“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” I still remember when I really came to believe that statement for the first time. Here was the gospel in all of its scandalous beauty: that God, despite all my wretchedness and brokenness, loved me—loved us—enough to stretch himself out on a Roman cross, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It’s scarcely believable.
I was exhilarated at the thought that I could have a personal relationship with the God of the universe. And I do still have those moments of exhilaration, but they’ve become fewer over the years, especially in my work. Part of the problem, of course, is my own sinfulness and spiritual numbness. But I’ve also come to see that I had a very narrow understanding of the gospel. What does the gospel have to do, I would ask myself, with spreadsheets and invoices and stocking office supplies? What does the gospel have to say to me as I stare blankly at my computer while the workday drags on? I didn’t have much of an answer, since I had basically been thinking of the gospel as a two-chapter story:
But what happens in the meantime?
This two-chapter story isn’t untrue—far from it—but it’s not the whole truth; it’s only part of what the Bible means by “the gospel,” and it’s not an especially helpful framework for thinking about the redemptive value of our work. With a narrow view of the gospel, it can be hard to figure what we’re supposed to be doing with all of our “ordinary” days while we wait to be with Jesus in heaven. What we need is a “Monday-through-Friday” gospel to help us make sense of our work during the hum-drum of our ordinary lives, in those moments when “the sun appears sluggish and immobile, as if the day had fifty hours” and boredom threatens us with “hatred of our place, against life itself, and against the work of our hands,” as the monk Evagrius of Pontus reflected from the deserts of Egypt in the fourth century.
But what if there were more chapters in the gospel story? What if there were a way to find where our work fits into God’s grand mission to reconcile all things–not just individual sinners–to himself? As the Christian Scriptures tell it, the gospel is a drama that unfolds in four acts—Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation—and the scope of the story includes the entire created order. This means, on the one hand, that the bad news is much worse than we may have thought if we are operating within a two-chapter gospel; at the same time, it also means that the good news of the four-chapter gospel is much better than we realize. Here’s the basic shape of the story:
In the end, the way we think about work is tied to the way we think about the gospel. If our understanding of the gospel is too narrow, we will most likely arrive at an instrumental understanding of our work, where we toil in our jobs to raise money for pastors and missionaries. But if we broaden our understanding of the gospel, we’ll find ways to engage our work as part of the mission of God to make all things new.
What’s your place in the plot?
Dr. Ryan Tafilowski holds a PhD in systematic theology, a master’s in theology in history from the University of Edinburgh, and a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Colorado Christian University. Tafilowski has served as an adjunct professor in the Division of Christian Thought at Denver Seminary, adjunct professor of theology at Colorado Christian University, and postgraduate instructor in theology and ecclesiastical history at the University of Edinburgh. He serves as the lead pastor at Foothills Fellowship Church in Denver and as Theologian-in-Residence at the Denver Institute for Faith and Work.