“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.” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV)
Grace is a hallmark of Christianity. Grace says we don’t earn God’s favor by what we do, by working for it. Grace says, in the words of that most famous verse, John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” The saving love of God is a gift.
So we are drawn to God by grace. And we are forgiven and reconciled with God by grace. Where once there was estrangement from God because we rejected God’s rule in our lives, now we find relationship. Where once there was condemnation because of our moral failures, now we find forgiveness. Where once there was brokenness due to the impact of our own and others’ sin upon our lives, now we find healing and restoration.
Since grace rules, what do we make of Paul’s instructions here to “work out your own salvation”? After all, Paul says elsewhere that we are saved by grace and not by works. What’s going on here?
Salvation–restoration in Christ–isn’t something we work to gain. But it is something that must be worked into the whole of one’s life. God intends to restore in us His own image in which we were created. Maybe we’re like a lump of dough that God has added Gospel yeast to. And it takes some kneading to work that yeast all the way through. Or perhaps we’re like a plain piece of wooden furniture that God is finishing with a beautiful stain to complete the project. It takes thorough application to be sure that beautiful Gospel is stained all the way through.
We participate with God’s grace by working at our spiritual life. We engage in spiritual disciplines and intentional practice of Christian ethics in order to get the Gospel–the transformational grace of Jesus Christ–all the way through and into us. Every nook and cranny of our heart, mind, and soul needs and receives a full infusion of Jesus. And we find that as we “work out” the implications of God’s saving grace, we’re not doing so because we’re confident our efforts will do the trick. It’s better than that. We do so because “it is God who works in you.”
We work, not because we make the difference. We work because there is something about our participation that God has deemed critical to the whole project of restoring the image of God in us.
But instead of our efforts releasing our ability, our engagement unleashes the power of God.
Prayer: Jesus, today I put forth effort to live fully in you and to live out the Gospel, not trusting in my works or abilities, but in your promised power. Amen.