“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”
This is no light assignment. People are often too casual about their salvation, some so flippant that they lose it. They fall asleep. The five foolish virgins were naive and unattentive–and missed the Party. I can take the gift of salvation lightly and not invest in my future.
Am I indifferent to the truth that Christ was obedient to death, that he took abuse and injustice for my salvation? How cruel to stomp on the work of Christ by my indifference or neglect. How easy to take our salvation for granted because it was won in a battle that we did not fight.
“Fear and trembling” does not describe the frame of mind that we sometimes take toward our salvation. Passivity is a killer. Jesus would not let the helpless father off the hook. When a distraught parent thrust his boy at Jesus in desperation, asking Him to do whatever He could, Jesus threw the responsibility right back at him. He said, “If you can. All things are possible to him who believers” (Mark 9:23). Faith without works is not faith. Jesus proved it by calling the father to responsible faith. A passive investor found out that burying his gifts (and the master’s money) did not please his employer one bit. He was called “lazy” and “wicked,” two words I probably would not have used in the same sentence (Matthew 25:26).
I told a young man I was once working with that he had a huge part to play in his destiny. He was saying, “God is going to make me a dad. I’ll have kids. I am trusting Him.” In a reality session with him I said, “It’s not going to happen unless you make a hundred good decisions in a row. You have made some bad ones, yet you expect God to come through. You can’t do it without God, and He won’t do it without you. Don’t underestimate the part you play in your destiny. Faith is empty unless it is accompanied by what Paul calls ‘the obedience of faith.’”
Paul says that God gives the gifts of the Spirit sovereignly “to whom he may” (I Corinthians 12:11). So do we sit back and wait for Him to make His choices? Not even close. We are commanded to “eagerly desire the spiritual gifts” (14:1). Our very passion for one or more may even indicate God’s sovereign choice. There is cooperation between heaven and earth.
“…for God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
This statement is as positive as the first phrase is pointed and serious. From a warning to a blessing. From “be careful” to “be encouraged.” Here is what you do because here is what God is doing. Putting them back to back gives power to both statements. They support each other because they are two sides of the truth. Work it out because God is working it in. Grace and truth. If we only heard what God was doing and not what we are called to do, we may chill out and not take our assignment seriously. We have a part to play and it is a sober one. To ignore that is to fail to see what God is doing to make it happen. We see human responsibility and divine sovereignty in two powerful phrases. Both are important. Divine sovereignty without human responsibility turns God into a detached deity with an ironclad will. The Bible gives us a very different picture. There is a dance between heaven and earth and both sides are true and necessary for scripture to mean what it says. Paul takes very seriously how we are to behave and how important grace is. Have at it!