Philippians 2:12-13 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 according to his good purpose.
One of the major tensions of the life of faith is the matter of God’s part and our part in it all. On the one hand, we are utterly powerless to save ourselves. That’s why Paul proclaimed, so rightly and clearly, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) The flip side of that is that we have genuine free will, and will not be saved without responding to God’s free and generous offer. It’s that matter of response that Paul is referring to in the last part of verse 12. We are responsible to keep pressing in to God, choosing to obey Him and thus growing in our love for Him. The good news is that God is helping us in that big time, as it says so famously in verse 13. That’s why when we manage to get something right there’s no room for boasting, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians. Rather, we should be grateful to God for enabling us to desire and to do what was right in the first place, but we probably would not have done on our own. When we choose to submit to God in faith, He works in our heart to desire what He desires, and not what our flesh and the devil desire. As that happens, we become free to do what we want, because we will want what God does. Augustine of Hippo famously said, “Love God and do as you please.” When our love for God is as it should be, we will desire only what He does!
I have dealt with this conflict for as long as I can remember. I have demonstrated countless times that my love for Christ is not yet perfect, as I have chosen other than what He desired of and for me, but I am encouraged to see that God is continuing to work in me. I declared my love for Jesus as early as five years old, but as the little chorus says, “But how much I love Thee, my actions will show.” As James stressed in his letter, words without actions mean very little. I am not to stop expressing my love for Jesus, either to Him or to those around me, but I am to keep growing in my follow-through, acting out my love on every level. That’s what Paul meant by “working out my salvation.” I am saved by God’s grace, but I am responsible to express that salvation in every area of my life, with the help of God.
Father, thank You for this reminder. These days I feel somewhat torn apart, with so many different calls on my time and attention. Help me focus first on You, so that I may then be able to do Your will in each situation and task, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!