For a couple of years, I found myself advocating a view that all the work I did as a Christian was part of God’s overall work of redemption in this world. I grabbed a hold of the Creation – Fall – Redemption – Consummation matrix and applied it in ways I now no longer see as consistent with Scripture.
I still think the Creation – Fall – Redemption – Consummation matrix is valid. I just think I was applying it incorrectly.
I believe this overlaps significantly with questions regarding the definition of the Gospel itself and the importance of differentiating the Gospel from good and necessary implications of the Gospel.
You see, initially I would have stated the matrix as Creation – Fall – Redemption and left off Consummation. However, in doing that I merged things belonging to Consummation into Redemption.
I was doing this, in part, because I wanted to help people see why their work mattered to God. Why is working 40+ hours a week as a seamstress significant in the eyes of God as opposed to quitting your job and just sharing the Gospel all day? What better way to give significance to our work than claim it is part of the work of Redemption in this world?
Of course, if it isn’t, then I am giving people a false basis of significance.
So does this mean that my work doesn’t matter to God? Of course not…
The questions are: Why does my work matter? How is my work related to the Gospel? And how does my work fit into God’s plan of Redemption and Consummation?
The work we do as Christians matters:
- Because we’ve been created in the image (Gen. 1:26-27) of God who, Himself works and therefore doing work (of any kind which does not violate the teaching of Scripture and/or the character of God) is a significant way in which we reflect God’s image in this world. Work itself is not a result of the Fall, but has been made more difficult because of the Fall.
- God gave men and women the responsibility to exercise dominion over the Earth (Gen. 1:28). Our work is the primary way in which we fulfil this Creation Mandate.
- God gave the first man, Adam, the specific responsibility to work the land (Gen. 2:5, 15), to develop it. Our work, even if not directly related to agriculture, is our primary opportunity to fulfil this God given purpose of creation development.
- As Christians we have the great joy of knowing that all we do, our work included, brings glory to God our Father (1 Cor. 10:31).
- As Christians we have the tremendous freedom to fulfil our work/calling as unto the Lord and not as one who is controlled by worldly expectations (Eph. 6:5-9).
- As Christians we have the privilege of knowing that all I have comes from the Lord and my work gives me resources to share with others who are more needy than myself (James 1:17; 2 Cor. 8:1-17; Prov. 3:28; Prov. 11:24).
But is my work part of God’s work of Redemption in the world?
The Scriptures are certainly clear. God is not only working to save individual sinners through the proclamation of the Gospel. He is also intent on undoing the full curse of sin, even that part of the curse that has subjected creation itself to futility (Romans 8:18-25; Col. 1:20).
However, my 40+ hours each week as an accountant isn’t working to redeem accounting from the curse of sin.
My effort to write beautiful music or paint magnificent art isn’t redeeming that art form from the curse of sin.
My sacrificial service to my community in establishing a program that aids abused children isn’t redeeming/transforming my community out from under the curse of sin.
As a Christian and I free to do any or all of these things to the glory of God and as I serve Him faithfully in these efforts sometimes God allows me to contribute in some small or significant way in making the lives of other people better.
However, nothing is tangibly redeemed. The curse of sin has no less a grip on my community, this Earth, or my culture at large.
In other words, my good works are not the Gospel. The Gospel compels me to do good works. There are good and necessary implications of the Gospel which will lead me to fulfilling my calling/vocation/work differently than I would if the Gospel had not transformed me by bring me to a place of faith in Christ and repentance from my sin. In fact, the transforming power of the Gospel in my life might compel me to change vocations/jobs. More critically, if there is no change in the way I go about my work or the motivation I have in doing my work – no good works (James 2) – I ought to question whether the faith I profess is saving faith.
You see Redemption is not my work, it is God’s. Even more starkly, Consummation is not my work it is God’s.
Some thoughts from Mark Dever (Dever, Mark. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic, 2012, pg. 85 & 86.):
Suffering is an inevitable part of this fallen world. Poverty, war, famine, death, and other tragic effects of the fall will not end except by the bodily, visible return of Christ (see Mark 14:7; John 12:8; Rev. 6:1-11). The heavenly city will come down; it won’t be built up, constructed from the ground up, as it were (Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:2). It’s coming is as one-sided as creation, the exodus, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the regeneration of the individual heart… If human culture can ever be said to be redeemed, it will be God doing it, not us.
The gospel’s main thrust is not to renew the fallen structures of this world but rather to create a new community of those purchased by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 5:6-12) and washed with his Word (Eph. 5:26-27).
Scripture presents no hope that society will be broadly and permanently transformed by the preaching of the Gospel (Matt. 24:21-22,29), which is not to deny that great good will be done through the church’s faithful stewardship of the gospel. Individual conversions will have profound effects for good on people, not only in eternity but in this life… The trajectory of unredeemed human history as recorded in Scripture is always toward judgement…
In summary, what do I understand from Scripture?
The Gospel cannot be less than the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, God in the flesh, Who lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death for His people, satisfied the just wrath of the Heavenly Father, providing for forgiveness of sins for all those who confess their sins and trust in Christ-alone by faith.
This same Gospel changes and transforms the lives of all true followers of Christ enabling them, by the power of the Spirit, to lives more and more in conformity with God’s revealed will in His Word. Though not everything a transformed Christian is called to do in following Christ is itself the Gospel, everything, including our work, God has called us to do are good and necessary implications of the Gospel.
Therefore, my work is not the Gospel. Everything a Christian does is not the Gospel. The Gospel has a bearing on everything I do as a Christian, but not everything I do as a Christian is the Gospel.
The significance I find in my work is not that I am doing Gospel work by crunching numbers as an accountant, or painting as an artist. I am not looking for significance in knowing that my work is somehow redeeming my vocation, community, or culture. I am content, satisficed and find fulfilment in my calling as I glorify God in all I do by faithfully stewarding my gifts & the resources He has given me by doing good to/for my neighbour.
I hold no expectation for contributing anything to the final work of consummation when God will most certainly free all of creation from the effects of sin, transform all culture, & reconcile all things unto himself.