How are works related to salvation?


“Therefore, my beloved, as you 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)

I can’t begin to number the times I have either heard someone, or read what someone wrote on this verse of Scripture using it out of context, and out of character, in an attempt to prove that God saves sinners by what He does, and by what they do. This is a favorite of those who are depending on their own performance of good works to gain favor with God and to hopefully be finally saved in the end.

A text out of context is often a pretext! If only we would take the time to see how a passage fits into the fabric of the whole  much of our erroneous conclusions would disappear. This verse is one of those Bible statements that is abused and wrongfully used.

Paul sets the tone of the book in chapter 1 where he wrote:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3-6)

How could Paul have “been sure if this” if the salvation and security of the Philippian believers depended on their performance? In chapter 2 this idea is reinforced even more. He has reminded them of their partnership with him in the gospel and instructed them about how they are to live with each other and then says:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12)

Why Paul? So we can stay saved? And Paul gives the answer in the very same breath.

“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

What? God is working in a believer, willing what should be done and doing the “work“! This is an absolute scandal to the self righteous who are depending on themselves and not on the finished work and worth of Jesus for salvation or keeping that salvation. But, alas it is true anyway. God saves, God works, God keeps. In light of this Bible truth how are we to respond to God’s lavish love and grace?

Live your lives with each other before a watching world so that you can never be blamed for wrong doing. Expect suffering while you hold to the word of Life. Be unselfish, looking out for the good of others and model your lives after Christ who humbled himself and became a servant of others.

How are works related to salvation? How we live, (especially among other believers) exposes who we really are. Every one who is born from above will live a life of good deeds as God designed. (Ephesians 2 10) None of us will follow perfectly. Sometimes we stumble, and sometimes fall, but always we are God’s own possession and we are safe in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What precious promises and blessed encouragement for believers! Yet, only condemnation for “make believers”. The old song “Trust and Obey” is so true. Trust Christ and then obey.

Don’t depend on how good you can be, rather trust the one who lived perfectly and presented that life to God on your behalf. Rest from your labor and learn to cooperate with God who is at work in you. Love and loving acts are as natural as breathing when you rely completely on Christ in you the hope of glory.

for Jesus,

Are you still living on the plantation?


While driving to my office yesterday morning I was listening to the late Dr. Adrian Rogers on my car radio. He was preaching from Romans chapter 6 verses 5-11:

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

He used the following illustration which was very powerful and helped to make clear the meaning of the text.

In January of 1863 President Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation” was made law. Instantly, every slave in the named states and territories were legally free. Every one of them had the legal right to walk out of the master’s house and off the plantation.

Many of the freed slaves did leave the plantations to afford themselves of the rights and opportunities other citizens had enjoyed for many years. What a wonderful thing that people, some of whom had never known anything but slavery and serving others at the expense of their own well being and freedom, were suddenly free!

In spite of this wonderful historic event, many slaves continued in their servitude and their lives did not change at all. They either did not know they were free, or heard the news and it seemed too good to be true, or they were afraid of losing the security they had as slaves.

How sad to be legally free and yet still living and working on the plantation for the slave owner, living every day as a slave just as before.

How many Christians are still living on the plantation? Before we became Christians every one of us were enslaved to Satan, to do his bidding. But, when we became Christians, just as the American slaves, we were instantly legally free from the slavery of sin and the devil. How?

The reason we are free is found in the passage above. A dead man is not bound by any law and is not under the rule of any authority. When Christ died as our representative, we died with him.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”

We were “crucified with him” so the truth “One who has died has been set free from sin”. When he died, we died, and when he was raised we were raised with him, and because he lives forever, so shall we.

Believer’s baptism is the perfect picture of the reality. In the watery grave we are saying publically that the old man is dead and is buried and the new man is raised to live the new life Christ gives. It is not baptism but what baptism pictures that is most important. Exactly in the same way it is not the power and blessing of the bread and wine in communion but what they picture that gives life to the dead and frees from the law of sin and death.

There is no reconciliation without representation. Just as “In Adam all die”, “In Christ all are made alive”. “By one man (Adam) sin entered the world and death by sin so that death has come upon all men.” In the same way, those who have Christ as their representative are made eternally alive.

The Truth has set us free and we are free indeed! Don’t stay on the plantation.

For Jesus,

Who are you now?

godJesus said something astonishing to Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. Nicodemus had come to see Jesus and to discuss His amazing miracles. He understood there was something other worldly about Jesus. It was pretty obvious that God was with him. The only sensible explanation for some of the things Jesus had accomplished was that He must have had supernatural help, namely God!

In reply to Nicodemus’ statement about Him, Jesus replied, and then repeated, “You must be born again“. Of course this strange response stumped the learned leader of the Jews, so he questioned further, asking about this strange teaching. Jesus made it clear that the kingdom of heaven is only for those who have had a Spirit birth. Flesh produces flesh and Spirit produces spirit.

Today there are many in our churches who are like this ancient religeous leader Nicodemus asking “How can these things be?” In discussions with my Christian friends both in person and online it is clear that many of them have missed an important truth that if not understood leaves a person confused just like Nicodemus. Have you pondered the message of grace and then the many commands and rules and wondered “How can these things be?” I’m not going to ask you to raise your hand, but does the New Testament seem to you like a series of contradictions and paradoxes? I know it does to many, many people, especially in our churches of Christ.

Every person who has been born of the Spirit (from above) lives every day of their life on earth, since that new birth, in two distinct dimensions. They are alive in the dimension of the “flesh” and the dimension of the “Spirit”. Both realities are equally real and true. In fact, the spiritual, one could argue, is more real becaus it is eternal while the other is temporary. I am a living breathing human man and at the same time I am a spiritual man, one of the household of God by the new birth. And so are you if you have been born again.

The Bible addresses both of these realities in very distinct ways. I could write pages about those differences in Scripture but I want to focus on one point. With regard to our status with God, or salvation, there is also two realities. The first is what I call our position with God. This is our positional standing with God. It is what it is only upon the basis of the person, work, and worth of Jesus Christ. We are only accepted in Him, and never accepted for any other reason.

The second reality again relates to our spiritual selves but is what I call our practical standing. It reflects our response to God’s lavish love and grace shown to us in His Son. It is what we “practice” as believers day by day, hense the term “practicle“. My friend Edward Fudge says it this way and makes it clear, “We work out what God works in“. The Bible says both to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling“, and “It is He who is in you both to will and to do His good pleasure“. So both our positional standing and our practicle standing are addressed and identified.

Finally, I’ll add that these two realities can be viewed from two perspectives. There is first the view from God’s perspective and secondly the view from the street where you live. God sees you as already perfected, safe and secure, clothed with the rightsousness of Jesus and seated in the heavenlies already glorified. That is God’s view and He allows us glimpses of that reality. You and I see ourselves as strugglers, trying to do what is right and often failing even ourselves. We don’t like our sin but it keeps hanging around, most of the time in the shadows but far too often in the light of noon day it explodes on the scene. We are shocked and saddened and quickly repent and receive God’s promised cleansing…and then the cycle continues. We find that we are never right about everything, or everyone, we never perfectly obey what we do know to do, and secretly we admit to ourselves that we are misrable failures in the Life.

The very good news is that our daily living, fail as oft’ we do, does not in any way change or threaten our position with God, or our standingwith Him. You are just as much a child, just as saved, just as secure, on the days you disappoint yourself as the days when you think you’ve done ok. God is constant and consistant in His sovereign love for His own who are actively trusting the Christ of the gospel for eternal life.

Cheap grace you say? Hardly! “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid!”Are you crazy? If you can live in continual sin and experience no tension, no sorrw of soul, you must take care to see if you are really in the faith. Everyone who is truely a believer is safe and sure of heaven and God’s great promises. There is no securityfor imposters. People who are trusting in themselves, church membership, baptism, family heritage, or scores of other things instead of Jesus Christ are only promised the wrath of God and perishing.

I am convinced that once a person knows who He is in Christ he will more liekly live like who he really is. Those who hope to become who they hope to be by what they do are certain to be sadly disappointed.

I hope the next time you read the Bible you will remember your Positional standing and your Practical standing with God. This will set you free to be who God called you to be, free to lovingly obey, rather than be confined to the bondage of legalism, failing over and over and over again. Any person who claims to be justified by what he does is either a liar or lost. He is a liar if he doesn’t admit, at least to himself, it just isn’t working out well, he fails too often too easily. Or he is lost and does not know God spiritually because he has never repented of his wickedness and thrown himself upon Christ’s mercy with his whole heart and mind.

Of course those who are not Christians live in two realities also. They live in the body of human flesh and they live in the dominion of Satan the god of this present world and are spiritually “dead“. They are in the sway of the evil one to do his pleasure. Only the God of heaven can breathe life into the man who is dead spiritually. Put your whole trust in Jesus the best you know how and He will make you to stand whole and holy.

For truth,

Fellowship Dialogue

I just learned that finally a discussion will take place online between “progressives” and “conservatives” in the churches of Christ. Representing the progressives will be Jay Guinn and Todd Deaver and on the conservative side Phil Sanders and Greg Tidwell. I believe each man is able and will fairly represent his believe and will speak for most of those in his camp.

The very first topic will be about just how a person looses his salvation. I will have questions for both sides I am sure. Follow the discussion at .

I’m off to the workshop…