. He made the male from the dust of the ground and put him in the garden with the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then He determined to make a helper suitable for the male, so took a rib from Adam, and fashioned Eve. However, Eve yielded to the temptation of the devil, ate the forbidden fruit, and gave some to her husband. They sinned.
One of the consequences of this sin is found in Genesis 3:19. God told Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” While we understand that physical death is not a specific punishment for sin—not everyone dies physically when they sin, and little babies who have not sinned sometimes die–we often think of it as a general punishment for sin, and the Bible does call it “the last enemy.” Yet, there is also a measure of God’s grace and goodness here. Once man sinned, God did not want him to live forever in a condemned state, so he decreed that we must die.
What happens when we die? The most succinct description occurs in Ecclesiastes 12:7. Solomon begins the chapter in the days of our youth, then proceeds in highly figurative language to describe the process of growing old, culminating in the time when the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl is broken, a symbolic picture of death, after which he says, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” We humans are dual beings. We have a physical body which is made up of the same elements as the earth, and we have an inner man, called the soul or spirit, which is made in God’s image. At death, the body returns to the dust of the ground from which it was taken, and the soul returns to God, the Father of spirits.
While there is a lot that we simply do not know about what happens at death because it is not revealed, Jesus gives us a little more detail in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus was a beggar covered with sores who was laid at the gate of a certain rich man who was clothed in fine linen and fared sumptuously. The implication is that the beggar was righteous but the rich man was not. “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).
At their deaths, we would conclude that the bodies of both men were buried and returned to the ground, but the text tells us that their souls returned to the control of God and were in a place called Hades, the unseen realm of departed spirits who await the end of time, second coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment. However, Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s bosom, a portion elsewhere called Paradise, while the rich man was in torments, a portion elsewhere called Tartarus, and they were separated by a great gulf. Again, this call of death is universal. All who have lived on earth, except Enoch and Elijah, have died, and all who are now alive or ever will live, except those alive at Christ’s coming, will die. Are you ready for it?
The Call of the Resurrection
The third of the four great calls from God is the call of the resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Here, again, we see the universality of this call. As we noted in our previous article, because of Adam’s sin the sentence of physical death was brought upon all mankind. Paul then says that because of Christ’s own resurrection from the dead, all mankind will be raised again.
Jesus Himself talked about this coming resurrection. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). Some claim that there will be two separate resurrections—Jesus will come back once to raise the righteous dead and then after a thousand years, during which time the righteous will rule on the earth, will come back still another time to raise the wicked dead.
Yet Jesus said, “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth.” The word “hour” suggests a point in time. So Jesus is saying that at the same point in time, all who are in the graves, both those who have done good and those who have done evil, will be resurrected. There is simply no room in Jesus’s statement for two different resurrections separated by a thousand years. All the dead, both righteous and wicked, will be raised at the same time. However, most of the other passages which speak of the resurrection deal primarily with the resurrection of the righteous.
Paul wrote, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
As long as we remain in these physical, fleshly bodies we cannot dwell with God in heaven. So, while not everyone will die before the Lord comes, all must be changed. Paul is telling us that when Christ returns, the righteous dead will be raised in changed, incorruptible bodies, and then the righteous living will also be changed (cf. Philippians 3:20-21). In both instances, this mortal will put on immortality and we shall have the final victory.
Paul also wrote, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Here Paul talks about the results of this resurrection. When the Lord descends, the dead in Christ will rise first. “Aha!” says someone; “then second the dead out of Christ will rise a thousand years later.” Unfortunately for this doctrine, that is not what Paul says. The second thing that Paul says will happen is that those who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The word “thus” means in this way. Following the resurrection, the risen dead and the changed living will meet the Lord in the air, and “thus,” in the air, they will always be with the Lord. There will be no coming back to this earth to rule a thousand years because there will be no physical world left (cf. 2 Peter 3:10). This is what the Bible teaches about the call of the resurrection. Will you be raised to life or to condemnation?
The Call of Judgment
The last great call from God is the call of judgment. “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). These verses speak of the universal nature of this call. Some have suggested that perhaps Christians will simply bypass judgment and slip directly into heaven, but the Bible teaches that everyone—including you and me—will be present at the judgment. Remember that the Hebrew writer said that it is appointed for men to die once and after this the judgment.
Even those in Old Testament days knew that there will be a final judgment. Solomon wrote, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Here we learn the basis for this judgment—God will examine every work, including even the secret things, whether good or evil so that each one will receive a reward or punishment based on the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. “Each of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Jesus also spoke about this coming judgment. “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). Here we learn both the standard and the time for judgment. The standard will be the word of Christ. The things which we have done will be compared to the teachings of Christ, and we shall be judged accordingly. The time will be “the last day.” We do not know exactly when that will be, but it will occur after the second coming of Christ, the general resurrection of the dead, and the destruction of the earth. Again, Jesus calls it “the last day.”
And Paul talked about the judgment. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Here we learn both who the judge will be and the assurance of judgment. Paul said that God has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness, but He will do so by the Man whom He has ordained, who, of course, is His Son Jesus Christ. And just as surely as Jesus was raised from the dead, so we can be assured that judgment will come.
Someday, everyone will hear the call of death and the call of the resurrection, except for those alive at Christ’s return, and even they will hear the call to be changed and to rise to meet the Lord in the air. Then all of us will hear the call of judgment. The only way to be prepared for those calls is to hear and respond to the call of the gospel in obedience to God’s will. “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).