The doctrine of “faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort.” This a quote from the Articles of an American denominational creed book.
For centuries there has been a debate about the role of faith and works regarding one’s salvation. Another popular phrase is that salvation is “through faith alone by grace alone.”
What does the Bible say?
In a letter to the Christians at Philippi the apostle Paul wrote, “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” (Phil. 2:12)
It is important to note that Paul did not say “work for your salvation” but rather “work out your own salvation.” None of us can earn salvation. It is indeed by God’s grace. He provided the means and the method through Jesus Christ by which we can be saved (Eph 2:1-10). As the prophet Isaiah said, “All our righteousness are like filthy rags” ((Isa 64:6).
Yet, we cannot stand by complacently and wait for irresistible grace to strike us like lightning. This verse, like many others in the New Testament, speaks to our accountability before God.
We must take personal responsibility for our own attitudes and actions. Our salvation is not a passive thing, but an active life. There are choices between good and evil. Right and wrong. The flesh and the Spirit. We are warned not to give in to “the wiles of the devil.” We must stand strong. And fight the good fight of faith.
“Nowhere in the New Testament is the work of salvation more succinctly stated,” observes commentator William Barclay. The word Paul uses for “work out” is katergazesthai, which Barclay says “always has the idea of bringing to completion. It is as if Paul says: “Don’t stop halfway; go on until the work of salvation is fully wrought out in you.”
The next verse tells us that God is at work in us. But we must work too. We are called to be diligent. To add the Christian graces. To “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). And to “press on.”
We cannot blame our failure to be faithful on others. It’s not the church’s fault. Or the Shepherds’ fault. Or the preacher’s fault. Or my spouse’s fault. Or my parents’ fault. Sure, we are all influenced by people in our lives. And while parents should raise their children in the admonition of the Lord, not all do. The church through the leadership of the Shepherds and ministry of the preacher ought to watch for our souls and provide an atmosphere of spiritual growth. Yet, some churches have failed in that regard. And of all people, our lifelong companion should desire to help us get to heaven, but sadly some are unfaithful to the Lord.
What shall we do in such cases?
“Work out your own salvation.”
You must examine yourself. You must pray. Worship God. Study the Bible. Serve others. Share your faith. And seek spiritual growth. It’s your personal responsibility. No one else can do it for you.
As we face problems and challenges in life that threaten our salvation, we must work them out. Admit them. Face them. And overcome them.
50 years ago in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics John Stephen Akhwari represented Tanzania in the marathon. In the 11th mile of the 26.2-mile race, Akhwari stumbled and fell, severely injuring his knee and ankle. But he kept on running.
Over an hour after the Ethiopian runner, Mamo Wolde had won, Akhwari limped into the Olympic stadium. Only a few thousand spectators were left, but they began to cheer the courageous Tanzanian. Bloodied, bruised and bandaged he grimaced with every step as he completed the final lap of the race.
Later, a reporter asked Akhwari, “Why did you continue the race after you were so badly injured?”
He replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to begin a race; they sent me to finish the race.”
Although Akhwani was the last to finish in 54th place, 75 runners started the race, but 21 did not finish.
God calls us to complete what we have begun. “Work out your own salvation.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman