Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Work Out Your Own Salvation

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12–13)

Last Lord's Day, I preached on Philippians 2:12-18. I talked about our hope, which is that God is at work in us, and our goal, which is to be "blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation" (2:15). But one of the most startling things in this passage is our work, the call for Christians to work out their own salvation. What does it mean to work out your own salvation?

“Work out” is one Greek word used 22 times in Scripture that usually means something like "do," "produce," "accomplish," or "bring about." Wait a minute! We produce our own salvation? Well, in one sense, no. Later in Philippians (3:9) we find Paul’s saying that he does not have “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Our standing before God is based only on the righteousness of Christ, received through faith alone, not our works. So what does it mean to work out our salvation?

In context, Paul’s main emphasis has not been your standing before God, your “justification.” It has been implied, but instead, he has been talking about growing in love and knowledge (1:9), about walking as citizens worthy of the gospel (1:27), about having the mind of Christ (2:5), and, in our very passage, he has been talking of obedience (2:12). The Bible uses the term “salvation” to mean more than salvation from the condemnation due to us for our sin. Salvation also includes our salvation from sin’s power in our heart and behavior. It includes the manifestation of righteousness in our lives. God’s goal is not only to justify us, but also to change us. And this has been the main emphasis of Paul thus far in Philippians. This process is called our “sanctification.” Having been made citizens of the gospel by God’s acts of justification and adoption through faith alone, now the work of salvation continues as you are sanctified in your heart and life. You do have a responsibility to “produce” or “bring about” this aspect of salvation in your lives. It takes effort. Conforming your heart and life more and more to God’s word is only possible by the working of God within you (2:13), but you are nevertheless responsible to do it and able to do it.

All true believers will answer this call to pursue holiness of life. Manifesting the way of Christ in your life is an essential part of salvation. It is not optional. Those who do not follow Jesus but still claim him, saying “Lord, Lord,” will be denied by Him at the last day. He will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). Those who truly believe in Jesus will also follow and love Him. They will obey His words, repent of their sins, and imitate His ways. Justification and sanctification is a package deal - they are distinct, but they always come together, for they both come from Christ. Repentance and obedience are not causes of salvation, but they are necessary parts of salvation.

Imagine if there was a cruel usurper who forced the people to serve him. The true king comes and storms one of the castles of this tyrant and frees the people. The true king offers pardon and citizenship in his kingdom to his former enemies. Not only do the people embrace and receive this new status with joy, but then they also begin serving the true king. This is part of their salvation. If they continued serving the cruel usurper as before, then you can tell they did not embrace and receive the offer of salvation with faith in the true king.

In Philippians, Paul is telling the freed prisoners who embrace their new status to work out their salvation by now serving the true king, as befits citizens of his kingdom. This is part of their salvation, and this part involves their effort.

Do you then trust in Jesus for salvation? Have you received the gospel, receiving reconciliation with God and adoption as His child? Then continue this work of salvation by walking in a manner worthy of the gospel. Turn from your old master and follow your new Lord. This was God’s intent in salvation. You have been redeemed to serve God and to imitate Christ. 

Seek to conform yourselves to the gospel. Have the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus when He humbled Himself and loved us. Christ did not intend for your salvation to end with your conversion. He is in the business of making disciples who follow Him and His way of life. God is at work in you who believe, giving you this ability to repent of your sins and to more and more manifest righteousness in your life. So work out your salvation, so that you might be "blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation" (2:15).

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