12Therefore, my beloved, as you 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; 13for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Here’s another one of those pesky “therefores.” Remember from last time that Paul had just finished quoting Isaiah…
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Word of God is clear. All – saved and unsaved alike – will one day face judgment. Believers will stand in judgment of their works unto rewards…
10But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11For it is written: [Isaiah 45:23]
“As I live, says the LORD,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”
12So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
Thank God that by the blood of Jesus, believers do not have to face the judgment of God for our sins…
11Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Jesus calls us into salvation by His perfect and complete atoning sacrifice on the cross, by which He demonstrates His infinite love…
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
…yet certainly Jesus didn’t die for us desiring that we should then rest in our salvation, or – God forbid – continue in our sins. Consider Jesus’ words to the woman caught by the Jewish establishment in the very act of adultery (John 8:2-11)…
10When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
11She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Jesus’ compassion and mercy for this woman (and for us) is clear. After all, the prescribed punishment for adultery under the Old Testament Law is death by stoning. Indeed we know that God’s righteous judgment for all sin is death (Romans 6:23), but rather than condemn this woman, Jesus offers her (and us) mercy and forgiveness. Nevertheless, He admonishes her to repent of her sin. Take a look at what Paul writes to the Romans on the subjects of grace and repentance…
19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. 20Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
Clearly, we are called not only to salvation, but also to repentance. The two go hand-in-hand. Furthermore, Jesus promises to be with us in our struggle to repent, and live a godly life…
15“If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
19“A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. 20At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. 21He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
22Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?”
23Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.”
It is this obedient devotion to Jesus which we find Paul exhorting the Philippians to here in our passage this evening. With them, we strive to obey our Lord, not (as we might be tempted with our human masters) …“as in my presence only,” but to our uttermost at all times, knowing that God’s Spirit, dwells within us – guiding us, encouraging us, and if need be at times convicting us.
Verse 12 (cont)– …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
In preparing for this study, I really struggled with this tiny, yet profound sentence. How can I work out my own salvation? After all, the last words Jesus uttered from the cross were, “It is finished!” With these words, I am fully persuaded, Jesus sealed me to Himself forevermore, regardless of any work of my own, past, present, or future. I am His, and He is mine, for no other reason than His “finished” sacrifice on the cross. How then is it possible for me to do anything to “work out” my salvation. In struggling with this question, none of the commentaries I consulted gave a satisfactory answer to this fundamental question. I decided to ask some of my friends. I am indebted to two of them – Rob Niewiadomski, and Rick Lopez – for helping me find some illumination of this beautiful verse.
I thought the key might be in the word “salvation.” This Greek word σωτηρία sōtēria occurs 45 times in the New Testament. In 40 of those, it is translated as salvation. Nearly all of those clearly state that salvation comes from God alone. Indeed, as we heard in church last Sunday, salvation really belongs to Him…
After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!
NOTE – Before we press on, it is necessary to point something out about the text in your Bibles versus the Bible quotations found in the notes for this study. Many translations use italics to indicate words of the target language that do not appear in the source text. These words have been inserted by the translators to make the translated rendering grammatically correct in the target language, or to provide a clearer translation of the ideas in the original passage. The word “leading” in the NKJV translation of 2 Corinthians 7:10 is an example. Sometimes it is extremely helpful when reading a mostly “word-by-word” translation like the NKJV to read the study passage aloud leaving out these extra words. Other times, doing so may lead to confusion.
In the notes for this Bible study, these words are often rendered without italics while the quotations as a whole are italicized. Having said that, however, I must warn you that I have not been entirely diligent in this regard when extracting Bible quotes for the notes blog. Therefore, the reader who is interested in distinguishing between words occurring in the original language, and words inserted by the translators should carefully read the NKJV (or other word-by-word translation) itself, rather than extractions found in my notes.
With that out of the way…
Out of all the New Testament instances of the Greek word σωτηρία sōtēria, 2 Corinthians 7:10 may give us a way of discerning what Paul might mean when he admonishes us to work out our own salvation…
2 Corinthians 7:10
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Clearly, our salvation unto eternal life is due purely to God’s grace by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross…
8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Yes, clearly the work of our salvation “is finished.” Our salvation has already been purchased for us in the precious blood of Jesus. Yet we ourselves must choose to claim it. We must come to the place of repentance and call upon the Name of Jesus for salvation. Here in 2 Corinthians 7:10 we see the process by which our salvation takes place. God’s Spirit first convicts us of our sin. Consequently, we experience a godly sorrow, desiring to repent of our sin. Finally at this critical moment we recognize the Truth of the Gospel, call upon Jesus to forgive us of our sin, and claim the gift of salvation He purchased for us by His death on the cross. Peter tells us (2 Peter 3:9) that God is longsuffering, and not willing that any should perish, but it is we who must come to repentance. He cannot, and will not do our repentance for us. Thus our salvation is in two parts.
The first part, was finished for us by Jesus on the cross. As we saw last time, only Jesus, the Son of Man, could accomplish this, because only He lived the perfect, sinless life required so that He could become the spotless sacrifice necessary to atone for our sins. But not only has Jesus made the way for us to enter into God’s grace by giving His life in place of ours, God the Father also calls us to Him…
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
But we must also do our part in beginning to work out our own salvation…
8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” [Deuteronomy 30:14] (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
We must first accept the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we must then choose to follow Him. We must make this necessary, conscious commitment to repentance and holiness in honor of His sacrifice before He will seal us with His Spirit. In my own life, I can attest that believing the Gospel is not enough. For over 25 years, I can honestly say that I was a true believer. I had accepted the truth of the Gospel when I was a young man of 18. Yet I remained in rebellion, embroiled in a besetting sin, which even now I have confessed to only two people, until I finally chose to turn away from it and truly make Jesus my LORD as well as my savior. I thank God Almighty that throughout that time, He continued to call out to me, until I finally found myself in a place where I was able to listen and obey. As Jesus tells us at the end of the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14)…
“For many are called, but few are chosen.”
So what makes the difference between those who are called, and those who are chosen? The difference seems to be in whether or not we choose to accept our invitation to the wedding feast. Note carefully that both the ones who accept (few) and those who reject (many) are invited (called) to the feast. If we accept, and attend the feast, we are chosen. Note that we must not only accept the invitation, we must also take action to attend the feast. If we choose to decline the invitation, or if we accept the invitation in our hearts, but then choose not to actually attend the feast (as I myself did for so many years) we are not chosen. A committed Calvinist would surely take exception with this admittedly circular reasoning, but it does match my own personal experience. Regardless of that, though, our choosing to follow (whether predetermined or not) is only the first step in our working out our own salvation. Ephesians goes on to say…
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
The Gospel of Jesus is one of simple grace through faith. Yet although our good works can’t possibly atone for sin and its rightful punishment of death, the Bible, especially the New Testament, is rife with admonitions to good works, not as a means to salvation, but as a demonstration of it, and an outreach to the still lost…
14“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.
And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.
23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
1 Peter 2:11-12
11Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Here Peter reminds us again that the real purpose of our good works is that God would be glorified by both believers and non-believers observing them. Furthermore, Peter makes it clear that the main purpose for our good works is not even the practical blessings received by the beneficiaries of them. If we bring someone practical help like food or clothing to fulfill an earthly need, but neglect to share the Gospel with them, we actually do them a great disservice. Our need for rescue from death and judgment in our sin far outweighs any of our earthly needs.
We must also be careful to understand and remember that our good works are not a means to salvation, but a demonstration of it. James gives us the definitive statements on good works…
14What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 25Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
21Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. 26If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.