Working Out Our Salvation by Grace
When God saves us through Jesus Christ our Lord, His purpose is that we may be to the glory of His grace in the Beloved, may declare His praises, and bring forth fruit unto righteousness, walking as children of light in the midst of the world that lieth in darkness. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2: 10) Hence, the apostle Paul admonishes the saints in Philippi: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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 which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2: 12, 13)
These words are often thoughtlessly quoted as if, after all, in some sense salvation were of man, not of God. God prepared complete salvation for us; but man must work it out; he must accept it. And whether or not the finished salvation in Christ will actually become his depends upon the choice of his own will. Or, the text is understood and explained as if it teaches a measure of cooperation between God and the sinner who is to be saved. God is willing to save man; but unless man cooperates and puts forth his effort to obtain that salvation, he can never profit by the salvation that is accomplished for him. Not only with respect to his first acceptance of the proffered salvation, but also with a view to its abiding possession, man must cooperate with God in order to be saved. He must work out his own salvation.
However, if we take a little closer look at the text in its context, we soon discover that this cannot be the meaning of the exhortation.
Let us consider, first of all, that the apostle is not addressing these words to unsaved sinners, but to saints in Christ Jesus. To the saints in Philippi he is writing this epistle, and they are those who are saved. And he gives them a beautiful testimony. With joy he speaks of their "fellowship in the gospel from the first day even until now." (1:5) He has them in his heart, inasmuch as both in his bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, they are all partakers of his grace. (1: 7) He prays for them that their love may yet more and more abound unto spiritual discernment, so that they may approve the things that are excellent, may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, and be filled with fruits of righteousness, which are by Christ Jesus, unto the glory and praise of God. (1:9-11) They have proved themselves steadfast and faithful, even in the midst of suffering for Christ's sake; and it was given unto them, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (1 :29) In the immediate context of this admonition to work out their own salvation, the apostle bears them witness that they have always been obedient, not only in his presence, but now much more in his absence. And it is to such saints, to people who are saved through grace, who are strong in the faith, and willing to suffer in the behalf of Christ, to exemplary Christians, that the apostle addresses these words: " ... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Is it, then, not abundantly evident that the meaning of this exhortation cannot possibly be that somehow they must strive to be saved, or must cooperate with God in their salvation?
But the very text ought to be sufficient to warn us against any such interpretation. For notice that the apostle speaks of their own salvation, which implies not only that salvation is objectively theirs, but that they have received it: it is already theirs. Nor must we overlook the fact that the apostle exhorts them not to receive salvation, not to work it, not to do anything at all to obtain it, but to work it out, which means that they must let that salvation serve and reach the purpose for which it was given unto them. And, last but not least, the text emphasizes that salvation is of the Lord, even unto the end, so that in working it out they are utterly dependent upon the work of God's grace within them, when there is added as the ground of this exhortation: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
What then does it mean to work out our own salvation?
Salvation, as you know, is the deliverance from all evil, from the guilt and dominion of sin and corruption, and from the power of death, and the being made heirs and partakers of the highest good, namely, eternal righteousness, life, and glory in God's heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who was delivered for our transgressions, and raised for our justification. Of this salvation the saints of Philippi and all believers are partakers. They are redeemed by the blood of Christ; they possess the forgiveness of sin; and the imputed and perfect righteousness of God in Christ; they are implanted in the Savior and partake of all His benefits by faith; they are reborn children of God; they are called out of darkness into the marvelous light of God, translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. That is "their own salvation."
But this salvation they must work out. They must let that gift and power of salvation serve the purpose for which it was freely bestowed upon them. They must bring that glorious gift of salvation by grace to manifestation in their whole life. In their entire walk, and that, too, in the midst of the world that lies in darkness, they must reveal themselves as those who have been delivered from the dominion of sin and liberated unto righteousness. From the principle of their new life in Christ Jesus they must live in every walk of life, representing the cause of the Son of God in the world. Thus the salvation that was wrought within them will be worked out by them. In this they are imitators of God, as dear children.
This does not mean that they must now work for the improvement of this present world, which is quite impossible. They need not and they cannot "turn the world upside down." Nor does it mean that they must all be busy in a special sense in the work of the Lord. We do not all have to be preachers or missionaries, or bring souls to Christ, or be elder or deacon in the church, or Sunday-school teacher, in order to cause our salvation to reach its purpose and to reach the end for which it was given unto us. On the contrary, the mother in her home and in the midst of her children, the father in his place of work, whatever it may be, the clerk behind the counter, the cobbler at his bench, every one in his own position and calling, will work out his own salvation when in that calling, and with his whole soul and mind and heart and strength he serves the Lord Christ and lives through faith from the principle of the regenerated life that has been wrought in his inmost heart. To let the light that is within us shine that our Father which is in heaven may be glorified - that it is to work out our own salvation. That this is, indeed, the meaning of this exhortation is evident from what follows it: "Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world." (verses 14, 15)
You may, perhaps, remark that there is no need for an exhortation of this kind, seeing that when God works His grace in our hearts, we will naturally and spontaneously work it out and walk in sanctification of life. And there is truth in that statement. But, in the first place, we must always remember that God deals with us as His rational and moral children, and that the working out of our salvation is, therefore, a matter of obedience to His Word. "As obedient children," writes the apostle Peter, "not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy for I am holy." (I Peter 1: 14-16) It is Christ Who bears fruit in us when we work out our own salvation, even as the vine bears fruit through the branches; and we have nothing to boast in ourselves. But we bear this fruit, too, with joy and delight, and enjoy the privilege of being His co-workers. Hence, the Word of God treats us as God's free and obedient children and as such addresses us: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
Besides, let us not forget that as long as we are in this life and in this world, we are in constant need of hearing this word and of beinB reminded of our calling, of being admonished and encouraged in the good fight of faith. For we must walk as children of light and manifes1 the salvation of God in the midst of a world that lies in darkness. Anc that is not easy for the flesh. It will cause us suffering. Even as the world hated Christ, so it will hate us, if we are only faithful in workin~ out our own salvation. For in doing so, we must needs judge the work and condemn its unfruitful works of darkness. And then, let us not forget that we have not attained to the final perfection. We carry the salvation of God in the body of this death. The old man, the sinful flesh, is always present with us. And it is always tempting us, especially when we must suffer the reproach of Christ, rather to hide our own salvation than to work it out, and to compromise and amalgamate ourselves with the evil world. That, in fact, is the great sin of those who are called believers, saints, in our day. We are more and more putting on another yoke with the unbeliever, and it appears as if there is considerable concord between Christ and Belial. Light and darkness seem to merge into the dreary gray of the fog of worldliness, in which no one discerns the direction in which he is going. We are seeking the things below rather than those that are above. We have forgotten the words of the Lord Jesus that he that shall save his life shall lose it, but he that shall lose it shall save it unto life eternal. We are in sore need, therefore, of hearing and heeding the Word of God: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
This last sentence is added as a ground and reason for the whole admonition, to be sure, but more particularly to explain why we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling. You see, these last words do not mean that we must constantly live in fear as to whether we shall ultimately be saved and go to heaven. There are, indeed, Christians who always live in doubt as to their own salvation. They are concerned about their final salvation. They live in constant fear and trembling that they are lost. They cannot surrender themselves with wholehearted confidence to Christ. They never once lift up their heads in the joy of faith to sing songs of redemption to the glory of God's grace in the beloved. Such Christians should honestly examine their own hearts and lives to discover what is wrong, what is the cause of this abnormal and sinful fear and doubt. For, to be sure, Scripture does not approve of such an attitude. And in our admonition the words "fear and trembling" have a rather different meaning. They do not mean that we should be concerned abou t our final salvation: for we !llay leave that to God in Christ. He will surely save us, even unto the end. But they do signify that we should be very much concerned about the working out of our own salvation. We should be so deeply impressed with the sacredness of this calling and with the seriousness
To impress the great importance and deep seriousness of this calling upon us the Scripture adds: "For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
Here we are, indeed, reminded that salvation is and remains to the very end of the Lord. He works in us through the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is He Who gives us the will and the power to walk as children of light. And the text emphasizes that He does so continuously. Salvation, our own salvation, is not to be conceived as something which the Lord once bestows upon us, but which then is ours independently from His indw~lling Spirit. On the contrary, it is God Who constantly works in us through the Spirit of the Lord. If that Spirit would leave us but one moment, we would sink back into death. But He never forsakes us. He abides with us for ever. He dwells in us and constantly works within our hearts the will and the power to love and to serve Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. It is God Who worketh in you to will and to do. And He does so in the behalf of His own good pleasure, which in the ultimate sense means that the high and only purpose of our salvation is the glory of His grace in the Beloved, even as it has its source in eternal election. Of Him, and through Him, and unto Him is all our salvation!
But as I already said, these last words more particularly express a reason why we should fear and tremble in the working out of our own salvation. To understand this, we must see that all the emphasis falls on the name of God here. Especially in the original this is very clear. We may read the text thus: "For God it is that worketh in you .... " When you are working out your salvation, you are occupied with the work of God. It is of the great and glorious Lord of heaven and earth, that your salvation comes. His work it is. To His glory it must tend. Would you not fear and tremble, then, while working out this marvelous work of the great God, lest you make a mistake, lest you think an evil thought, speak a wrong word, commit a sinful act, and lest you do not let your light shine to His glory as brightly as you ought?
Thus the way to final glory is not like taking a Pullman sleeping car and going to sleep till the angels meet us at the final station. It is rather like a steep and rugged road which we can take, on the which we can advance only in the strength of His grace, Who worketh in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is a battle. The way often is difficult. The battle is hard. But be of good cheer! The end is sure, the victory is won, the crown of life shall surely be given us in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who fought the battle for us, and Who will fight it through us even unto the end!
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