Michael Keyfaith and work

What is Christian work?

Michael Keyfaith and work
What is Christian work?

What ought a Christian to be doing? What are the tasks of a Christian? Typical responses might include attending church, praying, reading the Bible, serving the poor, or sharing the gospel. These are the things Christian do. Some, with awareness of Jesus’ parting words at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, would answer slightly differently. Our primary goal consists in going into all the world and making disciples. How could your response err by quoting Jesus directly? 

Quoting Jesus, without the full context of Scripture, builds confidence and certainty (I mean, we’re simply stating exactly what the Son of God himself said!) but lacks nuance and substance. Because all of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16), Jesus’ word appears in every line, not just those that publishers color red. While making disciples certainly answers the question correctly (as does being a witness according to Acts 1:8), we rarely capture the fullness of the sentiment because we focus solely on those red verses.

Spiritual Work vs. Earthly Work

In the opening chapters of Genesis, God proclaims that Adam and Eve bear his image and then provides them with a number of tasks, presumably tasks which mirror the nature of God. Christians in a sense, however, constitute a new creation (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), but this does not mean that the tasks assigned to humanity at the beginning become obsolete, replaced by a call to witness, evangelize, and disciple. If that were the case, then one of two results ought to follow. One, all Christians should quit their occupation and take up the task of evangelizing full time. Or two, Christians ought to view their occupation only as a field for witnessing. 

Christians are in fact called to proclaim the gospel, which can occur in any sphere of a person’s life, including work. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we probably ought to be asking the Holy Spirit to lead us into more opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. However, we can wrongfully pit evangelism against work, the former characterizing the new humanity in Christ, the latter characterizing the old humanity under Adam. This new humanity, though, is really a restored version of the old. According to Paul in Colossians 3, the old nature of sin is cast off, not the whole manner of normal human living, and we become clothed in righteousness, “renewed in the knowledge of God after the image of [our] creator” (Colossians 3:10).

This understanding instills in us a proper perspective of our daily work and our heavenly calling and allows us to recognize that our daily work is in fact an essential part of our heavenly calling. While a burden for the lost ought to weigh on our hearts heavily, too often we see our response of evangelism to unbelief as the only proper calling of the Christian. In such a view, the tasks of our daily work become a burden themselves but the kind that emotionally and psychologically wear us down, not the kind that inspires us to action. Why? Because that work lacks the heavenly impetus that evangelism does. We see it as a distraction from our true vocation.

But the Christian, as Colossians 3:10 noted, has the image of God restored in her. Thus, by analyzing the tasks given to Adam, we can take a look at what bearing the image of God properly looks like. Living according to the Kingdom of God includes, of course, inviting others into the kingdom but also following the mandates of Genesis 1-2, what some theologians call our Cultural Mandate. This is what we are restored to accomplish in part. As we are in Christ, we are empowered by his Spirit to be true humanity, to bear his image as he intended to his glory.

What then is the work of true humanity? What does it mean (at least in part) to bear the image of God

Purpose According to Genesis

At least four main categories capture the essence of Adam’s tasks. As you answer the question “What do you do for work?” then, you can truthfully respond with one or more of these and, in so doing, recognize a deeper reality underlying your daily work than perhaps you tend to recognize. These deeper realities that permeate practically all occupations can be distilled from Genesis 1:28 and 2:15:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Fruitfully Multiplying

To reproduce and develop healthy families and communities constitutes the first command to Adam and Eve. Moms and dads the world over fulfill this purpose. How often do we remind parents that rearing children is a holy calling from God? Community developers, teachers, and others also contribute as they assist the fruitfulness of the multiplying.

Stewarding

To have dominion is not to dominate; it is to take responsibility and care for. Many participate in the stewarding of individual gifts and resources as well as the earth’s resources. Even what we might consider a “low” and “dirty” occupation like a garbage man can engage in such activities. Any number of industries and jobs take part in stewarding.

Ordering

In the command to fill the earth and subdue it as well as the task to work and keep the garden, we may note two more general tasks assigned to humanity. Humans order and build. Sure, this might consist of actual construction projects. But organizational systems and structures of thought also count.

Cultivating

Finally, to develop and cultivate culture follows our God-given purpose. Musicians and designers who cultivate aesthetic sensibilities do this, but so do athletes who cultivate physical sensibilities. Farmers are not the only cultivators. 

These categories of work include just about every occupation in some form or fashion. As we reorient our notion of our work to see our jobs as holy callings which fulfill our created purpose as found in Genesis, we more rightly understand the task of a Christian. What is the task of a Christian? What counts as Christian work? As Dorothy Sayers said, “Good work. Done well.” Doing your work as a redeemed person. Embodying the values of the Kingdom of God in the day to day. This, in fact, powerfully witnesses to the transformative work of Christ. 

My next post will consider just this: how the redemption you have received in Christ can seep into your work. But my hope now is that you Christian would recognize the full breadth of your vocational calling and begin to identify the ways in which your daily work actually fits into God’s design for humanity. Drawing closer to God, then, does more than prepare you to evangelize or to lead a Bible study. It allows you to glorify him in your image-bearing work.