How Does the Gospel Relate to the Theology of Work?
by Russell Gehrlein
Published on February 12, 2024
Categories: Spiritual Growth

How Does the Gospel Relate to the Theology of Work?

One of the best chaplains where I work used to say all the time, “The gospel changes everything.” 

Indeed, it does. The gospel message is what brings us to Jesus. For those who have accepted His gift of salvation by grace through faith, the gospel also frames how we interact with God and with others.

Let me share a bit on what the gospel entails, and then relate this central theme to how I view work.

What is the gospel?

In the first chapter of Romans, we read what the gospel means to the Apostle Paul. He writes that he is a servant of Christ Jesus, “set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son” (Rom. 1:1-3). He states that he is not ashamed of this good news since “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

Paul knows that the essential gospel message centered on Jesus Christ is what brings believers into a relationship with God. It is characterized by reconciliation, forgiveness, and grace. It is a message that can be seen in the Old Testament and was brought to complete fulfillment in Christ. As God’s only Son, Jesus proved that He was the chosen Messiah when he died for us and rose from the dead.

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary states that the gospel is “the joyous good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.” They indicate, “The gospel is not a new plan of salvation; it is the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation was begun in Israel, was completed in Jesus Christ, as is made known by the church.”

This good news story that we usually associate with evangelistic messages geared towards unbelievers continues to be relevant for Christians. We still desperately need His grace and to heed His daily call to confess our sins, repent, and turn to Him. The one who delivered us from darkness still delivers us.

Basic tenets of the theology of work

Once we respond to the gospel, we find there are new ways of living out our faith, at home, in church, and at work. The Bible has much to say about these relationships. (See Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1.)

Some of the foundational truths we learn that the Bible teaches about work include the following:

    • God is a worker, the creator and sustainer of all life; therefore, work is inherently good
    • God created Adam and Eve as His coworkers to expand and sustain God’s good creation
    • Adam’s sin resulted in God cursing human work (thorns and thistles); work will always be painful and harder than necessary until Jesus returns
    • God is present in our work as He works with, in, and through us to love our neighbors by meeting the wide spectrum of human needs
    • As Christians, we work not only in submission to our human employers but work for the Lord

Understanding these basic biblical principles will make a huge difference in how we view work and how we do work.  Knowing how the gospel relates to these principles is what I will reflect on next.

How does the gospel influence what we do vocationally?

The gospel changes the way we look at the variety of career choices open to us. When we see God revealed as a worker (which implies that all work is valuable), that He made man and woman in His image, called them to be His coworkers over creation, and created us with a unique set of marketable skills, we can confidently follow our divine design when we seek His face on where to represent him.

Moreover, when we understand how God sent Jesus in a physical body to be present with us, we will reject the notion that physical things are of less value than spiritual things. Consequently, the message of God’s grace frees me from the burden of guilt by choosing a vocation other than full-time ministry.

How does the gospel influence how we view work?

The basic truths of the gospel change our motivation at work. When we truly understand that we are saved by grace, that our good works add nothing to the finished work of Jesus on the cross, and that our efforts will not gain God’s approval, we can work from a place of gratitude for what Jesus did for us. We can rest in His finished work. We will not be burdened by trying to earn God’s favor by our work. Because we know the love of God and our value because He died to redeem us, our identity is not based on what we do for a living.

We do the work that God provides to meet our family’s needs, but we also work with a new purpose, to be salt and light wherever He has placed us. We can bring light to a dark place. We can show the love of Christ to those whom God places in our path. When we work in submission to our employers and display the fruit of the Spirit and a transformed life, people will see the reality of the good news.

How does the gospel influence how we do our work?

The gospel also changes how we work. Our desire to be used of God to live out the gospel in front of our bosses, coworkers, employees, and customers and to speak the gospel as opportunities open up motivates us to work with a spirit of excellence so that we display what a Christian worker looks like. When work is tougher than we expect, we know that it is due to Adam’s sin as well as our own.

Due to the forgiveness of sin that is freely given by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and knowing that God is always with us, we can experience God’s presence at work. Every day we can see Him work with us, in us, and through us to meet the broad spectrum of human needs around us. What this means is that my work becomes a joy to do simply because I know that I am a coworker with God.

My earnest desire is that I, and those I influence with my words and actions, will see that what I do, why I do it, and how I work is solidly grounded in the knowledge that I am a sinner saved by grace and that Jesus is the answer to reconcile them with the Father, forgive their sin, and provide lasting joy.

Russell E. Gehrlein holds a B.S from Colorado State University and an M.A. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. A retired Master Sergeant, he continues to serve the U.S. Army in a civilian capacity. He and his wife of 43 years live in Missouri and enjoy spending time with their grandchildren. To read more of his work please visit Reflections on Theological Topics of Interest

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