Friday, April 30, 2010

Work out your Salvation

One can almost imagine Paul writing to his beloved Philippians from a Roman prison penning these words-

...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 2:12b-13

The first part of this statement- "work out your own salvation" - has been wrongly wrenched out of context by those who try to make salvation a matter of our efforts. When read in the greater context of Philippians and the bible, we realize it is God who grants us salvation through faith in Christ (and his finished work) then proceeds to manifest this reality by our changed lives. The second part of the statement above- "it is God who works in you..."- is necessary to properly understand the call for us to work out our own salvation.

I like what George Muller said- "We are to 'work out' what God in his grace has 'worked in' ."

Dr. Boice also made a helpful observation about this passage- "The verse does not say, 'work for your salvation' or 'work toward your salvation' or 'work at your salvation'. It says 'work out your salvation.' And no one can work his salvation out unless God has already worked it in."

8 comments:

Wayne said...

I think it's also helpful to see Paul using the word "salvation" in it's eschatological fullness which brings into account the faith directed, Spirit empowered obedience that we're all called to. A lot of people miss the fact that our Westminster Standards more often than not use the word "salvation" in this same way. Too often people are too quick to equate salvation with only its initial features (like effectual calling or justification).

Zach said...

Wayne, so our salvation, in its eschatological fullness, is in some sense dependent on our Spirit-empowered obedience? That almost sounds like the position that I've espoused on this blog before: Our salvation is totally due to God's work for and in us, and that saving work is necessarily manifested in both faith and works -- both of which are essential for salvation. Am I reading you right?

Woody Woodward said...

What a powerful Lord’s Day message! I want to share a few of my notes I took yesterday. Having just returned from our mission trip, the Lord spoke to my heart about verse 12 and especially verse 14. Verse 12; “Apply “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you…” to the areas of my life where I am lacking. Apply this powerful promise to my life as to whom Christ is, what He has done, and keep on working out, peddling forwards, never stopping to look back, never resting in my own efforts, but rest in Him and the fact that HE is the one holding on to me. And HE WILL Never let me fall! In living out the likeness of Christ, we are to rest in Him, God has committed Himself to work within me for HIS glory. But never slacking, always striving, always pushing forward, doing what He has called us to do.
When you got to verse 14, “do all things without grumbling or disputing,” I almost laughed out loud. I looked over at Cheri and she knew exactly what I was thinking. Those penetrating words of truth, he me right where it hurts, in my witness! I was immediately taken back to the miserable witness I was for a few moments, when we went to the Air Moldova office on Saturday, April 17th. We found out by radio that all flights had been cancelled throughout Europe. We drove to the Air Moldova office and when we ask “when we might be able to go home?” the lady behind the desk curtly replied, “Plane might leave Kishinev in a week, maybe two, maybe month, we do not know!” I did quote Philippians 4:13 but sure blew on 2:14!~ But I did apologize to the team and ask them to forgive me. Sure glad we can keep working out our own salvation, with fear and trembling!

Wayne said...

Hi Zach!

Rather than saying it depends on obedience, I prefer to say that our salvation depends completely on God's grace in both it's declarative (justification) and transformative (sanctification) features. I'm not saying this because I think it disagrees with what you write. I just think it helps clarify the point that Christ is the author and finisher of our salvation.

Another way of looking at it is to say that faith (as an instrumental cause) is both incipient and iterative. Or to echo the old Reformed slogan "The faith that justifies is the faith that sanctifies."

One problem is that we sometimes unconsciously imbibe a latent Cartesianism and assumes that the Faith/Works dichotomy neatly slices along a mind/body axis. No one steeped in the OT like Paul would have ever thought that. Faith is always embodied belief.

Wayne said...

"incipient" = "inceptive"

My love for big words always gets me into trouble.

Zach said...

Thanks for clarifying, Wayne. I don't think we're far apart.

As Bouyer writes, "The Catholic not only may, but must in virtue of his own faith, give a full and unreserved adherence to sola gratia, understood in the positive sense we have seen upheld by Protestants."

Wayne said...

Yeah, those nouvelle theologie guys are always worthy dialogue partners for us Protestants.

Reepicheep said...

Yes, they're worth dialoguing with, but they should move past the limits of the modern French dudes who try to "refrom" the RC church and move to the main French dude who will assist them all the way to Reform, Mr. John Calvin.