Chapter 3 - God’s Transforming Work: A Restoration Job

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Redemptive work

A good friend of Wayne’s is a classic hoarder – but with a difference. He takes great delight in recycling used engine oil and discarded plastic containers, producing in the process new objects, items, gizmos, gadgets and doohickeys! His creativity and vision is amazing. Material that would normally end up at the tip, most of it not biodegradable, is “redeemed”. This person’s industry transforms some items into things of beauty, others into articles of usefulness. In a small way he is participating in God’s intention to redeem his creation.

“Redeem” is a word that early Christian writers quickly adopted. In its original sense (the Latin verb redimere – one of its forms is redemptum) it means “to buy back, release, ransom”, and is used of prisoners, slaves, etc. This was the perfect metaphor for the way God saved us while we were still sinners, through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Many of us have been taught that redemption refers only to people’s “souls”. But the Bible makes it clear that God is in the business of putting right the whole Cosmos. As Paul states in Colossians 1:

He (Jesus) was supreme in the beginning and – leading the resurrection parade – he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without overcrowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence.[1]

God’s program for restoration is already in place. He intends to transform and redeem everything and everyone – all that he brought into being. God wants to bring order out of chaos, resolve conflict and restore relationships, and work for justice and just solutions in all situations.

In fact, God’s redeeming work involves the restoration of all four foundational relationships – with Him, with ourselves, with each other, and with the rest of creation. Paul also addresses this in his letters to the Romans (8:18-23) and Ephesians (1:9-12).

God has no intention of disposing with Planet Earth after this age comes to a close. Like Wayne’s friend, he’s just not the throwaway type!

Everything we do to counter or reverse the effects of the Fall is a participation in God’s redeeming and transforming work and looks forward to the completion of that work. We are invited to become agents and examples of Christ the Redeemer.

How should this affect our everyday work?

As we have already seen, work is a part of our humanity especially impacted by the Fall. It figures then, that it is also one of the things most in need of redemption. Some industries and professions leap to mind – the selling of cars or real estate or insurance, the spheres of politics and law and advertising. However, what about the more “caring” fields of work such as education, health, and social work? Do they also need redemption? Absolutely.

A curious feature of present-day Christian life is the way we treat certain industries or parts of society as “unclean” – as if we daren’t get involved in them. We fear that our reputation might be tainted if we come too close. Much like the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized so severely.

Yet without getting our hands dirty and taking some risks, how can we hope to effectively partner God in his work of redemption? Jesus showed no such squeamishness when he purposefully involved himself with the undesirables of his time. His deliberate practice of associating with them earned him the accusation of being “… a glutton and a drinker, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

Yes, the real estate sales industry (for example) is often highly unredeemed. Maybe that’s a good reason for Christians who have an authentic kingdom vision to get involved in it. The more unredeemed an area of society may be, the bigger the difference we might be able to make.

What kind of transformation is required?

Redemption though, from what? The best way to get a perspective on this is to think about any area of work and imagine what it would look like if God were able to have his way with it. Both on the macro and the micro level.

For example, when Wayne worked as a school trustee, he was responsible (along with a group of others) for the governance of an elementary school. The kind of questions he found himself grappling with were ones like: What might this school look like if God was able to make all the changes he wanted? How would it affect the attitudes of the staff and students, the “culture” of the school, the physical environment, the values and educational philosophy, teacher relationships, involvement of the wider community, the learning process, the sense of fulfillment of staff, times of celebration within the school community…?

The vision of a school community being redeemed by God inspired Wayne, as a parent and a trustee, helping him see where he might put my efforts. Of course, he had to learn to recognize the limitations of his “power” or influence to work for change. There were many factors outside his orbit – attitudes within the community, government policies and funding, quality of management and staff, etc. But this didn’t need to lead to discouragement. For there was much change that Wayne, in conjunction with God and others, could work toward. And it was, after all, God’s work of redemption. Wayne was just one of God’s partners!

In all our roles and tasks we need to be prayerfully discerning. How can we (among other things)…

  • Steward resources well
  • Serve others with joy
  • Employ God-given creativity
  • Witness to God’s truth
  • Tell the truth and encourage such habits as honesty and integrity
  • Bring healing, understanding, and reconciliation
  • Build community, and promote peace and harmony
  • Preserve and conserve
  • Work for justice and peace-making
  • Nurture and encourage others’ gifts and character development?

These are all clear expressions of the character and on-going work of God.

Redeeming our own attitudes

However, it’s not just what we put our hands to that requires transformation. Clearly, before we attempt to work with God towards redeeming the areas of society that we are involved in, we need to begin by allowing our own attitudes and values to be redeemed.

Do we really see the potential for good in what we do? Perhaps we should begin further back and ask, do we see any value and purpose in it at all? Many Christians regard paid employment as no more than an opportunity to earn money so that they can “do important other stuff”. Others, while accepting the need for honesty and integrity, see the value of a job mainly in terms of the opportunity to “witness” to their non-Christian workmates or customers.

We do not want to diminish the significance of values like honesty and integrity, nor undermine the importance of witness. God is all for these. However, we believe that God intends to do more than simply “save souls”. It is also his plan to transform those souls – and the world they dwell in. More to the point – he wants to transform us. And he wants us to be his partners in transforming his world. (This is a matter we’ll look at in more depth in Chapter 10.)

It is often our attitude to our tasks and roles, which limits God. We are too ignorant of God’s plans for his cosmos. We put little effort into thinking about his intentions for both us and the work we do. No wonder little connecting and transforming really takes place.

Try adopting the attitude that there is value and significance in every one of our roles and tasks. They are part of God’s agenda for both us and his wider kingdom. God will use our involvement to transform us and others, and redeem the circumstances. He uses them to transform our attitudes, values, expectations, and relationships. Our gifts and abilities can be stretched, our character refined, vision enlarged, new possibilities discovered.

Limits to our role

We’re not suggesting that each of us can hope to transform a whole industry or area of society by ourselves. Paid employees, for example, are often more limited in what they can change than employers.

Even so, we often underestimate our ability to make a significant difference in our small corner of the world. The data entry worker may not by herself be a force to be reckoned with in redeeming the banking industry, but she certainly has an opening to help grow community in the office, inspire others with her acts of compassion and love, push for better working conditions, build strong and trusting relationships between management and staff, and speak the truth in love. That’s a whole lot of challenge for anyone’s working week!

So while not all of us can bring about change on the macro level, we most certainly can at the micro. Unfortunately, few Christians are challenged or inspired about their role in either. So many missed opportunities! Often it’s because we struggle to have a vision for what God could do, through us. For example:

A truck driver may easily belittle his own trade. What significance is there in trucking frozen goods from one place to another? But the truth is that transporting goods to where they are needed is a critically important service. Countries without a good transport infrastructure are plagued by shortages, famine, and suffering.

That, however, is just the beginning. If he thinks through his daily work, our truck driver may also be able to see the value in driving courteously, driving efficiently to conserve fuel, expressing God’s care and love in the way he relates to people during the day, raising ethical issues with management such as accidentally unfrozen food that’s resold, etc.

This is not simply an exercise to help the truck driver feel better about his work. Rather it helps make sense of how our daily tasks fit into God’s call, how what we do contributes to his work of sustaining and redeeming the world.

Or think of parents. The task of parenting is a wonderful opportunity for both the discipling of children and for the parents’ own growth. What is God’s intention for family life, and for the development of children and teenagers? How should that change the way that the family relates, is disciplined (parents too!), does duties, celebrates, and has fun together? What can we do to give our children the best spiritual, emotional, and cultural growth? How can we prepare them to follow Christ and to make responsible decisions for themselves? How can we encourage them to grow in personal wholeness and in relationships – knowing that this will dramatically improve their role as people, and eventually as parents themselves?

These are just some of the issues of what we might call “redemptive parenting”.

We hope these examples help you to gain a glimpse of the immense possibilities in working with God. When we capture a vision of the breadth and depth of the transformation God wants to bring, it will make a huge difference to how we work. We’ll come back to this very important matter of redemption in Chapter 10.

The end/completion

So what’s God’s “end game” in all this? It’s that his work of redemption will be completed. Everything and everyone will eventually be as God intended.

This raises an interesting question or two. What will the role of work be then – in the renewed earth? And what does the Bible mean when it talks about eternal rest?

At first glance, we might think of rest as simply refraining from work. But perhaps that is primarily because of the “toil factor” which exists as a result of the Fall. If work has been tainted by the appearance of sin, then we may feel we regularly need to escape it!

The real function of rest in our lives is to help us recover from times of toil … and to prepare us for further work. Rest and recreation (or re-creation) are positive ideas, restoring us when used appropriately, but undermining us when over-indulged in. We’ll look closer at the role of rest in Chapter 6.

The picture of the afterlife that most of us have involves permanent inactivity – reinforced by images of a non-stop church service, or even an endless feast. However, there are indications that the eternal rest we are promised will involve work. For example, Isaiah, in writing about the new heavens and new earth, says:

“They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit… They will not labor in vain … for they will be a people blessed by the Lord…” (Is 65: 21,25)

Here we are given a brief glimpse of a much more active and fulfilling eternity – not the passive role we are traditionally taught to associate with life beyond the grave. Work, but work of a quite different kind.

It’s true that the scriptures contain only brief references to work in the next life. But think again about the nature of God. The need to create is hardwired into us, because that is how God is. The need to extend ourselves and to achieve, to improve conditions and to perfect our surroundings – these are an integral and essential part of who we are, made in God’s image. And the commission right back in the Genesis story, to “till and keep” – to manage God’s creation, remains. We can be confident that work will continue to be part of our brief and that whatever the work God challenges us with, will be supremely invigorating and energizing.

Isn’t this an encouragement to grow and prepare ourselves for that future … here and now, in our present work? God grant us the vision and courage to partner him in bringing about transformation in this life. For it is a taste of things to come.

Up Close And Personal

  1. Why do you think we often have such a truncated or reduced understanding of “redemption”? Are there other biblical words or concepts that might help to enlarge our understanding of what needs to be transformed?
  2. Are there any industries/occupations that you think are un-redeemable? Make a list of them and then explain your reasons for thinking this way.
  3. What industries do you think it would be particularly challenging for Christians to work in and attempt to transform? Why?
  4. Take some time to read Isaiah 65:17-25 (Isaiah’s description of the new creation). What impacts you most about this?


Look back over your list of tasks and roles at the end of the Introduction:

Identify the ones that offer you opportunity to:

  • Steward resources well
  • Serve others with joy
  • Employ God-given creativity
  • Witness to God’s truth
  • Tell the truth and encourage such habits as honesty and integrity
  • Bring healing, understanding, and reconciliation
  • Build community, and promote peace and harmony
  • Preserve and conserve
  • Work for justice and peace-making
  • Nurture and encourage others’ gifts and character development?

List features of your weekly work that are personally enriching to you.