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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Work Out Your Salvation
Text:LD 24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Good Works
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-02-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 107:1                                                                                 

Ps 136:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Philippians 2:1-18

Hymn 23:1,2,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 24

Hy 28:1,6,7

Hy 64:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, tomorrow it’s back to work again. Or back to school. Or to activities around the home, or whatever else fills our weeks. After another Sunday, we all go back to ‘normal life.’ And after Sunday, that can be quite a switch. For God made this a special day. Today we’re singing to God, praying, confessing our faith. Today we get to be busy with the Bible for a couple hours, reading and listening. Today we have the pleasure of fellowship. On a day like this, we might feel closer to God than at any other time during the week.

Then comes tomorrow, and normal life. Suddenly we’re back at the job site, and in the laundry room, and at the gym. And what happens to all the good things from Sunday? When we’re back to it tomorrow, do we still think of things like our salvation, and renewal, and the gift of the Holy Spirit? On Monday afternoon, or Thursday evening, will you think of yourself as redeemed in Christ’s blood? Or will it have largely slipped from your mind ‘til next Sunday?

What we’re busy with today is not a separate compartment of our life. It’s about who we really are, about our purpose on earth. This means we should develop the discipline of thinking on the Lord often, seeing salvation as part of every day: “I am one whom God has saved. I’m a new creation. I’m not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

We need to think about that, because being saved is life-transforming. Just as God commands us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). We’ll come back to these words, but note already what he says, “Work it out.” Be busy with this. For your own life, day by day, you need to work out the implications of being saved through Christ. That’s the teaching of Scripture, summarized in Lord’s Day 24,

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling:

  1. for it is God who works in you
  2. to will and to do for His good pleasure

 

1) it is God who works in you: When we read Lord’s Day 24, did you feel small? You should’ve. For it gives a keen sense of our lowliness before God. This humility came out already in Lord’s Day 23, all about the need for faith. Before we pat ourselves on the back for believing in God, the Catechism says that it’s not on account of the worthiness of our faith that the Lord is pleased to save us. For our faith, we said, is a fragile thing, soon deflated.

And even in the act of believing, we depend entirely on God. He gives the gift of salvation, and He also gives the way of unwrapping this gift—for faith is the Lord’s gracious work in us. As an old Christian once confessed, “If I had to contribute so much as one breath to my own salvation, I’d surely be lost.”

The same humility permeates Lord’s Day 24. The focus of the lesson has moved on from faith as such, to the place of faith in our life. Simply put: What does faith do? And it’s like the Catechism hardly wants to talk about this. For notice how it sets the bar very high. There’s the first question whether our good works can count for anything with God, and the answer is starkly put: “The righteousness which can stand before God’s judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God” (Q&A 62).

Perfect and complete—those are words which should make you feel small. We’re just not up to the task. And if these words don’t humble you, there’s another note of realism added for good measure: “Even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin” (Q&A 62). Because God is so perfectly holy, and because we’re naturally so unholy, there can be zero idea that we’re capable of earning anything with God.

I like how the Belgic Confession puts it in Article 24, “We cannot do a single work that is not defiled by our flesh and does not deserve punishment.” And that article goes on, “Even if we could show one good work, the remembrance of one sin is enough to make God reject it.”

So how can we safely talk about doing good works? Is it possible to speak about obedience without becoming a bit proud? For example, when we listen to the Ten Commandments every Sunday morning, how do we not think of it as a checklist, things we do (or don’t do) to score points with God? ‘Nope, haven’t blasphemed. Haven’t stolen anything. Certainly haven’t coveted my neighbour’s donkey or his manservant.’ So we can think we’re doing OK—and that’s a danger.

Or how can Paul say this in Philippians 2:12, “Work out your own salvation?” This verse looks like a minefield. We hear the word ‘work’ in the same sentence as “salvation,” and the alarm bells start going off. Is he suggesting that salvation still kind of depends on us? That we need to hold up our end of the bargain before the Lord will reward us? Is this Paul’s ‘inner Pharisee’ coming through—an old habit dying hard?

Let’s understand what the apostle is saying. He certainly does not say that God has done his bit in salvation, and now the rest is up to you. But neither does he say that because God has freely redeemed you, now you can sit on your hands and wait for Judgment Day. The Holy Spirit is calling the Philippians—and He is calling us—to be busy working out the implications of being saved. He’s calling us to show that we are saved, to show it through the way that we live tomorrow and on the day after.

Certainly the letter to the Philippians (as a whole) doesn’t suggest a “do-it-yourself” salvation. Instead, Philippians emphasizes how our deliverance begins and ends with God alone, all through the work of Christ. For instance, that’s the theme of the great ‘hymn to the Saviour’ in verses 6-11 of chapter 2. It celebrates what Christ has done, how God took the initiative in saving us.

The words are familiar to us, that Christ, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation” (v 6). And then as a human servant, Jesus did not shun the very lowest of tasks, for “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (v 8).

How can anyone sing this song and still think that salvation is based on what we do? Our deliverance is founded entirely on what Christ has done! For because of his obedience and suffering, God “highly exalted Him and gave Him the name which is above every name” (v 9). God made Jesus the Saviour and Lord at whose Name every knee should bow.

And just think about seeing someone on bended knee, like a young man proposing to his future wife: on your knees, you’re humble—you’re at the total mercy of another. Those on bended knee before Christ are not proud, but they’re surrendering to the LORD in total thanksgiving for his salvation.

Time and again, the New Testament rejects any idea of works-righteousness. One example is Ephesians 2: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (vv 8-9). Notice the triple negative; it’s powerful support for what the Catechism is teaching us: salvation is not of ourselves, and it’s not by works, so there’s no human boasting. ‘By grace through faith.’

So in Philippians 2, when Paul says ‘work out your salvation,’ we know that’s not coming from a place of pride, but humility. To confirm that, see what he says right after: “Work out your own salvation,” and then: “for it is God who works in you” (v 12). In everything, God is the one working. He is forever busy behind the scenes, bringing about good things in us and for us. Even when we believe, and we do humble works of faith, it’s through the Lord’s enabling grace. We do good, only because we’re motivated by the Father’s love, and commanded by his Son our Lord, and we are strengthened by his Spirit.

The Catechism mentions here “our best works” (Q&A 62). Again, how could dead sinners ever talk about “our best works,” unless God had worked these things in us? Because God is working in us, we might see a few things in our life that we are pleased with, decent accomplishments for the Lord and his cause.

Maybe we’re glad that we’ve been blessed with a good knowledge of God’s Word that we can share with other people at Bible study, or through teaching kids at school. Or we’re thankful for how we’ve been able to raise children who really love the Lord and show the fruit of the Spirit. Maybe we’re grateful for the time that we’ve been able to spend serving on a committee for church. Or God has allowed us to contribute money to help the poor in our community, or to spread the gospel. Maybe we’re glad that we can serve God by diligently using our trade or employing some other good talent every week. We’ve been a good friend to someone in need, we’ve been devoted to prayer for our congregation. What is your best work?

When we look at these things, and we think about ‘our best works,’ again it’s right that we get down on our knees. We acknowledge God’s grace, that He brought it about. Every good gift comes down from our heavenly Father. He gave us the faith, and the faithworks—He gave us the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit. He gave the works, and the doing of the works.

Ephesians 2 says something similar: “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should do them” (v 10). In every way, we are God’s handiwork—we are the labours of his restoring love. He put us together perfectly in the beginning; then saved us from the rubbish heap when we wrecked ourselves; now He’s renewing us to a noble purpose: ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works.’

You see then that doing these good works will be very different from those which are done to try save ourselves, or those things which we do to try ease our guilty conscience, or those good things that we do to meet the expectations of other people. We shouldn’t be doing good works for any of these reasons! For we already have our peace with God through Christ.

Yet all the same, there are good works to do. This is our chief purpose and end: to serve for the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbour. There cannot be a true believer in Christ who says they won’t do anything, produce anything, contribute anything. The Catechism puts it well, “It is impossible that those grafted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness” (Q&A 64). If we’re connected to Christ by faith, like branches connected to a vine, there’s going to be a good harvest, for “it is God who works in you.”

So that command isn’t so alarming anymore: “Work out your own salvation.” Not work for it, but work it out. God’s gift of salvation should inspire you, stimulate you, motivate you to service. Even in the many mundane chores and ordinary events that fill up our weeks, we can be reminded that this is what God has called us to do, at this moment. These are the good works He has prepared for you! It is God who works in you, and He’s put you in this place for a holy purpose. Here is where God calls you to be faithful.

And we ought to do this, says the Spirit, “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Not in the anxiety of wondering whether our salvation is secure, but doing so with reverence and awe—so impressed by the splendours of our God that we want to work for his good pleasure.

 

2) to will and to do for his good pleasure: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” Paul writes, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to do for his good pleasure” (2:12-13). The last phrase we want to focus on now, for this is the mission that God has in mind for us: “To will, and to do”—or, if you appreciate alliteration, “to will and to work.”

This mission very much concerns whatever we’ll be doing tomorrow or throughout the week. The LORD God has saved us, and works in us, so that our ambitions and plans and activities all take on a new direction.

Sometimes, we said, ‘salvation’ is kept far separate from the rest of our life. What does salvation really have to do with tomorrow’s meeting at work? What does salvation have to do your assignments at school? Or with the big party you’re going to on Friday? But wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, ‘it is God who works in you.’ The fact is, your life bears his mark, and his fingerprints are all over you.

Already in Philippians 1, Paul describes the motivating power of salvation, when he says, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v 27). Let it be worthy! Let your conduct demonstrate in practical and meaningful ways that you know and believe the gospel of Christ. Let your style of life be fitting for someone who loves the Lord.

This is one of those commands in Scripture where God leaves the application completely up to us. It can be tailor-made for whatever situation we’re in. Because what’s your ‘conduct?’ It’s our behaviour, our daily walk, our activities each hour—it’s pretty well everything we do. It’s how we start our day. It’s how we greet our spouse, or children, or parents. It’s how we drive. It’s how we work. It’s how we study. It’s how we eat and drink. It’s how we play and relax. “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Is there a uniquely Christian way to eat your breakfast, or to do the laundry, or to play soccer, or to fill in a report at work? We know that in all these situations, we must still let the gospel move us to worthy action. We have an opportunity to ‘work out’ our salvation. We have an opportunity to act differently because of what Christ has done for us. To speak kindly. To labour faithfully. To do our chores without grumbling. To play fairly. And so on.

Paul shows a little of what he means by “worthy conduct,” in chapter 2. For before that hymn to the Saviour in verse 6 and following, Paul speaks of what should distinguish our lives. If you first look at verse 1, you see a number of conditions: “If there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if…”

If all these things are true—and they surely are—if Christ has blessed you with his mercy, then there needs to be a real and serious effect in your life. That’s what we have in verses 2-4: so ‘be like-minded, have the same love, be of one accord, of one mind.’

If you’re trying to work out your salvation, then this will have a real effect on how you treat other people. The Spirit teaches us, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:3-4).

‘You’ve received God’s grace,’ says the Spirit, ‘now live in grace! You’ve believed the gospel of salvation, now live a life that’s worthy of it.’ Remember, this is why God is working in us, so that we “will and do” for his good pleasure (2:13).

God is working in us “to will,” says Paul. What is our will? It’s the source and beginning of our desires, our intentions, plans and purposes. Which means that our will has a crucial role. The kind of things we set our minds on each day, the priorities we make for ourselves—these have a great impact on how we live. Every day, it’s our will that’s in the driver’s seat. Trouble is, controlling our will is like trying to steer an elephant: it’s big and powerful and stubborn, and once its made up its mind, it’s hard to manage.

So we pray that God would work in us, that our will would become more submissive. That it would become more agreeable to what God wants. It’s God the Spirit alone who can transform our wills, but here, as before, we have a calling. ‘Work it out,’ says Scripture. ‘As God bends your will through his Spirit, let it be bent. As God teaches your will, let it be taught.’

This calls us to fill our minds with good things, to have our will be shaped by God’s Word. We’ll never have the mind of Christ if the only thing we’re putting in front of our eyes is Netflix and YouTube. We’ll never learn what is good if we don’t open up the Scriptures.

As the Spirit exhorts us later in this book, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (4:8). Work with these things, so that you learn to will what is good!

And what about that second half of the phrase? God is working in us “to do.” From desire comes action. From planning comes carrying out. This is what the Catechism describes as the “fruits of thankfulness” (Q&A 64). Because if you’re really thankful for something, what do you? You say it. You sing it. You want to give something back. When you’re really thankful, you can’t keep it in, but you want to show the Giver that you honour him.

God is delighted when we do so. As Paul said, “It is God who works in you…for his good pleasure.” Amazingly, the LORD is gladded by our good works. He delights to see us busy with salvation, busy working it out. He delights for all of us to ask, ‘How can I better serve in the church? How can I better live a ‘life worthy of the gospel’ as a friend to my friends, as a parent to my kids, as a spouse, as a grandparent, as a worker—yes, in whatever fills each day?’

It remains true that “even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin” (Q&A 62). But God is a gracious Father. He doesn’t reject our humble efforts. He doesn’t scorn the things we do. But when they’re done in faith, He graciously welcomes them. By our will and by our work, God is greatly honoured, and his Kingdom comes.

So tomorrow we’re back to it. Back to our job and school. Back to activities around the home, in the community, or whatever else fills our days and weeks. And what happens to all those good things you heard about and talked about today? When we’re back to work tomorrow, will we even think of things like our salvation, forgiveness, and eternity? Let us accept the challenge to do so, more and more. For this our God-given identity. These are the things that shape our purpose here on earth.

May we then strive to set our minds on things above.

Always remembering that I am one who is saved. That I’m renewed. That I’m not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

May this truth transform each of us. May we work it out, day after day, with fear and trembling: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure.”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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