Monday, January 19, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 7 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

We receive the free gift of salvation by faith. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

There is nothing that we can do that will obligate the Lord to grant us heaven. If there was something, then we could boast in the achievement. Since no one can, there is no room for boasting, but there is plenty of room for gratitude.

Salvation is a free gift--at least free for us. It cost Jesus plenty. It is a rich gift that not only provides a future home with the Lord, but provides real benefit today while we breathe this creation's air.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (Jeremiah 31:33) 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14)

You can read the Bible and believe what it says about God and His Messiah who died on the cross. You can say to yourself that this is true, but until you cross the line and commit your life to the truth, you have knowledge and knowledge is not faith. Believing something to be true is not faith. Faith is trusting that something is true. If I have faith, I will be saved. This is so important that we owe it to ourselves to know that our faith is genuine. This is why Paul then writes to the Philippian saints:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

These words demand that we slow down and understand them. I have heard quips about "working out the salvation that God has worked in" and that is not wrong. But does such a quip explain the "fear and trembling" part? Perhaps not. Here are some of my ideas:

  • Salvation is about receiving forgiveness for the sin that we have committed so that we can have a relationship with God. If a gospel presentation emphasizes eternal life in heaven over eternal life with God, it has a subtle appeal to self-interest and may not awaken faith. I have written more about this in an essay on the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler.
  • Being casual about sin and righteousness after professing faith is a bit like flirting with others after marriage. There is a loving God to please and His Presence to seek. This is not the same as legalism. My wife works to please me not by following a list of demands that I have written, but because she loves me and has come to know me. I have done the same with here. Pleasing God and obedience is a matter of our hearts and the desire to know and please Him is an expected byproduct of faith.

God wants us to succeed. As Paul writes, "it is God who is at work in you." If we have no interest in making manifest His work in us, then we should fear and tremble until we know why.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Peter tells us that having a proven faith is more precious than gold. He also tells us that suffering and persecution is part of proving our faith to be true. When trials come your way, do you find evidence of your inner faith working itself out for yourself and others to see?

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)

Making faith a private affair is like keeping a marriage secret.

When a Christian has proven faith, he or she has an assurance of salvation and Paul's words about "fear and trembling" cause no concern. Such proof lies in:

  • A hunger for God's presence.
  • A desire to please Him out of love and affection.
  • A new understanding of Scripture as you read or hear it.
  • A life that moves towards maturity.
  • Growing compassion and love for others

My desire is that this lesson finds you as comfortable at the end as you felt at the beginning. Such a thing does not require perfection, only growth. Do you see your faith actively working in your members resulting in change over time?

Tuesday: Paul's evidences for a worked out salvation.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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