Why Faith and Work?
As a pastor, before I ever heard Faith and Work theology explained I felt deeply skeptical of its importance. It simply did not seem to be something with which I should be concerned. At least it could not be such a necessity for Christian discipleship that it would constitute teaching my people. But then I sat in a room in New York City and heard David Kim, the Executive Director for the Center for Faith and Work in NYC, speak about Faith and Work theology for 5 minutes and I was immediately convinced of its vital importance. Why? How? That is what I want to briefly explain here.
There are some in the so-called Faith and Work movement that would prefer we label this type of thinking “Whole-life Discipleship,” and I can’t say I disagree with them. The reason is because Faith and Work theology is essentially the belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a message of salvation for our souls, but a message of salvation for the whole world! That Jesus, through His life, death, and resurrection, inaugurated the restoration of all things, including humanity’s purpose in the world. So that the application of the gospel to us is not just salvation, but the repurposing of our lives to work for the good of the world. Let me explain.
created to work
It is no secret that “work” is something humans were created to do before sin ever entered our world. This is clear in Gen. 2:15, which states that “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Adam was to work the garden. Actually, the very fact that Adam was placed in a garden implies this, since gardens are not natural phenomena (that would be a field). Gardens require someone to intentionally tend to them so that they flourish. Nevertheless, before we ever get to Genesis 2:15 one can surmise that work is intrinsic to what it means to be human through man and woman being created in “God’s image.”
Gods in the ancient world always had a cult image meant to mediate and represent them to the people. In other words, these images were meant to be a manifestation of these gods on earth. Thus, to be the in the image of a god means to be a representation of that god; to literally reflect, represent, and manifest the characteristics of that god. But if we think about this in relation to humanity being created in God’s image in Genesis 1:26-28? It would mean that we were created to work. For that is all we see God doing leading up to these verses in Genesis. We see God create (1:1), order and arrange (1:4,7,11-12, etc.), define (1:17), name (1:8,10,etc.), appoint and bless (1:22), behold or appreciate (1:4, 10, 12, etc.), and rule. Thus, as God’s image we were created to do the same. Which is exactly what we see humans either do or be told to do in Genesis 1-2. We see humans called to create (through birth and care for the garden), order and arrange (through having dominion), subdue the earth, again care for the garden, name the animals, spread God’s blessing, behold and appreciate the creation of the woman, and rule over the earth. Therefore, we see that not only was humanity created to image God, but it did do this in Genesis 1-2.
Nevertheless, we all know that humanity did not continue to fulfill their purpose, but rebelled against God. Rather than having dominion over creation, and ruling it in ways that reflected and obeyed God, man and woman followed the lead of a part of God’s creation (the serpent), and so were led to disobey God. This means that rather than work to cultivate the earth, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with God’s blessing, man and woman introduced pain in childbearing, difficulty in cultivating the earth, and ultimately death to our world. Yes, we were created to work for the glory of God, and good of the world - but sought our own glory and so introduced pain into our world.
However, if this is what we were created to do and this is what we lost through our sin, then it follows that the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot simply be the message that we can personally have a relationship with God once again, but also that we can once again fulfill our purpose as humans in this world. It means that while the call given to humanity to cultivate the world is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ, the redeemed of Jesus Christ are called to live in light of this redemption as well by seeking to do all we can each and every day of our lives to glorify God and care for the world in and through our work.