Courage to Work

There's a reason why "fear and trembling" are included.

The Courageous Christian (6)

“[We] must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.”
John 9.4

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. Philippians 2.12, 13

Not by works…
Christians are right to be concerned about confusing the role of works in salvation. Some teachers and preachers give the impression that salvation is something to be worked for, that is, to be earned, by being good enough in one way or another. If you want to be saved, you have to keep certain practices, observe various protocols, or at least be faithful in attending church and giving to the ministry. We’re told – or at least we’re given the impression – that you can’t really be saved unless you persist in such efforts.

But salvation is “not of works”, as Paul insisted (Eph. 2.8, 9). Salvation comes to us as a gift of God. He sends His Spirit – the Encourager – into our hearts, where He performs a miraculous transformation in our soul, illuminating our mind, renewing our heart, and reclaiming our conscience. He comes with the proclamation of the Good News that Jesus has borne the wrath of God for our sins and opened the way to eternal life by grace through faith. The Spirit enables us to understand and embrace this message. By His work in us, we acknowledge God to be our Father and Jesus to be our Lord and Savior (Gal. 4.6; 1 Cor. 2.12; 1 Cor. 12.3). The Spirit Who thus enables our salvation dwells within us to empower us for realizing its benefits. It takes courage to live in the salvation of the Lord, and that’s what the Spirit aims to give us by His work within us.

The gift of salvation is the greatest gift anyone could ever receive. By it our sins are forgiven, and we are released from guilt and shame and the fear of judgment (Rom. 8.1). Salvation brings the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ, and the peace and assurance that accompany that hope. Being saved we see the world differently. We have the joy of the Lord and the ability to give thanks in all things (Phil. 4.6, 7). Our possession of the gift is reinforced, enriched, and made more real each time we read the Scriptures, hear a sermon, or spend time with our Christian friends. We know that we’re going to heaven when we die, and that we will dwell forever in the new heavens and new earth. It’s no wonder Christians worship God as they do.

Salvation is not of works. It is the gift of God. And it is the greatest gift ever given, as anyone who has received it will readily testify.

…but unto them
But salvation is not merely a gift; salvation is also a calling. With the gift of salvation comes a calling to the Kingdom and glory of God, and to seek His Kingdom and righteousness, unto His glory, in everything we do (1 Thess. 2.12; Matt. 6.33; 1 Cor. 10.31). And it is in the pursuit of our salvation as a calling that the works we associate with Christian faith are to be found.

For we have been saved in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph. 2.10). Christians are called to be zealous for good works, ready for them in every situation, and diligent to maintain them throughout the course of their lives (Tit. 2.14; 3.1, 8, 14). Christians take up the life of good works both because we are grateful for the work Jesus has done for us, and the gift of salvation He has bestowed; but also because we cannot help ourselves. The Spirit of God, Who is at work within every Christian, is teaching, shaping, pruning, stretching out in, and transforming believers into the image of Jesus Christ, so that He overflows from us in good works to refresh and renew the world like rivers of living water (2 Cor. 3.12-18; Jn. 7.37-39).

It takes courage to do the good works to which Christians are called, and which we long to do. And that is precisely why the Holy Spirit – the Encourage of the Lord – is at work within us.

Which works?
It takes courage to work out our salvation. Otherwise, why would it entail “fear and trembling”? The works to which Christians are called are not those the rest of the world regards as important. Indeed, the works of the Christian might even be insulting to some people, or at the very least, offensive.

How can that be? The overall rubric defining the good works to which Christians are called is love (1 Cor. 13.13). Who can object to that? Doesn’t everyone want to be loved? Wouldn’t everyone be pleased to have someone show them love, kindness, courtesy, thoughtfulness, consideration, and a helping hand?

Of course they would. Except for one thing.

The Christian call to love our neighbor is attached to the Christian call to love God (Matt. 22.34-40). Loving our neighbors must be motivated by and begin with love for God (Rom. 11.36). We love God because He first loved us. We love Him according to His counsel and instruction, beginning in the Law, and pervading all of Scripture. Loving God we worship Him, seek His glory, and bear witness to Him in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus never did a good work that was not designed to direct people’s attention to God. And for doing so, He was hated, hounded, harassed, and hanged on a cross.

It will take courage to love your neighbor so that God is glorified. Because, frankly, many of our neighbors do not want to hear about God. They don’t want to be held to the requirements of love that God marks out in His Word. They don’t want to think about others. They don’t want to tell the truth or be always honest about things. They don’t want to share with the needy, give up their lascivious entertainments, or be subject to a form of justice that is absolute and unchanging. And above all, they don’t want to be told they must repent of their sins, believe the Gospel, and take up their cross to follow Jesus in lives of good works.

While many will be blessed and grateful for the good you do to them, others will not be so kind. They may find in your good works and witness to Jesus a stench of death to death (2 Cor. 2.16).

And they will be quick to let you know it. Doing good works that point to Jesus and glorify God is going to raise the hackles on some people. You can expect, as you work out your salvation in good works of love, that some people will mock and scorn you, gossip about and avoid you, and perhaps even hold you up to ridicule, try to get you fired, or in other ways insist that you keep your religion to yourself.

Yeah. You’ll need courage to work out your salvation in such a way that your Personal Mission Field is consistently refreshed with and renewed by good works that glorify God and bear witness to the reality of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and ruling over all things according to His Word.

And if you’ll need courage for that, so will your Christian friends and co-workers. You can hope to be encouraged in your calling by them, just as you will want to encourage them in being zealous for, ready with, and constant about the good works that bring glory to God and honor to Jesus Christ.

For reflection
1. How did you come to know the Lord? Briefly summarize the story of how God’s grace came to you in the Gospel.

2. Why must we think of our salvation as both a gift and a calling?
3. What’s the best way to prepare each day for working out your salvation?

Next steps – Transformation: As you pray, ask the Lord to show you ways you can work out your salvation in good works today. At the end of the day, thank Him for specific ways He helped you do so.

T. M. Moore

Resources for the Journey
If you missed our ReVision series, “Which Works?”, you can download all five installments by clicking here. Our book, The Kingdom Turn, can help you better understand why the Gospel is both a gift and a calling. Order your copy by clicking here.

Thanks to our Lord!
Will you join us to give thanks to God for His faithful support of our ministry, and to ask Him whether you should participate in this opportunity? If the Lord moves you to give, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card or through PayPal, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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