Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Christian Life Is a Balance of My Work and God Working in Me

Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

There is a danger in reading these two verses separately. One leads you to believe that your salvation depends upon your work alone. The other turns the tables and says it's all God's doing. I believe Paul meant them as one statement. I don't know what the formula was for dividing up verses but these two need to be kept together.

Paul commends the Philippians. He has observed their obedience. He exhorts them to continue. The word translated "work out" means to bring a task to completion. It can be compared to working out the plans for a house. The architect has drawn up the plans but the ones building it have to bring it into reality.

The word for salvation is not speaking of justification but of sanctification. Sanctification is the refining process in which we are presented before the Lord. That is why Paul speaks to them in:

 Philippians 1:6 (ESV) 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Paul has not changed his mind. He is still speaking of sanctification when in this salvation. Too many people believe that all they need is justification. They do not realize that sanctification should be the expected goal of those who identify with Christ. Too many believe they can check a box at their church and go to heaven. They do not realize that God isn't finished with us when we say we believe. We are making a commitment that lasts for eternity. We haven't truly identified with Him in justification if we have not committed to Him in sanctification. Thus, many people are like those mentioned in Matthew 7. They will call Him Lord and point at their works but will not have salvation because He never knew them. They said the right things, did the right things but never identified with Him in justification. They thought they were working for the salvation that no amount of work could buy.

The fear and trembling mentioned here is not a terror of God. Truly He is an awesome God and being in His presence should never be taken lightly but the blood of Jesus soothes His wrath against us. No, the fear and trembling is in our own walk. We have such clay feet that we can stumble at any moment. We should continually watch our steps- not only in fear of our own sins but in fear of disobedience to His calling.

Then, Paul balances our own efforts with those of God working in us. Kenneth Wuest said: "It is not a 'let go and let God' affair. It is a 'take hold with God' business. The Christian life is not a life in which we are fully responsible for determining what God wants us to do but one in which the Christian listens and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what God is calling him to do. The "well done" we long for in eternity comes from a life which so loves Him and wants to please Him that it listens for His will each day and sets out to do that will in His power.

The Christian life is a balance and we have a hard time with balance. When we find too much of anything as wrong our first reaction is to ban that action altogether. Thus, the balance in the Christian life is something we must always keep in mind. I am working out my salvation (sanctification) but I am not working for my salvation (justification). I am depending upon God to work in me and working in obedience for my Lord.

It is easy be tipped over when you have to balance.


Anthony Chia said...

While traditionally, we are taught to look at salvation as comprising justification and sanctification, I have found myself rarely using the word, sanctification. Your article has promoted me to consider afresh why I have been using the word, justification, but not so, the word, sanctification, as much. You of course, know that I talked much about the Christian life journey. I have tended to use many words when the word, sanctification, might have covered it all.

After some pondering, I come to this:

1. I am from an Anglican Church, and Anglicans are taught along this line: After being justified, a believer embarks on a sanctification journey, where works are key. In other words, we are sanctified into works, and we are being sanctified in works. Sanctification is about being perfected in holiness. We are being set apart for works, and through works, we are being developed of holiness. When we grow and advance in holiness, God would set us apart for even greater works. Justification, goes without saying, is based on faith.

2. Then why have I not used the word, sanctification, instead, often using many words to tell about the needs to be engaging in works or good works?! One reason is that I have come to know there are others who, though use the word, sanctification, but they did not understand it the way the Anglicans were taught! For example, those inclined towards Calvinism argue that sanctification is sovereignly done by God to a believer regardless the willingness of the believer; the person has no part, or his free-will has no part, and so, works does NOT feature in Calvinistic sanctification. Actually, many people believe Calvinism as "gospel truth"! I don't think all of the TULIP (5 pillars) of Calvinism is right.

3. The overly grace or hypergrace believers community also vehemently defends the same monergistic doctrine of sanctification. The stance is the same - that justification is 100% by grace, nothing to do with anything done or not done by the person, sanctification, too, is 100% by grace! purportedly NOT anything to do with the volition of men! Apparently, it got nothing to do with us, it is all up to the Holy Spirit indwelling us.

What is the point of me using the word, sanctification, when it is different thing to different people. I cannot identify with the monergistic view, and so, I tended to use many words to explain the synergistic doctrine of sanctification where we work together with the Holy Spirit for the development of our personal holiness. The overly grace believers would say I am mixing grace with law or works to hold such a view; and to them, to put it nicely, "I am out of step with grace", bluntly, it will be, "I fall from grace!" I don't understand why people cannot see it there in Phil 2:12-13, the synergistic view. Overly grace believers and Calvinistic proponents would rather take this stance of, when incongruency is seen, it is NOT the man doing evil but he is acting outside of his character; in other words, the man is NOT being himself! He is NOT being true to who he is! Isn't this the common excuse you hear when perpetrator of all kind of evil deeds, is caught!


Anthony Chia said...

Cont. From above

What is character? I think people are wrong to assume character just appeared. Only for God who exists, His character exists; us, men, no, Scripture paints for us character is to be produced or developed - Rom 5:3-4. We got to be honest with ourselves; do you instantly be of a completely transformed character, on being justified? In other words, are you even near to 80% like Jesus, the moment you are justified? How can we say we are out of character, of a character we have not even lived in?

When we are talking about the Christian life, it is still not as weighty an issue to agree if a synergistic doctrine should be adopted, but what if the question is "will a justified person who refuses sanctification to the end, get to live eternal life in Heaven?!" The Catholics would say no (as far as my understanding goes), but what about me, and what about you?

Anthony Chia, high expressions

Prentis McGoldrick said...

We slightly different approach to the manner of salvation. I would say that a person who refuses sanctification has never been justified by identifying with Jesus. I see the work of God in me. I see that I cooperate with that work too. I question if anyone can turn away and live a life so far away from God who has truly given his life to the Lord. I know He holds onto me. I know I hold onto Him. I don't really want to find out if I could become an apostate. I have become a new creation.
On the other hand, I believe their are many people calling themselves Christians because they have made a superficial commitment to the Lord. They have gone through the rituals of their churches and believe nothing else is ever required. I would say that they were never saved.
Anthony, we agree on our observations but only disagree on our motivation. Neither of us would call someone who sets out to live a depraved life a Christian. I say its because they never were Christians; you say its is because they are not continuing in their faith. I really don't think we are all that different.

Anthony Chia said...

You know you will come back with that, the moment I have pressed the enter key to send off the comment. I thought of what I will say if indeed that is your reply.

Here is the thought: well, in that case, maybe there are NOT few churches where the majority are unjustified, the minority are justified!

Anthony Chia, high.expressions