My daughter brought her papers to me to sign this morning just as she was about to leave. Her hands trembled as she handed them over and she had a slight crack in her voice as she said "The grades are not very good, Mommy. I'm so sorry." She had gotten an F on a social studies test and was devastated. Her first F. My heart broke for her but I knew she could have done better. I had flashbacks to my years of schooling and the few F's that came back home for my parents to see. I shuddered at the thought - F stands for fail. I hate that four letter word.
After she went to school, I was studying in the Bible and a wave of relief swept over me as I was reminded that salvation is not something we have to take a test for and earn. I read in Ephesians 2:8-9 "God saved you by His grace when you believed and you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." Oh, thank you Lord! Salvation is not earned by works...it's a gift that is given by His grace and accepted through faith.
When the people asked Jesus what they needed to do to perform the works of God, He firmly stated "This is the only work God wants from you: believe in the One He has sent." Now, the original Greek word used for believe (Gr: pisteuō) actually means "firm conviction, full surrender, and a lifestyle that reflects that surrender." So believing isn't just agreeing in your mind, it's believing to the point that your belief is so deep that it cannot help but change you. When you turn from sin and toward God, repenting and confessing, you cannot help but be changed because the Spirit of God dwells inside of you (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
So if the only work God wants from us is to believe in the One He has sent, then why does Paul tell us to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" in Philippians 2:12?
The Christian life is not about trying...it's about dying (to myself) so I can live for Him as He lives through me...and that is the hardest work of all when I mistakenly think the world is all about my own comfort & happiness or when I am a control freak. It is such hard work to not work so hard. You see, when we work for things, we feel we've earned it and it somehow makes us feel in control - especially when we think our works are good. The flip side is that when we fail and feel our works are not good enough, we can feel condemnation and devastation because we think we've failed God if this is our way of thinking.
Letting go of that control and trusting God to save us because He chooses to, not because we're amazing and deserving, is mind-blowing. We fight in our human nature to maintain that control. So working out our salvation means that we are working against our human tendencies to control and earn and instead we work out (notice it is not work for) our salvation by trusting God to do it through us. How can we trust a God we do not know though? In order to trust Him we must know Him and in order to know Him we must spend time in His word and in prayer.
If we keep reading in Philippians 2, after verse 12 that tells us to work out our salvation, we read in verse 13 "For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him." If you struggle with being in the Word or praying, ask Him to give you the desire. This verse is very clear that He is the one who gives us the desire to do what pleases Him so if you do not have this desire, talk to Him about that. He is faithful.
My daughter trembled when she handed me her paper with an F on it. My heart broke for her as I saw the fear she felt. She thought she had let me down and she was devastated. She will have to work very hard to bring her grade up in class. But God is not standing there with a red pen ready to mark up our lives with X's every time we think we've blown it. He knows we have no power in our own strength to work out our salvation.
Paul tells us to work our salvation out with "fear and trembling". Those words in their original Greek meaning are so insightful and much deeper than they sound! The word "Fear" (Gr: phobos) means "reverence" which means a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration. The word "Trembling" (Gr: tromos) is used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but faithfully does his utmost to fulfill his duty.
Think about that - "one who distrusts his ability to completely meet all the requirements". That is what it takes to trust God to meet those requirements for us - when we come to the end of our self-sufficiency and begin to trust in His sufficiency, we've figured out how to work it out. And when He does this for us, we cannot help but have a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe. He knows we cannot do it without Him so He does it for us and through us. What an amazing God we serve!