Good Work and Grace: They’re Both Good!

By David Williamson.

“Good work and work places are not antithetical to grace. In fact, grace is absolutely and insistently at home in work and workplace,” writes Eugene Peterson in the book Practice Resurrection. Paul makes sure that we get this right by placing the term “good works” in the same sentence in which he discusses grace: We are not only saved by grace, but “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Fundamentally, work is not what we do – we are the good work God does (p. 98).

One section of this very important book is entitled “Good Works.” Several statements Peterson makes in this section amplify our understanding of grace, good works and work. Grace does not displace work! Work remains as pervasive, and good, after Christ’s resurrection as it had been before. Resurrection Christians are not awarded the bonus of a reduced work week; work is not downgraded to something sub-spiritual. Perhaps work is even upgraded, for the only thing that can be worse than bad work is no work at all, i.e. unemployment. Work is a constant companion of grace.

God is presented in scripture as a worker from the very beginning. It is part of who and what Good is: God is a worker in creation and recreation. It is basic, fundamental to our humanness as made in the imago Dei. Work is therefore a very high calling, something important to everyone’s identity.

There is a tendency among conservative Christians to spiritualize this “good work” as entirely “spiritual” in purpose and process. Scripture never makes that distinction. The “work” we are made for in Genesis 1 and 2 is inclusive of all work, and it all takes place in God’s workplace, the world God crated and continues to fashion. And we can join God in the continuing work of fashioning and refashioning the world according to God’s purpose – or, alas, we can fashion it according to our own.

Peterson lists the good things God makes, and adds that each of us is “sheer gift.” He then adds this on the seventh creation day: “There is something different. Each man and woman is not only an instance of God’s workmanship, but capable of participating following God the worker’s lead, in hallowing and blessing, and reflect on all he that has been accomplished. The final ‘good’ is intensified to ‘very good.’” Peterson adds: “A week of work. A week of gifts. All work at the heart and origin gives form to a gift….It is the nature of work to provide a container for gift. The reason work is called ‘good’ is that it is a means of delivering a gift” (p.101).

This leads me to reflect on the material blessings I have received in abundance from God’s invisible grace. It is a wonderful exercise in spiritual formation, in gratitude, to make a list (a long list) of blessings received from my work. As Peterson says, grace is absolutely and insistently at home in work and workplace. Our work is a form for the continuing revelation God’s glory, from fresh wine to space capsules. Our work can be a container to get the gifts of created grace to the dinner table, or to interstellar space!

Peterson adds: “Nothing in the practice of resurrection is experienced or participated in apart from a body….Nothing in the practice of resurrection takes place apart from stuff that we work with, dirt, clay, stone and timbers, cotton and wool. Works is the generic form for embodiment. All Christian spirituality is thoroughly incarnation – in Jesus, to be sure, but also in and though us.”

Peterson goes on to observe that the “pietist” spiritualizes work, while the “secularist” romanticizes work a way to be seen as significant, through a payoff in rewards like salary, job title, etc. This leads both to omit sabbath because there is always more to be done, more to accomplish, a “high adrenaline component” quite different from the relaxed, pleasant, calm, satisfied reflection of sabbath. Good or bad, we as workers are driven and are rarely able or willing to experience and live sabbath. This really ignores Jesus at work.

Peterson concludes by saying that Genesis and Jesus form a congruence between good works and grace. We are, I believe, called to live this way, to see and express grace though our work. So whatever do we can use our work as a container for grace and thereby “practice resurrection.” WOW! This energizes my work, as my work becomes a container to hold and express God grace, resurrection life, today, each day.

Peterson notices that Jesus’ work happens within a “secular,” everyday setting. This is also interesting and very important to me as I affirm our call to work and the notice that almost all work by “ordinary” workers occurs in secular settings.

I already had a very high concept of work, from God’s perspective, yet Peterson’s observation and reflections in this section of the book Practicing Resurrection has given me a stronger and more energizing perspective.

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