How Your Sanctification Happens

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work according to His good pleasure.” Phil. 2:12-13.

This scripture has always interested me.

In speaking about salvation here, Paul must be talking about sanctification. As I mentioned in my last post, this is the “being saved” part of the salvation process.

What interests me is that in admonishing the Philippians, Paul reveals insight into the process by which we are conformed into the image of Jesus. We are to “work out” or bring it about through our own will because God is at work in us. It is a partnership, or as we say in the law, a joint venture.

I had a pastor once tell me that one of the signs of Christian maturity is the ability to hold onto two seemingly contradictory notions without letting go of either. I think that is what Paul is saying to the Philippians with regard to salvation. God is at work in you, but that doesn’t mean you can just sit back and “rest in His righteousness,” make no effort to change your conduct and expect change to happen. At the same time, Paul is saying that self-effort alone is insufficient and you have to look to God for help.

Unfortunately, it seems Christians have trouble embracing both of these truths at that same time, gravitating instead to one extreme or the other. Some pastors preach only about “understanding who you are in God,” “resting in His righteousness,” and other platitudes that suggest change only comes by God’s effort in us, while other leaders drift to the other extreme of self-effort. Paul says we are to hold on to both.

Jesus addressed this issue of holding onto two seemingly contradictory notions in the Parable of the Householder. Scribes probably knew the Old Testament better than any other group of people. Day-in and day-out they did nothing but copy the scripture. You are what you read, and every day they read the Old Testament. Jesus said that every scribe who became a disciple of the Kingdom was like the head of a household who brought forth out of his treasure things both old and new. Matt. 13:52. Jesus was lauding the scribes should they be able to hold onto all they had learned from the Old Testament while at the same time grasping the new teaching of Jesus.

Solomon said it like this in another context, “It is good that you grasp  one thing and also not let of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.” Eccl. 7:18. The New International versions says, “The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”

Bottom line: try your hardest to live to the high standard of holiness Jesus demands while at the same time looking to the Holy Spirt for help in doing so. GS