In my previous blog we looked at Philippians 2:6-11, and in it I stated that Christianity as a teaching can be corrupted into a works based righteousness from its intended purpose to lead sinners to salvation through the person of Jesus Christ. The end result of true Christianity creates good works in those who believe in its message, it does not cause believers to try and earn their way to heaven. To see Christ for who He is and what He did in order to accomplish salvation for men is to correct the error of false prophets who corrupt the teachings of Christ.
In Philippians 2:6-11 Christ who is the second person of the Godhead descended from His place as God to become mere man. In an extended version of that text from the original Greek language I sought to pull out the fullest meaning of what that passage says about Christ’s sacrificial humility, which He embraced in order to identify with man, so that He could receive the punishment for sins in his place. Christ died in the place of sinful men for their forgiveness, which precludes the need for man to merit heaven by his own good works.
After stating Christ’s humiliation Paul admonishes Christians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
“…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13
The working out of one’s salvation as stated in verse 12 is not in order to earn heaven but because heaven already belongs to those saved by Christ’s intervention. The little word “for” at the start of verse 13, which could be translated “because”, makes the point that it is not the believer working, but it is God who is at work. The admonition to work is not an admonition to the Christian to work out his own salvation, as if he were the one doing the totality of the work, but it is an admonition to work because it is God who is at work. If I could convey the tone of the Apostle it would be one of loud and joyful recognition that the Christian is not alone, he does not even initiate the process of salvation but Christ does by causing us to be born again (1Peter 1:3). So Paul says, “…work out your salvation …FOR IT IS GOD who is at work in you…”
God is so much at work within the true believer that Paul goes on to say, ”…both to will and to work…”, which means it is not the works alone but the very willingness to work that is initiated and carried out by His abiding presence within the heart and soul of those who believe in Him. Christ is true Christianity because it is His work of salvation, He began it 2,000 years ago, and He continues His great work each time He takes up residence within the heart of those who believe. Even the faith to believe is a gift of God in Christ; Christ exercised enormous faith as He hung upon the cross, and as a man He exercised faith in God who would raise Him from the dead, and it is His faith that He shares with His brethren that they in turn place in Him.
Because salvation is God’s work the true Christian should not fall into the trap of self-righteous works, such as praying, reading, witnessing, etc. as a means of earning God’s favor, which happens all too easily when spiritual pride is allowed to grow. Spiritual pride develops from a variety of means, such as looking at our own maturity as if it were as a result of our own human efforts. When we look at the fruit of our labors, such as souls being saved, and think they are a result of our own goodness. We become dry in our time spent with the Lord and instead of calling our dryness a wayward heart and repent of it, we try all the harder to be good, and in so doing work up self-righteousness and grow our pride thereby. When we look at spiritual gifts given to us by God as if they are something innate within ourselves and thereby build up our pride and our self-righteousness.
If you have fallen into these or any other pitfalls of self-righteousness – look to Christ. See Him as the transcendent God, who made Himself low, for the suffering of death, the punishment of hell, and eternal judgment that He alone could bear on your behalf. See the work of Christ and not your own; work out your salvation by God’s abiding presence and not some effort of your own. Enjoy Him! Feast on Him! Focus on Him, and then and only then 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.