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.

Is Our Best Good Enough for God?

working hardJesus instructed, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Peter quoted from the Old Testament, “…as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”

“But God just wants us to do our best!”
someone blurts from the back of the room (without even raising her hand). “That’s all He can expect us to do.”

Why is that all He can expect us to do? Is our best actually good enough for Him?

When have we actually done our best? Think back to yesterday. Did you do your best? Did you pray at the end of the day, “Lord, I did my best today; I gave it my best shot. I hope You’re happy with me”?

Hard at WorkI confess, I can almost always think of a way in which I could have done something better, spoken more nicely, exhibited more patience, spoken up more, shut up more, desired God more.

What exactly is my best, anyway?

More importantly, is it biblical to insist “God just wants me to do my best”? I read things like…

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4.1-3)

Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5.1-2)

Walk as children of light…” (Eph. 5.8)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (Phil. 1.27)

“But God would never command us to do something we can’t do!” returns the lady, now standing red-faced beside her chair.

CamelJesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Literally impossible. For man. But not impossible for God (see Matt. 19.23-26). Did Jesus command that rich young ruler to do something he couldn’t do?

A brother (and brother-in-law) of mine, Edwin Crozier, recently made these observations:

  1. When God commanded Moses to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt, He commanded Moses to what he could not in order to drive him to rely on God’s power (Exodus 3:10)
  2. When God commanded Israel to take possession of the Promised Land, He commanded them to do what they could not in order to drive them to rely on God’s grace (Deuteronomy 9:23, et al).
  3. When God commanded Gideon to deliver Israel from Midian, He commanded Gideon to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on God’s grace (Judges 7).
  4. When God commanded Joshua and Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple, He commanded them to do what they could not in order to drive them to rely on God’s grace and Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
  5. When Jesus commanded Peter to walk on the water, He commanded Peter to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on Jesus’s grace, power, and strength (Matthew 14:28-33).
  6. When Peter commanded the lame man to walk, he commanded the lame man to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on the name and grace of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6-7).
  7. When God commands us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, He commands us to do what we cannot in order to drive us to His mercy, grace, strength, and power (Ephesians 3:14-4:1).

I whole-heartedly agree with his observations.

Christians do the impossible every day because they rely on the power and grace of God! God has commanded what we are not able to really accomplish, but that’s okay because He can accomplish all these things in us! In fact, Jesus has already accomplished it all for us.

Our best is not good enough for God. But Jesus‘ best is perfect.

Thank You, God, for power and grace to live righteously before You today in Jesus.

Galatians: Has the Old Law Been Replaced by a New Law?

1cor15-56-57We left off on our last post with the question “Why then the law?” Paul asked this because he had already shown that God never intended to save man by the law or through the law–so now he must explain why God initially bound Israel under the law.

Things Law Cannot Do

  • Bless (3.10-14)
  • Correspond with Faith (3.12)
  • Fulfill God’s Promise (3.15-18)
  • Give Life (3.21)
  • Give Freedom (3.22)

Negative Things Law Does

  • Brings a Curse (3.10-14)
  • Imprisons Under Sin (3.22)
  • Holds Captive (3.23)

Positive Things Law Does

  • Defines and Exposes Sin (3.19)
  • Brings the World to Christ (3.24-29)

And remember how long God planned for the law to endure: “until the seed should come” (3.19b), until faith came (3.23, 25), “until Christ came” (3.24).

Out with the Old...

Has the Old Law Been Replaced with a New Law?

A brother argued recently that we are under Christ’s law today (1 Cor. 9.21); therefore, he insisted, while Galatians tells us we are no longer under the law of Moses, Christ brought a new law by which we are saved today if we keep it.

That is a theological theory. I say theory because the Bible never speaks of Christ coming to replace the law of Moses with a new law. This is important! We must speak where the Bible speaks, and if you insist on a universal law switch-up, you must support your position with scriptures which speak to that effect.

New TestamentWhat the Bible does clearly state is that the old covenant has been replaced with a new covenant. Covenants, truly, may have law embedded within them, but not necessarily.

Exodus through Deuteronomy lists God’s laws to Israel, a law system like none given other on earth, including moral, civil, and ceremonial precepts. It was obviously written as law.

Come, then, to the New Testament, and search diligently for something similar today. You’ll be hard pressed to find it. Many comb the New Testament looking for laws to extract; they seek to discover a New Law similar to the Old. If God has given a new law similar to the old, shouldn’t we expect to find it clearly defined and stated, just as He did for Israel?

How is the New Covenant contrasted with the Old?

The old covenant is associated with works; the new covenant is associated with faith (Galatians 3; Romans 3.27-28; 4.2-8; etc.). James speaks of the law as a thing which convicts and holds accountable; he contrasts that with a “law of liberty” in which “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2.8-13).

When God speaks of “law of faith” (Rom. 3.27) or “law of liberty” (James 2.12), there is a fundamental difference in type of law as we contrast it with the law of commandments. The law of liberty is not the same kind of law as we find in the Old Testament. The law of faith is not the same kind of law as the Law of Moses. Paul shows this distinction: “the law is not of faith, rather, ‘The one who does them shall live by them'” (Gal. 3.12).

Remember, if there had been a law which could actually give life, then righteousness would have come through the Old Law (Gal. 3.21). The point? Law, as we understand law, cannot save. Period.

Galatians: Praise Jesus, Our Blessed Redeemer!

John17_LawVsGraceTruth_smPaul began defending his proposition that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16) by asking the Galatian brethren when had they received the Holy Spirit–by works of law or by hearing with faith? Of course, they received Him by hearing and believing the gospel, not by hearing and obeying a body of laws. The Jews, as a matter of fact, had lived their entire lives attempting to follow that body of laws yet, despite all their efforts, had not received justification.

Next, Paul demonstrates in Galatians 3.10-12 that those who seek to be under law remain under a curse.

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

What curse? All Jews familiar with their scriptures know the blessings and curses God built into their covenant. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they quickly came to two mountains–Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. From Gerizim they pronounced the great BLESSINGS God would give them if they remained faithful (Deut. 28.1-14), and from Ebal they intoned the litany of CURSES God would bring upon them when they wandered away into unfaithfulness (Deut. 27.15-26; 28.15-68).

Ten CommandmentsPaul gets pretty legalistic here. You might recall a few moments in Israelite history when Israel seemed to be doing okay and God was blessing them because of their faithfulness. But, in reality, the law actually demands a full, total, and perfect faithfulness to all aspects of the law in order to be considered righteous! And who has done that? Only one.

Even in the Old Testament God justified individuals the same way He does now–by faith. Paul pulls from Habakkuk 2.4, “the just shall live by faith,” to show that God justified even the Israelites by faith and not because of their keeping of the Law (praise God)!

We are not justified by law but by faith. We do not live by keeping law but by faith. These ideas of being justified and living go hand-in-hand, for the one on whom God shows His favor has passed out of death and into life (John 5.24); the one God justifies now lives, as once he had been dead in his sins (Eph. 2.1) and under the curse (wrath of God). Law brings curse and judgment; faith brings life and justification.

How can this be? Continue in Galatians 3.13-14…

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The CrossGive us the gospel again, Paul! Hammer it into us and make us full and rich, glowing in the light of God’s truth in Jesus Christ! That’s right–Jesus became cursed in our place. God provided a substitute for us who really deserve the curse, the beating, the mocking, the nails. He hung on that tree until dead, until He had erased our eternal pain and the condemnation of the law. He bore our sin and carried our sorrow so all the people of the earth could have access to the blessing of Abraham and receive that Holy Spirit unto salvation.

And God confirmed these promises by raising Jesus from the dead.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in total awe of what God has done. Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer!