Some musings about holiness, work, and redemption. I am doing some work with a university that is unashamedly in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition and that is more and more making the idea of the redemption of the world the core of its identity. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the link between holiness and the redemption of the world (understood in terms of the totality of the physical, spiritual, social, and political realms). And, in turns out, so has my friend, Dr. Matt Ayars, in some chapters he is working on for a new book.
A quote from Dorothy Sayers’ essay, “Why Work?”:
The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him to not be drunk and disorderly in his leisure time, and to come to church. What the church should be telling him is that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables…No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that created Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself…[the Church] has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as the work is true in itself…that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.
Sayers then goes on to quote Jacques Maritain: “If you want to produce Christian work, be a Christian, and then try to make a work of beauty into which you have put your heart; do not adopt a Christian pose.”
Maybe this is the link between holiness and redemption of the created order that gives holiness its proper home and scope: that redemption means a world in which every being is a reflection of the living and eternal truth of the personal, Triune God in the work of having dominion over the earth and relating rightly to our brother; that we are to exercise our dominion over creation in fellowship with others. This places doing good work at the very center of what it means to be made in the image of God. (Meaning we understand holiness ultimately in terms of this and not simply the degree to which I do/do not have a sin nature still at work. The former does not exclude the latter but places the question of holiness within the context of the entire biblical narrative, which is resoundingly about the redemption of God’s creation and the kingdom of God.)
So we are to individually and corporately reflect the triune life through the work of being a mechanic, a taxi driver, a pharmacist, a teacher, or a farmer; through the work of running a business, being an entrepreneur, playing the drums, painting a mural or a house, dancing the ballet, or coaching a boys’ soccer team; through teaching children, nursing the sick, researching treatments for diabetes, advocating for just laws in the houses of government, or being a mother at home to the children; through caring for the sick, widows, and orphans, defending the innocent, showing compassion and mercy on our enemies; through praying for one another, exhorting our brothers and sisters to godliness, through worshipping the Holy, eternal God.
What if holiness is the call to let God’s Spirit so thoroughly redeem us that the renewal of our minds, the new birth in our spirits, the putting on of the new man simply leads us to the place where we do “good” work in all of these areas, individually and corporately, because the One moving in and through us is himself fully good.
What if we understand holiness in terms of this: saying to God’s spirit with ours, “Thy Kingdom come in me as it is in heaven”? Then, as we are “transformed into [His] image from one degree of Glory to the other,” we reflect God’s glory and truth by “our good works” shining as lights on a hill (Matt 5; Eph. 2) ?