By Francis Frangipane
There are a great many books written today about developing our spiritual gifts or discovering our purpose, most of them are absolutely worthy of our attention. Recognizing our gifts and being trained to serve God in our individual calling is part of doing His will. Yet, there is a deeper, more essential goal -- an objective that is ultimately far more valuable both to God and ourselves. I am talking about the genuine quest to possess the likeness of Christ.
We marvel at the life of Paul. Here was a man who wrote Scriptures, who led many thousands to Christ; he founded churches and was proficient in all the spiritual gifts. Yet, what compelled him forward in life was not his calling, but his passion to be like Christ. He articulates this profoundly in Phil 3:10. He wrote,
"that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death."
My concern is that, over the years, I have seen far too many people who devoted themselves to perfecting their gifts or ministry, but neglected the deeper quest of conformity to Christ. To seek spiritual fulfillment from "our ministry" or "gifting" is to walk a path that actually leads away from the fulfillment.
Let me reinforce this point about the nature of our calling: my calling is not the core element of my destiny. A person's calling is a combination of divine preparation and a present assignment. A calling often unfolds or even changes throughout the seasons of life. As important as our calling is, the core of our destiny is not rooted in what I do for God, but in the conformity of my heart to Christ's. Christlikeness is my destiny. God may use my calling to perfect Christlikeness, but the purpose of my existence is to become like Jesus. Spiritual gifts and ministry assignments are only passengers in the car as I journey toward the fullness of Christ.
Predestined to be Conformed
Speaking of destiny, Paul wrote, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom 8:29). Do we see this? We are "predestined to become conformed" to God's Son. When the New Testament speaks of destiny, it is almost always in the context of becoming Christlike. A "calling" or task may be to serve as a pastor or teacher or a housewife or in the marketplace, but regardless of my outward responsibilities, my core destiny -- the reality that continues unfolding within me regardless of outward circumstances -- is to embrace a life "conformed to the image of [God's] Son."
You see, our destiny is not what we do for God, but who we become to Him. As we reach for Christlikeness, our love for God becomes richer, our witness to sinners more powerful, and our secret life holy. As we seek conformity to Jesus, we discover that all our spiritual desires are rooted and nourished by conformity to Him.
Apart from Him, we may think we are doing great or important things, yet Christ tells us "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up" (see John 15:1-8). With Christ, however, even in the midst of conflicts, trials and temptations we manifest "the life of Jesus . . . in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor 4:8). This, indeed, is the transcendent life of God.
The Gifts and Callings
It is to our shame in the west that many of our seminaries do not focus on becoming Christlike, but rather devote themselves primarily to theology and hermeneutics. Obviously, we need correct biblical knowledge, but even more do we need conformity to Christ. Even in our churches we labor to see people released in "their gifts," and may we never stop! But let us not neglect the more foundational work of seeing Christlikeness structured into the congregational attitude.
Paul taught that the gifts and calling of God were "without repentance" (Rom 11:29 KJV). The apostle was writing about Israel and the irrevocable place she has in God's future, yet the principle of which he speaks is true for us as well: God's calling on our lives, and His gifts, remain living realities independent of our state of heart. The gifts and calling of God exist "without repentance."
A pastor can still preach and even inspire the congregation, though he is living in serious sin. His "calling" is not dependent upon the current state of his righteousness. A worship leader that commits adultery Saturday night still may stir a congregation Sunday morning because his gift still works "without repentance" of his sin. The evangelist that weeps as he saves souls, even after he spent the night drunk, thinks that God has excused his lawlessness. Yet, even while the Holy Spirit is working through the minister's gifts, the man himself is in grave danger. For after he has preached to others, he himself might be disqualified (see 1 Cor 9:27). We have all seen gifts and callings remain functional even though individuals led double lives, with hearts that were trapped in sin.
The fact that the gifts and calling of God operate somewhat independent of our character tell us that God will use imperfect people. But we still must beware. A day may come when we look to our gifts or ministry and plead, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" But Christ will not have it. Instead, He will utter those most terrible words, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt 7:21-23).
You see, our gifts are necessary and understanding our calling is vital. Yet, attaining the nature of Christ is our destiny.
Beloved, as we approach the end of the age, a new priority is coming to God's people: the summing up of "all things in Christ" (see Eph 1:9-10). Both our gifts and our calling must serve our destiny, which is to reveal the nature of Christ. The focus that brings meaning and fulfillment is that which works to conform us inwardly to Christ. Our lives are to become "a fragrance of Christ to God" (2 Cor 2:15). Yes, the path to Christlikeness is the way to the transcendent life of God.