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Posts Tagged ‘Works’

While Scripture passages such as Romans 8:31-39 assure us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, there is always the temptation for us to accept God’s eternal salvation in which our sins are forgiven and we are assured a place in heaven, yet be reluctant to go deeper in our walk with Jesus because he might demand too much of us in this life.

We enjoy the benefits of our Christian faith and participate occasionally in church events—Sunday services, Easter and Christmas celebrations, weddings, baptisms, funerals or memorials—but often avoid commitments that demand more of us than we are willing to give.

Unwilling to move out of our comfort zone, we give minimally of our time, our resources, and ourselves to God, the church, and to others, leaving the bulk of God’s Kingdom work to the very few dedicated souls among us.

To all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, he says, as he did to his disciples:

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49; see also Matt. 7:24-27)

Jesus is not comparing Christians and unbelievers, but two types of Christians—those who listen to his teachings and obey them, and those who listen to his teachings but do not obey them.

What we do with the words of Jesus—especially his Sermon on the Mount teachings about the characteristics of being his disciples (Matthew 5-7)—determines how we respond to life’s hurricanes of crises:

• Obedience to Christ’s teachings creates a strong foundation that will withstand life’s crises.

• Disobedience to Christ’s teachings inevitably leads to major collapses amid life’s crises.

While life’s storms and hurricanes are sure to strike every one of us at some time or another, obedience leads to protection in the midst of these crises. Disobedience doesn’t.

When we read Matthew 5-7 and understand what Jesus teaches and what he calls us to become and to do as his followers, we soon realize that he is calling us to be a unique people whose values are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems.

For example:

• Jesus calls us to both care for people who are poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, and be willing ourselves to be poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, for to such belong the kingdom of God. However, those who are not poor in spirit—the proud, the self-assured, the powerful, the arrogant—are not in God’s kingdom.

• Jesus blesses those who are gentle, meek, and lowly. But the world rejects such qualities as weakness, and places no value on such people.

• Jesus teaches us to seek God’s praise. The world teaches to seek its praise.

• Jesus calls us to seek the Father’s eternal treasures. The world entices us with money, fame, and earthly success that soon fade.

• Jesus calls us to purity of heart and truth. The world persecutes the pure of heart and opposes the truth.

How seriously do we consider such teachings of Jesus? Do we see them as impractical in today’s fast-paced, complex, and sophisticated world? Do we see them as unrealistic? Irrelevant? Too hard?

Or do we, like Peter, consider Jesus’ teachings and respond, “Lord, you alone have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Yes, through the love, grace, and mercy of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior, we have eternal life—now and forever. And yes, we have Jesus’ assurance that no one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28).

But we must never forget that not only do the words of Jesus give eternal life, they also contain many warnings to those of us who are prone to ignore them.

There is grace in “once saved always saved,” but there is also the caveat: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

The Christian journey, therefore, involves the duality of living with both certainty and caution; assurance of eternal salvation and warnings; balancing God’s gift of grace with our individual responsibility to live obediently in response to that grace.

This duality is expressed beautifully by the New Living Translation of Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul writes:

“Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”

May we embrace the duality of following Jesus as today’s disciples—assured of our salvation but always careful to live obediently with deep reverence and fear.

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Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian Christians to work out their own salvation (Phil. 2:12) might seem as if he were encouraging them to earn salvation through their works—their own efforts and good deeds.

This would appear to contradict his statement to the Christians in Rome, to whom he emphasized salvation through faith:

“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith . . .” –Romans 3:27-28 (New Living Translation, NLT)

However, there is no contradiction, for while it is God who creates a desire in our hearts for him (Phil. 2:13), and offers the gift of salvation to us through the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ, it is we who must believe in Jesus and participate in the fulfillment of our salvation through him.

James, the brother of Jesus, certainly sees no contradiction when he says, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” (James 2:18, NLT)

Paul sees salvation as a process that occurred in the past, continues in the present, and will be completed in the future:

Past:

“It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!” –Ephesians 2:5

“God saved you by his special favor when you believed.” –Ephesians 2:8

Present continuous:

“I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God.” –1 Corinthians 1:18. (NLT)

Past & Future:

“And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.” –Romans 5:8-9 (NLT)

Since we have been saved, are being saved, and will experience God’s complete salvation when Christ returns to establish his eternal Kingdom, Paul encourages us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling—or as the NLT translates it:

“. . .you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.” —Phil. 12b-13

This is not the fear and trembling of a slave cowering under a brutal master, but the reverence and awe of a grateful person whose sins have been forgiven by a loving God, but who knows only too well how prone the human heart is to stray from that loving God. It is a healthy fear of disappointing God, for as Robert Robinson wrote in the third verse of his hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O, take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.

If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit how easily our hearts and desires tempt us to wander away from our Savior. This should create in us an earnest and reverent fear—not of losing our salvation, for that cannot be lost (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:31-39)—but a fear of losing the joy of our salvation and disappointing the God who loves and redeemed us.

This is the kind of fear and trembling with which King David pleaded to have the joy of his salvation restored after he strayed from God over his adultery with Bathsheba:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a right spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me again the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to sinners,
and they will return to you.”
–Psalm 51:10-13 (NLT)

It is this awareness and reverent fear that should keep us daily working to complete the process of our salvation, ever more careful to put into action God’s saving work in our lives. Paul gives several ways in which we can work out our salvation:

• Obey God with deep reverence and fear, for God is already working in us the desire to obey him—and gives us the power to do what pleases him. (Phil. 2:13)

• In every thing we do, stay away from arguing and complaining, especially in our churches (Phil. 2:14a)

• Live morally clean, innocent lives so that no one can criticize us because of sin or evil in our lives (Phil. 2:14b)

• Let the light of Christ shine brightly through us in the way we live (Phil. 2:14c)

• Hold firmly to the Word of Life, the Scriptures—so that we can be examples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all around us (Phil. 2:16)

• Live in the full joy of the Lord, for he is coming back soon (Phil. 4:4-5)

• Don’t worry about anything. Instead, we are to pray about everything, telling God what we need, and thanking him for what he has done, for in doing so, we’ll experience God’s peace (Phil. 4:6-7)

• Fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, and right, things that are pure, lovely, and admirable (Phil. 4:8)

As we begin these opening days of 2013, may our lives be filled with the joy of working out our salvation with fear and trembling. And may this beautiful hymn inspire us as we continue on our journey towards full salvation.

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