by Deaconess Betsy Karkan

ref-communitygrantVocation is perhaps one of the richest, deepest, and most multifaceted doctrines of the Church as well as a gift to those redeemed by Christ! In vocation, the Christian understands the stations and callings  in life (as Martin Luther titled them) as gifts that God has given to His children in which Christ has called all to live out their baptisms in service toward God and neighbor.

Imagine all of the doctrines and teachings of Scripture to be different parts of a beautifully designed tapestry woven together with great detail, care, and precision to form a perfect picture of Christ and His Church. In this picture vocation is like a golden thread which finds its beginning in baptism and is intricately woven into nearly every other teaching of the Church. This isn’t surprising when you consider and believe that the Lord is the one who has given us His Word and teachings and knit them together into one perfect whole.

As with every other doctrine of the Church, vocation has suffered neglect and corruption in the hands of sinners and false teachers. In a Concordia Journal article by Robert Kolb (2013), he describes in great detail how vocation fit into the structure of society and church at the time of Luther.[1] By the time of the Reformation the doctrine of vocation was unrecognizable; it had been ripped apart from baptism, attached to a societal caste system, and turned into a work that only clergy could perform, rather than a gift from God. All other forms of service in family or society, while deemed necessary for maintaining order, were not considered as sacred or as God-pleasing as other religious activities.[2] It is likely that this sentiment of one vocation being more God-pleasing than another is at the heart of many issues where the church is divided even today.

These false teachings unraveled as Luther studied the Scriptures and uncovered the chief doctrine of the Christian faith—justification: that a person is not saved through works of the Law but by grace through faith alone. Christians no longer had a reason to be tormented by uncertainty and the fear that they hadn’t done enough to earn forgiveness and salvation. Christ alone fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law, and set them free to live in the grace and freedom of their baptism. The teaching of vocation, like many other doctrines, went through quite a change because of this. Once a burden, it suddenly became a gift and a calling that included all stations in the Christian life.

Throughout Luther’s writings and the Confessions, the thread of vocation can easily be identified. If nothing else, read the Small and Large Catechisms. Consider what it means that “you are so free now that you can pick up the Ten Commandments and do them not for yourself or to justify yourself before God, but for the sake of those around you . . . as a guide for you to love your Father by loving those around you”.[3] Read Luther’s works and learn what it means to be the “masks of God” to your neighbor. You can supplement that reading with more recent theologians’ writings on it, like Gene Edward Veith’s extensive article.[4] As you live each day remember, “Christ . . . is fixed and cemented to me and abides in me. The life that I now live, He lives in me”.[5] Know that through Christ in your baptism and in your vocations, you now able to and get to “be imitators of God” and “submit to one another” (Ephesians 5:1–2, 18b–21) and to “present . . . your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13), and serve Christ by serving “the least of these” (Matthew 25:35–40). As you study the doctrines of the Christian faith, look for the thread of vocation, remember the baby Jesus who died and rose again for you so that you might “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3–4), and “live from your baptism”.[6]


Deaconess Betsy Karkan serves at Concordia University-Chicago.


[1] Kolb, Robert. “Called to Milk Cows and Govern Kingdoms Martin Luther’s Teaching on the Christian’s Vocation.” Concordia Journal, 2013: 133-141.

[2] Ibid

[3] Borghardt, Rev. George. Reformation Day Sermon. Produced by Concordia University Chicago. Performed by Rev. George Borghardt. 2015.

[4] Veith, Gene Edward. “The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides Himself in Human Work.” Modern Reformation Vol 8, no. No 3 (May/June 1999): 4-7.

[5] Luther, AE 26:167

[6] Bruzek, Rev. Dr. Scott. St. John Catechumenate Week 1. 2015. Lecture.