Faith, Good Works, and New Creation (Part Four)

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.”


Faith, Good Works, and New Creation (Part Two)

As I was working on the first post in this series, it occurred quite suddenly to me:  faith is inextricably tied to the character of the “object,”  the person, idea, or thing in which we place our faith.  I had been thinking about faith solely from the perspective of the person having faith (a rather selfish perspective).  However, it’s impossible to isolate faith from its object (for lack of a better word), particularly when Jesus tells us to “have faith in God;  have faith in me.” I want to explore the trust aspect of faith within this more “subjective” framework.

This is not a part of faith I hadn’t heard before.  I’ve read often enough that it’s the “object” of faith that is truly important.  I guess I just never paused long enough to consider the implications (plus object sounds too much like a grammatical word to be truly interesting ;-) ).  Essentially, faith by itself is of some value.  We tend to respect someone for following their convictions even if we disagree with them.  However, “earnestness” does not justify its action.  You can be completely sincere and completely wrong.  What we believe (or who we believe in, or who we trust)  matters just as much as how we believe.

So how does this relate to Christian faith?  Our faith must be rooted in the character of God expressed in Jesus of Nazareth.  I don’t think we can successfully root it in some “epistemology” of faith explaining why or how to believe in God.  Essentially, faith must start with God and work toward us.  We can’t start with ourselves and work toward God.  This is right in line with the message of Scripture.  “Be holy, for I am holy.”  “We love because he first loved us.”  We are to be faithful because God himself is faithful.  All of the ethical imperatives of the New Testament are undergirded and prefixed by the message Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Jesus loved to the uttermost, so we must love.  Jesus forgave, so we must forgive.  Of course, it’s more than that.  Jesus inaugurated, or rather launched, the Kingdom of God.  Our faith is wrapped up in this Kingdom project that Jesus launched and that he has handed over to us.  “All authority has been given to me;  therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”   One day he’ll return for consummation, to finally fulfill that which he started.  Until then we must be faithful with the tasks he has given us.

So this post has taken a different path than I thought it would, but it still brings us quite nicely to an important topic:  Good works.  Soon enough I’ll examine why good works are absolutely crucial to our faith in God.  In stead of examining the interplay between love with faith, I’ll try to work that in as we look at how are faith expresses itself through works.