Acton Institute Powerblog

Work as holy war: The spiritual power of a cruciform economics

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With the emergence of the faith-work movement, we’ve seen great strides in helping Christians connect their daily work with their spiritual calling, leading many to shift their attitudes and actions when it comes to economic stewardship.

But as we rightly relish in our renewed understanding of the spiritual value of work and vocation, do we recognize the spiritual warfare that it actually involves? It’s one thing to say “God cares about our work.” It’s another to believe that He wields it as a weapon in battle against Satan himself.

In a new series at the Green Room, Greg Forster points our imaginations in this direction, calling work unto God an act of “holy war,” based in part on 1 John 3:8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

“He won the victory for us on the cross, of course,” Forster writes. “But as our work becomes cruciform it becomes a vehicle of the cross’ power, a weapon in Christ’s hands, forged for the holy war…Our work works out of Jesus’ work to destroy the devil’s work.”

In his first few posts, Forster explains the basis for all this, beginning with God’s restoration of the human heart and the broader reconciliation of human relationships. In the latest, he applies this more directly to our work. Relying on definitions from Dallas Willard and Lester DeKoster, Forster reminds us that, for the Christian, work is fundamentally an act of service — of making ourselves useful to others, whether they be customers and coworkers or those who we support in our families and households.

According to Forster, this basic mindset and lifestyle of radical service is what constitutes and distinguishes a Christian’s economic action when it comes to spiritual battle:

Why is service to others at the center of attention? Because that is what makes work a primary force for justice and reclaiming the world from Satan. Working to serve yourself is fine but it doesn’t distinguish us from the world as such. Working to serve others does.

Of course, one may reply that worldly people also serve others with their work. That is God’s sustaining grace to the fallen world, by which he keeps the image and likeness of God from being erased by our sin. So we must take care to distinguish mere participation in service to others (which may have any motivation) with a really intentional service to others.

This is why the intentionality of instrumentality is so important. The question is, how high a priority do you give to serving others as opposed to serving yourself?

Intentionality is critical. Just because work and economic exchange are part of God’s divine plan doesn’t mean that we ought to blindly proceed with little thought or concern, so long as “needs are being met.”

Throughout the faith-work movement, there’s plenty of talk about “finding meaning in the mundane,” and rightly so. Yet when we look at our work through the lens of spiritual warfare, we also begin to see that the mundane rhythms of daily work have just as much potential to be meaningfully dark.

As Forster explains, much of this depends on the ways in which we work and how we orient our hearts, not just our hands.

If we work to serve others for the sake of what we get out of it, we are advancing the kingdom of darkness — even if “what we get out of it” is not something crass and materialistic, like money or power, but something more cultured and refined, like self-expression, or even the advancing of a good cause that we like for worldly reasons.

If we work for the good of others for the sake of the good of others, we are reclaiming the world from Satan.

Forster is keen to note that service to “others” is not enough in and of itself. “Ultimately we must serve God with our work,” he explains. “He is the first and last and most important ‘other’ to be served.”

Indeed, in our daily work this is the actual power and these are the actual implications behind the message of work as service to neighbor and God. Whether we’re negotiating a trade, starting a business, inventing or assembling a widget, cleaning a building, cooking a meal, parenting a child, or teaching a second-grade classroom, the underlying spiritual battle continues, whether we choose to see it or not.

“One is lifted by the Spirit over the chasm between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God, or else not,” Forster concludes. “And every moment of every day on the job is another choice between kingdoms.”

Image: Satan before the Lord, Corrado Giaquinto

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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