The Theology of Work: Work and the Gospel
The Biblical Theology of Work portrays labor as a noble, God-honoring task given to man. Viewing work only on this level, however, is superficial and misses the broader picture of work in its relationship to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Click here to view part one – The Theology of Work: Work in the Torah
Click here to view part two – The Theology of Work: Proverbial Lessons on Work
Click here to view part three – The Theology of Work: Labor and Vanity
Click here to view part four – The Theology of Work: Work and the Carpenter of Nazareth
Click here to view part five – The Theology of Work: Glorifying God through Work
Click here to view part six – The Theology of Work: Work in the Christian Vision
Click here to view part seven – The Theology of Work: Work and Christian Ministry
Man, Made in His Creator’s Image
In Genesis we find that man was created to work, long before the curse brought sin into the world. Why was man made this way? Even in a fallen world, deer and rabbits, gorillas and elephants have complete leisure and survive perfectly without sowing fields or building houses. Why was man, in a state of perfection, created to work?
The clue is found in Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” As the Scripture demonstrates time and again, God is a God who works, not only on the first six days of creation, but throughout all proceeding history. Man was created in that image, to work just like his Maker. Just as man’s spiritual dimension, absent in the animals, is a mark of his superiority and honor, so man’s ability to work is a mark of his preeminence and dignity in the world.
In his state of perfection, man was made for something else as well – fellowship with God. In Eden, man’s fellowship with God, just like man’s work, was perfect, flawless, pleasurable, and beautiful. This is the way the world was meant to be.
Sin, Work, and the Curse
Adam’s sin brought a horrific curse into the world. Yet the curse was only a limited and superficial expression of what had already happened. Separated from God, polluted by disobedience, and condemned to death, Adam would have lived a life of misery even if the curse had never been pronounced. While birth pangs, sweat, and thistles certainly make the world more uncomfortable, this globe would be miserable enough without them.
While the entry of sin into the world was a sobering punishment, God applied the curse as a further penalty and reminder of Adam’s sin. The curse radically altars the character of work. It is no longer guaranteed to be pleasurable, beautiful, and flawless. Sorrow, hardship, and imperfection characterize man’s work.
Physical labor is important, but man’s spiritual enjoyment of God is far more important. The fall had important effects on man’s physical labor, but man’s spiritual enjoyment was affected far more radically. Humanity is now separated from the Almighty, polluted by sin, and unable to enjoy the fellowship that he was created to partake of.
I said that the curse was only a limited and superficial expression of what had already happened. The world would still be miserable from sin, but the curse adds another dimension. It reminds man, through intensely physical and noticeable ways, of a spiritual reality. It reminds man that just as the physical work he was created for was radically changed, so the spiritual fellowship that he was created for has been utterly broken.
Christ’ Cross and the Redemption of the Present Order
Every day, as man goes about his wearisome toil, the curse is a reminder of the destructive nature of sin and his broken fellowship with God. Left to himself, man cannot alter his spiritual condition and regain God’s fellowship, any more than he can prevent dandelions from populating the world. While he may have occasional success combating the effects of the curse, he can never undo God’s terrible decree, nor purify his soul before God.
What a miserable condition! Did God provide any hope? Yes, and the answer is found in Jesus Christ. Man needs a solution, both to the curse, and to his sin, and Jesus provides that solution. Jesus takes away sin, nailing it to his cross, removing it forever and restoring man’s fellowship with God. Sin, the great destroyer of perfection, is dealt with fully and entirely through Jesus Christ.
Admittedly, sin is not yet fully removed. The world remains evil and corrupt, but a day has been promised when the great plague of sin will be entirely and finally removed. In the meantime, those who trust in Christ find their sins blotted out and their fellowship with God restored. They await their final redemption.
That is the great issue, the mightiest problem to face humanity since the dawn of time. And it is taken care of by Jesus Christ. But man, so focused on the superficial, sometimes loses sight of the immense unseen realities. That is why Jesus also, incidentally, takes care of the curse as well and restores the nature of work. Man longs for repose from his weariness, and Jesus promises rest, a removal of all that is toilsome and difficult. Just as Christ has not yet finally removed all sin, so we have not yet finally entered his ultimate rest, but we look forward to it. In the meantime, our work is elevated, from raw drudgery to a sacred work of service to the Creator of Heaven and Earth. We are His servants.
There is no doubt that the Scriptures have much to say on the subject of work. Hallowed by God, performed by Christ, and designated for man, work remains an integral part of God’s plan for the world, just as it once was in the Garden of Eden. Ultimately, however, work is more than simply a means to prosperity – it points us to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serves as a continual reminder of mankind’s need for a Savior to redeem the world.