Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. — Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)
Paul says to work out your salvation. Some people act like that’s all he said about it. We all know folks who try really hard to be good enough and other folks that figure salvation, whatever that may mean, isn’t worth the trouble.
I mean, I know what a workout is. I’ve been going to the gym three times a week for about a year now. I wanted to lose ten pounds, but I still weigh the same thing. Sometimes I don’t want to go and have to make myself.
And then when I get there, I always start with cardio. You know. That’s where you sit on a bike or get on a treadmill or elliptical machine or something, and after ten minutes of riding or walking you haven’t moved an inch. Boring!
They have all kinds of torture machines where you push or pull on some kind of handles or pedals. You still don’t get anywhere, but you can only push or pull a few times before your muscles start to burn. Ouch!
The kick boxing station is kind of fun, but it’s too much like real life. Something lights up and beeps and you get to kick it with all your might, but then, you never know what’s going to light up next. Sort of like kids on the playground back in school that were always making fun of me behind my back, except I didn’t get to kick them.
There’s another area with mats and dumbbells–not the kids in school, but the other kind–and exercise balls and other stuff. That’s where all the showoff’s hang out. I saw one fellow standing on top of a little medicine ball–balanced on one leg. Then he stood up on two of them and squatted to play with some cups on the ground. Then he jumped from one to another.
Remember, these balls are smaller than a basketball he’s showing off on. He told me he wanted to join the circus some time. I’m not making this up. I could never do half of the stuff I’ve seen the showoffs do in that part of the gym.
So that’s a workout. Part boring routine, part torture, part wondering what part of a goofy machine is going to beep at me next, and part watching some showoff making some impossible thing look easy and almost normal. And after a year of that, I haven’t lost a pound.
Is that what salvation’s like, too? Fortunately, no. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV)
Salvation comes by grace through faith and not from works. We don’t have to work to get saved. So then, what’s with the workout Paul talked about in Philippians? He said that God works in us. If there’s any work to do to get us saved, God does it. And there it is on the inside of us somewhere in our spirits. If we know it’s there, it can give us kind of a warm glow, but what good is it?
After all, if it’s just in us somewhere, it doesn’t make any difference to what we do or what we say or even necessarily what we think much about. We don’t have to do a workout to get salvation, but we do have to work it from the inside out. We have to take the salvation that God has given us and connect it to our minds. That way we’ll start thinking in line with it. We have to take that salvation and connect it with our mouths so that we’ll start talking in line with it. We have to take that salvation and connect it with our hands and feet so that we’ll start acting in line with it.
That is, we have to take that salvation that God gave us from being only a warm glow within us and work it to the surface where we can notice it and others can notice it. How will we and others notice? We’re thinking about different things than we used to. Thinking more of God’s thoughts and less of our old bad habits, we’ll be happier and nicer than we were before. We’ll do things differently than we ever did before. We’ll be more generous, kinder, more patient. Other folks will begin to catch on to some of that even before we do.
The Ephesians passage says that we are God’s workmanship. His masterpiece, really. Someone perfectly equipped to do his kind of works. He planned for them. He gave us gifts and talents for them. He gave us salvation by faith and put it in our spirits. Our part is to work it from the spirit out into our minds and from there to our actions, where everyone can see not our works, but the works of God who started the whole process by his grace.