Updated: Feb 10, 2019
The Biblical Precedent For Faith, Work and Calling
Recently, a friend asked for a few verses or parables to shed light on our continuing discussion about faith, work, and calling. The question was not posed from a position of skepticism, but as an encouragement to continue a fruitful dialogue. The gauntlet has been thrown, the challenge accepted! But, before offering a Biblical answer, it seems important to decide if we have a Biblical approach to the question. History is filled with examples of individuals or groups using Scriptures to justify the most insidious ideas and commit the most heinous atrocities. With a small Scriptural nudge, heretical movements have sprung to life, leading millions astray. The Bible has been used to justify racism, rebellion, oppression, slavery, and tyranny; just to name a few. Cults and heretics have never been condemned because they lacked Biblical evidence or examples, they were condemned because their approach to the evidence was unbiblical. Whatever topic we approach, whatever theology we attempt to construct; our faithful interpretation or “hermeneutic” is the first order of business.
If God has revealed himself in all creation and through the Scriptures, then every topic becomes a valid area of pursuit in seeking wisdom, knowledge and understanding. If all creation declares God’s glory, we are not only given the honor to seek, but more importantly, the responsibility to seek His truth and wisdom in all things. If the incarnation is a fact of history, it confirms that redemption has cosmic consequences, with creation sharing in its final outcome. It tells us Christ cares about “Everything!” The Scripture gives us the interpretive lens to seek, to know, to understand and to delight in this amazing universe. In fact, responsible Christians should be asking questions, such as, “What is the theology of entertainment? What does God think about beauty or art? How do we find meaning in suffering? How does the Gospel impact our work or business?” In other words, giving answers from the Bible is a much easier task than thinking Biblically. It requires thinking about the story arch of Scripture, the patterns, themes and anchoring ideas.
There are three Biblical anchors, which must be established, to give context to the topic of faith, calling and work. First, it’s important to uncover what the Bible communicates about human beings as “Image Bearers” of God. Man was created as the best reflection, in all creation, of the nature and character of the Triune God. Genesis one and two reveal a God who works; creating, forming, filling, and delighting in His world. This is a free and eternal act of love, flowing from the infinite and intimate joy shared between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God creates and provides order, abundance and a framework for creation to grow and flourish. Yet, Scripture reveals that creation’s potential is not fully realized. God chose to create an image bearer to work and rule as kings and queens under the great Creator King of the universe. Man was called to work before the fall ever took place (Psalm 8). Theologians call this “The Creational Mandate.” Our original purpose was to be in direct communion with God, reflecting that communion through our relationship with others and creative work in creation.
Second, it is important to acknowledge something went terribly wrong. Mankind rebelled against God and His plan, choosing for themselves what they should be and what they should do. This treason impacted every inch of creation. Man’s high character and calling were not utterly destroyed, but they were distorted and marred. Our relationships with God and others were broken. Our relationship with creation damaged. Our work of dominion hindered. Mankind’s high calling to work was now accompanied with toil, sweat, pain and death. Scripture reveals even after the fall man continued to create and shape culture, but our search for meaning became bent toward erecting our own story and grasping at our own vision of life’s ultimate goal.
Finally, it is necessary to understand God’s full response to the tragedy of sin. Did God change His original plans for creation after mankind’s fall? Did God scrap the first draft of His incredible story for the world? The answer is No! Rather than starting over, God chose to write himself into His own story. He became a man, like the men he made; becoming the second Adam; playing by His own rules; paying the price for sin; redeeming rebels; and restoring human beings to their rightful place. Christ’s incarnation forever puts to rest whether God abandoned his creation. In other words, creation has a stake in the redemption of Christ. “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). The hope of mankind also becomes the hope of the cosmos.
Once these Biblical truths are firmly established, we now have the ability to point out Scriptural texts or examples to help illustrate the principles of faith, calling and work. In these truths, we understand why fallen humanity continued in culture building, resulting in the tower of Babel. We comprehend God’s purpose in giving Israel, not only moral and sacrificial laws, but laws governing civil society and protections for land. We can recognize God’s use of proverbs to teach economic integrity, fairness, wealth, laziness, and the welfare of others. We understand why the prophets often speak of God’s passion for justice, and civil righteousness. We can explain why John the Baptist commands tax collectors and soldiers to keep their positions, but refrain from greed and exploitation. We get a glimpse of what Jesus is truly saying when he proclaims he “came to give life and give it abundantly” (John 10:10). We can discern why the writers of the epistles often speak of work, wealth, masters, and servants in applying the Gospel to life. “Whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31) Paul uses the lowest common denominator of eating and drinking (an act we share with the animals), to show that all of life falls under the Kingship of Christ. Finally, we can perceive the height, breadth and depth of meaning in passages describing the liberation of all creation (Romans 8:19-22); or the reconciliation of all things through Christ (Colossians 1:19). We are called to a great mission, confidently planting the flag of Christ’s reign on every inch of this world, with an expectation that one day the King will appear. There will be a new heaven and new earth. It is the glorious story that begins in a garden, but ends in a city (Revelation 21).