Living Life with God's Irrepressible Joy
People work out for many different reasons. Some want to look buff, others like the feeling of working up a sweat (I have no idea why!), while others want to get stronger and stay fit. No matter the reason, it’s important, especially in our sedentary society, to give our bodies the exercise they need so that they can stay healthy and in top physical shape.
However, our physical bodies are not the only ones that need a workout! Did you know that your spiritual life needs to work out too? Exercising and building up our spiritual muscles is actually more important than working on our physical ones. Here’s what Paul has to say on this matter.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure.”
Before we dig into the meat of this verse, there is one word that is crucial to the overall understanding and context of this message. Therefore. This one word carries much meaning. It means that all that was said before directly relates to what is going to be shared. Or, because of what was just mentioned, this truth is now relevant. So in order to truly grasp the exhortation Paul shares here, we must understand the therefore.
Paul has just finished outlining the amazing humility Jesus expressed by becoming like us and taking on our form, becoming obedient to death, and then His subsequent exaltation. That is the context. Then Paul writes therefore or for this reason, because of all this, since Christ did that, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
That’s the why…now let’s look at the how.
This verse can cause some confusion since we know that salvation is a gift. A gift we can’t and could not earn. The Bible is very clear on that. However, Paul exhorts us and commands us to work out our own salvation. So how does that fit? We cannot earn salvation, so how are we going to work it out?
Here’s an illustration. Someone gives you a car as a gift. You did nothing to earn it or give them cause to think of giving you such an extravagant gift; however, they decide to bless you in that way. What would happen if you never drove it? Would the car be much good to you if you left it in the garage for 20+ years? What would happen to the car if it never got run? Sure, you never bought the car and did nothing to deserve the gift; however, it would be rather foolish to never use it. Also, the giver of the gift would be extremely disappointed if he never saw you driving it.
Likewise, our salvation is a gift from God; however, we do need to use and exercise it. We need to work it out. Remember, our example of physical fitness? In order to keep our physical muscles healthy and working properly, we need to constantly use them. We can’t let them atrophy and become weak, because then they are useless. In the same way, we need to work out our spiritual muscles so that they are fit and ready for service. A marathon runner does not win a marathon without working out and exercising his body. Likewise, we cannot expect to successfully complete this race of faith unless we do some spiritual working out!
Now, there’s one more critical part of this command we must look at: “your own.” Paul commands us to “work out your own salvation.” Not your brother, sister, neighbor or friend. We must exercise and work on our own salvation. We are only responsible for our own spiritual fitness. We cannot exercise someone else’s faith, only our own. This is crucial. We often like to try and “help” others in their spiritual walk. While we can encourage, exhort, and teach all we like, we cannot actually make someone do anything. It’s all up to them. On the flip side, we cannot expect someone else (i.e. our parents, siblings, spouse, or pastor) to exercise our salvation for us. We must take ownership of it. It is our responsibility, our life, and our spiritual health. So don’t forget to work out your own salvation and yours alone!
In closing, because of Christ’s humility and His obedience to the Father in giving us the priceless gift of salvation, we must take that gift and exercise, work it out, and use it. It’s a gift that all can take but few maintain. Therefore, let us not become ungrateful people who squander or leave our gift to atrophy and waste away, but let us take it, strengthen it in our own lives, and use it to the glory of God.