Work Out Your Salvation

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This conundrum is, perhaps, not such a problem for the creationist who understands that God created the chicken fully-grown and mature. But that’s not really the point, is it?

The serious Bible student will discover questions like this regarding his salvation. Which came first, God’s will or mine? Which came first, God’s work or mine?

Philippians 2.12-13 encourages us to ponder this very question:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Notice:

  1. Obedience links with “work out your salvation”
  2. The “for” stands as a “because,” so the actions in verse 12 result from the actions of verse 13
  3. God produces a will and a work in us
  4. Everything results in His good pleasure

Many use verse 12 to insist that we are, indeed, saved by our works. Besides running counter to so many other clear New Testament scriptures (i.e., Eph. 2.8-9; Tit. 3.3-7; Gal. 2.16; Rom. 11.5-6; etc.) which say we are not saved by our works, that understanding also violates the immediate context by not considering verse 13 and GOD as the ultimate cause of our salvation.

These verses do not appear in isolation; we must consider the context of the entire letter to be faithful to God’s meaning. We may back up to Phil. 1.27:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Paul reminds them (and us) that their conduct should be worthy of the gospel. “How does our conduct reflect the gospel?” we might ask. Reading the rest of the letter answers the question. So God desires–in fact demands–obedience and a “worthiness” of conduct.

But why should we obey? Why attempt to walk such a high path? Do we obey and work in order to be saved? Are we keeping ourselves saved by walking in the right way? The answer is yes…and no. God is certainly telling us to walk this way and it will result in our salvation.

Back up to Phil. 1.6 for one more insight:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

This answers the question, “How did my salvation begin?” God began it.

It also answers, “How will I continue to be saved?” God will continue to perfect it until Jesus returns.

Notice Phil. 1.11 says, “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Who has been filled? We who are in Christ! Who does the filling? God!

And so “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” and “set your minds on things that are above” and “whatever you do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” and “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” All those passages tell us to obey, to work, to do. We now understand our obedience is a loving response to the work God has already done in us and continues to do for us.

When I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I do not work to get saved or stay saved. I’m working because I am saved and I want to show the fruit of God’s work in my life. May my life and your life result to the praise of His glory.

Solar Eclipse: Cosmic Coincidence?

On an NPR program this morning by Nell Greenfieldboyce, I heard how lucky we are to be living exactly at the right time to observe a total solar eclipse. A few million years this way or that and the moon wouldn’t match totally up to the sun as it does now.

The sun is 400 times farther away than the moon, and it just so happens the moon is 400 times smaller in diameter…so that’s why they look exactly the same size when they overlap.

Over and over the NPR commentator expressed how lucky we are and what an amazing cosmic coincidence this is–an attitude approaching awe.

“humanity is lucky to live on a planet that even has this kind of celestial event”

“Earth only gets its gorgeous total solar eclipses because of a cosmic coincidence”

“that perfect kind of magic”

“It’s just chance that humans exist [at this time]”

So these folks stand in awe of a cosmic coincidence. Yesterday, I heard another NPR program by Adam Frank as he explored the human response of awe. Here is a poignant paragraph:

For me, sacredness is an experience that rises above any particular religion and speaks to those moments when we feel the essential, original and irreducible potency of life. It need not refer to anything anyone would call “supernatural” but, instead, is rooted in our very real and very natural experience of the world. In that way, it is also a root of the aspiration to do science. As Eliade wrote: “The sacred is equivalent to a power and in the last analysis to reality. The sacred is saturated with Being.”

That’s right. Let’s not think anything supernatural has to exist in order for us to be struck with awe. This can all be defined and realized scientifically. Better yet, let’s make sure awe is defined as an entirely INTERNAL experience of the individual–more about YOU than about anyone else (and shhhhh! don’t think about a Someone who might have created all this).

What these folks either don’t know or are not explaining is that this focus on our internal BEING comes from eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. Enlightenment and truth, they believe, is found within, and truth comes from our own experiences. So, they insist, always look inward–never outward–for spiritual realization. Always believe you are in control of your own world; don’t think a Creator controls the world and that you exist as part of His creation.

“Sacredness is an experience…” the man says. The Bible defines sacredness as that which is holy, set apart to God. If you want this eclipse to be a sacred experience, then glorify God in it! Stand amazed; the Creator has built into His creation lovely, carefully-timed wonders that thrill and excite! Be in awe–but not because of a cosmic coincidence. Be in awe of the Creator and Ruler of the cosmos.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world. — Psalm 19.1-4

The Pattern of Sound Words

I just listened to a sermon which the preacher began by reading 2 Timothy 1.13:

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

He then proceeded to tell the congregation they should hold fast to the Bible patterns of…

  1. The Name of the Church
  2. The Organization of the Church
  3. The Activities of the Church, including…
    • Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and only on Sundays
    • Singing without instrumental music
    • No Church-sponsored Orphans’ Homes
    • No Church-sponsored Widow’s Homes
  4. The Five-Steps to Salvation

I’m sure I missed a few things, but those I remember.

What troubles me is that his beginning verse contextually has nothing to do with any of those issues. He committed a classic blunder by reading a passage and then going wherever he pleased with it, completely disregarding the context. This sort of slipshod treatment of Scripture leads to a watering down of the word and really tends to obscure the truth God has set forth.

We should demand preachers and teachers keep verses in context. That is not to say everyone should read the entire chapter every time, but certainly teachers must do their homework and understand the meaning and purpose of the text before presenting it as God’s word!

If we read 2 Timothy 1.13 in it’s immediate context, we find the “pattern of sound words” has to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (1.10). It has to do with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. It has to do with the grace of God and sharing in the sufferings on behalf of Christ (2.1-3). It has to do with dying with Christ (2.11) and enduring (2.12). It has to do with unity (2.14ff) and holiness (2.22ff).

I recommend preachers actually preach the word itself instead of “choosing a passage and then going everywhere preaching the gospel” (as one sarcastically remarked). If you don’t understand the context of the passage, you may end up harming your hearers. At the very least, your lessons will lack meat. At worst, you’ll end up preaching entirely your own thoughts and not the thoughts of the Lord. Those who study God’s word will stop listening to you.

It there a place for preaching on all those topics above? Certainly! If the Bible talks about it, we should teach about it. But allow the Scripture to lead!

This preacher missed many deep truths to be found in 2 Timothy because he wanted to preach on certain pet subjects. I hope he one day gets around to preaching on what 2 Timothy 1.13 is really about! It’s ironic that he so abused a passage on sound words.

Does Bible Study Make You Feel Guilty?

The preacher hammers the importance of daily Bible study, and most of the church sits feeling condemned, inadequate, and guilty, because we sure messed that up last week!

Does Bible study make you feel guilty?

It’s actually not the study itself, but our failures along the way. We make commitments (or at least have a vague idea of what we ought to do) and end up not fulfilling them. We don’t hit our targets, don’t actualize our vision, don’t work the plan perfectly. And our hearts condemn us.

It’s as if we feel that God accepts us on the basis of whether or not we hit our targets for the day.

I have this feeling that God wants me to spend some time in the word today (a minimum of 15 or 20 minutes?), and I never got around to it. And I missed yesterday, too. The days pile fast and guilt grows. I’m failing God, myself, my family, my church. I can’t let the church know I’m a failure at this because this is what being a Christian is all about, right? If I’m not in the Bible every day, they might think I’m not really a Christian–or at least not a serious one. I’ll tell everyone else they should be reading the Bible every day, I’ll put on a face like I’m getting it done, and I’ll continue to feel bad every week when I don’t make it.

Have you ever felt this way?

Trade Law for Grace!

We feel like this when we still place ourselves under law. When we don’t understand why Jesus died for us in the first place, we can get the idea that God is pleased with us when we have our act together and displeased when we don’t get the works in we feel we should. As if our works keep us holy and in His grace.

Get this, Brothers and Sisters: as many of you as have been baptized have put on Christ, you are one in Christ Jesus, and you are sons of God through faith (Galatians 3.26-4.7). Because you are sons, you are heirs alongside THE Son, Jesus. You inherit eternal fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! God adopted you into His family while you were spiritually immature and broken–and He continues to cover you by the blood of His Son while you grow in Christ. You have freedom in God’s house even while you are not perfect! God does not accept you on the basis of what you do for Him, but on the basis of what Jesus Christ has already done on the cross. Nothing you do for God now will make you more holy, more righteous, more acceptable to Him–you are totally accepted right now in Christ Jesus!

So don’t feel condemned and guilty when you don’t get the works perfect. Keep loving God; keep loving your neighbor; keep loving your family. Keep striving to know and understand more, but don’t feel like you have fallen out of God’s favor when you fail.

In God’s grace is an amazing freedom–including the freedom to fail and keep right on going. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1).

Being under a heartless law system stifles growth and kills the spirit. But being under the grace of a kind and loving God provides and promotes an attitude of steady joy in the face of all our failures. I hope you and I forever revel in that joy!

Interestingly, those with the perspective of grace find their Bible study becomes even more frequent and fruitful!

Habits for Every Christian: Walk in Love

“Walk in love…” (Ephesians 5.2)

How, Paul? What does that mean, to walk in love? Does it mean I should have gushy feelings for everyone as I plod through my day? Should I attempt to warmly hug everyone I meet? I’m a tad uncomfortable with that thought.

The whole verse says:

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5.2b)

So JESUS is our standard of love! On the one hand, He had compassion for individuals, touched lepers from time to time, took little girls by the hand, reclined at the table with His disciples in close sharing. On the other hand, He overturned table in the Temple, seared the Pharisees and Lawyers with condemnation and judgment, and preached in such a way that many of His followers deserted Him. He’s our picture of love.

We’re not talking about FEELING love. We’re talking about GIVING love. This kind of love (ἀγάπη agape in the Greek) concerns a selfless giving of yourself to others. It’s doing for others what you’d like them to do for you, loving them like you’d love yourself, doing what is best for them, regardless of how you actually feel about them at the time.

Imagine Jesus on the cross, experiencing some of the most excruciating pain a human can endure and having been deserted by all His disciples. Lonely. Shamed. Being murdered by lawless men. Can you imagine the human feelings He must have experienced? Surely He was not wishing He could hug those at the foot of the cross. He was holding back His awesome power in order not to annihilate them all! He spoke words of forgiveness. He cared for one of the thieves beside Him and for His mother below Him.

Now imagine your family. It’s late, everyone’s tired, and you’re trying to cobble together a quick supper before bedtime. Children complain. Your spouse grumpily pokes around, getting in the way more than helping. What words slip your tongue at times like this? What thoughts run through your head? What complaints of your own do you mumble to yourself?

Are you truly thinking about your family, how you can bless and serve them? Do you pray for God to forgive your children for their complaining…”for they don’t know what they’re saying”? Do you speak kindly and gently to your spouse even when the words coming your way are less than gentle? A soft answer…a soft answer…

Brothers and sisters, “we who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15.1). “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” How, exactly, has Christ welcomed you? Would Jesus say, “You need to learn to speak more respectfully before I love you.” Or “You got yourself into this mess; you can get yourself out”? Or “I’ll only help you when you start to help yourself”?

Or did Jesus die for us WHILE WE WERE STILL WEAK (Romans 5.6), WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS (Romans 5.8), and WHILE WE WERE HIS ENEMIES (Romans 5.10)? And does He continue to put up with us despite our severe weaknesses and stark flaws?

God expects you to walk in love and has shown you how to do it. May God give you opportunities today to show the love of Christ to your child and to your neighbor and to your boss and to your waitress. Keep the cross forever in mind–the absolute love Jesus showed for you–and let Him be your motivation.

God, teach us to walk in love!

Habits Every Christian Should Have: Speaking Truth

Just as Satan is the father of lies and liars, so God is the Father of truth-tellers and truth-seekers.

No place for a deceiver exists among the people of God. It is said of Jesus, “No deception was found in His mouth,” and that’s exactly what the Father wants from His children.

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to Him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feed that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6.16-19)

Part of growing up in Christ is learning to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15).

It’s one thing to speak truth with a neighbor and another to temper that truth with love. I’d love to tell everyone what their glaring faults are and how to fix them–isn’t that truthful? Perhaps. But it probably misses the mark of love by a wide margin. When I’m so focused on others’ faults and foibles, I tend to also miss my own, pride creeps in, and I end up looking down upon my brothers and sisters. So love must temper truth.

However, we must always speak the truth with one another.

Have you ever seen an adult lie to a child? This kills me. A father didn’t want his child to know he kept guns in the case, so he told the child the case held his fishing rods. What happens when the child finds out what’s really in the case? Perhaps he doesn’t explicitly connect the dots (“Dad’s a liar!”), but at least subconsciously he learns it is okay to lie to cover things up.

What’s worse is when a parent outright lies to another adult in front of the child–“No, my husband’s not home right now; you’ll have to call back later,” while said husband sits in the living room watching TV. The child learns lying is okay in order to avoid inconvenience.

Lying kills trust. If you lie to me even about a small matter, it then makes me wonder about anything you say in the future. If you’re okay twisting, tweaking, or otherwise adjusting the truth, I lose confidence in your word overall.

Is there a path to redemption after you lie? Can trust be rebuilt? Yes, it can. But trust is earned over a long period of time, and once trust is betrayed, rebuilding it requires another long road of consistent truthfulness.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (Ephesians 4.25).

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are His delight (Proverbs 12.22).

Christian Habits: Dwelling on the Word

When we were of the world, we thought and acted like them, but now that we know Christ (or rather are known by Him) our habits have changed (and are changing). You must be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12.2), an inward change which results in a new lifestyle.

Take the apostle Paul for example. After fighting tooth-and-nail against the Christian “sect” (as he saw them), Christ knocked him into the dirt and showed him how much he would have to suffer for Christ. Immediately he reversed course, as he began to publicly proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, reasoning with anyone who would listen. One day he killed Christians; the next he loved and joined them.

So it is with all Christians–there is a definite change in our habits. One day we are of the “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2.2); the next we are falling on our knees praying to Jesus as Lord and King, submitting to His every command. One day we wonder what this whole “Christianity” thing is about; the next we cling tightly to our Bible, knowing it is the inspired and holy word of God.

Not everyone’s conversion feels quite so dramatic, but we must understand the change involved in stepping from the world into the family of God.

One of the first signs of a changed heart, a converted mind, a reborn soul is that intense love for God’s word as absolute, bedrock, divine truth. Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians:

Eph. 1.15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

Paul wanted the Christians to know certain things about God and about their salvation. How would they come to know these things?

Eph. 3.3 …by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

Through the Holy Spirit, God made known to Paul the mystery of the gospel. Paul wrote it down, and he preached and taught that gospel. Those are the means by which God chose to continue revealing the gospel of His Son–through the reading and teaching of Scripture.

God put the church together in great part to give us an environment which fosters growth in the word.

Eph. 4.11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

All those gifts God gave the church in verse 11 have to do with teaching and preaching at some level–the passing along of God’s word. Notice the benefits of staying in the word and continuing in a steady teaching / learning environment:

  • You will be built up in Christ
  • You will attain the unity of the faith
  • You will come to know the Son of God
  • You will grow up in Christ
  • You will take part in the growth of the whole body of Christ, the church

Every Christian should habitually be in the word, whether it’s listening to the Bible read or taught (by a competent teacher!) or reading and studying for himself. Is your life characterized by a love for the word and a continual hungering and thirsting for righteousness?

STAY IN THE WORD!

A Recipe for Life-long Accountability

As I was reading a helpful little online book called Coming Clean, I ran across this question:

What if we were meant to treat accountability not as a last resort but as a lifestyle?

The author then proceeded to recount a few of the many “one another” passages of the New Testament, which show how we really should work together to overcome sin and walk in righteousness! What should we be doing with one another which builds biblical accountability?

James does not suggest, he commands that we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. God intends for His people to share their struggles with one another! As a mighty weapon against the forces of evil, prayer remains one of God’s greatest gifts to us, and we should be in regular and constant prayer for one another’s burdens and sins.

How can you bear your brother’s burden if you don’t know what his burden is? Sometimes the weight is so great everyone around can clearly see. If a man is staggering drunk, we plainly see his issue. If a frail old woman loses her husband, we understand she carries a great burden. But how many of us carry unseen, secret weights–burdens of which we are so ashamed that we dare not reveal them to our friends? Satan would have us too ashamed to share, because then we would never find relief. But God wants our burdens lightened–even lifted!

Unless I know your temptation struggles, I won’t know exactly how to encourage you against the deceitfulness of those sins. If you tell me you struggle with gluttony, I can help you remember there is no lasting satisfaction in indulging your appetite. If you tell me you struggle with pornography, I can remind you of the immense dangers lurking for your soul in that dark, evil world; and I can tell you of the purity and sanctity of the marriage bed and of how wonderfully fulfilling God has made it to be.

In short, God expects us to love one another, encourage one another, confess to one another, and pray for one another. Sounds like a recipe for life-long accountability! God has so arranged the Body of Christ, the Church, that we might together overcome sin, resist temptation, and move toward righteousness.

Are we taking advantage of God’s blessings through His church?

The Way of Man

What are you doing today? Going to work? To school? Taking a vacation? Having some fun? Getting some jobs done around the house? Helping your neighbor? Taking some food to a widow in need? Visiting someone in prison?

Why do you get up in the morning? Why did you choose your vocation, hobbies, way of life? What’s your life’s purpose?

From a biblical standpoint, God has an answer for you. From a worldly standpoint, you come up with your own answer. And, frankly, most of the world comes up with its own answer.

Jeremiah wrote many years ago:

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. (Jer. 10.23)

Do you know the main difference between Buddhist meditation and Christian meditation? The Buddhist attempts to find her center, to probe deep within herself, to discover hidden secrets locked inside her. The Buddhist believes that enlightenment is within man. The Christian, on the other hand, meditates on Scripture (Psalm 119.15, 23, 48, 78). The Christian looks outside himself to discover how he should live, because he knows he will not find the right path in himself.

The Buddhist and the Christian differ in their fundamental understanding of the nature of man. What is your nature, according to the Scriptures?

  • After the flood, God recognized, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 9.21)
  • Solomon included in his temple-dedication prayer, “there is no one who does not sin” (2 Chr. 6.36)
  • Paul wrote, “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3.10)
  • He also said “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2.1-3)
  • “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8.7-8)
  • “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2.14)

You are either a natural man or a spiritual man, according to Scripture. The natural man cannot understand God’s word and does not possess the ability to please God. The spiritual man can understand God’s word and can please God. How does a person transition from the natural to the spiritual? God performs the work of regeneration (Eph. 2.4-9; Titus 3.4-7; John 3.1-8), and we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Lord of all (John 5.24; 3.16-17; Rom. 10.8-13). It’s by grace through faith.

The true way to salvation is not within man! We must look outside and beyond ourselves for the answers to life. How did we decide what to do today? Either we are following our own path or we are following a path God laid out for us. By that, I mean we walk in our own wisdom or God’s wisdom. Which is it for you?

He Saved Us: Block Diagramming Titus 1.1-4

Have you ever heard of block diagramming? Here’s a small demonstration using Titus 1.1-4 as an example:

Block diagramming is a method of writing out the verse in such a way as to expose the meaning more clearly–in visual terms. You can see that most of the passage above is concerned with introducing the author of the letter–Paul. In fact, the first four verses of Titus do not compose a complete sentence but an elaborate salutation.

Paul wants his readers to know two things about him: (1) he’s a bondservant (slave) of God and (2) he’s an apostle (one sent out) of Jesus Christ. Throughout the letter Paul overlaps the names of God and Jesus, treating them with exactly the same reverence, honor, and respect.

Paul serves as an apostle (1) in order to build the faith of God’s elect and help them see the truth. The truth is not merely an intellectual exercise; it has to do with godliness, which is a life-attitude of thinking and acting toward God. This letter has a lot to do with explaining godliness.

Paul also serves as an apostle (2) standing upon the hope of eternal life. That eternal life is a major core teaching of the gospel. Paul says God (a) promised it before time eternal and (b) manifested it through the apostles’ preaching.

By repetition, Paul introduces a major theme of his letter: God is our Savior; Jesus is our Savior.

Oh glorious truth:

HE SAVED US!