Working Hard...by Grace
by Pastor Cary Gordon
Work was God's idea. It was part of His plan for earth when He made the universe. We all should know that Hard work is a part of life, but is there something God offers us, that is supernatural, to assist in the requirement for work? When I say "hard work is a part of life", do not assume I'm only referring to manual labor, either. Assuming the subject of work is only a reference to digging ditches, building barns, or tilling a big garden, is a narrow way to view the subject from a theological perspective. With that said, we also make a mistake, before we even begin the discussion, if we mystify the subject of "works" by compartmentalizing it as an exclusively "spiritual" issue, (where people who promote "good works" are too hastily accused of "trying to earn their way to heaven"). The truth is, work is involved in every dimension of the human existence, spirit, soul, and body.
Many inacurately assume that grace is the opposite of work, or that "good works" aggravate the gift of God's grace in life. While it is true that many people don't understand the substitutionary work of the cross, that Jesus, and Jesus alone, personally atoned for our sins through His innocent shed blood, and while it is also often the case those same people erringly believe entrance to heaven is gained by "doing good things," the solution to a specific error is never acheived by swapping it for another error.
The villification of all good works does not help anyone come to repentance, nor can ignorance on the necessity of what I describe as "good, hard work", (which was God's idea, in the first place), help people finally understand the way of true salvation through the work of the cross. Consider the irony that many of the same folks who protest the tiniest chance that another is "doing good works in an effort to earn heaven" are the same who collapse on their couch every night, exhausted and grumbling about how much they hate their job. (When you "hate" your work, is it possible to obey the Bible command of 1 Corinthians 10:31 that says "whether therefore ye eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God"?)
In this article, when we discuss the concept of work, I will address the subject in its fullest context. Let's look at the idea of work from its broadest purpose in the heart and mind of God when He created the universe. See it as work in every dimension of human life, both spiritual and physical...from digging ditches to obeying your conscience.
So, as I asked a moment ago, "is there something God offers us to help us fulfill our obligations to work?" The best place to begin answering that question is in the Garden of Eden, where we observe a state of sinlessness in which we discover a composite of how our new and better covenant is supposed to operate and how we are supposed to relate to our present-day covenant. This new covenant was ratified by Jesus, the “second Adam,” who made vertical peace at the cross of Calvary. (See 1 Corinthians 15:22.)
In the first chapter of Genesis, God gave Adam his job description. As we established previously, he was given abilities. With all God-given abilities comes the godly command for us to employ our abilities. We call it “responsibility.” (You might describe it as “respons-OF-ability.”)
1 Peter 4:10 “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
Adam was given four responsibilities 1) Dominion; 2) Dress the garden; 3) Guard the garden; 4) Partake of and enjoy all that is good. The interesting thing to notice about Adam’s job description is that it was given to him “pre-sin,” so-to-speak. That said, I would like to pose three simple questions:
#1) During this sinless state, did Adam have to work? Obviously yes.
#2) During this sinless state, was his work burdensome or difficult? Obviously not.
#3) During this sinless state, would it be safe to assume he enjoyed his work? Yes.
ADAM’S JOB DESCRIPTION BEFORE SIN DIDN’T CHANGE AFTER SIN! Although Adam’s geographical location was changed, his job description was not revoked or even amended after the fall. So what did change?
Genesis 3:17-19 (NCV) “Then God said to the man, ‘You listened to what your wife said, and you ate fruit from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat. So I will put a curse on the ground, and you will have to work very hard for your food. In pain you will eat its food all the days of your life. The ground will produce thorns and weeds for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will sweat and work hard for your food. Later you will return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and when you die, you will return to the dust.’”
Rest in the Midst of Work
What changed was not Adam’s requirement to work but rather his relationship to his work. After the fall, his job became difficult and tiresome. Verse 19 says, “You will sweat and work hard for your food.” When you read verse 19, does it leave you with the slightest impression that Adam would still enjoy his job? It sure doesn’t.
Before sin, Adam lived in a constant state of supernatural peace and rest. He lived in a perfect world that did not know sin. Even though he had to work, his labors were not overbearing or taxing. “So what does this have to do with us today?” I am so glad you asked. You see, after sin, Adam related to his work with regret and sorrow. His work became burdensome. However, Jesus, the second Adam, has restored what was lost by the first Adam in the Garden of Eden. That’s good news!
1 Corinthians 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
It is God’s desire for every one of His children to work. Furthermore, it is God’s desire that our work not be burdensome, but that we enjoy it. You and I, in this new blood covenant, have the ability to enter into the labors of life transcending their otherwise burdensome nature. How?
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Even as Adam lived in a constant state of peace and rest before the fall, so can you. Work to the sinful man has been cursed to remain burdensome and difficult, but work to the Christian has been made a blessing and privilege. Jesus said to approach Him and exchange our burdens for His rest. Vertical peace has removed the wall of partition that blocked us from approaching Him. Because we have been made righteous by the justification of His blood, we need not approach Him in shame, for we have been made “holy, unblameable, and unreproveable.” (See Colossians 1:22.) Therefore, we can come boldly before His throne in time of need. (See Hebrews 4:16.) What do we get when we approach God? In the case of Matthew 11:28, we will receive the supernatural rest of Jesus.
The Restful Mentality
When Jesus gave His invitation for rest in Matthew 11:28, He was not offering a special rest from work, but a rest in the midst of our work. He wasn’t suggesting that we wouldn’t have to labor in our lives, but rather that we didn’t have to be burdened and heavy laden in our labors. The problem with many of us is not what we do for work, where we work, or when we work, but what relationship we choose to have with our work. We can either approach our labors under the burdensome curse or we can approach them with a new mentality through the new and better covenant cut by Jesus Christ.
Perhaps there are some who are thinking, “Well, the last time I checked, weeds were still growing on the earth, and people still sweat and work hard just to barely make ends meet!” To that statement I give my complete agreement! You are absolutely right! Many countless multitudes live just like your description. BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THAT WAY! God doesn’t want us to “barely” make anything. We can either pull the Word of God down to our level, or we can let the Word elevate us to His level. If Jesus said that He would give us rest in the midst of our labors, then that is exactly what He will do. Weeds are still growing. People are still working hard and sweating bullets. I’m not suggesting that New Testament Christians shouldn’t have to spray their lawns for weeds, but I am stating emphatically that something very powerful has changed in how we are to relate to the labors of our lives. It is through the peace of God, as we think on the Philippians 4:8 list of options, that we enter into the rest of God. Jesus gave us three prerequisites we must comply with in order to have the benefit of supernatural rest.
Being a Doer of the Word
Matthew 11:28-29 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Jesus said we will have rest for our mind, will, and emotions after we do three things: approach Him, take His yoke upon us, and learn His ways. His instructions have a striking similarity to those given by the Apostle Paul concerning how we are to obtain the counterpart of rest…peace. Notice the resemblance with me.
Philippians 4:9 “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
In essence, when we take the things that we have learned, received, heard, and seen from the Word of God and we “do” them, we have effectively taken His yoke upon us and learned of Him. We are participating with the God of Peace in such a way that we can enjoy the peace of God and the rest that comes as its result. Our work still causes us to break a sweat from time to time. Our work still requires diligence, and it might be a challenge. Nevertheless, we can transcend our circumstances through the peace and rest of God.
1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
Not only can we approach the labors of life through the new covenant with peace and rest in operation, but we don’t need to feel that what we are doing is in vain when we are laboring “in the Lord.” Many people mistakenly think that working “in the Lord” can only really be done by ministers. This next passage of scripture shows the un-truth of such thinking.
Ephesians 6:5-8 (NCV) “Servants, obey your masters here on earth with fear and respect and from a sincere heart, just as you obey Christ. You must do this not only while they are watching you, to please them. With all your heart you must do what God wants as people who are obeying Christ. Do your work with enthusiasm. Work as if you were serving the Lord, not as if you were serving only men and women. Remember that the Lord will give a reward to everyone, slave or free, for doing good.”
So far we have discovered several conditions to the promise of enjoying the rest (undisturbed security) and peace (aggressive force against the enemy) of God. Every promise of God is conditional, and in order to benefit from peace and rest, we must 1) Come to Jesus; 2) Take His yoke upon us; 3) The things we have learned, received, heard, and seen, we should do; 4) Be steadfast and unmovable; 5) Make sure we are abounding in the work of the Lord; 6) Respect our masters; 7) Fear our masters; 8) Be sincere; 9) Do our work as unto Jesus; 10) Do our work with enthusiasm; 11) Think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, praise-worthy… (I don’t know about you, but I am already getting worn out!)
The Key to Obedience
If you are feeling overwhelmed by your shortcomings and experiencing that “I give up” feeling in your mind right now, you should be. You see, you can’t possibly fulfill this entire list of commands on your own. I purposely withheld one simple key to receiving the rest and peace of God. There is one glorious key left at the end of our study passages that will bring you relief. We read Ephesians 6:5-8 earlier, but now let’s read verse 10.
Ephesians 6:10 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”
The fulcrum of this subject is located here. Paul says with finality that we find our strength to achieve all that was discussed in verses 5 to 8, not in our own selves, but in the power of His might! “His might” is paramount to the lifestyle of supernatural peace. The grace of God is a key ingredient to being empowered by “His might.” When you are empowered by Him, you are successfully able to walk out your Christian life in obedience, and only then can you truly call yourself a doer of the Word. The instant you activate the Word of God, the “God of peace shall be with you.” (See Philippians 4:9.) Finally, it is when you participate with peace that you receive the blessed result of peace—rest.
The Grace / Peace Connection
This connection between the grace of God and the peace of God was obvious to the Apostle Paul, for he mentioned them together no less than 17 times throughout the writings of the epistles. I have listed just a few of them below.
Romans 1:7 “…grace to you and peace from God…”
1 Corinthians 1:3 “Grace be unto you, and peace…”
2 Corinthians 1:2 “Grace be to you and peace…”
Galatians 1:3 “Grace be to you and peace…”
Ephesians 1:2 “Grace be to you, and peace…”
Philippians 1:2 “Grace be unto you, and peace…”
While some well-meaning individuals have mistaken these scriptures as mere frivolous greetings, it is quite certain that the greeting of “grace and peace be to you” was deliberate and calculated. Paul no doubt had aspirations for those people under his loving apostle-ship to have the blessing of God’s peace and rest. But we also see clearly that for us to have peace and rest, there are many requirements on our part. There are many “works” to be done. Those “works” include thinking on those things that Philippians 4 says are expedient to think upon.
The Grace/Works Question
Some people who don’t understand the subject of grace in its fullness often refuse any message from the pulpit that teaches “works.” At the mention of “responsibility” and being a doer of the Word, whole denominations have disregarded the validity of what some have branded the “faith movement.” Has every preacher associated with the faith movement taught right doctrine? Absolutely not! I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve heard some real “hum-dingers” come out of the camp of my own roots over the years, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater!
To be fair, I am compelled to add that the “hum-dingers” did NOT necessarily come from the mouth of the movement’s elders, but from mavericks on the fringe. Having said that, it has been my observation that much of what has been called “wrong doctrine” by the critics (because of the movement’s supposed association with “scientology”) is the result of religious leaders’ apparent inability to recognize how New Testament grace operates with good works! (I’m still waiting for one of the critics, vehemently opposed to even the most balanced instructions concerning “positive confession,” to explain how having a NEGATIVE confession is beneficial to the Christian life! I predict it will be a long wait.)
The relationship of grace and good works is described very well in this next passage.
2 Peter 1:2-4 “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
In this passage, Paul says that grace and peace are multiplied through knowledge of God. Where does knowledge reside? Within the mind. In verse three, we discover again that all that pertains to our lives is only successfully applied through “His divine power.” In other words, we are only able to do our “works” in “His strength.” What differentiates between works that diametrically oppose the law of grace and works that truly complement the law of grace is the source of power by which such works are done. If you are doing “works” in your own strength, you are absolutely in opposition to the grace of God, and it would be correct to consider such activities sin. Even still, we are commanded to produce “works.”
We do have responsibilities, and all such “works” are made valid when they find their source of power in “His strength.” Everything that pertains to life has been freely given to us by the grace of God so that we don’t have to operate in those “works” that are considered vain. To put it quite simply, it is not against the teaching of grace to demand Christians take control of their mind and mouth and make confessions according to the Word of God in the face of opposing circumstances. Nor should this biblical necessity for mental renewal and positive confession be confused or compared with the heretical teachings of scientology and others that suggest mental prowess alone allows man to change his circumstances. To enter into the rest of God, we must have peace actively guarding us in the spirit. To have peace actively guarding us in the spirit, we must do the works of obedience that are required of us in Philippians 4:9. It is in perfect harmony with the doctrine of the dispensation of grace to understand that we produce our works, not in our own might, but in the power of His might.
Romans 2:10 “But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good…”
The connection of good works and peace is stated again in the previous verse. Those who “worketh good” are the recipients of God’s glory (His manifested presence in the life of the believer), honor (financial endorsement), and supernatural peace.
Understanding the grace/peace connection with good works brings light to this next passage of scripture.
Hebrews 4:10-11 “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest…”
These two scriptures might appear to contradict one another when looked at on the surface. Verse 10 is telling us that to have the rest of God we must stop working, while verse 11 then says that for us to have the rest of God we must work (labor). Confusion is brought to naught when we grasp that our own works that must cease are those which are completed in our own strength. The labor of verse 11 that must begin is seen as the labor which is done according to His strength. When we live according to His strength, it is grace in action! (For further study on biblical grace I recommend “The Grace Impartation” by J. Chace Gordon.1)
The labor required of us is action. Actions are responses that are based upon our beliefs. Without works, faith is dead. For example, when we believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world, we then put that belief into action by vocally inviting Him to live in our hearts. The same order of belief before action must then apply to having the rest of God. We labor by the grace of God to “think on these things.” When we think on those things which we are commanded, we put peace in operation, and the immediate result is the rest of God. Rest is the result of what peace does.
Rest Temporal or Spiritual?
Hebrews 3 and 4 center upon the subject of supernatural rest. The Greek word most often used for rest in this text is the word “katapausis,” which means “cessation from labor so that the weary body may be rested and refreshed.” This word “katapausis” is to be differentiated from its counterpart, “sabbatismos,” which is used only in the ninth verse of Hebrews 4. “Sabbatismos” means “keeping of the Sabbath.” The rest (katapausis) spoken of in these two chapters of Hebrews is two-fold.
#1) Katapausis refers to the state of undisturbed security (rest) in Christ Jesus on a daily basis in this present life, according to Matthew 11:28-30 and Hebrews 4:3.
#2) Katapausis refers to our eternal undisturbed security (rest), which comes to our lives after physical death, according to Hebrews 3:18; Hebrews 4:1 and 5; and Revelation 14:13.
Sadly, and for too long, the church majority has only walked in the light of the latter of the two-fold meaning of katapausis. Many believers have lived and died never obtaining the gift of rest during their lives, only to have the phrase “Rest in Peace” inscribed upon their tombstones. It is quite clear in Matthew 11:28-30 that Jesus was offering His rest to anyone who was burdened and heavy-laden at the moment He spoke. His intentions were and are for believers to enjoy His rest.