Sunday, August 31, 2014

Philippians 2: Work out Your Salvation



Phil 2:1-13 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,  being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 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.

Paul gives many instructions to believers. If we don't put them in its theological context, we become overwhelmed by Paul's new "laws". The key to understanding Paul's injunctions in this chapter (and everywhere else in Paul's letters) is verses 12 & 13: "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. 2:12-13). Paul tells the Philippian church to "work out your salvation... for it is God who works in you". 

What does Paul mean by "salvation"? Elsewhere in Romans 1:16, Paul declares: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." The idea behind the word "salvation" is the "power of God". Salvation has both a past, present and future reality: 
  • PAST: We are saved the moment we placed our trust in Christ--saved out of the Satan's kingdom and transferred into Christ's kingdom: "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:13-14). Believers are  no longer under Satan's power or authority. We can tell him to get off our backs and he has to go!
  • FUTURE: We are also saved from the future wrath of God reserved for all who have chosen to align with Satan and his angels and have remained in his kingdom of darkness: "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Rom 5:9). This future salvation delivers us from the second death in the lake of fire.
  • PRESENT: In today's text, Paul exhorts the Philippians believers to "work out the salvation" that is already theirs. For many believers, salvation is like a passport--to guarantee that we can get through the heavenly customs at the Pearly Gates. So, it is kept away safely until it's time to use it--at our death. So, between conversion, the salvation-passport is inactive and kept in cold storage. But Paul is saying here that salvation is more like a bank account than a passport. Once we are saved from Satan's rule, God has started a current account in our name in heaven (Book of Life) and has given every believer a cheque-book (prayer) whereby we can draw down the riches and resources of heaven to help us live our life consistent with Christ. Every cheque in our cheque-book has been pre-signed by Jesus: we only need to write down the amount we want to cash from the bank of heaven: "Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24). 
So Paul can ask Philippians believers to "have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). This "mind" is the mind of unity, of humility, of love and mutual submission. Because we already have the mind of Christ as part of our salvation, Paul is in effect saying that we are to draw out this "mind of Christ" from our salvation bank account to use in this earthly life. Paul is not asking us to give what we don't have; he is asking us to give what we have in Christ. So, it's not another "law" burden but grace-blessing that is already ours.

This principle of grace-blessing that is already ours in Christ applies to all commandments in the NT: we are not asked to do things we cannot do, but rather we are commanded to work out all the power of God in and through us, for "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." So, God's salvation works in us as we work it out.

Father, thank You for Your great salvation that You have bestowed upon us. You have blessed us with the power of transformation. Grant us faith and understanding to translate what is ours by right to become what is ours in experience. Amen.

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