Everybody is concerned about their image. Our culture tells people that they are overweight. Multiple commercials bombard us in the middle of every TV show break touting this weight-loss system or that one.
But the thing is that we all know food is only one part of the equation. There’s also exercise, sleeping well, keeping stress down, etc. All of these things play into the full equation of life, lifestyle, and habits that determine how well we feel and look.
Holiness is the same way. Scholars and theologians debate over whether it is a complete act of God or whether we have a part in it. They debate about salvation as well. As soon as we’re made aware of Christ and his sacrifice for us, do we choose to be Christians or does he make us Christians?
As far as I understand it, it’s a little of both. God honors our free will decision to follow him and be obedient to him. He honors our decision to serve him with our whole being, to make him Lord and every situation, and to do everything he commands.
And yet, the Holy Spirit draws us toward God and regenerates our hearts so that we can respond to the gospel and become part of his family. God does the work, the Father planning our salvation through conforming us to the image of Christ. The Son gave his life to free us from sin and bring us into righteousness. And the Holy Spirit seals us at salvation and enters our lives to make us like Christ.
All of this happens when we are saved and all of this is part of the plan of sanctification, or the process to become holy. God has already declared us holy at salvation. His declaration becomes reality in our lives over time.
We know the Holy Spirit works closely with us in our hearts to change our character to resemble Christ’s. He is the one who is making us holy little by little. He chooses this area, and concentrates on that issue until we become obedient to him and our character resembles Christ in that area.
But there is an interesting passage in Philippians where Paul seems to indicate that we are the ones who work out our salvation and our holiness. Philippians 2:12 tells us that we work on our salvation but God also works on it. This creates quite a conundrum for many Christians.
What am I responsible for in my salvation and sanctification? What should I let to God for him to do as I take a backseat? This become so confusing that most Christians don’t even take up the arguments or discover how to apply this verse to their lives.
On the human side, Paul indicates we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. What is working out our salvation? Salvation begins our walk with God but sanctification, or becoming holy, is how we continue to walk with him.
To work out our salvation is to listen to the Holy Spirit and to obey him when he speaks. He is the one presiding over our journey toward holiness. The more we listen and obey, the faster he can work God’s desired character in us.
Throughout the Bible, we are commanded to be holy as the Lord is holy (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). Especially the New Testament letters are chock-full of commands for us to 6 to be like Jesus. So on the human side of things, people might think that there become too many things to do.
They might argue, “What happened to salvation through faith by grace?” They get this from Ephesians 2:8 where Paul says salvation is God’s work, not ours. We can’t do anything to earn salvation.
But we’re not talking about salvation. We are talking about sanctification. And the works we do don’t save us. They please God. They are not about us looking good or thinking we accomplish this on our own. They are steps of obedience to the Holy Spirit on the road to holy living.
So our works are not bad things. We are not aiming to be saved because we already are. We aim to obey the Spirit and please God. That’s what works after salvation are all about. And all of these works start with the only thing God requires of all of us – obedience. That is our work in sanctification.
So what about the “fear and trembling” part? We do these things in the fear of the Lord. We revere him and that is why we want to do everything we can find that pleases him. The trembling comes from knowing what happens when we decide not to obey him. He does not punish but he will discipline us.
We must not get too comfortable with sin. If we allow temptation and sin to overtake us without asking God for forgiveness and getting back on track with Jesus, we will eventually slip away from them with a calloused heart. That is the fear and trembling.
On God’s part, he works in us so that we do his will and bring him pleasure. God wants to delight in each of us. Like a doting Father he wants us to be on his lips like Job in the Old Testament. As long as he doesn’t sign me up for those kinds of trials, I want to be on his mind.
How does God work in us? One of the perfect examples of this is Romans 8:29-30. God predestines that those who love them, those who are saved and want to please him will become like Jesus.
Predestination is not to salvation. It is to guarantee that we will conform to Christ if we obey his Spirit through the process of becoming holy. It is through this conforming to Christ that we become comfortable in God’s family.
As he is working out is sanctification and making salvation final in us, as he guarantees the process of holiness, he calls us to service in his kingdom and in his Church. He also justifies us, making us righteous before him. He declares us justified at salvation but makes us justified as we live to please him.
And in the end, he will glorify us. We will finally arrive. This isn’t just some “love the journey” and wish it had a destination. The destination is that we finally arrive. But when we do, it will be in heaven forever more in God’s presence. So it is a journey but it has a destination.
When we look at the process of working out our salvation and seeing what God does on his end, any of us would realize that he does all the work. Our obedience is all he needs to make it happen. But we don’t always make it so easy for him.
The one thing he asks us to do in our sanctification, obedience, is the hardest thing for us. We must learn to trust him even in the midst of the storm. We don’t find that easy no matter how much we mentally ascend to trusting Jesus. We always begin to look at the wind and waves like Peter.
So that is the challenge set before us in this relationship. We must trust and obey that God knows best and is working out our salvation. When we obey him, we are working that salvation out. It will take the rest of our lives to reach this destination. But when we do, what a glorious day that will be!
Leave a comment and let me know what you think about the double-sided process of what God does in our lives and how we obey him.