What is the “Gospel” and what practical implications does the Gospel make in my everyday life?
The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and his will, in what we have done and what we have not done. Christ, the lord of creation and the cosmos, came to suffer and die for our sakes. Even more, the gospel has implications for all of life and for all of creation. The good news, the reality of Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection, and rule, reaches as far as sin does.
What is “sin” and what is so terrible about it when I do sin? And what is my motivation to not sin?
Sin is a violation of God’s will. We sin when we do things that God has instructed us not to do and when we don’t do things God has told us to do. The two great love commandments (love God with everything you are and everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself) sum up God’s will for our lives. We sin when we do not love as we ought to, when we hate rather than love, or when we love something more or less than we are supposed to or in a way that is in violation of God’s design and desire.
What is God’s end goal for this world, all humans of this world, and me personally? Where is He taking it and what does it look like for me to be a part of that goal, and how can I have a role and purpose in that goal, and find meaning, and value, and my joy in that goal?
God created everything out of his abundant and overflowing love. Because God is so great, so far beyond our comprehension, it is right that he love himself. He is perfect and so loves with a perfect love. This means, among other things, that he is zealous for what is due to him. We can think about this in terms of his will or his glory. God is perfectly glorified when his will is perfectly done. So the ultimate end or purpose of creation is the manifestation of God’s will in the created order, and his will is that he be fully glorified in that creation. We know both from God’s creative work as well as his redemptive work in Jesus Christ that the world matters to God. Every molecule matters, or else he wouldn’t have made it. And people especially matter to God. We are created in his image in a way that nothing else in the cosmos is. That’s in part why Jesus says that a person matters “more than many sparrows.” It isn’t because sparrows and trees and rocks are worthless. Not at all. God cares very much about all of these things. He has purposes for them and they, in their own way, manifest his glory. But humans are different, and so God has taken special interest and care in the lives of each person who has and who will ever live.
How can I, as a Christian who believes the Gospel and affirms orthodoxy, be compelled to genuinely desire God and the kingdom of God enough to become a true disciple, one who is willing to consider all things loss in comparison with knowing and loving Jesus?
One key way of making following God real in our everyday lives is to try to really live as if what we are taught to pray in the Lord’s Prayer is true. We pray for “God’s will to be done.” That means we should be seeking to do his will every day and in every way we can. One of the great texts in the Christian tradition is the Heidelberg Catechism, which teaches of the Christian that “Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.” The Holy Spirit changes us and empowers us more and more to do God’s will. And just as God cares about everything in creation, everything we have and do as well are impacted by this daily experience of dying to our sin and living for God. CS Lewis has a wonderful essay called “Work and Prayer,” and these are the two basic ways that God has designed for human beings to act in the world and have an impact.
As a Christian, at the end of a long day (when I have done what I ought not to have done – and not done what I ought to have done) what are God’s thoughts of me when I lay down my head at at night and fall asleep?
God teaches us about what he wants in many ways, and one of the most significant is the instruction he gives us in prayer. We have mentioned the Lord’s Prayer, in which he teaches us to ask or “petition” him for things. He wants us to ask for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. But he also wants us to know that he cares about the provision of our “daily bread,” or physical needs. And not just that, he cares about our spiritual needs too: the forgiveness we need from him and from others, the reconciliation we need from him and from others. God loves us and so he wants all this and more for us.
What is God’s mission given to us and how do I fulfill it without it becoming a feeling of another thing I have to do for God? And based upon that, What is needed at the personal, and church level to shape culture and to be on strategic mission?
God has created us in his image so that we might act as his representatives in this world. He gives us work to do. He gives us purpose and meaning. He is all-powerful and can make whatever he wants. But in his grace he has deigned to use human beings as instruments in making things the way he wants them to be. And he has a purpose for each person who has ever lived and will ever live. He is so perfect and there are such depths to his love and magnificence that his “image” can never be captured or perfectly manifested in any single person (with the exception of that most exceptional person, Jesus Christ himself). As one of my favorite theologians Abraham Kuyper puts it, “The mere fact that God created a man and a woman proves indisputably that identical uniformity was not part of the plan of creation. So we may draw no other conclusion than that the rich variety among people, in terms of aptitude and talent, came forth from the creation itself and belongs to the essence of human nature. If this is so, then it follows automatically that in relation to the image of God, no single human being bears this feature of God in its fullness, but that all talent and all genius together comprise the capacity for incorporating within itself this fullness of the thought of God.”
Is work a necessary evil?
Work is a blessing. It is often seen as a curse, of course, and this is in part due to its association with the “curses” of Genesis 3. But if we look carefully at what the Bible teaches, we see that work, understood as the service due to God in the world, was there before the Fall into sin: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15 NIV). The Fall impacts work, in that it is now pursued in the context of toil and trouble. But it remains a blessing. In fact, God promises that he will use human work to continue to provide for us and our daily needs even in the context of sinfulness. This is an entirely different way of understanding work when compared to seeing it as essentially evil or a curse. In the context of sin work has a negative aspect to it, which can sometimes overwhelm us. But even in the midst of this curse, God promises to us that we will continue to be cared and provided for. While the ground is cursed in Genesis 3, God says “through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” Yes, there will be pain. There will be toil and there will be trouble. But we will still eat. In the same way God promises us that we, as human beings, will have children. Yes, there will be pain, both physical and emotional. But we will still be blessed by children and through work, even in a fallen world and even amidst suffering and loss.
Is there any overlap with work and loving my neighbor as myself?
Absolutely. Work, when understood as the service we give God through our service in this world, is another way of talking about loving our neighbor. Work is the service of our neighbor for God’s glory.
What is happening theologically/behind the scenes (as it were) when we are loving our neighbors and serving them (what are God’s thoughts of me and my action when I get my hands dirty for my neighbor)?
All I can think of here is what I feel when I see my child doing something kind and caring in service of others. I think some reflection of what God’s attitude must be is captured in those kinds of feelings that we have.
What is the difference, in the eyes of God, from when a Christian does a good deed than when a nice person who isn’t a believer does a good deed?
God uses all kinds of things and people to accomplish his purposes. Non-Christians have done and continue to do incredible things in this world. They discover important truths about the way the world works and truths about reality. These discoveries have done great things to help other human beings and advance God’s purposes in the world. This is objectively true. But that doesn’t mean that all work is the same in every respect. There are different ways of understanding what is good, and something can be good in one sense while still falling short of other or higher senses of good. So the good a non-Christian can do might be in one sense objectively good, but it is still a sin. And the good a Christian can do might be good in that first sense and not be sinful, but it might not yet be perfectly good in the sense that Christ, who never sinned, was able to do good such that it merits eternal life.
What value is there in the mundane day-to-day job/existence? What reality can carry us and sustain us as we clock into these sometimes like-sucking jobs?
One thing to keep in mind is that everything matters to God. In a world where we have advanced economies and we don’t often see the results of our labor, or at least some kinds of labor, it can be easy to lose perspective. But good work is not only good for others; God has designed us so that we are formed by good work as well. Even something as mundane as getting up every day to go to the factory or the office forms us spiritually. There is a downside too, in that we can be deformed spiritually, especially by work and activity that is degrading or evil. But work is spiritually formative as well as consequential for the world beyond ourselves. Economic theory can teach us about the importance of specialization the mutual benefits of exchange. But we also need something more concrete to connect this theory to our everyday experiences in an office cubicle or in the machine shop or the receiving dock. It can be helpful to reflect on just how many people are involved in the value-chain for something as simple as a chair you sit in, or a pencil you use to write with, or a piece of bread you eat (or even the smartphone you might be reading this on). No doubt we only ever come into direct contact with a few of these people, if at all. But every time a box arrives on your doorstep from Amazon or you bring home a bag from the grocery store, it doesn’t take long before we can think of not only hundreds but thousands of people whose work has contributed to making these concrete blessings possible for us. So something as simple as reflecting a bit on our small part of this much larger web of creative service and blessing that is our market economy can be humbling and inspiring of gratitude and our own service too.
Is it more noble or spiritual to be a pastor or missionary rather than a plumber or make-up artist?
I think we have to be very careful here to make the proper distinctions. All lawful callings can be ways in which God is glorified and honored. They can all be fulfilling spiritually as well as materially. But that doesn’t mean that every job, task, or calling is absolutely equal in every way. Some offices have more responsibility than others. Some have different types of responsibilities than others. So I think there’s a way in which all activities and vocations are equally noble and have equal spiritual significance for the person. All lawful callings have in this way equal dignity. But there’s also a kind of distinction or inequality or hierarchy of goods, and so the challenge is to recognize the objective and real ways in which different types of work are different, and yet at the same time recognize and affirm that these differences don’t undercut the fundamental validity or dignity of work in all areas of God’s creation.
Many Christians think that the greatest possible good that could come from their jobs are to evangelize during breaks (and Lord willing bring a co-worker to Christ), or to tithe a portion of their income for those who are “on the front lines” doing “full time ministry”. And as good as those things are, are there other ways to Glorify God and be obedient to Him within vocation?
Related to the previous question, there is a great danger in spiritualizing our understanding of vocation, in the sense that the only truly “spiritual” callings are those that have to do with the institutional church, and that the best we can hope for in other contexts is to have some kind of spirituality added on or into it. Of course it is important to be an authentic Christian in all areas of our life, and this includes speaking about the impact the gospel has had on us and working and praying for the conversion of others. But God calls people to different tasks and equips them for doing different things, and when we are doing God’s will, whether from the pulpit or from the pew, or the assembly line or the driver’s seat, or the White House or an outhouse, we truly are glorifying God.
Who is Abraham Kuyper and what do we learn from his own vocations and teaching that help inform us of God’s design for humanity?
Abraham Kuyper (1836-1920) was a Dutch theologian, pastor, politician, and editor. Often when he is introduced you see a list like that of four or five different areas where he distinguished himself. He helped found a political party (the Antirevolutionary Party) and rose to the office of prime minister of the Netherlands; he led the formation of a new denomination; and he founded a Reformed university (the Free University of Amsterdam). There are a number of things that distinguish Kuyper and make him an outstanding figure worth learning about and learning from. He worked hard in all kinds of different areas of life, and he thought very hard about all these areas and more. His most famous quote has to do with the universality of Christ’s kingship in this world: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” A few things are worth noting in this statement. First is that it is Christ who is king. This means that no other person is an absolute sovereign. All the authority we have in our various callings is authority that is derived, granted, and authorized by Christ, and we are therefore accountable to him for how we exercise that authority. A second thing to note is that Christ has already proclaimed and claimed his kingship. This kingship may not be universally recognized (yet), but someday every knee shall bow. A final thing to note is that if the range of Christ’s kingship is “the whole domain of our human existence,” then it is good and proper for the king’s subjects to be faithfully serving the king in all those different areas. This is one of Kuyper’s greatest contributions: articulating a principled and compelling theology of holistic and meaningful Christian discipleship.
For you personally, what has been the most compelling or powerful aspect of the call to get our hands dirty that you delight in, has come to you fresh, and resulted in you loving God and your neighbors more and being excited to be a part of God’s story?
I have come to increasingly realize that when God calls us, he calls us completely. We calls us to use everything we have and everything we are and will come to be. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once put it, “Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.” This means at the very least that we are called to “the death of our old self,” the sinful self. We may be called to physical death and suffering as well, just as the martyrs of the early church and indeed Christ himself was. But Christ also calls us to life, and our spiritually reborn selves have unique gifts, talents, dispositions, and situations in which we are to be faithful. No other person can do what another is called to do. Each one of us has a place in the kingdom of God and a corresponding responsibility. This means that God calls us and everything about us to serve him: our mind, heart, soul, and strength as well as our relationships, our possessions, and our potential.
For those who read this interview and get pricked of mind and heart; what can I do today, right now at this very moment (and beyond), that can result in the story of these truths taking root in my own heart and shaping me as it has you?
I do hope these answers have been of some help for those who have read it, and especially those who read it through to the end. One important thing is to try to be sensitive to those opportunities, needs, and possibilities that are in front of you right now. We all have relationships that need to be cultivated and cared for. It is really important in our times now in the United States to be concerned with those things that are of immediate responsibility for you. I definitely have a temptation to worry about things that I actually have very little or no control over, and often to the detriment of the responsibilities that are more proximate and concrete. We can think about this in terms of politics, but there are all kinds of ways this happens. One of the consequences of this kind of distraction is that the areas of life that provide us our most significant meaning and formation, like our local churches, our families, and all the groups and institutions of civil society, suffer from corruption and lack of vitality. So I would recommend the constant reformation of one’s own heart and life, with the consequences that entails for the rest of our relationships and institutions. Here I would recommend the wisdom of another significant Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), who once wrote: “All good, enduring reformation begins with ourselves and takes its starting point in one’s own heart and life. If family life is indeed being threatened from all sides today, then there is nothing better for each person to be doing than immediately to begin reforming within one’s own circle and begin to rebuff with the facts themselves the sharp criticisms that are being registered nowadays against marriage and family. Such a reformation immediately has this in its favor, that it would lose no time and would not need to wait for anything. Anyone seeking deliverance from the state must travel the lengthy route of forming a political party, having meetings, referendums, parliamentary debates, and civil legislation, and it is still unknown whether with all that activity he will achieve any success. But reforming from within can be undertaken by each person at every moment, and be advanced without impediment.”
This doesn’t meant that there aren’t those of us who are called to be politicians. Bavinck himself was also the chair of a political party. But even if we are all supposed to be engaged in politics at some level (some people more than others), we should prioritize those things over which we have more direct control and responsibility…and that begins with ourselves, our own body and soul.