My friend and fellow pastor, Matt Dirks, recently wrote the following blog about the ongoing nature of salvation. In it he does an excellent job at fleshing out a full theological understanding of salvation (i.e. regeneration, sanctification, and glorification) in simple everyday language.
Matt earned his Mdiv. from Talbot Seminary, La Mirada, CA. He is currently ministering as a church planter Hawaii Kai, Hawaii.
What it means to work out your salvation, Matt Dirks
I was recently talking to someone about salvation. How it isn’t just about a raised hand and mumbled prayer at an evangelistic crusade, but an ongoing process of being saved from our sinful hearts through the progressive work of God’s grace in our lives.
A central verse to understand this truth is Philippians 2:12-13:
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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Notice that Paul doesn’t say “work for your salvation.” He says “work out your salvation,” and he’s talking to people who have already believed in Jesus Christ. The Greek word Paul uses for “work out” has the idea “work to full completion” The word was used back then for working a mine – getting all the gold or silver you could scrape out of a hole.
Kind of like when you were a kid, and mom made chocolate chip cookies. The best part was getting to lick cookie dough off the spoon and the cookie bowl. If you were like me, you’d clean out every last molecule of cookie dough until the bowl looked like Waterford crystal. I’m surprised we didn’t all die of salmonella.
That’s the idea Paul’s trying to give us about our salvation – there are so many great things about our salvation that we have yet to discover. He’s suggesting that our salvation isn’t quite complete.
Many people assume that salvation is a one-time deal. You go forward at the altar call, you read the Four Spiritual Laws tract, and you ask Jesus into your heart. Bang! You’re saved! …. Right?
Not quite. In Paul’s mind, there are actually three aspects of salvation.
1. Past Salvation
Ephesians 2:4-5 shows what’s happened in the past:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved.
For every Christian, there was a time when we realized that we were sinners (as Paul puts it, “dead in our transgressions”), and we realized that God was the only hope we had. For me, it was when I was five years old, and decided I couldn’t live without the shiny new Bible with all the nice pretty pictures that our church gave to you when you accepted Jesus.
Even if we had ulterior motives, our salvation began when we trusted in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for salvation… salvation from the penalty of death.
2. Future Salvation
Romans 13:11-12 describes what’s coming in the future:
You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
What day is that? The day when Jesus Christ will return to earth. For many Christians, though, the day will come sooner than that. You start dying the moment you’re born, and for Christians, every day we’re closer to death means one less day until we find salvation from the pain and stress of this world.
When I was growing up, I was blessed to have my 95-year-old great-grandfather living with our family.
Every morning, he would come to breakfast, and I would ask him how he was today. And every single morning, he’d answer, “One day closer to glory!”
3. Present Salvation
1 Corinthians 1:18
The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
“Us who are being saved.” For you English majors and Greek scholars, that’s a present passive participle, which refers to something that’s ongoing, and it’s the same way Paul describes salvation back in Philippians 2.
According to Paul, our salvation is an ongoing process, empowered by God’s grace poured out through Jesus Christ on the cross.
It’s not just something that happened in the past – it’s not just something that we’re looking forward to in the future, it’s also something that’s we’re working out every day of our lives.
In a few months we’ll get to watch another generation of Olympians compete. They’ll have a few short seconds to prove themselves to the world. These are people who’ve been training for this moment their entire lives.
Those skeleton racers who’ve been throwing their bellies down on the ice, day after day, no matter how many times they crash and burn. Those ski jumpers whose fathers started throwing them off the sides of mountains as soon as they could stand. And then there’s the curlers. They’ve been… sliding rocks on ice for a long, long time.
For each one of these athletes, there was a defining moment at some point in their past: I’m going to be an Olympic athlete. After that point, they spent every day working out their bodies and minds in preparation for their coming moment in the sun.
That’s what working out your salvation means. Striving to live each moment by the power of God, in light of Christ’s work on the cross and in hope of Christ’s return to the earth.
In the next post, we’ll see more of what that looks like.