By Daniel J. Lee
Creation showed us work’s meaning and purpose: it expresses our dignity as God's image-bearers, and is a means to humanity’s flourishing. The Fall showed us work’s problems: sin and suffering now riddle the path to flourishing. Our children refuse our instruction, employment can be fickle, news of corruption abounds, and stress threatens to ruin our health. Is there any hope for work?
Thankfully, there is. The Fall may raise the aching question of whether hope can be found, but God’s answer is an uncompromising, relentless Yes. And his answer is a person. In the final two chapters of the Bible – Redemption and Restoration – God shines a spotlight on this person, who walks onto the center stage of history: Jesus Christ. Today, we’ll see how Jesus and the Redemption and Restoration that he brings are good news for work and for workers. The key is this: he’s begun a new creation.
Redemption & Restoration: the Work of Christ
The gospel begins with the news that the eternal Son of God became man in Jesus Christ. He became fully human, but he also came as the last Adam, the promised seed of Eve, who would work to undo Adam’s Fall (Gen 3:14-15). His work would be to obey God in two ways: to obey where we’ve disobeyed, and to suffer the penalty of our disobedience.
Jesus worked by obeying God as a representative and substitute for humanity. Jesus faced ‘thorns and thistles’ in his work, just as we do (Gen 2:15ff; Matt 4:1-4). But while we respond to our difficult environment by lashing out against God and sinning, Jesus responded by obeying. For every one of our failures to work as God calls us to, Jesus succeeded in working obediently.
But Jesus also worked by receiving the wages we earned by our disobedient work – death, or separation from God (Rom 6:23). The sinless one ‘became sin for us,’ bearing the weight of our sin and its penalties on his shoulders. And on the cross, having lived a life of honest toil in the place of dishonest workers, he offered up his life. He died and was buried in the ground. The blessed Son of God completed his descent from heaven into our broken world as he took a place in the cursed ground beside Adam and his fallen sons (Gen 3:19).
In a sense, the Owner of the company, having seen his employees ruin his business, decided not to fire them. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves, cleaned up their mess, and finished their work. And when he had finished it, he was axed from the company in their place.
The gospel, however, doesn’t end there. God didn’t forget His Son’s costly work. He had promised him a reward for his work. And three days later, He gave him his reward when He raised him from the dead. He brought him back to heaven, where He seated him on a throne to rule over His Kingdom and over all his enemies, including sin and death (1 Cor 15:3-4).
In all of this work, the last Adam fulfilled the Cultural Mandate given to the first Adam. He crushed the Serpent’s head, banishing him from creation. He inaugurated a new creation and assumed royal dominion over it as its King. He brought this new creation Kingdom to earth. This is Christ’s ‘already’ accomplished work of Redemption.
But there’s also a ‘not yet’ to his work, a future phase, what’s referred to as Restoration. He’ll come back as King in power. He’ll undo the Fall’s effects in our bodies, raising the dead and giving his people resurrection bodies (Rom 8:23). He’ll undo the Fall in the rest of creation, as he brings the Kingdom of Heaven to earth in its fullness, and creates a new world (Matt 19:28; Rev 21:1-2). He’ll lift the curse upon the ground (Isa 55:13). Creation will no longer resist us. Our difficult toil will end as we enter into his eternal rest, and into a land flowing with milk and honey. He will wipe away every tear and banish death forever, just as we sing each Christmas: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; thorns and thistles no more.”
From the ashes of his ruined business, the Owner is raising a new and unshakable one. What a work! And what a difference it makes for our work.
Redemption Applied: New Workers of a New Creation
Anyone who believes in Jesus is united to him and reaps the benefits of his work. By grace, we freeload off of Jesus’ reward. We enter into his new creation Kingdom. Every benefit of salvation that marks the beginning of the Christian life – forgiveness of sins, new life, becoming a child of God – is actually an aspect of entering into this new creation and being united with its King (2 Cor 5:17). And everything after that – becoming more like Christ, entering into heaven when we die, receiving resurrection bodies when he returns – are further benefits of belonging to the new creation.
Consider reflecting on one or two questions a day.
In Ephesians 2:1-10, the Apostle Paul explains how this new creation life relates to work.
1. Our work cannot redeem.
All of salvation comes sheerly by the grace of God, and not by our work (2:8-9). It’s common among Christians and non-Christians to think that it’s possible for us to bring about a world void of suffering or evil, or that our work ‘redeems’ culture or brings the Kingdom of God. But Paul clearly teaches against such utopianism. Optimism becomes unfettered when it ignores the reality of the fall and the need for divine intervention. This passage says our work can never bring about the new creation or the kingdom of God; only God can. And thankfully, He does. This is why prayer for our work is crucial, and effective. It’s also why work can never take the place of sharing the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation, and the way God calls us to invite others to enter into His kingdom. The Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission belong together.
Where do you see the belief that human effort alone can bring about a perfect world? When do you tend not to pray?
2. While our work may not redeem, workers are redeemed. In fact, we’re re-created.
Unfettered optimism may deny the need for God, but unbelieving pessimism denies the power of God. Paul writes that “we are [God]’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:10). Paul looks back, down the corridors of time. The original creation came with a race of workers who worked evil instead of good. The new creation also comes with a race of workers, but they are different: they are created in the image of Jesus, the last Adam. And like their new CEO, these new employees can do good works.
Does the way you work tend to image Adam or Christ? How does the news that those who are united to Christ by faith are a new creation, able to do good work, give you hope for change?
3. Further, work counts in the redeemed world. First, it points back to the redemptive work of Christ.
Believers are re-created in the image of the great Worker who used all of his talents and resources to serve others. So they too use their talents and resources to serve others through their work. Their good works include all acts of love towards others, all attempts to work for the flourishing of humanity. Such good works shine the light of Christ in a dark world; they serve as deed-witnesses, even as their efforts to share the gospel serve as word-witnesses (Matt 5:16).
How can you assume the posture of a Christ-like servant in your work? How can you see your work as an expression of love towards others?
4. Second, work also points ahead to the world that is to come.
The good works of believers image Christ ‘prophetically’ by pointing ahead to his great future work of Restoration. Their work may only bring temporary relief and imperfect flourishing to a suffering world, but it anticipates the One who will bring final relief and permanent flourishing. Their work points to the reality that the new creation kingdom has already come, and that it is coming in fullness and power. Every work that softens the blow of the Fall – that brings order to chaos, beauty to disfigurement, healing to infirmity, peace to the wounds of strife, water to the parched throat, and a glimmer of hope for the downcast – points ahead to the One who will one day wipe away every tear, lift up every downcast head, and blot out every throe of death forever. It points to the world that will one day be.
How does your work point ahead to Christ’s work of Restoration? How does it ‘soften the blow of the Fall’?
How does the promise that Christ will finish the good work you’re trying to do give you hope?
5. Third, work has consequences in the world that is to come.
The workers of the new creation have a new boss – Jesus (Col 3:23-24). He watches their work, and promises them a new salary – the riches of the world to come (Matt 6:19-21). Their work also has results in the new world. Our work will be unveiled, tested, and its fruits revealed. And only the work that has been done for Christ will last beyond that judgment (1 Cor 3:13; Gal 6:9). This means that Christians don’t work ultimately for the approval of people, but for the approval of God. It also means that while we can be grateful for our earthly blessings, they're barely even fringe benefits, and we cannot look to them for our lasting security. We await a better, lasting reward in heaven. So we should hold our earthly blessings loosely. We can give generously to others. We can follow God’s calling about our career, despite the risk of losing earthly blessings.
How are you hoping in this world instead of in the world to come? Does the fear of losing earthly blessing – the approval of others, salary, job security or advancement – keep you from following God’s calling with regard to your career? How might God be calling you to loosen your grip on the earthly, temporal blessings that you look for through your work?
How are you already seeking to share Christ with those you relate to through work? How can you pray for greater boldness and preparedness? Consider praying each morning for such preparedness.
We’ve seen just some of the many ways the gospel of Jesus Christ changes our work. He’s creating a new race of workers, enabling anyone who believes in him to do work that is actually good, work that counts for eternity. One day he will re-create the world, the material of our work. And every work that's been done for him will stand permanently in the new world, giving glory to its King.
This concludes the teaching portion of this series. We’ve looked at how the storyline of Scripture helps us view our work with new eyes, with God’s eyes. Look out for interviews, in which we’ll see how members of Maranatha try to approach their own work as those swept up into the drama of redemption.
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