What the Bible says about Work Out Salvation
(From Forerunner Commentary)
It was the Creator God who initiated a work through Noah. He and his family did not volunteer. Within this is an awesome truth: Those who received grace in this context were also the only ones who were set apart from the violent, churning mass of humanity on earth, becoming the only ones to survive the Flood. Take note of when they received this grace.
Did the grace they received place them in a favorable, in fact, an enviable position? Absolutely! Grace, then, including its direct connection to God's gift of sanctification, becomes the starting point for encouraging, stimulating thoughts since this particular grace appeared in the midst of a life-threatening situation.
As the Flood story unfolds and the devastating Flood actually comes as God said it would, it becomes clear that our Creator specifically sanctified Noah and his family for deliverance before the Flood occurred. They were specially set apart to be saved from certain death in the Flood.
Do not misunderstand, though. The apostle Paul admonishes in Philippians 2:12-13:
Therefore, 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; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
The grace God gave them was not a get-out-of-jail-free, do-nothing ticket to life. Paul's warning is not presented in the sense that we must work for salvation but that we must continue what we have begun as a result of God's calling. We must be witnesses before others of what we have received (verses 14-16). Noah and his family had to faithfully carry out responsibilities that God's grace enabled them to accomplish. They built the ark, testifying by it to those around them. They carried out their responsibilities because they lived by faith.
In like manner, we, too, have received grace and are, like Noah and his family, specifically sanctified by God for our calling into the church and for deliverance from what lies ahead. We, too, have not received a free ticket to everlasting life but bear responsibilities within our calling. We, too, must faithfully live God's way of life, glorifying Him by our conduct. God knows how to deliver us out of temptations (II Peter 2:9), but He will not necessarily draw us away from them. We are already facing such temptations, which are gradually intensifying in the pressures they apply as time moves toward Christ's return.
What does this mean to us practically? Recall the reassuring encouragement of Genesis 8:1, when God remembered Noah in the midst of the devastating Flood, even as it was killing everybody not in the ark. This is written to reassure us, not Noah, as his trial was over when this was written.
The marvel in this is not that God remembered but that Noah remembered. Through the 120 years of building the ark, then after entering the ark when the rains came, and the fountains of the great deep erupted with gigantic earthquakes, spouting huge and powerful gushes of water, still Noah did not forget God. A boiling sea pitched him and his family about like a cork. For a year and ten days, their every view was only of incessantly lurching water. How quickly would that get old?
It is truly one of the amazing realities that, in the midst of this churning maelstrom of wind and water, Noah remembered. How easy it would have been for him to be focused entirely on his own safety! In addition, the first thing he did upon leaving the ark was to sacrifice in thanks to God (Genesis 8:20). Like God, he had not forgotten.
The lesson for us is that God was right there with them as they bore the events He was accomplishing through them. Because of His presence, they were saved. It thus becomes clear that grace given in the process of sanctification is the first step toward salvation because God is with us the entire way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Ten)
A hundred other verses say essentially the same thing: We must have the fear of God in us. Nevertheless, many persist in believing that, in Christianity, the fear of God has been replaced by love for God.
There is no doubt that God wants us to fear Him. Notice that Psalm 34:11 says that the fear of God is a quality that we must learn, indicating that we do not have this characteristic in us by nature. The fear of God, then, is different from the fears we normally have in life. Thus, it must be learned.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Our normal understanding of fear spans from being a mild apprehension or awareness of anxiety all the way to outright, bowel-moving terror. As an extreme, it creates the "fight or flight" response. Why, then, does a loving God want us to fear Him? Would He not rather want us to snuggle up to Him with no thought of fear?
Many people have that conception, but it is a mistaken one. We must not forget that God is not a man; He is God. He reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that He does not think like a man. Yes, He wants us to love Him, but even in that love the sense of fear should always be present.
Recall that Psalm 2:11 commands, "Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling." To a Christian, fearing and rejoicing seem to be an odd couple. Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Ordinarily, we associate "trembling" with fear, of being frightened. What is there to fear and tremble about in taking salvation to its conclusion?
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Within a Christian setting, we are much more comfortable with this command to love, yet notice verses 1-2:
Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the LORD your God to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.
Immediately preceding and following His command in verse 5 to love Him, He also affirms that we are to fear Him (see verses 2, 13). The sense of verses 1-2 is that this fear is produced as we keep His commandments, not before! Clearly, fear of Him and love for Him cannot be separated from our relationship with Him.
Isaiah 8:13 adds another interesting aspect. "The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread." Surely, we might think that someone as close to God as Isaiah did not need to fear Him, but here God commands Isaiah to fear him. Why? Because the fear gained within the relationship with Him always motivates movement in the right, godly direction, regardless of the intensity of life's circumstances.
What about I John 4:17-18? Does it not contradict the assertion that our relationship with God should contain godly fear?
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
This passage does not contradict in the least, once we understand the kind of fear the apostle John is writing about. The clue to this fear appears in verse 17 in the term "boldness." John is referring to being bold in spite of the circumstances we face from life in this world once we are converted. The love of God works in us to dispel the fear of disease, oppressions, persecution, and death, but it does not drive out the fear of God. If it did, John would be contradicting what the Bible says elsewhere about the necessity of continuing to fear God. Christianity has not replaced the fear of God with the love of God, as many wrongly believe. Instead, the two work hand in hand.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
Taken alone, these three verses could give us the impression that salvation is a free, downhill ride. However, II Peter 1:10 levels the playing field considerably in its sobering instruction: "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble." If salvation is a free coast into the Kingdom, why does Peter admonish us to be diligent to make sure we do not fall? Paul adds that we have a responsibility to "work out [our] own salvation" (Philippians 2:12). These instructions do not contradict but complement and balance, making our responsibilities more specific and varied.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven
These four verses admonish us on what God expects of us as the child in our relationship with Him. It is important for us to understand that "work out your salvation" does not mean work for salvation. It means we must take what God has given us to its logical conclusion. God liberated Israel from Egyptian slavery, but His purpose was not complete until they trekked across the wilderness and possessed the Promised Land. Their liberty came as an act of God's grace, but that same grace required them to meet responsibilities and carry them to their conclusion.
Verse 13 explains that God's grace did not end at the borders of Egypt for them, nor does it end for us once we are justified. He gives us both the motivation and the power to accomplish what His pleasure is for us. But we should understand that He gives us the desire and power to accomplish His will, not our pleasures. This is an excellent principle for parents to apply in motivating their children to respond positively. Children are largely the creations of their parents. If parents expect their children to reach certain goals, they must equip them with the attitudes, skills, and tools necessary to accomplish those aims.
"Fear and trembling" indicates both a deep respect for the Almighty who has called us, as well as a healthy measure of concern for uncertainties about what will be required of us as we proceed along this way. As we spiritually mature, the trials we must work through generally become more difficult, not easier. When the Philippians took up their cross, they did not know for sure what lay ahead, nor do we. For them, it was conflict (Philippians 1:29-30); for Jesus, death (Philippians 2:8); for Paul, martyrdom (Philippians 2:17); for Timothy, costly sacrificial service to the church (Philippians 2:20); and for Epaphroditus, physical illness nearly to death (Philippians 2:27).
Of course, these things are far more serious than a child's responsibility to put his room in order, but we must consider if God is fair in His dealings with man. Is a parent fair in charging his children with responsibilities to carry out around the house?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven
It is God who saves! God saved Israel from Egyptian slavery. Israel did not overcome Pharaoh and Egypt by either warfare or by dint of superior intelligence. Jesus Christ is our Savior, and we cannot save ourselves from sin's power. When we accept Him as Savior, it obligates us as His servants to obey Him.
In like manner, when God broke Egypt's power, enabling the Israelites to be free, it obligated them to walk out of Egypt if they wanted their liberty. If the Israelites wanted to save their skins and be totally free of Egypt when God parted the Red Sea, it obligated them to walk the path God made for them between the walls of water. When God said, "I am going to bring you into the land and provide for you along the way," if Israel wanted these things, they were obligated to walk all the way to Canaan. It is very clear that if Israel wanted what God said He would give, then Israel had to also cooperate by working in the form of walking to where God said He would lead or take them. "Walk" is a code word for living.
With this as a background, when Paul says to "work out your own salvation," it cannot possibly mean we are going to save ourselves. Rather, like what confronted the Israelites when God opened the way to their physical salvation from slavery in Egypt, we should be ready to make God's spiritual salvation practical and operational. Paul does not say we must work for salvation, but rather carry our salvation out to its conclusion. He uses "work out" in much the same sense as when a student is told to work out an arithmetic problem—to bring it to its conclusion. For us, the conclusion, the goal, to work toward is Christ-likeness. The salvation here is sanctification, victory over sin unto holiness.
To make it very plain, if we want to be one with Him, we must get moving in the direction He is pointing, and He points toward His standards of conduct and attitude. Each person's walk is not exactly the same because each person's experience and makeup are somewhat different. There is enough similarity among humans, though, to make the Bible always relevant.
One of the beautiful things about this is that each person's walk toward the image of God is exactly right for him. What is more, Philippians 2:13 also says God gives us both the will and power or energy to do it! The New Testament in Modern Speech renders it, "For it is God Himself whose power creates within you both the desire and the power to execute His gracious will." This work of God in us is another aspect of His grace, and without it, we could never be one with Him.
God Himself produces in us both the desire to live righteously and the effective energy to do so. He does not demand what we cannot do (I Corinthians 10:13). We see in Philippians 2:12 our responsibility and in verse 13 help to accomplish it.
We can see this working together with God in simple illustrations from physical life. We may launch a sailboat upon the water, but it takes what God supplies, wind, to make it move. We may plant vegetable seeds, but it is the power of God in nature that makes the plant grow and produce food. We may generate gigawatts of electricity in power plants, but God provides the wind, water, sunlight, coal, oil, or gas to turn the turbines. In each case, we add something to what God already supplied.
Our salvation is something already given because it is God's will, and He is sovereign. We, though, must do something to make it practical by applying ourselves to salvation's demands. Even in this, God enables us to do it!
We will never know where the dividing line is between what God supplies and what we are responsible to do because it is different for each according to God's purpose. This proportion must be different because each person is different, and He is preparing us for different responsibilities within His Family. This is sure, however: Our walk toward salvation will always be difficult enough to be challenging and edifying.
Even here the analogy of Israel in the wilderness comes to our aid. Where did Israel get the energy to walk across the wilderness to the Promised Land? Did it not come from the manna and water God supplied, as well as the vision and hope of the inheritance which He also provided? Still, Israel walked! They had to work, to cooperate.
The verb "work" in Philippians 2:12 is in a tense that indicates continuous working. Just as Israel did not leave Egypt and arrive in the Promised Land in one step, neither are our salvation and oneness with God accomplished at once. It, too, is a process; it is our life's work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
All in All
These verses make it clear Paul believed in works. God lays the responsibility upon us to work in partnership with Him as He works with and in us. The purpose of this work is not to earn salvation, but to allow God to do His creative labors in us and test us. He wants us to be prepared for His Kingdom, and at the same time, He wants us to glorify Him through the witness of our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Three): Hope
Notice how many active words Paul uses in Colossians 3:1-17 to describe what a Christian must be doing:
- "Seek those things which are above" (verse 1).
- "Set your mind on things above" (verse 2).
- "Put to death your members" (verse 5).
- "Put off all these" (verse 8).
- "Do not lie to one another" (verse 9).
- "Put on tender mercies" (verse 12).
- "Bearing with one another, and forgiving" (verse 13).
- "Put on love" (verse 14).
- "Let the peace of God rule . . . and be thankful" (verse 15).
- "Let the word of Christ dwell in you" (verse 16).
- "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (verse 17).
Paul makes sure we understand that we must actively participate in order to grow. When God talks about growth, He means increasing in His attributes, the qualities that will conform us to His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of GraceRelated Topics: Doers of the Law | Doing Good | God's Image | Grace | Growth | Mortify the Flesh | Overcome Evil with Good | Overcoming | Overcoming, Mankind's Participation in | Seeking God | Seeking God's Righteousness | Seeking Good | Spiritual Growth | Spiritual Growth, Process of | Spiritual Maturity | Spiritual Maturity, Process of | Work Out Salvation | Works | Works as Evidence of Growth | Works of the Law | Works, Christ's Emphasis Upon | Works, Judgment According to | Works, Paul's Emphasis Upon | Works, The Necessity of Good
It is obvious that those who do not walk God's way (that is, they are not living God's way, according to His law) will receive God's judgment. The positive side is that God does know how to save His people. Clearly, they are distinguished from the others by the way they live.
Remember Ephesians 2:10: We were created in Christ Jesus for good works, and we are to walk in them. We are also, according to Philippians 2:12, to work out our own salvation. The doing of works proves that one is "with the program." He is growing and changing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Sixteen)