So, I’ve rambled on here, here, and here previously about faith, good works, and new creation. Having moved on from the first part, I’m now up to good works and new creation. Well then, what are good works?
I’m convinced that my (and I suspect our) definition of good works is way too narrow. I usually think of good works as giving money to the poor, volunteering at a shelter, or things along those lines. While I’m convinced that those are good works, I’m wondering if we can’t expand the term somewhat. I’m wondering if instead of small, discrete good deeds, we couldn’t conceive of something broader. My thought is that good works not only include things like alms, but also hard, honest labor in a variety of fields. Working hard at your school work or job can be ‘good works.’ Working hard in an art, whether it’s music, photography, or photoshop can be ‘good works.’
Essentially, I think that God has a bigger conception of ‘good works’ than we do (shocking, I know!). To justify this, I’ll go all the way back to Genesis. Basically, mankind was put on the Earth for more than just worship and relationship, as wonderful as those two things are. We were also put here for work! Before I scare off everyone who hates their job, let me qualify that a bit. God’s labor for us is deeply rewarding, not pointless toil. We get plenty of glimpses of it in this life. It’s like the sense of fulfillment a painter gets after spending hours hard at work on a piece. Adam had an important part to play in the creation. He didn’t just sit around lying in a hammock drinking pineapple juice with God. The human vocation, as expressed by Adam and Eve, was to wisely rule over creation. Naming the animals wasn’t just a fun gimmick, giving a name to something in the Hebrew culture gave it identity and purpose. This work Adam was given in Genesis 2:15 is related to the good works we encounter in the New Testament. When the ancient Jews translated Genesis into Greek, they used the same word for ‘work’ in Genesis 2:15 that the New Testament writers often used for ‘good works.’ I do think that the labor in the garden was ‘good works.’
We see a similar thread in the New Testament with Paul’s letters. Colossians 3 is a good chapter for this. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We see the same with Paul’s instructions to slaves later in the chapter: “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord, and not men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” That means, when I’m working at IBM, plodding through programming source code, I’m serving Jesus. When I’m working away on essays and projects for school, I’m also serving Jesus. Certainly, we can’t forget acts of charity and generosity, but we must (I must!) conceive of our whole lives in service to the Messiah with whom we’ve died and been raised.
Which brings us to Resurrection, the fuel for all Christian labor. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and we will be too. Our labor now will have an impact in the age to come. How? I don’t know. But everything from Bible study to biochemistry has a role to play. Our hope in the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting” is the fuel for our efforts now. We must not forget Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians, after a huge discourse on resurrection: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”