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Acton Commentary

God’s reclamation project

The basic elements of the gospel message are familiar territory for most Christians. God created things good. Human beings fell into corruption and the rest of the world along with us. God’s care for his creation led him to send help in the form of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the basis for the inbreaking of a new order, one in which “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4 ESV).

It can be easy to think about such things in the abstract. We might even affirm them as true. But understanding them as real for us brings things to a whole other level. We might likewise believe that God is sovereign, all-powerful. But what do we make of the fact that this all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful God became a human being, to live, suffer, die, and rise again? And why is there such a gap between Christ’s resurrection and ascension and his second coming? 

These are the kinds of concerns that go right to the heart of why there is human history at all. Christians believe that God is transcendent and utterly self-sufficient. In a radical sense, God needs nothing other than himself. So why is there anything at all? Theologians, philosophers, and everyday people have struggled with these questions for a long time, but the best answer is that God, in his absolute and utter freedom, out of his liberality and love, chose gratuitously to create. And he didn’t just create one thing; he created many things. He created everything

He decided to reclaim what had been taken away, and in this sense the gospel is all about God’s reclamation project.

When the integrity of that creation was compromised, he would have been entirely within his sovereign rights to renounce it. We get an idea of what a world without God’s ongoing care and provision would look like in the depiction of the time before the Great Flood in Genesis 6: a veritable hell on earth. There’s a sense in which to let things decay and return to the nothingness which evil strives for would have been just. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23 ESV).

But instead of abandoning his creation, corrupted and fallen though it was, God chose to remain faithful despite the unfaithfulness of what he had made. He decided to reclaim what had been taken away, and in this sense the gospel is all about God’s reclamation project.

It is truly amazing to think of all the good things that God has done. As the apostle Paul continues, contrasting the fatal consequences of sin with God’s grace, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23 ESV). Even though humanity embraced sin and death, God has given creation the gift of new life. And along with that life, God has given us a purpose, a role to play in his reclamation project.

This too is something utterly gratuitous. God is all-powerful. No doubt he can do whatever he desires to do as easily as he called everything into existence in the first place. But God has graciously deigned to give his fallible and frail human children some responsibilities in his larger work of redemption and reconciliation. And this is one of the places where the basic contours of the gospel really hit home with us. God has saved us, but he has saved us for a purpose. Yes, he has saved us for eternal life in Christ Jesus, but that eternal life already begins in some real sense right here, right now. God hasn’t just saved us from death; he has saved us for life. He has saved us not only for ourselves, but also for others, and indeed, all of creation. 

The Psalmist wonders, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” He proceeds to answer, echoing the opening words of the Bible: “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (Ps 8:3-8 ESV).

God is concerned not only for human beings but also for all of creation. And he has placed humanity in a position of influence and responsibility, so that what we do matters not only for ourselves and for those around us, but indeed for everyone and everything.

If that sounds like a massive responsibility, that’s because it truly is. But part of the good news is that God hasn’t just picked us up and sent us on our way. He is here with us. He is radically present in the Holy Spirit. He gives us guidance through his Word. He has given us everything we need to be faithful children.

And the resources he has given us include our own abilities. God has given us reason, will, and emotion. And he wants us to use everything we have to serve him. The first great command as Jesus teaches us is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 ESV). God wants us to see things as he does and to care for them as he does. 

God is so great, of course, that no single person, and indeed, all of humanity throughout history cannot encompass everything about him. So he uses each one of us, in our unique situations and with our unique sets of concerns, worries, relationships, and gifts to play a small part in his grand reclamation project and to reflect some aspect of his image in that work. If God is the master builder, we are some of the construction workers he has put into his service to restore his great temple. 

This means that as wide and diverse as God’s creation itself is, so too are his children called to serve faithfully across all of creation. There is work to be done in seeing God’s will done in every area of our lives and in every aspect of existence. We have work to do in physics, mathematics, biology, and chemistry. We have responsibilities in music, painting, poetry, and literature. Christ taught us to pray for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10 ESV), and this is as true for the classroom and the dinner table as it is for the factory line and the church pew. 

We might think of it this way. As Christians we have one calling: to faithfully follow Jesus Christ. But that single calling that all Christians share takes many different forms amidst the vagaries of human life and history. No single person on the planet alive today or at any point in human history has the same set of talents, relationships, dispositions, challenges, and possibilities as anyone else. So while we all share a common calling as Christ’s disciples, we have a unique responsibility to follow him in our own lives. 

God’s design encompasses all of creation, and so his servants need to be able to be equipped in a similarly universal and comprehensive way.

This is the kind of perspective on which the Christian university is founded. God’s design encompasses all of creation, and so his servants need to be able to be equipped in a similarly universal and comprehensive way. This is also why there is a need for Christian institutions that are likewise focused on all kinds of different areas, throughout all of creation. Christians must work together to discover truths about the economy and implement just policy. Christians must be truth-tellers in the media and in journalism. We must be witnesses to beauty and goodness in music and the arts. 

Jesus gives us the basic lesson in stewardship when he concludes that “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48 ESV). The stunning and glorious diversity of God’s creation is manifest as well in the diversity of his church and those he has called to follow him. We have all been given much, but we haven’t all been given the same things. As the apostle Paul puts it, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:4-7 ESV).

God has given us new life in Jesus Christ, and that is very much indeed. He has given us a great deal, and so much is expected of each one of us. Each one of us is both an object and a subject of God’s great reclamation project. He calls us and saves us from sin, death, and the Devil. But he calls us as well to serve him and to promote life and flourishing in this world. 

Many church services have traditionally closed with the exhortation, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” These two commands get at the heart of the gospel. We have peace because of what God has done for us. And on the basis of that peace we have been called and equipped to serve him throughout all of our lives and throughout all of creation. Thanks and praise be to God!

This essay is adapted from the foreword to Faith in Society: 13 Profiles of Christians Adding Value to the Modern World by Anthony B. Bradley.


Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project.