So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, 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.Philippians 2:12 NASB
Faith and works, works and faith, and what part do we play in our salvation? What is it we “bring to the table”? Is there a “table”, and is there an event, like a potluck, or something? Perhaps, in order to be clear, this would be a good time to define some terms.
First off, what is meant by “salvation”? The obvious implication is that there is a “danger” to be saved from. This danger is described in various places as “death”, “hell”, and “separation from God”. All these descriptions are metaphors, and, together, provide a picture of the problem solved by “salvation”.
Salvation, then, provides a solution to death, hell and separation from God. So, therefore, salvation raises the dead, escapes hell (or prevents one from entering in the first place), and connects to God. Which leads us to the question, “how can a person achieve any of those things through their own effort?”
Does it seem reasonable that a Person, who has created this impossibly complex universe, would be accessible to creatures within that universe on their own initiative? How could it be possible that anyone within the system could access someone outside the system, unless granted permission?
Salvation, as it has been described so far, has to originate from our Creator. Nothing else makes sense. Paul states this very clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB
So, are we human creatures simply passive in this salvation by our Creator? That would also seem odd. Why create us with the capacity to even ask such a question if we were never intended to cooperate with our Creator? To continue Paul’s point to the Ephesian disciples, he explains:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.Ephesians 2:10 NASB
Our Creator created us to work. We are His workmanship created to work which becomes His purpose in creating us. So, how do these two concepts of our salvation and the work we were created to do fit together?
Look, again, at Philippians 2:12-13. Notice that “work” is used 3 times. Translations have a difficult time of differentiating here, but two different words are used. In verse 12, the Greek word is “katergazomai” (Strong’s G2716), which is to “work down along through”, or thoroughly, accordingly, typically meaning “to work up a sweat”.
In verse 13, a different word is used, “energeo” (Strong’s G1754) which refers to the “function” or “operation” rather than the “effort”. The usage in verse 13 is also interesting. The first use is a participle describing God, “the One working”, and the second is an infinitive “to work”. In Greek, this means that God is the “Operator” making it “operate”. Or, to put it another way, God is the One making the whole thing function.
So, yes, we are to work up a sweat in our salvation, but from within the condition of being saved (Ephesians 2:8-10). And what makes our effort effective is the Operator, our Creator and Savior.
Think of it this way, I can’t bench press 1,000 pounds. On the other hand, if there are three or four Olympic weight lifters on either side of the bar lifting with me, then I probably can. But who’s doing all the heavy lifting? In the same way, we attempt the impossible, to connect with our Creator, but He does the “heavy lifting” of connecting us to Himself.
That’s my view of our Master through my knothole this morning. What do you see of Him through yours?