Work Out My Salvation? Really?
I stepped on the scale this morning after a week of travel. Up two pounds.
In the past, I would first beat myself up. Then I would move to denial, convincing myself that my scale was somehow wrong. After some comparisons, I found out my scale actually weighed me a little lighter than a completely accurate one. So, I would tell myself that these unwelcome 32 ounces were transient.
So, I moved on to rationalization. I would replay in my mind that I had exercised. I would tell myself I had been pretty good about what I ate.
That was in the past.
Today, I take my medicine. I have learned to stop viewing it as bad news. I have learned to stop rationalizing and take the news as powerful information.
You might ask, “Why all the fuss?” After all, it is just a few pounds.
That is a reasonable question. And, truth be told, if this were a random occurrence, then I could just as easily be down two pounds next week.
However, experience tells me I can quickly establish a trend in the wrong direction!
Trends are important. In our lives, we often start doing something a few times a week, then it becomes daily, even hourly. We need to ask if our trend is going to bring us to the destination we desire.
Therefore, let’s ask the question, “How am I doing as far as following—living for—Jesus? What’s my trend?”
Today we read “work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
It is a way of challenging people to reflect on their walk with the Lord (you might say, their trend).
Before we go further, I know some followers of Jesus get confused by this verse.
When you find yourself getting confused by a verse, here is what I suggest.
First, identify what is confusing you. In this case, at first glance, perhaps this verse goes against what you thought you understood about salvation. You might be asking:
Second, after you have grounded yourself, look for places in Scripture which might help. In this instance, let’s move from the word salvation to the word judged.
You and I will be judged, 1 Cor. 11:32, Romans 14:10-11. The Bible says we will be judged. We will not be judged with the rest of the world. We will not be judged for our sins. We will be judged as to how we have run this race, and be rewarded. In fact, the Bible has quite a bit to say about followers of Jesus be rewarded.
Third, think about the larger context. I just wrote, “…the Bible has quite a bit to say about followers of Jesus…” The larger context is that this letter is a written to believers. Compare that to how many of times Jesus is addressing the religious of his day, or people who are chasing after him for food. The audience and the context matters.
The Letter to the Philippians is one that communicates great joy in their church, and it encourages them to have confidence in God, and to have humility in themselves. These themes stand out in a BIG way. This letter does not want the folks in Philippi, or us, to be spectators in life, taking for granted that “they/we are saved.” That would be the opposite of humility.
When we are humble about what God has done for and in us, we live as grateful followers of Jesus. We are active in our faith.
It is not just this letter which encourages us to live this way. The Scriptures reveal that God wants us to actively follow him. He will judge us and reward us. (For a very comprehensive article about this judgment and reward of Christ’s followers, complete with footnotes, click here.)
Accepting Jesus is about more than saying a prayer once in your life, so you can “get to heaven”. And here I am walking a line. My words are not meant to judge you—they are reminders to me. My job is not to judge others. In this writing though, my job is, as clearly as possible, to tell you what I believe God’s Word is teaching—and invite you to search God’s Word.
I believe God’s Word clearly teaches that following Jesus is the best way for us to have a real life—now and eternally. I believe God’s Word clearly teaches that if we claim to follow Jesus, then Jesus will give us feedback on how we are doing and how we did. I believe God’s Word, today, is functioning as a source of encouragement, telling me, “Come on David, run the race, you can do this, a prize awaits you at the end.”
And so, as I step off the scale, receiving its feedback, I have been given some information, and I know what I need to do today in order to stay the course. On good days, I’ve stopped beating myself up. I’ve stopped denying. I’ve stopped rationalizing. I simply receive the information and press on.