At Work

How God Is Present With Us at Work

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Editor’s note: Russell Gehrlein reappeared on the syndicated radio program The Plumb Line, hosted by Jay Rudolph, on Tuesday, March 12. As in parts one and two of this interview, Russell and Jay discussed several of the faith and work concepts found in Russell’s book, Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence In Our Profession. Below is a partial transcript of their conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full conversation here

Salvation Through Faith & Our Response

JR: This idea of, or the fact that we don’t work for our salvation, but yet the outcome or the result is that God has some work for us to do is one way of putting it. That comes out of my life verses, Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) and on into verse 10, which talks about us being God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works. Just before that, though, verses 8 and 9 talk about the reality that we’re saved by grace through faith, not by works, so that no one can boast. Give us a little expounding upon those verses, I guess, if you would, how that essentially lays out the gospel. 

RG: This theology of work obviously nests with all the other categories of systematic theology, and one of them is the theology of salvation and how we come into a saving relationship with God through faith in Christ. 

And it is exactly like Ephesians 2:8-9 says: it’s by grace, through an unmerited gift. We don’t deserve that. God speaks a message and asks us to respond to it. In order to respond to it, he has to somehow miraculously work in our heart to change it to want to come into a relationship with God. Because we’re born into sin and can’t help but sin because we rebel against God, but somehow God gets our attention. 

For me, I was a high school senior, and I was impressed by nature, how God made beautiful sunsets and animals and plants that I enjoyed while at Boy Scout camp and hiking and things like that. God grabbed my attention. 

But hearing the message of Jesus and how his death on the cross offered salvation as a free gift…that all we have to do is accept it by faith. This means we don’t have to work our way and don’t have to go through life feeling guilty…because he’s already paid the penalty for us. We don’t have to earn our salvation; it’s given to us. So now we respond.

Verse 10 talks about how we are his workmanship, created to do good works. So, he changes us, and that’s one of the irreversible things that happens when we become a Christian. We want now not to please ourselves, but to please God, and so he changes us from the inside out.  Now he’s able to use us with the gifts and talents and strengths that we have. He works through us to love our neighbor; he works in and through and with us in his presence to meet our neighbors’ needs and so on. Work is a response to the work that he did for us.  

God’s Purpose & Presence in Our Work

JR: This fits very nicely into Chapter 5, which basically has the same title as the book… It’s wonderful to think about the reality that God is present with us at work.

RG: Oh gosh, yes. I could talk for days about this, so I’m going to have to be really concise. This is the heart of the book. 

I wanted to lay a solid biblical foundation from Genesis and explain how God created, how he is a worker, that work now has value, that all workers have value, how  there’s purposes for work, how God can use us in work, and how he actively works through us to meet the needs of his people. 

Now, I want to start and emphasize this connection, this biblical connection between God’s presence and work. 

One of the coolest books I read as a young Christian college student…was The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence… He was a monk, and he worked in the kitchen. He dedicated himself to serving the Lord, and he worked at doing the dishes in the kitchen, and he was able to say things that were just absolutely so radical. 

He said, “Working in the kitchen, I’m as close to God here as I work for God’s glory as I would be on a mountaintop or in chapel.’ A lot of things like that. So, this is the kind of pattern for walking with Christ that I had as a brand-new Christian. And it all tied to Psalm 139, which explains God’s omnipresence, which means he’s always with his people. That’s how I learned to live my Christian life. 

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