Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

John Starke is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He wrote a helpful article regarding the Protestant work ethic. I have only posted part of the article below. You can read the article in its entirety here.

Starke writes: Calvin taught that there is comfort in knowing “that no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.” The greater comfort, however, comes from the gospel, where Calvin says, “we are apprehended by God’s goodness and sealed by his promises.”

The Protestant understanding of vocation emerged from this already accomplished salvation. For Luther, the doctrine of justification by faith alone had everything to do with our status and place as workers. He complained in the Appeal to the German Ruling Class that Roman Catholics have created a false hierarchy of a spirituality of work, separating the “spiritual” from the “profane”—or to put it in modern terms, the “sacred” and the “secular.” Somehow, the priest and the bishop are more spiritual than the baker and the brick layer. But Luther, never to pull a punch, calls this sort of thing “guiles of the devil.”

“Those who exercise authority,” Luther says, “have been baptized like the rest of us, and have the same faith and the same gospel; therefore we must admit that they are priests and bishops.” We should be careful here. Luther doesn’t want to flatten all occupations, but to lift up all believers to “the priesthood of believers,” since all have spiritual status.

The doctrine of justification by faith and the forgiveness of our sins redirects the aim of our vocation. In receiving a righteousness that is not from our works or successes, we are free to serve our neighbor and benefit society and our community. This is why Lutheran theologian Gene Veith can say in God at Work:

[A]ll vocations are equal before God. Pastors, monks, nuns, and popes are no holier than farmers, shopkeepers, dairy maids, or latrine diggers. In the spiritual kingdom, in divine egalitarianism (which would also come to have cultural implications) peasants are equal to kings. All are sinful beings who have been loved and redeemed by Christ.

The purpose of vocation then, Veith says, “is to love and serve one’s neighbor.” But the Christian is only free to love and serve one’s neighbor when he is not working to justify himself before God. Justification by faith changes everything.

Vocation Explained

In this video, Tim Keller—author of the forthcoming book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work—gives a good explanation of the Protestant view of vocation and answers the two questions: (1) Why your work matters to God and (2) Why God matters to your work.

Gospel and Culture Lecture Series: Tim Keller from Redeemer Video on Vimeo.

Keller’s lecture was delivered in the Gospel and Culture lectures series with Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work, who held their first conference in November 2011. The Center for Faith and Work works to mobilize Christians in their professional and industry spheres as Protestant and Reformed Christians. Their second annual conference this fall features a number of insightful thinkers, including James Davison Hunter.

The Protestant work ethic needs to be demythologized and put back into its rightful place: after a sustained reflection of justification by faith alone.

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