The Salvation Workout

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.  Philippians 2:12, 13.

Sometimes it sounds like Paul is talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue of salvation.  First he says salvation is by Christ alone and that through faith, then he turns right around to tell us we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  The debate on this issue got so confusing at one point, if that’s the right word, that Martin Luther reportedly debated on whether or not to remove the book of James from the canon.

The problem, however, isn’t as hard as it might sound from a casual read.  James points out that true faith reveals itself in the works a person does not just in words.  If we just take a minute to think about this, it makes perfect sense.  It’s kind of like saying,  “Put your money where your mouth is” spiritually.  If Jesus commands us to love one another, we will, though most of us will have to relearn what the word “love” means in His context.

Just think what would happen if we continued expressing the broken definition of love we either grew up with or developed as adults apart from Jesus, what a mess that would be.  I mean, what if someone’s only understanding of love came from parents who abused them; and we don’t even have to go to those extremes to see broken examples of love lived out in the church.  Look for almost any sample of “love” in the church where someone believes it is not an emotion merely a principle and you will witness some pretty cold comfort.  I mean, Americans especially brought the Victorian stoicism/stiff-upper-lip to new heights.  The John Wayne cowboy who never cried even when he should is a great example of our attitude towards vulnerability and openness.

For this reason we need to redefine life through the eyes of Jesus, otherwise we won’t properly live out His teachings.  And this brings us to the crux of the whole matter for me.  Salvation is by faith, and that not by works, lest any man should boast.  The hierarchy starts with faith and ends with works.  First we exercise faith then it demonstrates itself in works.  Peter walking to Jesus on the water had faith first that if the being he saw walking towards them on the water was in fact his Master, then it followed he could do it too.  He walked on water (even though he wavered and sank he knew who his Savior was) and later performed some pretty awesome miracles from that fledgling faith.

Anytime we claim to have faith but refuse to act out of fear of failure we show it to be mere head knowledge or a principle without teeth.  The theme throughout the whole message of the Bible is:  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13.  Why?  What does the intensity of our search have to do with finding God?  And if the just shall live by faith, what does this whole-hearted seeking/questing have to do with us finding Him?

I believe it has to do with being open-hearted.

To know what it means to be loved we have to be open to receive love.  If our defenses are bulwarked against every incoming thing imaginable, love’s soft touch won’t make much of an impression on the layers of stone we build around our hearts.  Most likely, we won’t even hear it let alone feel it, nor will we recognize it for what it is.  Our only defense must be Jesus.  He alone buffers our hearts in a healthy way.  I know my defensiveness grows out of fears developed over the years from disappointments, mistakes I made, letting the wrong people in and generally living in a very confused world where pretty much anything can happen.  So many people go to therapy to help them get healthy when all the while the best answer is not a psychologist, though one might help us, but Jesus.

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows fold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:28-31.

The context of this passage is couched in the instructions to the disciples who Jesus sent out to minister.  The timeline here gets a little blurry because Jesus not only tells them what they need to do for the trip they were taking immediately but also guidelines for the future when He goes back to His Father.  Verse 26, 27 begin His encouragement like this,  “So do not be afraid of them (those who oppose the gospel).  There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

Jesus desires for us to be fearless.  Peter denied Jesus out of fear of discovery—not because he necessarily feared dying for the Master in battle, but I believe he harbored views of himself as a warrior in the army of the Messiah scouting out the enemy camp.  His fear grew out of a mistaken concept of what it means to follow the Christ, much like many of us.  We fear to offend people by our words or actions so we mute the light of Jesus in order to fit in a bit more.  Unfortunately for Peter and for us, Jesus frowns on this type of behavior for the sake of security or long-reaching spiritual goals.  Our light must shine in season and out of season; when it’s convenient and when it isn’t.  “A city on a hill cannot be hidden; neither do men light a lamp and put it under a pot.”  Our Master never resorted to the obnoxious or confrontational style we see so prevalent in most religions today.  Nor do we see Him cop out and take the road of benignity.

A person fully immersed in Christ displays His message without necessarily trying to for out of their heart emerges the works of salvation.  Paul’s instructions to the Philippians centered on changing one’s attitude, which is a matter renewing our minds not merely behavior modification.  Paul reminds every church to whom he wrote to fully submit to Christ and change the way they think rather than just worry about performance performance.  A person who wants a healthy body works out for diet only accomplishes so much before exercise must take over.  The same in our Christian walk.  We cannot affect the changes necessary to be like Jesus only He can do this, but, working to open our hearts and minds to Him is our job.  In other words, we cannot let word of Christ dwell in [us] richly unless we expose ourselves to it by hearing or reading it.

Jesus said,  “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  How we think and what we think about is far more important than what we do, since what we do is motivated and inspired by our thought life.  Jesus wants the good works we do to be evidence of what’s already happened in the heart not an act we put on to convince other people of our sincerity.  If our hearts are changed by love, we will be loving.  If we are convinced that Jesus is the Christ, we will live humbly submitted to Him.  If we believe His word is true, we will trust and follow it as our ruler for measuring life.

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2 Responses to “The Salvation Workout”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    Although many disagree with me, and you may also, I believe we are working out our salvation until we breathe our very last earthly breath. As more revelation comes, more trials, and more experiences, we exert more knowledge, more faith, more understanding, and sometimes more doubt and rebellion. It’s a continual process of perfection in my mind.

  2. jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

    I actually do agree and that would be a point I should have said in this entry but probably forgot. I don’t think sinless-ness is probable this side of glorification.

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