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 in order to fulfill his good purpose.
On the point of salvation, the Bible offers two truths that seem contradictory at first glance yet turn out to be profoundly complementary.
Truth #1: We cannot work for our salvation.
Truth #2: We must work out our salvation.
Salvation is by grace, which means there is nothing we can do to earn it. It is the free gift of God. Like any gift, it must be freely received. In this case, it must be received by faith. This means we must learn to act as if we have received it.
Salvation is also a responsibility—as in the God-given ability to respond to grace. God works grace into our lives. We must work it out through our lives.
Now, here’s the kicker: though we are sinners, God gives us the power to not sin. We don’t believe this. We base our understanding not on the truth of God’s Word but on our own broken experience.
We are all acting in faith in one way or another. If we are not acting on the faith that sin has lost its power and that we have the power to defeat sin in our lives, it necessarily follows that our faith is not in the power of God but in the power of sin. We perhaps believe Jesus has saved us from the penalty of sin, but we effectively believe that sin still has power. It’s a hard truth to reckon with when we put it this way, which is why we don’t tend to put it this way.
Continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling.
Maybe what we are missing is the fear and trembling part. Perhaps the bumper sticker caption for our time is this one: “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” There’s certainly no “fear and trembling” in that. It’s casual Christianity or easy believes. I think the bumper sticker caption for the New Testament is quite the opposite: “I’m not just forgiven; I’m being made perfect.” Now that’s awe-inspiring. To be clear, this word, perfect, does not mean flawless or without error. It means full, as in the fullness of Jesus Christ, which is the fullness of holy love.
It’s the fear and trembling that are missing. And why fear and trembling?
It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
The fact of God working in us to accomplish his will is awe-inspiring. It’s hard to fathom. A holy and righteous and all-powerful God at work in frail, fragile, sinful human beings? Holy sanctification, Batman!
I’m almost sure I don’t take this seriously enough—the God of the universe working in my everyday, walking-around, Krispy-Kreme–donut-eating life?
To work out our salvation in fear and trembling doesn’t mean to cower in timidity. It means to become increasingly attuned to the living, active presence of God in my body, forming and forging the mind of Christ, filling me with the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Stay with that thought. More on that tomorrow.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who has defeated sin an death. We want to stop living like sin still has power. We need your Spirit to awaken us to a new way of understanding and living. Show us what it means to work this out in our everyday lives. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
- So how about it? Do you believe sin has lost its power or do you believe sin still has its power?
- Are you ready to break free from the arrested development of living like sin is still in power?
- Will you spend the next five minutes meditating over these words: “Jesus, you are alive in me”?
For the Awakening,