What turns an ordinary work into a good one?

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What makes a work and good work? What makes an ordinary task into a spiritual task? What turns an ordinary, mundane thing into a God-honouring, Christ glorifying thing?

After all, we are created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We are created by God to walk in the good works he has prepared for us to do. But what, exactly, makes any work one of the good ones he has prepared for us? What makes anything we do glorifying to God?

This is one of those questions that Christians have a habit of tying themselves in knots over. It is one of those matters that really give Christians a reputation for sucking the joy out of anything. Many simply can’t enjoy a thing, they must be sure it is a good and spiritual thing first. In handwringing about that, they are never free to enjoy God’s creation and the fullness thereof because they are too busy agonising over whether they are enjoying it rightly, if they should even enjoy it at all and, if they do enjoy it rightly, whether they have done so too much.

But I think there is a simple answer to the question. An answer that frees us from all the handwringing and agonising over everything. What makes any old work a good work? What makes an ordinary task and spiritual task? The answer, simply, is the Holy Spirit and our union with Christ.

What changes enjoying a nice meal into a “good work” and a spiritual activity? The Spirit at work within us causing us to give thanks to God for it. What turns ordinary rest into a spiritual activity? When we give thanks to God to allowing us to rest. What turns your work into a spiritual activity? After all, an unbeliever can make shoes or be a doctor or work in a factory just as well as a believer. The Spirit, who makes us do our work as unto the Lord, and causes us to give thanks that we can provide for our families as he asks us to do. Even what some have considered problematic can be a good work. Much nonsense is spoken about TV. Some warnings about its use are legitimate, but much is overblown. If it helps you rest so you can serve in other ways, or more effectively be about your work, then that is good. If watching programmes about the way the world is, and thinks, causes you to rejoice that Christ has freed you from that former bondage and way of thinking, that’s good. If it causes you to have sympathy on those you previously didn’t understand, that’s right. If it causes you to see the work of mission as all the more important because of the mess sin causes in so many lives, that has value.

Two people can do the same thing, but what makes a work a good work and what makes an act and spiritual act is the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Anything done – that is not sin – with an eye on glorifying God, enjoying him and being faithful may well be deemed one of the good works prepared for us to walk in.

We so often end up being Gnostic about this stuff. Either we split the world and its things into good/bad, material/spiritual and draw a tight line between them that scripture doesn’t. Or, if not that, we have a sense of higher knowledge, higher things, higher works to do than these base, ordinary, earthly or worldly things we might otherwise do. But I don’t think that is what scripture says either. Our minds should not be conformed to the way of thinking in the world, that is true, but if they are conformed to Christ, focused on Jesus, seeking his glory and faithfulness in him, even ordinary, everyday mundane things might rightly glorify him. We can give thanks and be caused to glorify God even through things that some might consider (but for which there is no specific biblical grounds to say) to be worldly.

For that is what transforms works into good works, worldly things into spiritual things, two people able to do the same thing and one of them to be God-honouring and the other to be God-denying. In the end, it is the Spirit who makes us holy and it is he who changes otherwise ordinary, seemingly mundane things into spiritual matters. After all, the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. It is strange and heretical teaching that says do not touch, do not taste, do not handle. That sort of ascetism is of no value. What transforms ordinary matters into spiritual matters, mundane works into spiritual works, is the Spirit at work within us causing us to glorify God and enjoy him in everyday things.