The Real Work

You may be familiar with a phrase that has become popular, especially among justice-oriented disciples of Christ: “Do the work.” If we want to advance the kingdom, dismantle racism, work toward equity, uplift the marginalized, we’ve got to faithfully persist in doing the hard, long-term work that is required.

And yet, when it comes to advancing the kingdom of God, there is simply so much work to do, isn’t there? How does any one individual or community prioritize the work? What is the work that is truly required?

As it turns out, eager crowds once surrounded Jesus to ask the same question: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28). This question drives so many disciples who are ambitious for God, myself included. We know that we aren’t justified by our work, but we are eager to please God through our work, nonetheless. 

As he so often did, Jesus gave a simple yet baffling response to the question: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (v. 29).

At first hearing, this response seems gravely overspiritual—like sending up “thoughts and prayers” in response to a grave injustice. Yet we know that Jesus was anything but trite. As we consider his words more deeply, we recall that there is a kind of work that is an even higher priority to God than any of the works we have named thus far.

The work of God, according to Jesus, is “to believe in the one he has sent.” The Greek word for “believe” (pistis) includes intellectual assent, but it also encompasses far more. “Believe” here means fully trusting, relying, depending, abiding—not just in general, but in the ever-faithful person of Jesus Christ.

So, allow me a more expansive paraphrase of Jesus’ reply: “Are you ambitious to please God with your work? Well, the work of God is rest. To rest in me. God sent me to save you from ceaseless striving, from relentless religion. The work that impresses God is to trust, to rely, to depend on me. Ultimately, I am the one who does the work. Abide in me, and we’ll work together.”

We must take responsibility for our part in God’s mission, of course, but let’s never forget that the real work is God’s work. As Christ put it, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). It is precisely because God is always at work that we don’t have to be. Thank God, there is a Savior and we are not it.

The work of ministry has always been a paradox. Remember the apostles’ words: “For it is God who works in you” so that you might “work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). This is how we do the work. It is only by relaxing into the paradox of God’s work in and through us that we will bear much kingdom fruit—fruit that will last.

Michelle T. Sanchez is the author of Color-Courageous Discipleship and God’s Beloved Community (both WaterBrook). She serves as the senior leader for evangelism and discipleship in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Michelle Sanchez
Michelle Sanchez

Michelle T. Sanchez has served in various discipleship and evangelism leadership roles for more than a decade, most recently as executive minister of make and deepen disciples for the Evangelical Covenant Church. She’s the author of Color-Courageous Discipleship (WaterBrook).