Summary: Some folks think we have to work for our salvation. Maybe we’re saved by grace, but we stay saved by our works. Big mistake.
Sermon for CATM – October 5, 2008 – “Working Out Your Salvation”
Last week Pastor Bill Ryan did a splendid job of helping us understand the first 11 verses of chapter two of Philippians. I was thrilled actually, because Bill really did an amazing job…superb theology and superb application…making it relevant to our lives. Your reflections also showed that you appreciated what Bill shared.
And because the passage we’re looking at today follows directly from last week’s Scripture and service, I want to quickly review a bit of what Bill talked about. Bill helped us to understand Paul’s call to the church at Philippi to humility was rooted in the profound humility of Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the Lord of Creation, the sustainer of every created thing. He is the Alpha and Omega. He is the Almighty, the glorious resurrected Lord of Glory whose sacrifice for us won us salvation. [PPT] Eph 1:7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”.
And yet Jesus, who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, made Himself nothing. Your Creator, the Creator of every microbe and human and human genome and every star system and every one of the bazillion galaxies, became a helpless human infant.
He laid aside the qualities and attributes of his Deity, the things that all-too obviously identified Him as God, and became one of us. Liable to be misunderstood. Without a place to rest His head.
Thought of as a rebel, a traitor to Rome and even, by those who really, truly and grandiosely missed the point, Jesus was accused of being demon-possessed (Jn 8:48).
So that’s the framework of the call to humility that we find earlier in this chapter of Philippians. Now we read that in light of all this, in light of Christ’s humility (2:1-11) and in light of the call that you and I have on our lives to personal humility modeled on that of Jesus, we read that we are to “work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling”.
First off, I’d like to address a common misunderstanding. Sometimes when we’re reading…anything, really, we will substitute a word that’s not there for a word that is there.
That’s why sometimes when we’re reading we go, “Hunh?”, only to find that when we re-read we come to a clearer understanding. A common misreading of this passage is to substitute “work out” with “work for”.
When we make that error, we then think the scripture is telling us that we need to ‘work for our salvation with fear and trembling’. That of course, is a few things.
It’s terrifying…because we then think we have to work for our salvation…we get into that age-old rut of trying to balance the good things we do with the bad things we do, and the climate we are to do that in is one of petrifying fear of God that leaves us nervous wrecks.
This way of thinking, of course, negates the gospel of God’s grace entirely and makes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross meaningless.
It actually removes Jesus from the scene entirely, except as a holy Coach who by his example tries to show us how to live so that we can get on God’s good side and then, maybe, if we get all our ducks lined up in a row, maybe, we get to be with God in eternity.
So that error is, actually, terrifying. It’s also grossly unbiblical. I would hope that if anyone here leans toward that misunderstanding, you would today find freedom in Christ to walk away from that sort of understanding which is, at its heart, unbiblical.
And that’s the second thing that this misreading of Scripture is: unbiblical. To suggest that we can acquire salvation through works is to ignore some pretty potent passages of Scripture, like for instance [PPT] Isaiah 64:6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away”.
Of course the antidote to the misreading of Scripture is an accurate reading of the Word of God. Ephesians 2 says: 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
And Romans 5 says this: 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Barbara and I have been happily married for 21 years. Now, we were married on September 26, 1987. We said “yes”, when asked if we take each other as man and wife. We received each other as husband and wife.