Sin, Salvation and the Transformation of Toil
This year: A single word expresses our goal: Confidence…we have a trustworthy source of knowledge, the Bible, regarding how we are to live, thrive as humans.
Everyone is searching for the good, except for those who have abandoned the search and have given up…but unless they take their own lives…they remain, to some degree “searchers”
Jeremiah said the human curse is that we have abandoned the source of the good, God…the only way to quench our “soul thirst” and have embarked on this endless digging of dry wells.
In addition in our time many have abandoned the idea that there is “truth” to be found…we can merely guess as to what the good is and we are terrible guessers
God is there and God has revealed himself to us.
We do not have to guess what is the good…and we do not have to live and die with unquenched thirst…we can know God’s good and live in it…in part now, and in eternity in full.
This month we are looking at our jobs, what we do with most of our lives (time) as calling…vocation…not just meaningless toil.
This month we are going to hear the stories of some people from River as they have tried to live faithfully in their calling:
-Last week: Kara Gibson…full time mom and full-time worker outside the home.
Today, Melody Campbell is going to share some of her story related to her calling and how God is working that out in her life.
- How have you seen being a mother a calling from God?
- How have you struggled to see purpose and/or live with purpose in the day to day?
- How has your sense of calling as a mother and vision for your life changed through the various transitions?
- How has God made himself known to you as you have parented your children?
Let’s look further at work as calling (vocation)
This week we are to look at what the Bible says about how our jobs, the things we do with most of our lives have been affected by humanity’s fall into sin.
And then how the gospel…is affecting or can affect our vocations…how we spend our lives.
When I say job, I mean “vocations”…I am including parents who primarily spend their time raising children as well as retirees, students, and the very ill…who spend the majority of their time dealing with their physical health.
Whatever it is you do with the majority of your waking hours.
Toil (meaninglessness) is being transformed into calling (meaning)
Sisyphus, the unfortunate character from the Greek myth, was doomed to spend eternity rolling a heavy stone up a hill only to have it roll back to the bottom again.
This is the way many feel about their lives…and in a sense, apart from Christ they are correct.
All the work of our hands will eventually, be undone in this life…whether you are a doctor, teacher, builder, parent…all we help will die, all we build will be destroyed
So let’s inject the gospel into the Sisyphus myth:
*One day at as the large stone has again rolled back down the hill…Sisyphus experiences the deep meaninglessness of his existence…but in a different way than usual.
As he leans on his rock…he realizes that unlike the rock (which doesn’t seem to have this sense of meaninglessness…the rock seems to be okay with its existence) he has a need, a thirst for meaning…that is exactly what makes his feeling of meaninglessness so acute.
He is different from the rock, and even from the cow…he sees day after day at the bottom of his hill…also doing the same thing repetively…but the cow is okay with it…he is not.
He realizes he doesn’t just want meaning…he needs meaning
Like he needs air, and water… so where does this need come from…this awareness of a built-in need turns his heart to God.
He cries out to God, becomes a Christ-follower…and is immediately infused with hope and a new sense of purpose.
But then realizes that God wants him to continue to roll the stone up the hill and for it to roll back down each day…this is confusing until he reads…
1 Cor. 7:24 where Paul says that each should remain in the situation God called him or her to when they become Christ followers…until he has clearly directed them elsewhere.
And Colossians 3 where he learns that he is do all he does for the glory of God.
Now he rolls the stone up the hill and it rolls down again…but he has purpose in it…this is what God has called him to do.
Still hard work, still struggles with “why” God would have him do it…but he does it with purpose…purpose tied to trust in God.
This is not merely a mental trick…he is not fooling himself by making meaning out of no meaning.
He has aligned his perspective with what is actually real about his life now.
He now lives in a world designed by God (not fate or chance) and this world operates according to God’s purposes…he has now fully joined God in those purposes.
He doesn’t know why God would have purpose in this task before him…but he trusts God…he knows that he is wise and good…he believes he will see purpose…in this life or at least in eternity.
Now his curse…his toil…becomes calling.
*Sisyphus the saved…rather than the cursed.
Same rock, same hill…different Sisyphus.
So if you feel like Sisyphus with diapers, or spreadsheets, or classrooms, or home repairs…or whatever work you do.
Christ has transformed toil into calling…he is doing that in our lives…it remains for us to see this as truth.
Let’s work through our way to this great truth by way of four principles…starting again in Genesis 1.
- We are made in God’s image
Gen. 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Francis Schaeffer wrote that “This is as important a statement as any in Scripture because people cannot seem to answer the question “Who am I?”
If I can’t answer that question…then every other important question remains unanswered.
Am I a collection of atoms, an illusion, a machine, an animal?
This confusion of identity and purpose is a root cause of all kinds of problems…including meaninglessness in our work.
Knowing who you are as a Christian is a gift from God…he has told us…we are image bearers.
It is important, if you want to understand the nature of your work as calling, that you understand your nature as an image bearer.
The Bible starts with God…then goes on to say we are his creation…then it describes the mess of the fall and then God’s long-term solution.
The order is important.
You and I must begin with God in our thinking…then with our identity are his image bearers…then to our purpose.
We are designed to relate to God in a way that no other part of creation does or can.
One very important consequence of this is that genuine love is possible for us.
Machines can do many things that humans can do…some things they can do better and faster…I can shovel a few pounds of dirt at a time…an earth mover can shovel tons at a time.
But machines cannot love…we can.
And love for us is not mere instinct, or training, or bio-chemical brain reactions…it is a real part of our nature as image bearers of God…who is love.
We can love because we can choose.
Those who believe we are just biological machines…cannot reasonable argue at the same time that prejudice, or anything that people do to harm others is ultimately wrong.
Marquis de Sade (markey de sod) was an 18th century writer, philosopher…and all around really, really terrible guy (we get the word “sadist” (say dist) from his name…rightly so)
He lived consistently with his view that humans are just animals or machines…there is no God…so he said, famously…”whatever is, is right.”
Then he lived that way…and his life was a horror show for all who knew him…and for him personally as well.
He tried to live like there is not God, and he is merely an animal…it didn’t work…because it’s just not real.
As image bearers we are able to see and say…”no, much of what is…is wrong…but can be made right”
We are choosing beings…and the most important choice of all…is to love God.
- We are made to love God
Jesus was once asked what is the greatest commandment?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love others as you love yourself.” Matt 22:36
“This” he said, “Sums up the entirety of God’s law.”
1500 years earlier in Deut. 6 God gave Moses the same message.
Even at the time of Moses, the initial recipient of the 10 and many other commandments…the central issue was love for God…not merely keeping outward laws.
This is our original design purpose…to love God.
Loving God shows up in obeying God (trusting him for the good)
This obedience shows up most clearly in loving others.
Our purpose, our meaning…is to love God…love is revealed in obedience…trust…that leads us to love others.
- Sin was (and is) the choice to not love God first…and sin’s consequences were to separate us from God and his good in our lives.
Let’s walk through the consequences of sin.
Gen. 2:25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
This is really the beginning of the storyline of Genesis 3…the chapter of the fall.
They felt no shame in their nakedness…this is not about sexuality it is about their lack of brokenness.
They were not yet self-focused, insecure…they were not trapped in the quicksand of thinking mostly of self.
Gen. 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Satan, who had already rebelled against God was trying to recruit young humanity to his cause.
He animated a creature (snake) to confront Eve (later he would do the same with other animals and with humans…demonized people like Judas)
Gen. 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
This was not an evil tree…all that God had made was good…including this tree.
*The Church of Satan in America (an agnostic or atheist group…are not overtly Satan worshippers…many don’t believe in the spiritual realm at all).
They believe the fundamental flaw of religion is in its supposed opposition to knowledge.
The suppression of knowledge and expression of free choice is evil for them.
So to them…though the Genesis account is a myth…in this myth…Eve is the hero…the serpent as well.
But again, this was not a bad tree, this was a good tree…and knowledge and wisdom are good things (just read Proverbs)…in fact the entire Bible is about wisdom and knowledge.
But the beginning of wisdom…is the fear (awe, respect) of God.
This was about the choice…without the reality of choice to talk of humans as image bearers or as significant beings…would be meaningless talk.
We would just be machines.
All love…man to woman, woman to man, friend to friend…man to God…is tied to choice.
Without choice the word “love” is meaningless..
There is not about an evil tree and a good tree…there is an evil choice and good choice.
Shaeffer: Genesis in Space and Time: does an excellent job of discussing this.
Clearly from the first two chapters of Genesis and the rest of the Bible…knowledge is a good thing…but real knowledge is in relationship to God.
God has said “Don’t eat, when you do, you will die.”
What is involved here is “experiential knowledge of evil” versus believing God when He told them about evil.
It was not knowledge as knowledge that was wrong…it as the choice made against God’s loving warning and command that was wrong.
Imagine a child whose mother warns her against the dangers of the fire: perhaps the mother has never been burned herself but is wise and loving and has knowledge of what could happen.
But if the child foolishly decides to not heed her mother’s warning but to have experiential knowledge of fire…the result is pain, injury, and maybe death.
The child is not wiser because of experience…she knew the nature of fire from her mom…now she is injured and disfigured…now she is full of fear, and pain…not wisdom.
The first couple choose experiential knowledge of evil…and gave up experiential knowledge of the good.
God was not after naive children…he was not an omnipotent “helicopter parent.”
-The first couple were to learn and grow and become wise and mature.
He wanted loving relationship with his children…this, again, required obedience…trust.
All love relationships require trust…but in this unique relationship between created and creator…trust is all important.
So in a way Satan was telling the truth…they would gain knowledge…but it would be useless, horrible knowledge.
Not all knowledge is good…experiential knowledge of evil is always bad…it does not make us wise…just the opposite.
They had the knowledge of experience but that was not truer knowledge than the knowledge of God they had.
The truth was they would gain knowledge…the lie was that through this knowledge they would become like God.
God is infinite and independent…we are finite and dependent.
When we attempt to be like God through rebellion rather than like him in love…the result is always despair and brokenness.
Gen. 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Death came, as God said it would and there are three steps in this death:
- Separation from God…He is the infinite personal reference point…and so all became meaninglessness in this life.
We navigate life with points of reference…with sin we lost our point of reference for life.
Now life without God is aimless, meaningless.
- There was physical death.
-Though Adam’s life was longer than ours, still in a few years his body would rot in the grave.
- There is eternal death in the penalty of this sin.
Gen. 3:14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
Gen. 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
Here we see the consequences of the fall…and the first evidence of God’s remedy through the gospel.
We will get to the remedy in a moment…look at the consequences
You can see the results in terms of separation:
-Men and women from God
-From themselves (shame has come)
-From one another (blame shifting, murder will soon follow)
For our purposes today look at the results in terms of “toil”
The serpent’s judgment was to go upon his belly, the woman has pain in childbirth and the man has toil in his work.
The introduction of toil is not the beginning of work.
We saw last week part of our nature as image bearers was creative work from the beginning.
But after the fall there is a distinction…work has become toil…listen to what Noah’s father said many years later.
Gen. 5:28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.”
So work, because of sin…has become toil.
What was the gift of God, work…had become meaningless toil apart from him.
- The Cure for the Curse.
Look at how Paul describes this tragic choice…but also God’s great reversal.
Rom. 5:13 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
Look back in Genesis 3, two verses
Gen 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Gen. 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
First, this “seed” singular is speaking of Jesus…the Messiah would by his death, crush the serpent.
This is called the “proto-gospel” or the first gospel…here in this chapter describing the first human sin is God’s first proclamation of gospel hope.
Second, when Adam and Eve sinned and felt shame…they made clothes out of plants…these were of course inadequate for the task.
I’m wearing a plant-based shirt…cotton…but these were fig leaves…not going to last long.
God made them more durable garments…from animal skins…we can surmise that he sacrificed animals to do so.
I would not be dogmatic about this…but this appears to be the beginning of the sacrificial system…right there in Genesis 3.
Abel, the child of Adam and Eve just before being murdered by his brother, brought an animal sacrifice to God.
This system of animal sacrifice that would last for many centuries…we see it in most notable fashion at the Passover…when the blood of a lamb keeps Israel safe from death and was the final plague that convinced Pharaoh to let them go.
The sacrificial system ended with the final sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
So…we bear God’s image, we are made to love God, our sin has separated us from God (and purpose) and in humanities first sin we see God at work to reverse the curse.
Let’s move to the conclusion of these four principles:
Conclusion: The gospel and its impact our life’s work
Heb. 2:14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Christ took on human form…to destroy death and its power (sin)
On the cross the serpent struck Christ’s heel…and on the same cross Christ crushed the serpent’s head.
Now the power of death…is gone from our lives.
We do not have to live in the slavery of fear.
This has implications in many parts of our lives…but clearly so to our life’s work.
Many live in the ongoing fear of wasting their lives, this drives a sense of purposelessness in what they do.
How so? Work is not able to give meaning in itself.
-So when people try to squeeze meaning from what they do…they become desperate…afraid…life is slipping away and I am “toiling” at meaninglessness.
Lest you think if only you had a job with “clear” meaning then it would be different…let me warn you against this line of reasoning.
People with every type of job struggle to find meaning…and people in every conceivable life circumstance are finding meaning.
What you do is not the main issue.
The difference-maker is in understanding:
- Who you are: image bearer, made to love God.
- What the real problem of humanity is: sin, separation from God
- What the real solution of humanity is: the Gospel…relationship with Christ
- What the resulting impact on our lives now is: all of life is infused with eternal purpose.
*Will we see what is not true about our lives?
To live is Christ, to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)
Apart from Christ…life is lose/lose: I have trouble finding meaning in my life now…and when I die what I gave my life to is all lost
There is a reason many become old and bitter (bitterness is optional by the way…it is not required as you age).
But many become bitter because they don’t pay attention along the way…and then they find no purpose in all they gave their lives to.
So they are at the end…they look back and see “meaninglessness”…they look ahead and see death.
Golf courses, fishing boats, retirement accounts…just don’t work for long.
So the enemy goads people into fear of death…through discontentment with life…”You are missing it. You are not getting all you can. You only go around once in life. Look at them…they are happy, fulfilled.”
This fear of ultimate loss makes people desperate to squeeze meaning from this life…from jobs, from pleasure, from people…yet these things cannot deliver life.
These are the very broken wells Jeremiah spoke of.
How can Sisyphus have meaning in rolling a stone up a hill only to have it roll back down? This is meaningless now and forever.
But a redeemed Sisyphus…to whom life is now Christ and death is gain…finds even this task infused with purpose.
Life and death become win/win not lose/lose.
I don’t have to squeeze every drop of meaning from jobs, and hobbies, and relationships…I can take them as they are…my life is in Christ.
Then some real side benefits begin to happen…
Sisyphus begins to notice his muscles growing through his work (a temporary blessing but still a blessing)
He sees the sunset and the sunrise because he is outdoors a lot (also a small blessing)…but he learned to enjoy more and more not less and less.
*Children are amazed at much, adults are amazed at little as they grow old.
-Christ in us, can reverse this trend…we can, through worship…become more like children in becoming amazed again at everything versus amazed at nothing.
Sisyhpus has time to pray as he pushes up the hill(a great blessing)
He marvels at the design of the stone(the blessing of gratitude and beauty)
People see his purpose-infused lives and their lives are changed(the blessing of influence and impact)
Same rock, same hill…different Sisyphus.
The story of Sisyphus is myth but the gospel story is not.
Diapers, dishes, spreadsheets, classrooms, computer screens, traffic…all have meaning…you must do the work to see the purpose in the work.
The work is mostly about setting your mind on things above…taking thoughts captive.
Last week I spoke of the three Greats.
Commandment: love God and people
Commission: take the gospel to the nations
Mandate: do all you do as unto the Lord
The Great mandate or creation mandate is the principle that all legitimate work is good work.
The Christian plumber or non-Christian plumber both alike can bless people and do meaningful work.
The same for the doctor, bus driver, policeman.
There is a difference however, between the believer doing his or her work and the non-believer…or at least there should be.
The Believer is doing what they do as unto the Lord.
The believer is living in an understanding of the world and their work that increasingly leads to a win/win lifestyle…to live is Christ (win) to die is gain (win)
This should increasingly impact the perception and the practice of our work.
When your perception of meaning in your work and your practice of doing good work…become off centered.
Return to your purpose…you are made for God’s glory and to love him and be loved by him.
Return to the gospel…Christ has redeemed and is redeeming all of creation…including the daily work of your hands.
Your purpose shapes your perspective (how you see work) and your practice (how you do your work)
*Do not doubt this just because you may not have experienced it…many have, you can as well.
Again…it is not wrong to want or seek another job…it is, however, unwise to believe a job can fix what only a right perspective on purpose can.
Do the work to see the purpose of your work…and your life as a whole.