Theology Thursday: “Free” and “Servant” in the Workplace

Dr. Paul R. Raabe, Faculty, College of Theology

Jesus demonstrates freedom and servitude by washing his disciples' feet

In the workplace you diligently work and spend countless hours at your job. You are under a lot of pressure. Pressure to follow the rules, pressure to meet deadlines, pressure to meet the expectations of those over you, pressure to fit in with and even be liked by your coworkers, pressure to manage those under your supervision, pressure to succeed, pressure to meet your own goals and live up to your own expectations. The amount of work facing you keeps piling up. You have to achieve, to have good stats to show, to measure up, and all so that you can earn your wages. You fight the traffic to get to work on time and then you fight the traffic to return home. When you do arrive at home, you are exhausted only to face it all again tomorrow.

Life in the workplace can be stressful, exhausting, enervating. It can seem like you are imprisoned with all kinds of constraints put on you, under all kinds of rules and expectations. However, there is good news from the Lord God Almighty for you. God the Father through his only begotten Son has set you free, and his Holy Spirit has brought you under that God-given freedom.

Free From What?

What are you free from? Free from the ruling power of sin that enslaves all people, because all people are sinners. You are free from the just accusations of God’s just law, that condemn us as lawbreakers. You are also free from the tyrannical bondage of Satan himself. Finally, you are free from eternal condemnation. Even physical death will not have the final say over you, since the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits of your own bodily resurrection unto eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Both Free and a Servant

The Scriptures speak quite a bit of God giving freedom to those in bondage. By the exodus from Egypt the true God freed his ancient people from harsh bondage. In the fullness of time this same God, the God of ancient Israel, did the ultimate action of setting free. At the same time, the Scriptures often speak of a Christian as one who serves others. So, which is it, free or servant? It turns out that both dimensions are true.

In the workplace, a Christian lives a “double life” properly understood. In 1520 Martin Luther wrote a now famous treatise, in which he discusses both dimensions titled: “The Freedom of the Christian.”1 Here he makes two assertions side-by-side:

  • “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.”
  • “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

Luther bases these two statements on the Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all.”

Free by the Gospel

The first assertion states the result of the gospel. As Jesus himself said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” free from sin and from the accusation and condemnation of the law against sin (John 8:36). We stand forgiven and righteous in God’s sight by God’s undeserved favor and because of the all-sufficient active and passive obedience of another, of Jesus the Messiah, God’s Son in human flesh.

We receive this forgiveness and righteous standing before God with nothing but the empty hand of faith in his promises, without any working or doing or achieving on our part. The gospel of God gives you true freedom. It makes you all lords and kings who by faith have everything worth having, “For all things are yours . . . the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s,” (1Corinthians 3:21-23).

Active Servant Toward Others

At the same time, the Scriptures often speak of Christians as active servants toward others, who give themselves in self-sacrificing love toward others and willingly become subject to others. Jesus bids his followers, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,” just as Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for the multitudes (Matthew 20:26-28). The Apostle Paul articulates the two dimensions together in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the (sinful) flesh, but through love (agape) serve one another.”

Both Dimensions in the Workplace Culture

What practical meaning do these two dimensions have for a Christian in the workplace? Your righteous status before God is not based even in part on your doing and achievements in the workplace. Your eternity does not depend on your own accomplishments. The pressure and onus are removed from off your shoulders. You do not have to live with a constant guilt trip or with an inferiority or superiority complex. You are right before the Lord God Almighty, the maker of the heavens and earth. You are already lords and kings and free indeed in Jesus the Son of God.

You are free to serve others in the workplace, to expend yourselves to the benefit of others, your fellow workers, those who supervise you and those who work under your supervision, those who are clients and customers. You are free to be honest workers who give your best efforts and devote them to the betterment and flourishing of others (Ephesians 4:28). In Christ you have been freed from self-preoccupation to be other-oriented servants. When facing God, leave your good works at home. When facing others, give them your good works. The Christian in the workplace is “Freed before God” but a “servant toward others.”

Read more Theology Thursday and learn more about theology and ministry programs at GCU’s College of Theology today. 


Retrieved From:

1 Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian” (1520), translated by W. A. Lambert and revised by Harold J. Grimm, Luther’s Works, American Edition 31 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 343-377.

Approved by Faculty for the College of Theology on Nov. 14, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.