Work Out Your Own Salvation?

Yes. Why? To borrow a line from Dr. Mark Jones- “because the Bible says so.” But what does it mean to “work out your own salvation?” Some tend to think that it simply means to focus on the Gospel and what Christ has accomplished for sinners to the glory of God. The idea is to reflect upon that and the Spirit will move the sinner towards obedience. While I agree that any sanctification (progressive) in the pursuit of holiness needs to have a sound understanding of the Gospel, justification by faith alone and must do as the author of Hebrews encourages “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). To be sure, there is no such thing as pursuing holiness in sanctification apart from Hebrews 12:2. Yet I do not believe that is all Paul is saying when he writes ,“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” (Phil. 2:12).

So what does it mean to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling? Well I believe it looks like what the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 12:1- “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,.”  That is to say that personal holiness in the life of believers is a deliberate, willful and conscious effort to eliminate sin in their lives; as empowered by the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, as justified sinners declared righteous by virtue of Christ’s perfect law-keeping life. It is to “mortify the flesh,” ” to be killing sin,”and to be actively doing as Peter says “…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Pe. 1:5-9).

 

At this moment I will now turn it over to Matthew Poole to elaborate on Philippians 2:12-13.

“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.”

Poole writes:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed: having confirmed the example of Christ’s admirable condescension and affection from the glorious issue of it, he doth here reassume his exhortation, with a friendly compellation, commending their former sincere endeavours to obey the gospel (so chap. 1:5, and ver. 15 of this) in following Christ, Matt. 11:28, and moving them to persevere in obedience and love to God and man. Not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence; that it might be evident, whether the eye of their pastor were upon them or no, a prevailing love to Christ, and their own souls’ welfare, was prevalent with them; but especially, being he was now detained from them, and might be jealous of some defects in them, James 3:2; 1 John 1:8, did engage them more than any thing to embrace his exhortation, which he enlargeth in other words. Work out your own salvation: he moves them as saints, chap. 1:1, in whom God would perfect his work begun, ver. 6, having given them to believe and suffer, ver. 29, that they would seriously and earnestly busy themselves in those things, which on their parts are necessary to salvation, as John 6:27; Heb. 6:9, and without which it cannot be had, as chap. 1:10; Matt. 24:13; Col. 3:10, 12, &c.; 1 Tim. 1:18, 19; 6:19; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7, 8; 2 Pet. 3:17; yea, press on in the way to their own salvation, as he moved, 1 Tim. 4:16, not that they should not be solicitous about others, for that mutual care is implied, as elsewhere required, Heb. 3:13; 10:24; but that every one should strenuously go on towards the mark with a special regard to himself, and the temptations he may meet with, knowing he must bear his own burden, Gal. 6:1, 5, and therefore should take heed lest he fall. The papists’ arguings hence that our actions are sufficient and meritorious causes of salvation, are altogether inconsequent. For the apostle doth not say our actions work out salvation, but, Work out your own salvation, which is much different. It were absurd to say, because the Jews were enjoined to eat the passover with loins girt, that loins girt were eating of the passover. Indeed, what the papists urge is contrary to this doctrine of Paul, who doth elsewhere place blessedness in remission of sins, and shows eternal life is the gift of God, Rom. 4:6, 7; 6:23; and we are saved by grace, not of works, Rom. 3:20, 24, 25; 4:16; Eph. 2:8; Tit. 3:5; and contrary to the main scope of the apostle, which is to beat down pride and conceit of deserving, and persuade to humility. He drives at this, that we should not be idle or lazy in the business of salvation, but work together with God, (yet as instruments, in whom there is no strength which is not derived from him,) that we may evidence we do not receive his grace in vain, 2 Cor. 6:1, 2. But this co-operation doth not respect the acquiring or meriting of salvation, which is proper to Christ alone, and incommunicable to any others, Acts 4:12, who cannot be said to be their own saviours: this co-operation, or working out, respects only the application, not the performing of the payment, which Christ hath abundantly perfected: but the embracing of the perfect payment, is not that which can be the cause and foundation of right for which it is deservedly conferred; but only the way and means by which we come to partake of salvation. With fear and trembling; i. e. with a holy care to do all acceptably: he doth by these two words mean not any servile fear and slavish despondency, arising from doubting, chap. 4:4, but only a serious, filial fear, implying a deep humility and submissiveness of mind, with a reverential awe of the Divine Majesty, and a solicitude to avoid that evil which is offensive to him and separates from him. We find these words used to the like import, Psal. 2:11; Dan. 5:19; 6:26; Rom. 11:20; with 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 6:5; connoting that, after the example of Christ, we should be humble, and though we distrust ourselves, yet we are to trust solely to God, (as an infant may be afraid, and yet cling fast to and depend upon, begging help of, the parent, going over a dangerous precipice,) for the accomplishment of our salvation.

13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
That they might not be negligent in working out their salvation with humility, from any conceit or carnal confidence any might have that they could believe and repent when they pleased, imagining their wills to be as pliable to good as evil; the apostle urgeth the effectual grace of God, as a powerful inducement and encouragement to embrace his exhortation. For it is God which worketh in you: they should not despond of any attaining salvation, or think they did labour in vain in the diligent use of means, and should altogether fall under the dominion of sin, considering, though they were free agents, yet the efficiency and sufficiency was of God, Rom. 6:13, 14; 1 Cor. 4:7; 2 Cor. 3:5; who worketh within them powerfully and effectually, carrying on the work through all difficulties and obstacles, with victorious efficacy, till it be wrought, chap. 1:6; Isa. 41:4; Heb. 13:20, 21: God worketh not only by suasion to gain assent, but by a special energy effecting what he would have us to do. Both to will: and not only in a general way, Acts 17:28, but in a special way, making us willing, Psal. 110:3, remotely in regard of the principle, nextly in regard of the act: circumcising the heart, Deut. 30:6; taking away the heart of stone, and giving a heart of flesh, Ezek. 11:19; 36:26, 27; causing light to shine out of darkness, 2 Cor. 4:6; and so renewing the will, to choose that which is savingly good, the natural bent of which, before the influence of this insuperable grace, stands another way, John 8:44, viz. to will and do contrary: yet he doth not necessitate by any compulsion, but powerfully, yet sweetly, and suitably to man’s free faculty, incline the will to that which is good, John 6:37, 44, i. e. to a certain effect. For the will influenced to will that it doth perform, it undoubtedly wills somewhat that is certain, and so is determined by God. And to do; to do that which is savingly good. Whereupon being made willing, it hath not only an inclination, and doth not only exert a woulding, but, being moved by God’s insuperable grace, 1 Cor. 3:7, that will is effectual, and is the very deed, where the command of the will is executed to the glory of God, as the author. As in alms, not only doth God incline the will to relieve the poor, but further contributes special gracious aids to perform what was deliberated, which evinceth that it is from another principle than ourselves. It is not, that ye may be able to will, and may be able to do; but he worketh both to will and to do: which connotes the very act itself; that ye will to believe, obey, pray, persevere, and that ye do believe, obey, pray, persevere: of unwilling, he makes willing; and further, to will and to do. It is true, to will, as it is an act of the will, is ours by creation; and to will well is so far ours, we being made effectually willing by God’s grace: yet not ours, as though of ourselves we begin to will, or go on, but it is of him who worketh in us. Not that we cannot will well, but that of ourselves we cannot will well. The precept therefore requiring our obedience does not show what we can or will of ourselves, but what we ought to will and to do by God’s special help. But though God work in us obedience, yet we obey, we ourselves act, being acted of God. Of his good pleasure; not for any previous disposition in any of us, but of, or according to, his own good pleasure, Luke 10:21; Eph. 1:5, 9, 11; 2:8; 2 Thess. 1:11, with 2 Tim. 1:9. In working out our own salvation, the very beginning in the will, as well as the perfection, is ascribed to the efficacy of God; his good pleasure is the procreating and helping cause of this work on the will, and not the will’s good pleasure.”*

 

*Poole, M. (1853). Annotations upon the Holy Bible (Vol. 3, pp. 691–692). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.

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