Working Out Your Salvation by the Power of God, Part 1 (Philippians Sermon 9 of 24)
November 23, 2003 | Andrew Davis
Sanctification, Good Works
Introduction: The Astonishing Mysteries of Christianity
We’re looking this morning at Philippians 2:12 and 13, and I just couldn’t get it to work in one sermon. So I can’t, I just won’t. And so your outline is only part of what we’re going to say on these two verses. We’re going to, God willing, if God gives us time, look at it again next week. So rest easy as we move through this. And I was hesitant to do it because we have the perfect synergy, the perfect working together here in these two verses, of God and man. And therefore, it’s with some trepidation that I don’t want to do it all at once, but there’s enough of that working together in the first part of the message that I felt that you would understand, that we are called to work out our salvation because it is God who’s at work in us.
Now, I think that Christianity, our faith, our wonderful faith, is essentially mysterious. I mean, it’s a great mystery and it’s not just one mystery but it’s one mystery after another. And so it is in Philippians 2 that we leave one great mystery of Christianity, the incarnation of Jesus Christ and go to the next great mystery of Christianity, namely, the sovereignty of God and human responsibility working together on our salvation. And you know something? The fact that my mind cannot fully work these things out is not troubling to me. I accept fully that Jesus is God, the true God, the eternal God, and that he was truly man. He took on truly a human body. And I cannot perfectly work that out, and I just accept it.
Now, in accepting that, I don’t stop thinking about it. I think about it a lot, more and more actually, and the more I think, the more insights and the more appreciation I get. But I’m never going to take it all in. I’m never going to comprehend it, if that means to take it totally into my mind so that I’ve got it. No question about it. And neither can I do that with this issue here, the working together of God’s kingly sovereignty and my responsibility. God’s energy, his power, his work and mine, how they work together. And the fact that Christianity is essentially mysterious to me does not make it any less true. Actually, I think, the opposite would be true. If I could kind of figure it all out and say, “Listen, it’s really quite simple. It’s not as complex as you thought. Now, this is what you need to know… ” If I could do that then I would think it would be proof that this book, this Bible, is a human book. It’s not really what it claims to be, namely from the mind of God, because the mind of God’s far higher than mine, his ways are far higher than mine, his thoughts infinitely above mine. And so, it makes sense that there’s going to be one mystery after another. It doesn’t trouble me, but I don’t stop working on it either.
And so, as I come to Philippians 2:12 and 13, I just say with the Apostle Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, how unsearchable his judgments and his path beyond tracing out. Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever and ever! Amen.” and Amen.
I. The Deep Mystery of Salvation in Two Parts: Our Work and God’s
Now, as we come to this, we’re looking at the mystery of our salvation, our work and God’s. Look again at these two verses, Philippians 2:12 and 13. He says, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
Now, we’ve been saying in the book of Philippians, that there are two infinite journeys. There is that internal journey of holiness, where a sinner is transformed from being rotten, and sinful, and wicked to being just like Jesus Christ. The internal journey of holiness. And then there’s that external journey of worldwide evangelization where lost people are brought into faith in Christ so that there is representation from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation on the face of this earth. Internal journey of holiness, external journey of worldwide evangelization. Now, here in these two verses, the focus is on the internal journey, isn’t it? That we are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
II. Questions of Context
In the next section of the next message, with the next section, we have some of the external journey. As we’re told, you know, to hold out the word of life in a crooked and depraved generation in which we shine like stars in the universe. We hold out the Gospel; that’s that external journey. So we go from one to the other in Philippians again and again. And they are intimately related but I’m not going to say how this morning, that’s for another message. But here we’re looking very carefully at that internal, that journey of salvation. And having said that, we get right to some corrective doctrine right away, salvation is a journey. There I said it. It’s not heretical to say that salvation is a process, that if you’re here in this room listening to me right now, you’re not done being saved yet.
Now, I know you’re thinking, “Okay, he used to be Roman Catholic and he’s thinking of that, the old works thing. Are we going to get the works thing back in here?” No, I did used to be Roman Catholic, but I’m not misunderstanding. I’m just saying that salvation is a journey, and I think it’s because Scripture teaches me that salvation is a journey. Now, we Baptists, we evangelicals, will use this kind of expression, “Are you saved?” or, “When were you saved?” or, “Tell me how you got saved.” Or we might use this expression, “Once saved, always saved.” Now, I don’t reject these slogans as untrue, biblically. They are true, every one of them. We can speak in that language. The Bible does speak of salvation as a past event. We can say, “I was saved when I was 10,” we can say that. But the problem is that it starts to limit our way of thinking about salvation, thinking that it’s just a once for all instantaneous thing and in no way a process, and that is false.
And so, we would say something like, “Well, you’re not saved by works. Remember that, you’re not saved by works.” Well, that’s not entirely true, because if that were true, then how could we work out our salvation with fear and trembling? So, I think instead, we need to be a little more careful in talking about salvation. What is it? And theologically, kind of comes at us in three parts. First there’s justification, then there’s sanctification, and then glorification.
First, justification. And in this I will say with all my heart in the good Protestant tradition that we are not in any way justified by works, by our works. Oh we’re certainly justified by works, but they’re all Christ’s; he did the work. And so, we are justified by works but by Christ’s work. When it comes to our works, in no way are we justified by our works. Perish the thought, that is the great Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law. Your works will never justify you. You cannot stand before God freed from the guilt of sin because of some good thing you do, it’s impossible. And that is instantaneous. At the moment of faith, you are justified, you are declared not guilty. God sees you in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, Amen and Amen.
And on judgment day, no matter how much you work out your salvation with fear and trembling, it’s not that righteousness you’re going to be standing before God in; it’s going to be Christ’s perfect righteousness, Amen, because you’re not going to get far enough in your journey. You’re not actually going to get very far at all. I don’t mean to be discouraging to you, but the standard is infinite perfection to be just like Jesus all the time internally and externally, in motive and in action, never leaving anything undone that he would have done, and never doing anything that he would not have done. Perfect conformity of the law of God, how much progress in that you really think you’re going to make?
Now, real progress is possible, and real progress is important, and real progress is glorifying, greatly glorifying to God, but you are not in the end going to be standing before God, in sanctification, righteousness, it will still look like a tattered robe in that holy place. Now, you’re going to be standing in justification and that is instantaneous not by works. Are we clear on that? We’re clear, it’s very important.
Now, sanctification is a gradual process whereby the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is perfectly ascribed to us, positionally is then little by little, gradually worked out in our actual performance, so that we start to behave differently. We start to think differently. We start to act differently. We are little by little changed, more and more to be like Christ. And it’s an uncertain process. As Chuck Swindoll said, “Three steps forward and two steps back.” Have you ever felt that? And that’s about what it feels like day by day. It’s a partnership where God works and we work, and the verses we’re looking at today and God willing next week are the perfect linked verses to show how the two go together. God works and we work, but it’s a partnership sanctification.
And the third, glorification. And this is also an instantaneous transformation by the power of God entirely apart from your works, because you’ll be dead. Entirely apart from your works and your effort where you will be made completely like Jesus, in body, soul, and spirit in every way. Glorification. Now, we are therefore saved by works in the middle section. Our works have no place at all in the first, justification, no place at all in the third, glorification, but we are called here in Philippians 2, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. This is sanctification.
III. Our Lesser Work: Working Out Salvation
Now, here we come to a deep mystery. We come to the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our human responsibility, and we are not finally going to solve it today; we’re not. I can assure you, I can make a lot of promises and one promise is that I will not solve this one today. It’s an ancient debate. It goes back probably further, much further, even than Augustine and Pelagius, but at least we know they debated over it. Martin Luther and Erasmus debated over it. John Calvin and Albert Pighius debated over it. The Dutch Reformed believers, and the Remonstrants debated over it. In the 17th century, George Whitfield and John Wesley debated over it. Jonathan Edwards and many of the ministers in New England who preached the doctrine of free will and Arminianism, they debated over it. Charles Spurgeon and the 19th century British Arminians, they debated over it. And in our era, James White and Norm Geisler, and many others have debated this topic. And we’re not going to solve it perfectly.
And the question is, how do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? Charles Spurgeon was asked that very question. How do you reconcile God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? And he answered, “I never tried to reconcile friends.” Isn’t that a beautiful statement? And they are friends because they’re side by side in these two verses, do you see it? They’re just side by side, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” They seem quite friendly to me, side by side, and so in so many other places as well. And so, we’ve got divine sovereign energy, we’ve got diligent human effort in working out salvation here presented as friends and allies.
Danger: Pushing to the Extremes
Now, we have a danger here, and the danger is in pushing to extremes. We have presented before us the need for diligent human effort in sanctification to make progress as a Christian. And we have also presented before us God’s sovereign energy and effort in that matter. And in church history, some have pushed too far one way or too far the other way. Some have so emphasized God’s activity and sanctification, that they neglected the need for any human effort at all.
For example, there are the quietists, Madame Guyon and Bishop Fenelon, the 17th century mystics. They get their name from the need to be quiet, to just quiet yourself before God, to be totally passive in the Christian life. They sought to abandon self in the sea of God. Sounds a little like Hinduism and Buddhism, some of the eastern mystics, to just lose yourself in God, and lose any sense of self whatsoever. And some of the quietists went so far as to say, you shouldn’t even resist any temptation or lust because you might get pulled back into a self awareness. And so, some of them actually went into great immorality in following this quietistic approach, that they were not going to fight, they were going to be essentially passive. Some of the Quakers in seeking the inner light followed that same approach.
Perhaps, more familiar to you would be the Victorious Life people, who teach that in an instantaneous transformation, you can lose all your sin and immediately live the victorious and the higher life, and the essence of it is a complete ceasing of struggling and striving in the Christian life. Doesn’t that sound good? Oh God, do it to me today. I would like instantaneously to never struggle with sin ever again the rest of my life.
A simple solution?
I remember when I was about two years into the Christian life, struggling, wrestling with sin. And I came across, this in 1 John, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God. That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And we know that if he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what we asked of him.” Well, being kind of essentially logical and mathematical, I said, “Well point one, God wants me to be pure, and holy, and free from all sin. Point two, all I have to do is ask for what I want according to his will and he will give it to me.” I don’t know why I didn’t see it before! And so, in all reverence, I got down to my knees and said, “God, make me perfect right now. I mean, absolutely perfect, take away all of my sin, in Jesus’ name, amen.” …It didn’t work. I rose up from that prayer about like I knelt down, and more curious to know what went wrong in the mathematics and the calculus of holiness. What went wrong? I was not praying according to God’s will. It was not God’s will instantaneously to make me victorious for the rest of my life. You know why? He wanted to see me work it out. He wanted to see me on 1,000 or 100,000 battlefields by faith conquering lust after lust, temptation after temptation, cowardice after cowardice. He wanted it done, yes, and he was going to give me everything I needed to be victorious in each of those battles; that was his way.
Now, you say, but that’s so much suffering, it’s so much struggle. Yes, it’s the very thing the Victorious Life people tell you you don’t need anymore, just be passive, this is what they say. The essence is surrender, have you heard this before? You’ve got to just surrender to God. You’ve got to surrender all things to Christ. “We are to stand,” I’m quoting now, “We are to stand not struggle, the good fight of faith cannot be a struggle, the secret of victory is the indwelling Christ. Christ never struggled with sin,” they say. “So victory is in trusting not in trying. Victory over sin is a gift of God and not a growth.” Did you hear that? It’s an instantaneous gift, it’s not something you grow in. The victorious life is not secured gradually nor by effort and striving on our part.
The motto of this is, “Let go and let God.” Have you heard that before? Let go and let God. And the key to the Christian life then is learning just how to let go and let God do it. I read a poem about this, by Jason Ramer:
“As children bring their broken toys
with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God
because he was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving him
in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried,
“How can you be so slow?”
“My child,” he said,
“What could I do,
you never did let go.”
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? It really does, but it doesn’t line up with the text we’re looking at today. Does God teach you to give it to him and let go, so that you stop striving? I don’t think so, you were told to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
He wants you right in the midst of the battle. He has committed the responsibility to you. There are others that so emphasize God’s side. Hyper-Calvinists, who take the idea of God sovereignty so far as to say, “You don’t need to do anything in the Christian life.” Calvin never taught that, reformed people, the Puritans sure never taught that. And then, lazy mainstream evangelicals, who say, “Hey now, I walked the aisle. I remember it distinctly. I prayed the prayer. What do I need to work out my salvation with fear and... What do I need to do that for? Once saved, always saved, my pastor taught me that, I believe it. It’s a Biblical doctrine. So, what do I need to do?” And so, there is overemphasis on that idea, saying that, therefore, we don’t need to do anything in the Christian life. That’s all the one error.
IV. God’s Greater Work: God Working In Us
But then on the other side, there are some that so emphasize human effort and human striving and human work that they forget that, “…it is God who works in you, to will and to do, according to His good purpose.” That the Scripture actually always gives the emphasis to God’s work first and ours second. And that’s why, when I get to talking about our work and God’s, ours is the lesser work and God’s is the greater work.
Among these would be anxious Arminians, who believe that at any moment, you can lose your salvation, so you better keep doing it and God is sitting back watching and seeing what you can do. And he’s not going to lift a finger. He’s done enough through providing the blood of Jesus Christ. The rest is up to your free will. And you better keep working at it, you better keep cranking it out, because if you don’t, you’ll lose your salvation. Some Holiness churches teach this. The Roman Catholic monks and ascetics, totally focused on themselves and their own works and what they could do, and not understanding God’s sovereignty in all of this. Let’s not make either one of these errors. There is deep mystery here. But let’s totally embrace the fact that the Christian life is going to be a hard-working, energetic battle the rest of your life, don’t expect anything else. But that it is “God who’s at work in you at every moment, to will and to act according to His good purpose.” Let’s hold both of them together. Now, let’s dig in and try to understand this in terms of its context.
Philippians was a thank you letter. You remember that Paul was in chains for Christ and the Philippian church was concerned and so they sent him some money with Epaphroditus, they sent him some money. Paul, just being an honorable person, just wanted to say, “Thank you”. And so, he wrote a thank you letter. But his thank you letters are just much better than ours, much better than ours. And so, we’re still reading his, two millennia later. Because he’s going well beyond just saying, “Thank you.” He’s concerned that they understand the Christian life. He wants them to understand his struggle and his being in chains, in terms of those two infinite journeys. The internal journey of holiness, the external journey of worldwide evangelization. Because you see, the Philippians were also going through struggles. They were getting persecuted, they were needing to stand up for Christ. And so, he wrote, so that they would have what they needed to stand firm in the day of testing. Also, it turns out that the Philippian church was being rent by divisions and by arguments and conflicts, they were not united. And so, in Chapter 2, he writes saying “Please, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” And then, he gives that beautiful, that soaring example of Jesus Christ, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. And He took His servanthood to the utter extreme of death, even death on a cross.” And so, therefore Philippians, “as you have always obeyed,” you see the link there, Jesus obeyed even to death on the cross. Now, “as you also have always obeyed, continue to obey.” To the point where in Verse 14, you “do everything without complaining or arguing.” You see how that works? And so the internal growth of holiness in Christ will enable you to stop arguing with each other. And that will enable you to hold out the word of life to a crooked and depraving generation.
V. The Relationship Between Our Work and God’s Work In Us
That’s the context of Philippians 2:12-13. He wants them to be blameless. Now, let’s look at our lesser work, our lesser work. We will not finish contemplating God’s greater work. We will do that, God willing, next time. But let’s look at our lesser work. Now first, why do I call our work, “The lesser work?” Well, we know from this verse that we work in salvation, and God works. We work and God works. But what is the relationship between the two? Now, we’ve studied in 1 John, perhaps even this morning some of you looked at 1 John 4:19, which says, “We love because He first loved us.” It puts the priority on God’s love. That means that our love is a flower, like a harvest that comes out of the root and the seed-bed and the nourishing soil of God’s love for us. That’s where it comes. So, we put the priority on God’s love. “We love because He first loved us.” Well, I think Philippians 2:12-13 would then say something like this, “We work because God first worked in us.” Let me say that again, “We work,” in a Christian life, “We work because God first worked in us.”
Do you think you’re ever going to get ahead of God? Where he’ll... he’s praying, “I wish I’d thought of that, but I’m so glad he’s doing that.” I can’t imagine that. Could it be that you’re only ever keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. He’s leading out, you’re following? So, if you’re down on your knees praying, if you’re studying the Scriptures, if you’re putting sin to death, it’s because that is exactly what the Holy Spirit is working in you at that moment. And for a change, you’re not hardening your heart. “We work because he first worked in us.” And so, therefore our work is the lesser work. Now, what is the nature of our work? Look again at Verse 12. “Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, continue-”
Now, first of all, I just want to comment pastorally. Do you see how sweet spirited he is toward these folks? Paul just has a sweet spirit toward the Philippians. He calls them his dear friends. He cherishes them. He loves them. And then he encourages them. “As you have always obeyed…” Isn’t that encouraging to hear that from Paul? “Just as I look at your lives, since the first time I knew you. And since the first day that you began as Christians, you have always obeyed.” And so, he’s very sweetly encouraging to them.
I think this is a lesson to parents and a lesson to disciplers. Be greatly encouraging to those entrusted to you. Growth happens in an environment of hope and encouragement, not in a harsh negativity of, “Look how poorly you’re doing.” But rather, Paul says, “Look how well you’re doing, but just keep doing it all the more.” He’s very encouraging to them.
Now, the focus then here is obedience. I asked what is the nature of our work? The issue is obedience. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” If you just put it together, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, is a matter of growing obedience. “As you have always obeyed,” continue to obey. That is, to work out your salvation.
Do you see the logic of it there? So the working out is matter of growth and obedience to Christ. Obedience to Christ is essential for salvation. Now realize the essence of sin is rebellion, transgression against the commands of God. And so, if God is going to save you, he’s going to get you out of that. You’re going to obey. You’re going to submit your life to a King. That’s what salvation is. To stop being a rebel. Christ saves us, by calling us back into his Kingdom. He says in Mark 1:15, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” What’s the good news? That the King against whom you have rebelled is willing to take you back and to transform you so that you are his loyal subject again.
Christ has the right to demand faith filled obedience
Now, we’ve looked at this before in Matthew 11, but I can’t get over it. It was read earlier. Matthew 11:28-30. Every chance we get, we should look at it. “But there the King stands before us and says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” And then He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Do you know what he’s calling you to do? To bend that stiff neck of yours under his yoke and yield to him as your King. The Biblical image is one of yielding to, submitting to a King. So that he is your sovereign, he has the right to rule over you. And he’s a gentle and loving King. This is not a burden. And so, it’s a matter of obedience. It’s a matter of submission to Christ. And therefore, we must constantly seek to obey our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Verse 12, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but now much more in my absence.” Let me tell you something. If you have no desire to obey Jesus Christ, you are not a Christian. If you have no desire to obey the commands of Christ, you’re not a Christian. If you think it a light thing to obey Christ, you have not understood the Gospel.
The Philippians showed their faith by immediate and heartfelt obedience, not only to Christ but also to Christ’s messenger, the Apostle Paul. Now, what kind of obedience are we talking about? Well, immediate obedience. Look back at Philippians 1:5. There Paul speaks of their partnership. Do you see this? Philippians 1:5, he thanks God because of “their partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.” Do you see that? Right from the start, these Philippian Christians were obeying Christ and obeying Paul, Christ messenger. They didn’t wait to obey.
Now, some people think “Well, I’m ready to accept Jesus as my Savior, but I’m not yet ready to accept him as my Lord.” As though he’s somehow schizophrenic. Some days he’s going to be Savior and some days he’s going to be Lord. Well, that’s not the case. He is Savior and he is Lord. Jesus called people to immediate obedience. “As he was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers. And they were Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew, they were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going a little further, He found James and John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus said, ‘Follow Me.’And at once they left their father and their nets and followed Jesus.” He found Matthew the tax collector the same way. “Come follow me,” And he got up and followed him and he obeyed him. One disciple said, “Lord first let me go and bury my father.” And he said, “Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.” To the rich young ruler, he said, “If you want to be perfect, sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you’ll have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.” He called for immediate complete obedience. And faith filled obedience. “An obedience,” it says in Romans 5, “that comes from faith.” A faith filled obedience. Now, Paul points this out. He says, “As you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence.” They seem to have grown in their obedience. They’re even more obeying Christ now than when he was there before. This is a great sign of a true living faith.
When it’s only you and Jesus: Consistent obedience
Early in my Christian life, when I was a college student, I had as a job, going around from place to place at the university and inspecting fire extinguishers. It wasn’t a living. I just made money, pocket money, wasn’t very exciting. But I would look and I would sign my name on the little tag. I went back there a few years later and actually saw one of the tags I signed, so it made me feel good. Andy Davis was here, there it was. But I went into this little, kind of room, closet or something like that and went in, turned on the light, closed the door. And then, I turned and there on the wall was a poster. The only purpose of which was to excite lust. I was totally alone, the door was closed and I turned away. This is about six months after I had become a Christian, there was nobody in the room, except me and Jesus and that was enough. There’s an obedience that comes from faith and faith is measured by what you do when it’s only you and Jesus.
And so, he says, “Not only in my presence, but now that I’m not even there anymore, you’re obeying more and more.” And why? Because Jesus is still there, the Lord is still there. So it’s a faith filled obedience and it’s a consistent obedience. “As you have always obeyed, even now continue to obey.” What’s this going to lead to? Well, hard work. “Work out your salvation.” The word is related to “energy”. Show energy in your Christian life. Work it out, energy. He’s talking here, as we’ve said, about sanctification. Growth and godliness requires sweat and toil and suffering and hard work. You’re not going to grow without it. I know the victorious higher life people are promising you something, but you’re not going to find it. The Bible doesn’t promise it to you. The Bible promises you battle. But it promises you weapons and defenses that are suitable for the task. Just having a quiet time every day is a battle. Amen. Just getting up early in the morning and having a good time with the Lord is a battle. You’ve got to do it, work out your salvation.
Now, what does it mean “with fear and trembling?” Some of you I think studied in 1 John, where it says, “Perfect love drives out fear.” Romans 8 says that, “God did not make us a slave again to fear.” Well, what then is this fear and trembling? Well, it’s not the fear and trembling of a slave at Mount Sinai, thinking that, “If I don’t obey this whole law, I’m going to hell.” No, that’s not what it is. That’s not the fear and trembling here. I think it’s different. Paul uses the same expression in 1 Corinthians 2:3-5, when he talked about his preaching ministry in Corinth. He says, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling. My message in my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with the demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” So, I think what it means is, you work out your salvation with a constant awareness that you can do nothing without Jesus’ help. “I am the vine and you are the branches, apart from Me you can do nothing.” A constant kind of trembling awareness of dependence on Jesus. “Taking heed, you who stand, lest you might fall today into sin.” Fearful of the devil and his temptations, fearful of your own sin and your own habits and patterns, fearful of having to give Christ an account for yet more sin. With fear and trembling, with the sense of the seriousness of this battle, we are going to work out our salvation. Now, that is our lesser work. God willing, next time, we’re going to see God’s greater work in us.
What kind of application are we going to take from this? First, accept the mystery. You have a responsibility in your Christian life, accept it. Accept responsibility. You must work in your Christian life. And you must work hard. And if you don’t work hard, you will not make great progress in your Christian life. You must do your part, your lesser work. If you want to grow in knowledge of the Bible, you must study. You must memorize. You must meditate. You must work at it.
If you want to grow in your prayer life, like Ole Hallesby said, “Prayer is work.” That’s the name of his book. You want to grow, you have to work at it. Is it easy to kneel down and pray for an hour? No, it’s hard, it’s hard work and if you expect it to be easy, you’re going to be greatly disappointed. But if you know that prayer is work and growth in prayer is work, then you will know. That is exactly what I was told and so, I must work at it. Suppose you have bad habits present, like overeating, for example, it’s not going to go away without effort. You must work at it. Yes, you must work it by the power of the Spirit, but you must work to put sin to death. If there are good habits that are absent, for example, personal witnessing, you must be willing to work at it so that you became a better witness. Study, work at it, put yourself under somebody who is a good witness, so that you can learn how to be a witness. Suppose you have bad character traits present, like complaining. It’s not going to go away like the morning mist, “Then one day I never complained again.”
Oh, wouldn’t that be sweet? But I don’t think it’s going to happen. As matter of fact, this verse gives me an indication that it is not going to happen. There isn’t going to be, “Then one day I never did such and such again.” It could happen statistically that from that day forth you never did. But it happens through hard work by the power of God working in you. And if you are quietistic and laid back, you will continue to complain. You will continue to be who you’ve always been. And concerning good traits, character traits, that are absent like compassion, you must work at acquiring Christ’s compassion for the suffering and needy. Now, if you don’t make progress, don’t get discouraged. Stealing some from next week’s sermon, “It is God who works in you so that you can work.” You will win in the end, you will be victorious. Just don’t give up. Don’t give up, keep working at it. Because God’s doing the same work in you that you are doing in yourself. So if you don’t see progress, don’t get discouraged. But if you do see progress, don’t get arrogant and start saying, “I have found the secret.” And sure don’t write the book called, “The Victorious Life,” alright, thus discouraging generations of people who haven’t found your secret, whatever it is. Don’t get arrogant. And if you are not a Christian today, don’t work. Don’t work at all. Because all so called good works before justification are actually sins. You just need to humble yourself before the cross of Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior, that his blood will cleanse you from sin.