work out your own salvation

So, what do you think if we spend time discussing our salvation through Jesus Christ?

Let’s use Philippians 2:12-13 as our central text, where the Word of God declares:

12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The latter half of verse 12 – work out your salvation with fear and trembling – will be the center of our attention.

Let’s begin the discussion with a most obvious observation: God calls you to WORK OUT your own salvation; God does NOT call you to WORK FOR your own salvation.

Man cannot save himself.  Only God saves.  Man cannot redeem himself.  Only God redeems.  Man can do nothing to be delivered from sin.  Only God delivers man from sin.

Earlier in this letter God’s Word says:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

God began the good work in you.  God continues the good work in you.  God will complete the good work in you.

Now back to working out your own salvation.

The phrase “work out” implies something has already been done with regard to your salvation.   For someone to work out their salvation they must first be saved, salvation must have already begun in them.  Again, the Word of God says, “work out your OWN salvation.”  One cannot work out their own salvation unless they are already saved.  To state it another way, only saved people are able to work out their salvation.

What does “work out your own salvation” mean?

Negatively, “work out your own salvation” is not…

…to make atonement for your sin
…to be saved through your work
…to save yourself
…to justify yourself
…to get yourself accepted by God

Positively, “work out your salvation” is…

…to exhibit your salvation
…to enjoy your salvation
…to know you are saved
…to give serious thought to your salvation
…to be active in the sanctification of your Christian life

To “work out your salvation” is the work of sanctification.  It is how the believer and follower of Jesus Christ actively, aggressively, progressively involved in his or her sanctification.  Philippians 2:12-13 is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible about sanctification.

For those of you who do not know, sanctification is a technical term that theologians use to describe what it means to grow in your Christian maturity.

The New Testament describes sanctification using lots of different images and pictures. It talks about sanctification in terms of…

…becoming more Christ-like
…emulating Jesus
…imitating Jesus
…following Jesus
…looking more like Jesus
…conforming to the image of Jesus
…showing the fruit of the Holy Spirit

The Westminster Shorter Catechism helps me understand sanctification.  Question #35 asks, “What is sanctification?”

It answers, “(sanctification)… is a work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and to live unto righteousness.”

The Bible instructs us to work out our own salvation so we can work on our own sanctification.

Tomorrow we dig deeper.


8 Responses to “work out your own salvation”

  1. December 1, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Thank you Pastor Ryan for this discussion. I am glad we’re discussing this, as for too long I think we’ve made salvation about nothing more than praying a prayer (when I say “we” I refer to the American church at large)… Looking forward to this discussion.

  2. 2 Lee
    December 1, 2008 at 9:26 am

    The distinction between salvation and sanctification is as important as the distinction between faith and works; sanctification means nothing apart from salvation and sanctification is not possible without salvation. This is an important discussion.
    There is a reason we are to work out our salvation with fear. If we evaluate ourselves according to God’s identity and power, if we are truly seeing him, there is no room for self-righteousness, pride, arrogance, or any other self-centered evaluation that leads us to think we are good or to think more highly of ourselves than others. Worship is how we arrive at this evaluation, which reminds us of how inadequate we are but how adequate he is and is making us. Fear is what I feel when I am out of fellowship with him, when the darkness of my sins and the world are closing in on me. I feel fear when my understanding of justice reveals I deserve to be looked down on, to be punished, to be rejected. I feel despair when I think about how many times I’ve tried before and failed and how futile my efforts are toward living the righteousness I claim. What if I screw up and make Jesus look bad? What if I’m seen for the fake that I am? Why even bother if failure is all I can expect?
    Thanks be to God, it’s not about me. Fear drives me to cry out to God to save me, to return to the truth of salvation that serves as the foundation of my joy. I remember who God is and who I am not, that I can’t be good and I can’t save myself. I remember his evaluation of me is the only one that should define my identity and his evaluation is the only one I should consider when evaluating others. I remember his power when evaluating the world and my future. When I remember, I am no longer afraid.
    There is a reason for the hope that is in us. The gospel is good news about the perfect love that casts out fear and empowers us to do what we do not have the power to do ourselves. The good news has to be remembered every day when we worship him. When we remember, we are changed.
    Philippians 4:4-8 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

  3. 3 Searching
    December 1, 2008 at 11:34 am

    This is a great topic but I think we need to remember the context as we talk about this. We are talking about working out our salvation and therein we must begin to see ourselves through the eyes of God as he looks upon us through the sacrifice of Jesus and not as we were before. Lee, I think it is important to remember what we were before our salvation as a context for who God is and what he did for us, however to continue to see ourselves as the despicable beings we were before we accepted the gift of salvation is to ignore the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We must be aware of our sin nature and be contrite before a holy God always seeking forgiveness but to see only the person we were is inappropriate.
    For this ole soul working out my salvation is a moment by moment intentional effort to reflect the forgiveness of God and the love he placed within me at my salvation through Christ. It means to rise above the sin nature and reflect his presence in my heart and life. The focus therefore is on who I am in Christ and not who I was in the world. The working out of our salvation will lead us towards sanctification in Christ. We do know that neither is possible except for the sacrifice of Christ and the gift from God. Our responsibility is to trust that God will do this good work in us and to be aware of how he does this and to cooperate and facilitate that good work to the sanctification thereof. This is yet another example of the fact that Christianity is a journey and not a destination. Our birth at salvation is but the very beginning of this incredible journey of enlightenment, growth and sanctification.
    Great blog Ryan! Thanks yet again!

  4. 4 Lee
    December 1, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Searching, I think we’re saying the same thing. I do not wish to dwell on my sinfulness, which is just as despicable as before I was saved. However, when I am afraid or discouraged, I find my sin nature is precisely the identity to which I am clinging. We still have two natures; the one that rises to the surface is the one to which we give the most attention. Worship leads me to again crucify my flesh that I may claim and know my life in Christ, answering my fear that is produced by my flesh. Fear reminds me to worship. Worship reminds me of who I am and what I’ll be doing for all eternity.

  5. 5 Searching
    December 1, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Lee- I would have to wonder here if we are talking about fear in its proper context. Fear can be defined as the absence of faith but it can also be defined as consummate reverence and awe for a holy God. I believe that the text (Philippians 2:12) is referring to the latter context. We should work out our salvation with an appropriate understanding and reverence for our Holy Father. For who he is in relation to man and what he did for us in our sinful state. I agree that worship is the best resolve for the other fear.
    Blessings Brother!

  6. 6 Lee
    December 1, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    Searching, you’re right, they are two different words. One is the root for our word phobia. The other fear means trembling, quaking. The latter is the word used in Phil. 2:12, the former is the fear that is cast out by perfect love in 1 John 4:18. The trouble is, like love, there is only one word in English. Often, the different contexts to which Greek supplies multiple words feels the same, making the difference difficult to communicate. Likewise, I can feel the same even after being saved; my sin can provoke the same trembling of dread as it does with a non-believer who sees him in all his glory in front of his judgment seat. Like when I was a child, I knew my father loved me but he would scare me to death when he pulled off his belt after I had done something wrong. That is God’s just character. That fear drives me to the cross, to grace. Is that fear I run from toward the cross phobia, or fear of God’s justice? What do you think, Ryan?

  7. December 2, 2008 at 7:05 am

    Great blog…great discussion. Lee, your question is thought provoking to me. I’ve often struggled with the best way to communicate that very struggle as it relates to our identity in Christ. I’m curious of Ryan’s thoughts on that as well. We’re fluid, finite beings. Each day presents the opportunity to sin or submit. Can we comprehend the depths of that which we fear? Do we truly know the spiritual war going on in the effort to save or steal us while we are ‘working’? The human, sinful element certainly rocks that surety in our weak moments. Faith is being sure of what we hope for. I believe He desires that we walk in that confidence and grow into being driven by love more than by fear. How can we be encouraging Christ followers who draw others to Him if we are more concerned with our personal fears? Fear of others, fear of ourselves, fear of failing (failing God…He’s big enough if/when we do), fear of succeeding/responsibility, etc. Too much salt can cover up the light and halt any attempts at working out our salvation. God is not a punisher…always ready with ‘His belt’. I think Jesus took the brunt of that belt and it is amazing how we still operate under that Old Testament law when the gospel books are full of justice, strength, confidence and love. Did He really do all that for each, individual person? Yes! He took our punishment then He sat down at the right hand of our Father. It is finished and we can walk in it if we embrace His joy instead of trying to figure out all the fears. The root of discipline is disciple which denotes instruction/teaching, not punishing. Satan punishes and he loves us spending our time on that. See how he even twists ‘fear’ away from awe-inspired fear, the healthy, reverent kind? We must put on His armour daily and receive the forgiveness and love He died for us to inherit.
    I’m prone to fearful thinking so I’ve shared this with myself as much, if not more:), than those reading. Thanks for letting me share.

    Joyfully His,

  8. December 2, 2008 at 7:13 am

    Ryan, I liked the negative/positive points on what working out your salvation means. Thanks.

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