It’s fascinating to watch these talent-oriented reality shows today. Each week, there always seems to be a contestant that bursts into tears after a great performance. Amidst the cheers of the crowd and accolades of the judges, the performer’s sentiments usually sound something like this:
“I’ve worked so hard! It’s so good to finally be seen, to be recognized, to be celebrated for what I can do. This just means so much!”
This is the default mode of the human heart – if I perform well, I will be loved, I will discover who I am, I will finally matter. And this drive doesn’t only emerge on the stage of reality talent shows, this perspective permeates our daily work as well. If I work hard, if I perform well, if I’m successful, I will be valued by my colleagues, esteemed by my friends, and God will be pleased with me.
Of course we are called to work hard and do our jobs well. It’s the right idea, it’s just in the wrong order.
We can clearly see that work was part of God’s original design (Genesis 2). It’s one of the ways we reflect His image and partner with Him in His ongoing work in the world (Genesis 1). Scripture clearly tells us to work hard (Ecclesiastes 9:10), that if you’re lazy you don’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10), and that diligent work brings profit (Proverbs 14:23).
But like anything in this life, our sin corrupts even the purest of motives. Left to our natural instincts, work becomes something it was never meant to be. The mistake lies in confusing two similar sounding prepositions.
For and from.
When I work for, I’m rejecting the power of the Gospel (Gal. 3). I leverage my work to create my own identity. I trust in my effort to earn my own way. I perform for my worth. I make myself the hero of my story. I become my own savior in a sense, a role I am woefully incapable of playing. When we work for the approval of God and those around us, the true power of the grace-driven Gospel is completely neutralized in our lives.
But when I get my prepositions correct, when I get the order right, when I swap for for from, my work actually becomes superpowered by the Gospel. When Jesus died on the cross, He cried “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The greek word there is Tetelestai, a business term stamped on first century receipts that literally means “paid in full.”
I have this word framed and hanging over the desk in my office, because I never want to forget that Jesus finished work is the foundation of all my work. All those things you’re working for – money, security, identity, worth, power, control, hope, peace – all of those things are found fully and only in Jesus Christ and His finished work for you. Only when you rest in Jesus can your work find its true power and purpose.
A healthy work ethic is beautiful when it’s not a root of self-righteousness. Grace is not a celebration of laziness, Grace does not negate the value of hard work. But grace does swap out the preposition. It’s from not for. We work from the place of “it is finished!”
And this changes everything.