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I was raised on the poem: “Only one life, ‘Twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Jesus will last.” That poem (and the implied theology behind it) has driven a generation to leave their work in the world and get into church work, or mission work, because they believed that only the work of saving souls will last for eternity. But that is not true. It is not only church and mission work that will last. All our work in this life, whether it is work in construction, health care, business, entertainment, athletics, or any other industry, all work can last beyond the grave and into eternity.

Here are nine biblical reasons to suggest that what we do in this life, what we have made with our hands, minds or souls, will not only survive but be glorified. 

First, there is discontinuity between this life and the next but there is also continuity. The New Jerusalem is related to this world – city and land (Rev 21-22).

Second, the resurrected body of Jesus bore scars from this life, but they are now transfigured and become a means of faith (John 20:27). Our violent acts against nature and culture may not be erased by the final Armageddon and the final consummation of the travail of history at the second coming of Jesus, but they may by God's grace be transfigured. This is part of our hope. Through transcendent reasoning we can imagine that the marks we leave in this life and in this world last: open pit mines, well-manicured gardens, cedar decks and satellite receiving stations, the good and the bad of what we are doing in this world. But there will be a transfiguration. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, as Jesus said, “the renewal of all things” (Matt. 19:28, emphasis mine). [i]

Third, in the final judgment Jesus personally receives our service done in this life (Matt 25:31-46).

Fourth, the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians suggests that if our work is built on Christ it, the work, will be saved at the end. If it is not, the work will be burned up in the great fire at the end, though we, the worker might be saved. “If anyone builds on this foundation [Christ]...their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through flames.” (1 Cor 3:12-15 NIV)

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Fifth, the fire of judgment (2 Pet 3:7) does not mean annihilation but transformation (3:13). The image is not annihilation but putting raw ore into a cauldron and turning the heat up to burn out the dross. The next verse underscores that we wait for a new (renewed) heaven and a new (renewed) earth.

Sixth, the earth groans and waits for liberation (Rom 8:19-22). Our future is a heavenly earth or an earthly heaven composed of the deeds and works done on earth.

Seventh, faith, hope and love last, according to 1 Corinthians 13:13, but not just as isolated virtues. What is done with faith, hope and love will also last. A Catholic scholar, Haughey, comments on this other occurrence of the triad of marketplace virtues, “It seems that it is not acts of faith, hope and love in themselves that last, but rather works done in faith, hope and love…. What lasts is the action taken on these virtues.” [ii] 

Eighth, the deeds of Christians follow them into the new heaven and new earth, according to Revelation 14:13.

Ninth, Paul says in the resurrection chapter, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).  Yves Congar was the French theologian who did much of the advance theological work in advance of Vatican II, that great opening for the whole people of God in the Catholic church. Congar puts the matter succinctly:

Ontologically, this is the world that, transformed and renewed will pass into the kingdom; so… the dualist position is wrong; final salvation will be achieved by a wonderful refloating of our earthly vessel rather than the transfer of the survivors to another ship wholly built by God.” [iii]

Actually the poem is right. Only what is done for Jesus will last. That can be a meal or a deal, an invoice or voice used, a ditch dug or a symphony composed, a computer program or a sermon delivered. There is some heavenly good for earthly work.

References:
[i] For a fuller treatment of this thought see “Working with Hope,” R. Paul Stevens, Seven Days of Faith: Every Day Alive with God (Colorado Springs, Co.: Navpress, 2001), 43-51.
[ii] John Haughey, Converting Nine to Five: A Spirituality of Daily Work (New York: Crossroads, 1989), 106.
[iii] Yves Congar, Lay People in the Church: A Study for the Theology of the Laity, trans. D. Attwater (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1957), 92.

Dr. R. Paul Stevens

Dr. R. Paul Stevens is a craftsman with wood, words, and images and has worked as a carpenter, a student counsellor, a pastor, and a professor. He is the Professor Emeritus of Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College, and the Chairman of the Institute for Marketplace Transformation.

His personal mission is to empower the whole people of God to integrate their faith and life from Monday to Sunday. Paul is married to Gail and has three married children and eight grandchildren, and lives in Vancouver, BC.

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