The series The Gift of Limitation serves as the supplemental Bible study guide to the sermon of the same name available here as a podcast (February 28, 2016). This series aims to highlight how the power of God at work in your life entails honoring specific divine limits. If you respect these limits, God offers protection and will demonstrate His divine power. If you overstep these limits, you fall out of the domain of God’s protection and are left to your own devices.
The gift of calling equals a limit of opportunity.
Isaiah 43:7 tells us that humankind was created to glorify God. This signifies our global purpose and the legitimate meaning of life. A calling is therefore that specific way in which you glorify God in your life. So, your calling could be to be a spiritual mother. It could be to be a Bible preacher. It could be to be an evangelist. It could be to be a church planter. What I shall explain is that once you have a firm idea of what your calling is, you therefore have a limit on the opportunities that you will take because many will fall outside of the limits of your calling. So, for example, if you are called to be a Bible teacher and are offered a “golden opportunity” to become famous and make tons of money doing something that will deter you from teaching the Bible, this is an opportunity not worth taking because it falls outside of the boundaries of your calling.
The inherent difficulty with this gift is that we live in a culture that views opportunity as something that is always to be grasped. Opportunity is never seen as a detriment or a subliminal stumbling block but as something that will invariably engender personal advancement.
In the Bible, the ultimate limit-keeper is Jesus. He is the One who followed all of God’s commands and obeyed the Law perfectly (see Hebrews 4:15).
Satan, however, is the ultimate limit-breaker. He is the one who despises God and His commandments and therefore transgressed the ultimate limit: to be like God. Look at what the prophet says of Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12:
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’” (emphasis added).
Lucifer saw an opportunity to be like God. This opportunity enticed him to do what? To reject his God-given design and to rewrite his unique story. By design, Lucifer was created good by God. By design, he was called to be an angel in heaven who worshipped The Lord. Lucifer rejected who God called him to be and said, “I want to be like someone else. I want to be better. I want to be like the Most High.” This is why sin is so cataclysmically dangerous. Sin is what enticed the devil to transgress limits, resulting in his fall and being cast out of heaven. Sin is what entices individuals and churches to reject the vision of their uniqueness. Sin is what compels you to compare yourself to something or someone else and say, “I can be bigger, better, and stronger.” Sin is so destructive, it turned Lucifer into the devil. The devil was not “born” the devil. Sin is what made the devil who he is. Had Lucifer had the gift of calling, there would be no devil.
Here is a catch that most Christians neglect to embrace. Paul writes in Romans 7:13 (NLT), “We can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes.” Accordingly, the devil loves enticing people to sin by packaging it in an opportunity that seems good or that even seems to be in God’s best interests. And because of a dominant culture that loves opportunity, sometimes we can’t help but unwrap the big shiny box that has “opportunity” written on the top.
Look at Adam and Eve. The devil enticed Eve (Genesis 3:1-5) to take hold of an opportunity to eat of the fruit of the tree so that she would know things just like God. The devil even started the conversation by talking about God in order to psychologically frame the proposal: “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” Yet what Eve failed to realize was her calling as a creation that should respect the limits put in place by the Creator.
Right after His baptism, we find Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil. At the core, each temptation invited the Messiah to cross over the limit that God had placed around Him. Part of the reason why the temptation story is so important is because the devil uses the same strategy when tempting us today. It is a crucial issue of spiritual warfare, especially for those individuals who are seeking to obey God’s will in their lives.
In Luke 4, the devil presented Jesus with several opportunities to demonstrate His power. And guess what? All three opportunities actually used God to divert Jesus away from God.
For example, in Luke 4:6-7, the devil basically said, “You call yourself the Son of God, right? So shouldn’t you have a kingdom fitting of a God? Worship me and I will give you more power, more control, and more respect.” The devil framed the opportunity to make it seem as if obeying God meant no limits, uncapping how high Jesus could reach. (Compare this to the fraudulent prosperity gospel.) In short, the devil weaponized God and His Word. Thankfully for us, Jesus knew His calling and obeyed God’s limits. His response was very clear: “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only’” (Luke 4:8).
Recognizing that the devil chose to tempt the Son of God with an opportunity that compelled breaking the limits imposed by the Word of God significantly changes how we perceive opportunity in the present. Imagine a gifted, young, persuasive, and charismatic preacher who has a sense of the calling on his life. He preaches sound doctrine and clings closely to the Word. The devil knows that the path of greatest resistance is to make this person change his vocation and reject God outright. So, the path of lesser resistance is to persuade the preacher to actually use his gifts and transgress a limit.
Imagine that one day someone approaches this young man and says, “You know, you truly are called by God to do wonderful things. You are anointed. But it seems that where you are right now is limited. You have a name for yourself locally, but I want to take you globally. I’m talking TV, radio, social media, and all the works. You have one church now, but I can give you many. The thing is … if we go global, your message has to be different. Most people don’t like all that sin stuff … all that stuff about the Cross, blood, and Jesus. We have to change things up a bit. So, what do you say? Does this sound like a golden opportunity?” How this young man answers this question will change how he preaches and what he preaches about. Just imagine the damage that could be done if he says yes and starts proclaiming half-truths in the name of God. He, too, has now become an agent of the one who first weaponized God’s Word. And what is truly unsettling is when we contemplate this reality with what Romans 11:29 (KJV) says: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” This essentially means that God never revokes your gifts. So, if you are lured away from your calling, your gifts remain intact and free for you to use even if you turn your back on God. Lucifer knows this full well, and this gives him all the more incentive to keep you using your God-given talents in non-repentant ways.
Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus all had to be in a “desert” at some point in their lives, and this wilderness experience brought these men closer to God. Why? Well, one reason is that intentionally focused time with God—that is, without distractions and without opportunities—allows a person to nurture a deep, personal relationship with the One who gave us our callings in the first place. And when we have a keen sense of that calling, all the opportunities that once were so attractive now have to be judged by whether or not they fall within the contours of God’s calling. Hence, opportunities can be opportunities, but they can also be temptations in disguise. Furthermore, spending focused, dedicated time with God will actually give you a special type of rest that opportunity is wholly incapable of providing. And the gift of rest will be our topic for Part III …