Our Need for Salvation in Life and Work (Romans 1:18–1:32)
We saw in Romans 1:1–17 that salvation begins with reconciliation to God. People have become estranged from God because of their “godlessness and wickedness” (Rom. 1:18). “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). We were created to walk in intimacy with God among the creatures of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 1–2), but our relationship with God has become so broken that we no longer recognize God. Paul calls this state a “debased mind” (Rom. 1:28).
Lacking the presence of mind to remain in the presence of the real God, we try to make our own gods. We have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and four-footed animals or reptiles” (Rom. 1:23). Our relationship with God is so thoroughly damaged that we cannot tell the difference between walking with God and carving an idol. When our real relationship with the true God is broken, we create fake relationships with false gods. Idolatry, then, is not merely one sin among others, but the essence of a broken relationship with God. (For more on idolatry, see “You Shall Not Make for Yourself an Idol,” Exodus 20:4, at www.theologyofwork.org.)
When our relationship with God is broken, our relationships with other people also break down. Paul lists some of the broken aspects of human relationships that ensue.
They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Rom. 1:29–31)
We experience nearly all these forms of broken relationships at work. Covetousness, strife, and envy over others’ positions or paychecks, malice and rebellion toward those in authority, gossip and slander of co-workers and competitors, deceit and faithlessness in communications and commitments, insolence, haughtiness, and boastfulness of those who experience success, foolishness in decisions, heartlessness and ruthlessness by those in power. Not all the time of course. Some workplaces are better and some worse. But every workplace knows the consequences of broken relationships. All of us suffer from them. All of us contribute to causing them.
We may even compound the problem by making an idol of work itself, devoting ourselves to work in the vain hope that it alone will bring us meaning, purpose, security, or happiness. Perhaps this seems to work for a time, until we are passed over for promotion or are fired or laid off or retire. Then we discover that work comes to an end, and meanwhile we have become strangers to our family and friends. Like “mortal men and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles,” work was created by God (Gen. 2:15) and is inherently good, yet it becomes evil when elevated to the place of God.