For a variety of reasons, I have pondered a great deal on the relationship between grace and works. Both grace and works can be perverted, and often are in theology, so that either God’s law is mocked by those who do not understand the need for godly behavior (of specific kinds) on the parts of believers, or that people can falsely believe they can earn salvation through merit established through their own good works or the good works of others. The theology of the Jews and Catholics is on one side, that of the Protestant world on the other, when it comes to these long and interminable debates between those who think that salvation can be earned or triggered through ritual obedience and those who often have muddled and inconsistent beliefs about the need for godly living and obedience among believers.
Within the evangelical world, though, there is a great deal of tension with regards to their views of godliness. It is not necessarily a contradiction, but it is a tension that is worthy of exploration. The tension comes between an extreme focus on grace and a belief that Christians have been called to redeem culture for Christ. How do we redeem culture? I received a book today (that I hope to read and review soon) that speaks about the need for Christians to redeem the world of business for Christ and not to assume that wealth and business are ungodly (which is a gnostic anti-materialist heresy) or to assume that all who are godly and righteous will be wealthy (which is the heretical prosperity gospel, popular among Job’s friends and the wealthy Jewish elite of the second temple period).
It should be noted, at least to avoid confusion, that I neither see business (or politics for that matter) as irredeemably corrupt, but at the same time I am very cautious when it comes to the ethics of those who are in positions of power, considering that I tend to be somewhat critical of elite behavior in general (as any reader of this blog can attest to). Let us note, though, that being a Christian businessman (and I happen to know quite a few of them) is neither a given nor is it even close to an impossibility. What it depends on, though, is more than merely claiming the label of Christianity but living in accordance with the ways of God. As it happens, there happen to be specific laws in the Bible that cover the behavior of businessmen. Some of these laws, for example, command prompt payment of wages, forbid moneylending for interest to the poor, require creditors to return pledges promptly to avoid suffering or humiliation for debtors, and even require periodic debt forgiveness as well as the granting of the Sabbath rest even to foreigners and sojourners outside of the community of Israel. In that context of godly behavior, though, the Bible does not in any way censure someone for being a businessman, or a farmer, or a government employee (even a tax collector or soldier), so long as they behave in a just and godly manner and do not abuse their wealth or power but rather serve others in whatever realm of activity they are involved in.
We have to remember, though, that realms of human activity are redeemed by God and not by us. We don’t get the credit for it. It is not our righteousness deeds that save the world, but rather the grace of God in at least two ways: the grace that God has provided us through giving us His laws as an external standard of morality to obey and to point to for any realm of human activity, as well as His indwelling presence through the Holy Spirit to enable us to overcome our natures and allow us to set a godly example. We have to be equally careful not to view our own efforts too highly and neglect to give proper gratitude and credit to God (or others!) for such standards of godliness as we are able to show, nor to neglect to pay sufficient attention to the high standard of godliness that God’s law requires, and to rest on our own laurels or the fact that our level of obedience might be way higher than that of others around us who are hostile to or ignorant of God’s ways. The laws that govern business behavior are not sufficiently well known by even those who claim to be obedient to God’s laws, and are almost entirely ignored by the wider society as a whole. Recognizing that business activity is a proper sphere of godly activity for Christians is perhaps a necessary first step in studying and applying God’s ways to this activity so that we may model godly conduct in our business relationships rather than simply engage in shameless self-promotion. And to the extent that anyone models godly conduct in any sphere of human behavior, they have nothing of which to be ashamed of.