The Young Believer's Difficulties: No. 4

Philippians 2:12  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Jas. 1 am thankful for another opportunity of conversing with you on such portions of the word as many feel difficult to understand. The scripture I named was this, " Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil. 2:1212Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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. (Philippians 2:12).) Many understand by this that they are by works of their own righteousness to finish, or complete their salvation. Some would say they were regenerated, or saved, by baptism, but that their final salvation has to be worked out by themselves. Others have some idea that they are justified by faith to start with; but still their final salvation depends on their own working it out some way themselves, and quote this scripture in proof. So that the difficulty is this—How can salvation be eternal, if it depends on our works of righteousness?
John. If we examine the context, the very opening of the epistle shows that the apostle could have had no such thought. He says, " Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform [or finish] it until the day of Jesus Christ." It is said, too, in connection with these very words, " Wherefore [or so] my beloved, as ye 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 which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
James. Then the apostle's confidence was in God, that He would finish the work in them unto the day of Jesus Christ.
John. Now, further, James. As you have heard these words explained, did it not look more like works of our own righteousness for salvation?
James. Well, that is what it comes to. I am saved by Christ so far, but never learned how far; but my final salvation depends on my working it out to the end, so that I must keep the law for righteousness, and the day of judgment will decide whether I have done so.
John. But if on that ground, and if that can possibly be the meaning, we do not need to wait for the day of judgment. If we think we are working out our own salvation by works of law, we are surely condemned: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse;" and "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 3:10; 5:1-410For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Galatians 3:10)
1Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. 2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:1‑4)
.) "But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law." (Ver. 18.) Indeed, nowhere is this truth more forcibly brought out than in this very Epistle to the Philippians. This doctrine of salvation by works of law is the concision of which we are to beware. (Chap. iii. 2.) And Paul, looking back on his whole religious life as a Jew, could say, "touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." But what does he say of all that system of works for salvation? He says, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Yea, he utterly renounces this plan of works for salvation, and counts them but dung, a that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Now mark, this not only expresses his then present state, but that at the very end he would not be found in, or having his own righteousness. He longs for the resurrection from among the dead, and then to be found in Him (Christ), the righteousness which is of God. Therefore Paul cannot possibly teach doctrine the very contrary of all this, as though Christ had saved us in a very limited sense, and we had to complete what He had begun by our own works of law for righteousness. Have I made it clear that he could not mean by "work out your own salvation," that we had not eternal salvation in Christ, but it must be by works done by ourselves?
James. You certainly have made it clear as to what it does not mean; indeed, I remember the apostle says elsewhere, "And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace."
And again, "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom. 4:5; 11:65But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:5)
6And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Romans 11:6)
.) But, John, the question is, what do these words mean, "Work out your own salvation"? I am quite satisfied as to what they do not mean; for if a man could work out his own salvation before God, what need was there at all for the death and resurrection of Christ?
John. Quite true. We will, then, now look at what these words do mean. The Lord give us the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And, first, it is of importance to notice that these words are not addressed at all to an unconverted sinner, nor even to an individual saint or believer, but to an assembly. "To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops [or elders] and deacons." Of course, as the assembly of God is composed of saved individuals in Christ, what is said to the assembly as a whole is said to each individual member, but still in the assembly character. Further, notice, the state of this assembly was such that the apostle could say, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel, from the first day until now." Now, James, do you see that all this must first be settled in your soul before there is a word about working out your own salvation? Are you a saint in Christ Jesus? Remember, to such there is no condemnation, and no separation. (Rom. 8) All such are accepted in the Beloved. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." (Eph. 1:3-83Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; (Ephesians 1:3‑8).) In Him they are complete, made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. For Christ is made unto them "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." (Col. 1:12-14; 2:1012Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: (Colossians 1:12‑14)
10And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: (Colossians 2:10)
: 1 Cor. 1:3030But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: (1 Corinthians 1:30).) Thus, if we look at the saint as seen of God in Christ, his salvation is accomplished and eternal, He "having obtained eternal redemption for us." And all this fully proved to be without works in Rom. 3; 4; 5; Gal. 2:1616Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16). Nay, as many as are of the principle of works for salvation before God are under the curse.
You will find it will help to clear the meaning of this difficult text, that as justification before God is the subject in Rom. 1-8, and justification before men the subject of James; thus, the one by faith, the other by works (both true and important, surely, in their place), and no contradiction, but in perfect harmony; so the subject of the believer's standing in Christ is the theme of Eph. 1; 2; 3 The saints, as seen of God in Christ, having eternal salvation, perfected forever, as Heb. 10 So, in Philippians, the assembly is presented as seen amongst men, pressing through this wilderness-world to the glory yet to be revealed. So that, James, I do not well see how any believer can understand this working out their own salvation, until they have first seen what it is to be in Christ Jesus before God, and that this is secured unto the day of Christ. And, further, they must be on the same ground of the one assembly of God on earth amongst men.
Jas. 1 had never thought a word about all this.
James. Why, John, already the epistle becomes quite new to me. What a pity it is to jumble the scriptures together, and thus lose their distinctive teaching!
John. We will now go on, only carefully notice the assembly character of the teaching. "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ; that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing terrified by your adversaries.....For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." (Chap. 1:27-30.) I must say, James, I cannot see how Christians can work out these divine assembly principles, unless they are on the ground of the one assembly of God, in the unity of the Spirit. How could the company of a ship work out the orders of the captain in the spirit of unity, if they had left the one ship, and were flying their sails in boats of their own? I do assure you, James, these words are very precious and timely to all who desire to do the will of God. You see, James, it is the assembly of God on earth in the midst of many adversaries. Pursue it, and study every verse. "Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." Has not Christendom sadly departed from all this? Yes, even to defend divisions the very opposite of this assembly truth.
Then, James, we have the Lord Himself, as seen as Man on this earth. "Who, being in the form of God.... made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant." &c. In this world He took the lowest possible place. Now, is not the aim of the multitude in Christendom just the opposite of this? every one seeking to be a little higher in the world before men. The blessed Lord looked forward to the glory He should have, not in a world where Satan is the acknowledged prince, but with His Father.
"Wherefore [or so] my beloved, as ye 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 which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Now, whether we look at the verses before or what comes after, it is plain this is not the question of the soul's salvation from sin, the eternal salvation wrought out by Christ; for sin is nowhere the question in this epistle, but the simple point is the difference between the presence and absence of the apostle in the assembly at Philippi. They had had his support in the midst of terrible opposition. He had labored hard to save them as an assembly from adversaries. Now he was absent, a prisoner of Jesus Christ at Rome. They would now have to work out their own salvation, or deliverance from enemies without or within, with fear and trembling; not with high-mindedness and boasting. Christ was their example. And mark, he does not direct them to a bishop in his absence; no, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." It is a salvation similar to that meant when Peter said, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." (Acts 2:4040And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. (Acts 2:40).) Jude speaks of the same thing, not, however, to make them uncertain as to eternal salvation—no, but "to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and-preserved in Christ Jesus." Then follow directions how they are to behave in the sad circumstances of these last days.
James. Then how were the Philippians to work out their own salvation?
John. Read on, James. " Do all things without murmurings and disputings; that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life," &c. Are you satisfied, James?
James. It is altogether so new to me; would you mind having a little further conversation on this subject, and especially as to its present application to those who desire to be on the ground of the assembly of God?
John. It will give me pleasure to do so the next time we meet, if the Lord will.