November 14, 1998
Thrust Statement: We are to work out this amazing salvation God has given us with awe.
Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:12-13
Does Paul teach that one earns his or her own salvation? Is salvation by works? Or is salvation by grace? Just what is Paul exhorting the Philippians to do? Does "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) contradict what Paul says to Titus?
Paul speaks of working out ones salvation in Philippians 2:12, but in Titus 2, he is speaking, not of working out your own salvation, but rather, of Gods initiative in our salvation. Salvation is something they already possess through Gods mercy. Even though one is saved by grace, nevertheless, Paul does not discount "good works" as necessary for the believer? No! Good works are things God ordained before the foundation of the world. Paul goes right to the heart of the matter when he writes: "For we are Gods workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). Prior to this call to the Ephesians for "good works," Paul clearly advances salvation by Gods grace. Again, he goes right to the root of redemption:
Let us return to Pauls letter to Titus. In this letter, Paul forcefully draws attention to good works following ones salvation by the grace of God:
Also, Paul, in writing to the Philippians, cannot make a practical appeal to good works without first putting it in terms of doctrine. In other words, he sets forth the scheme of redemption, and, then, he calls for conduct that will glorify God. Prior to his encouraging the Philippians to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12), he says, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27). This reflection upon Gods activity in our salvation is Pauls characteristic way of making an appeal for conduct and ethical behavior.
It is not uncommon for Paul to lay down "grace" first, and then say, "If you believe this, then, cannot you see that this redemption inevitably necessitates a change in ones life style. He does not confront us with a way of life, and then say, "Go and live it." But rather, Paul tells us about the things that have been done for us, and then says, "Now thengo and live it." As you make this transition from doctrine, that is to say, the good news about salvation in Jesus, there is always a "therefore" (Philippians 2:12). There is a logical sequence from doctrine to behavior. Every believer must take up his cross and follow Jesus daily (Matthew 16:24).
What does it mean to "work out your salvation" (Philippians 2:12)? Before one can work out his or her own salvation, then, that person must see his or her own sinfulness and be conscious of his or her need of divine help. The Philippians, too, realized that they were sinners saved by grace. They also were conscious that at one time they were under the wrath of God; they were aware that at one time they were under the dominion of sin; they were mindful that at one time they were under the curse of the law; and they were cognizant that at one time they were under condemnation. They knew that at one time they were guilty in the sight of God. They had heard and believed the good news of the gospelthat God had sent His only begotten Son to die in order to make atonement for them. Now it is time to produce fruit worthy of repentance.
"Working out your salvation" simply means that one is to perfect, to bring to pass, and to lead a life that results in "good works"works that please God. One must now perfect the salvation given to him or her through faith in Jesus. Just as John the Baptizer exhorted the religious leaders to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8), so must every believer work out his or her own salvation with awe and reverence. One must submit himself or herself entirely to God. What kind of works or fruit is involved in the works that Paul speaks of in the Philippian letter. To begin with, let us reflect upon the words of Jesus in the healing of a man born blind:
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, sets forth the necessity of good works. In calling attention to fruit production in their lives, he also informed his disciples that they too were the lights of the world. It appears that works and light go together. Jesus proclaims ethical behavior for his followers:
Again, as John records, Jesus speaks of working for the food that endures for eternal life:
To believe on the One whom God sent is to work out ones salvation with fear and trembling. What Paul told the Philippians to do concerning kingdom behavior is also set forth in his letter to the Romans:
How does one present his body a living sacrifice? Is it through rituals or through ethical behavior? Is it through producing good fruit in ones way of life? Immediately upon calling upon the Roman Christians to present their bodies a living sacrifice, Paul catalogues a number of characteristics that exemplify Christ in their lives:
This is what it means to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. We have been given a new start; we have been given a new nature. Salvation is set before us. We need to read the Word of God; we need to pray; we need to share salvation; we need to proclaim redemption. Just as David, the psalmist, expresses his gratitude for Gods kindness, so must every believer allow gratefulness on his or her lips. David exclaims:
The believer loves the Word, lives the Word, and preaches the Word. Do you desire to do the will of God? Do you proclaim Gods righteousness? Do you hide His righteousness in your heart? Do you conceal Gods love and truth? Are you a silent Christian? Does your inner man rejoice in Gods law? Every Christian makes known the wonders of Gods love through His Son Jesus. It is in this same vein of Davids delight with the law that Paul, too, cries out: "in my inner being I delight in Gods law" (Romans 7:22). Where is your delight? Where is your happiness? Where is your enjoyment? Is it in Christian ministry? Is it in the Word of God? Is your life in harmony with the law of God? Or is your life out of harmony with the law of God? Where are you? How do you stand? How do you measure up to Gods standard? The first chapter in the book of Psalms sets forth the distinction between the godly and the ungodly. Which section of this Psalm do you fall intogodly or ungodly? This psalm is one that every Christian should memorize. Listen to the Holy Spirit:
Since God clothed us with His righteousness, are we devoting ourselves to God? Are we consecrating ourselves to prayer? Are we dedicating ourselves to ministry? Paul concludes his letter to the Colossians with these words: "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should" (Colossians 4:2-4). Again, I ask, are you praying for the advancement of Gods kingdom? Are you also proclaiming the message of redemption? In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord taught His disciples to pray: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10).
Are we guilty of not working out this amazing salvation God has given us with fear and trembling? No, we do not work with "fear and trembling" in the sense of losing our salvation. But rather, this working is in the spirit of awe. In other words, the believer with humility and holy reverence works out his salvation; it is a holy vigilance and circumspection. The Christian constantly offers up a sacrifice of praise. Remember the words of the Hebew writer:
With every believer, it is, "I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Psalms 40:8). Just as David could not seal his lips (Psalms 40:10) about Gods righteousness, Gods faithfulness, Gods salvation, or Gods love, so, too, every Christian shares the "good news" of Gods righteousness made available through faith in His Son Jesus. Jesus is Gods righteousness to us and for us. We cannot seal our lips about Gods righteousness through faith in Jesus to all who believe. Paul sets forth this righteousness from God in rapturous language to the Romans:
Jesus is Gods faithfulness. It is in Jesus that one finds hope. It is in Jesus that one discovers security. We cannot seal our lips about Gods faithfulness. Paul writes,
In Romans, chapter 5, Paul speaks of freedom from the "wrath" of God through Jesus our Lord. He goes right to the heart of salvation. It is not in man, but it is in Jesus. We cannot seal our lips about freedom from Gods wrath in Jesus. We cannot seal our lips about Gods reconciliation in Jesus. Jesus is Gods salvation for lost humanity:
Thus, like David, when we think of Him, we do not seal our lips; nor do we cease to do his will. In closing this message, I remind you of the words of the Hebrew writer: