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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Work Out Your Own Salvation

As I was thinking about doing an article on this famous passage from the book of Philippians (Phil. 2:12-13) I first did a little Google research to see if anyone else had done so and if so to see what they were saying.  I did find a couple of authors whose work I took a look at.  It seemed to me like both had worked themselves almost into a frenzy trying to deny what the passage clearly states; a person must work out his/her own salvation.  One denied the Greek was correctly translated and made his argument on that basis.

Let me quote the Philippians passage to you so we will have it before us and know what it says. 

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now 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 do for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13 NKJV)

Is this a correct translation of the Greek text?  It is according to the American Standard Version of 1901, the English Standard Version, the Holman Christian Standard, the Christian Standard, the International Standard Version, the New International Version, the King James, the New King James, the New American Standard, the New American Standard Update, the NET, and the Revised Standard Version.  There were a vast number of Greek scholars behind these translations so I think the question as to whether or not the text has been correctly translated has been answered.  An argument based on the idea of a mistranslation holds no water.

The other man I was reading after based his argument on verse 13, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure.” (NKJV)  His idea seemed to be that it is not  us working out our salvation but rather God; it is God working, him moving us.  Well, as the kids would say, “Duh!”  How does that negate us working out our own salvation?

Of course, God is working in us to work, to will to do his will, and to do his pleasure.  That is the way it works and always has.  How does he do it?  He does it through his word.  We hear his word and it moves us to obey.  The Spirit of God gave the word, there is power in the word of God (Heb. 4:12), the word is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), it (the word) is the tool the Spirit uses to move us. 

Take the word of God away and there is no work of faith for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17), there is no obedience for there is nothing to obey without the word, there is no works of righteousness (“all your commandments are righteousness”--Psalm 119:172 NKJV), there is no man who works righteousness (obeys God’s commands).  Man is to walk uprightly and work righteousness (Psalm 15:2) if he is to abide in the tabernacle of the Lord according to the Psalmist.

To say that a man is to work righteousness, which means only that he is to obey God’s commands, is a vast cry from saying that man is saved by works or that he is working his way to heaven or trying to get there by works apart from grace.  Man has his choice.  He can either work righteousness or he can work unrighteousness and he will do one or the other as there is no third option.  A man is either going to try and obey (try to be righteous) or else he is going to be disobedient (unrighteous).  It is an either-or matter.

Which of these two men do you think will get to heaven?  Which is going down the difficult way Jesus spoke of that leads to life?  “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:14 NKJV)  Is it the man who is unconcerned about righteousness or the man who is very concerned about it?  It is easy to be a sinner; it is difficult to live a holy, righteous life, an obedient life.

Let us take a look at the larger context of our passage (Phil. 2:12-13) starting in Philippians 2:8 where the text is speaking of Jesus and says, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (NKJV)  The next verse, verse 9, starts with the word “therefore” meaning it ties back to verse 8, “Therefore” (because of this act of obedience by Jesus--DS) God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9 NKJV)

But, now note how verse 12, the first verse of our text (Phil. 2:12-13) begins.  It begins with our word “therefore” again meaning all of this has been tied in together thus the broader context within which Philippians 2:12-13 is found.  Jesus was obedient to death (verse 8).  Paul says the Philippians “have always obeyed” (Philippians 2:12).  His admonition then, taken in context, to “work out your own salvation” is an admonition to continue to obey God’s commands in his absence as they always had in his presence.  And, that is what Jesus had always done – obey God’s commands.

But, one must remember this was a choice they could make--to do or not to do.  God was working in them toward this end (via his word) but the admonition has no meaning if God was forcing them to do it.  That is the position they put themselves in who say we are not under any obligation to work out our own salvation--when they say salvation is totally in God’s hands and man has no role to play in it.  The admonition of Paul in our passage is meaningless if it is all left up to God.

God’s word can never be destroyed.  James' statement in James 2:24 will stand for eternity.  “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (NKJV)  That has always been true and always will be.  Man has things he must do if he is to be saved.  The responsibility is not all on God and God alone. 

“He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)  Obedience is to righteousness. (Rom. 6:16)  Jesus says we will be judged by his word (John 12:48).  Are there any commandments in his word?  “He who does not love me does not keep my words.” (John 14:24 NKJV)  Can you go to heaven not loving Jesus?  “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed.” (1 Cor. 16:22 NKJV)  “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3 NKJV)

Peter in quoting Moses’ prophecy regarding Christ in Acts 3 says in verse 23, “And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” (NKJV)  That makes it clear to me.  “Utterly destroyed” are the words.  Who will be utterly destroyed--those who will not hear (meaning heed or obey) his words.  Remember the entire New Testament is the words of Jesus for Jesus himself said of the Holy Spirit who inspired men to write, “He will not speak on his own authority … he will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-14 NKJV) 

How men can say we are not to work out our own salvation I simply do not understand.  Obedience does matter and you cannot go to heaven without it.  However, you can be “utterly destroyed” from among the people without it. 

For those convinced that what I have said makes us work our way to heaven hear Jesus.  “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants.  We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10 NKJV)  If you are an unprofitable servant then certainly you are saved by grace for if you are unprofitable you are also unworthy.   

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