WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION
By Larry White
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure.
I.) What salvation is he talking about here?
A. The Philippians were already saved, so he is not talking about their obedience to the gospel and being saved. Besides, there is no amount of work the sinner outside of Christ could possibly do to merit or gain salvation.
... not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
This text has been used in this way by some members of the churches of Christ when speaking to our Baptist friends. They say you cannot be baptized to be saved because baptism is a work and we are not saved by works. Then we shoot back, "But Paul says to work out your salvation..."
The whole discussion is pointless because the Baptist thinks that baptism is a work of merit, which it is not, and we compound his problem by agreeing with him! When we use this scripture to show that baptism is a way to work out our salvation, we are admitting to the Baptist that we are saved by works of righteousness - something, that if we used a little thought, we don't even believe, and that flies in the face of everything Paul the apostle taught. So he is not talking about becoming a Christian. He is not talking about baptism.
B. We have salvation now in Christ just like we have eternal life now in Christ. They are both now present facts in principle, but however, not in our realization. There still is in our minds an expectation and hope of the realization of heaven when we leave these bodies; and so a future salvation and eternal life that is yet future. This idea of salvation is the one that gets nearer and nearer.
Rom.13:11 (a salvation yet to come)
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
1Pet.1:8-9 (the end is the goal or result of our faith)
... whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.
So salvation in this sense is still future, still on the horizon, still drawing nearer and still the goal set before us.
II.) Now, what does Paul mean when he says for us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling"? First of all to reiterate, we know it does not mean that we should try to deserve salvation on the grounds of merit. Paul is not saying to work for your own salvation. Christ has already given his life blood on the cross for your salvation. There is not any one or any number of works that we could do to earn what has already been paid for and been given to us as a gift. There is no way we can earn the price Jesus paid. If that were possible and we could make it into heaven on the basis of how well we perform in this life - then there was no reason for Jesus to die.
If you remember my last lesson on the victory we have in Christ - that what Jesus accomplished in his sacrificial death and resurrection completely overcomes the effects of what Adam did as the representative of the human race, and that God has given us eternal life and this life is in his son. This new life that we have been given is the life of our inner man when we were born again of the spirit. (Jno.3)
But since this new life has been created in us, we have to do something. We have to develop that new life - we have to respond and by faith appropriate that new life into our daily life and character. Paul uses words like "until Christ is formed in you" (Gal.4:19); "Till we all come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man - unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph.4:13) There is a growth process in which we all must be diligent and in which we must also be responsible.
I believe that this is what Paul means by, "work our your own salvation."
Thayer says that the one Greek word translated "work out" means, "to do that from which something results; to make every effort to obtain salvation."
It is not the idea of earning something for work. But it is akin to the idea of working out a problem to achieve a solution. Life in the world is a problem - and to make sure we are one of those who reaches the other side with the solution is something we must work out for ourselves - no other man can do it for us.
The life and character that I am developing here is the one that I will take with me into eternity.
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.
For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
We will each have a glorified body with the same character that we have now. Out character is the inner person of the heart - who we are when we are alone. Is the character that you are developing as a Christian now the character you want to have in eternity? That is a sobering thought. The person I am becoming now - the character traits that I am developing - is what I will be when I face God. That is why Paul says "with fear and trembling". I do not think that is a servile terror of God that paralyzes you into inaction - but a healthy carefulness, a conscience that would shrink back from doing anything that would hinder me in reaching my goal. A timidity to do anything against God. (Like Joseph)
It's a sobering thought. This glorified body - no one knows what it will be - but we know it will be like Christ's glorified body, and if God is going to put my character, the essence of my inner man and house it in a body like Christ's, then what does that motivate me to do?
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know him.
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
I should make sure my growth is in line with what God wants me to be when he glorifies me in his son.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the Sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,
and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
This is the same thing Paul says in Rom.6, that since we have this new life in Christ, I should be busy about perfecting or maturing that life by obedience, adding the character of Christ to my life.
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to Sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let Sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
And do not present your members as weapons of unrighteousness to Sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as weapons of righteousness to God. For Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
III.) In our text, Paul gives us an encouragement to work out our own salvation - "Because it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
The idea that God works in us, in the Greek again, suggests to be active - to produce an effect. So the idea is that God produces a certain effect in us, he exerts a certain influence over us and in us - so as to lead us to a certain result in our minds, (to will and to do). He does not say how God works - but we can rightly assume it is his word in our hearts in conjunction with the Spirit he has made to dwell within us. (2Thess.2:13)
It is God who enables us to be the kind of creature he had planned for us to be from the beginning. It is as if he hands us a new mind and a new life and then says, Ok, put it on. Or he makes us a new creature in Christ and then says to us, Now act like a new creature; you have the ability now by the new life that I have quickened within you.
There is a synergism in our lives as Christians. There are two theologies that are polls apart in extremes. Calvinism and Pelagianism. The truth lies between the two which I call Synergism.
CALVINISM SYNERGISM PELAGIANISM All predetermined and
we need do nothing
We work with God and by his grace we obey God does nothing for you
you have to save yourself
The life that God gives us and creates in us, we must put on and cultivate. There is a danger that we will not do this. That is why Paul said, "Work it out."
A. Some people after they receive this new life reject it.
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself.
Paul had been talking about what we are talking about - pressing on to obtain the resurrection. Paul is saying, Since we are citizens of Heaven, then act like what you really are. These others mind earthly things and they are not going to make it. Do not be like them, follow our example.
B. There is also the danger that after we receive this new life we can neglect it.
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will?
Neglect is a nautical term used to describe a boat with no anchor, or a ship that is left to itself to go off course. If we neglect this salvation or make light of it, it could just drift away from us - and we won't know what happened in the day we stand before Christ. When God works in us to will and do his good pleasure - he does not work against our will - it is not something that we need not put any effort into, but we need to be thoroughly committed to our obedience, and diligent to make every effort to work with God in bringing our ultimate salvation about.
If that is your mind, then God is on your side and will finish what he has begun in you. Christ is the author and the finisher of our faith - let us make sure that we do everything in our power and through God's power and supply of grace to compliment his work in us.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, OR. March 3, 1985)