This post is more or less a continuation of the thoughts expressed in the previous post. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this delicate balance between faith and works. It’s such a fine line between working for your salvation and working it out in your daily life. So fine that we are easily led astray into one extreme or the other if we are not focused on the One leading us.
When I woke up this morning, this verse came to mind:
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12
In the past I’ve had a hard time understanding it because the Bible clearly tells us that salvation is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8, 9). I knew this wasn’t contradicting that, but I couldn’t quite articulate how it fit. My current understanding is still a work in progress, but I wanted to share what I’m learning so far.
The best way I can explain it is through a story, and since I’m a girl, my story is rather feminine in nature. (Sorry, guys!)
Imagine that a girl receives the gift of the most exquisitely beautiful wedding dress she’s ever seen. In fact, it’s the dress of her dreams. And it’s hers to keep, free of charge, no strings attached. But it’s a size 6, and she’s a size 16. She knows her own efforts to get to a size 6 in the past have been complete failures, and just when she’s despairing of ever being able to wear the dress, the Gift Giver offers to be her personal trainer. He promises that if she will just be willing to follow his exercise regimen and instructions, she’ll be wearing that dress in no time.
Once she agrees, the hard work begins. Not only does he have her doing regular exercise routines, he’s teaching her to break the bad habits that lead to unhealthy weight gain. He shows her how to eat healthfully, how to exercise moderation and discipline.
It’s a lot of hard work, and some days she feels like giving up, but he’s with her through it all, encouraging her. In fact, he puts in so much effort to help her achieve her dream. He doesn’t just sit on the sidelines, watching her work out, telling her what to do. He’s right there beside her, doing every exercise. First he shows her how it’s done, then he does it with her. He never leaves her side. He’s with her all the way, putting an arm around her and pulling her along that last half-mile when she feels she can’t run a step further.
Eventually, the day comes when all the pain and struggle is rewarded as she walks down the aisle in her beautiful wedding dress, and pledges her life to her beloved trainer.
This is the best way I can explain it. Salvation is a free gift, but it doesn’t end with receiving the gift. Someone can give me a free ticket to Brazil, but unless I get my passport and visa, I probably won’t see anything more than that little room the immigration authorities put you in when they want to make sure you won’t escape before being sent back to your own country.
It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the wedding guest who refused to wear the wedding garment (Matthew 22:1-14). The invitation was freely given, but the guests needed to put on the provided wedding garment, which represents Christ’s character.
While the gift is free, something is required of us, and that part is the “work” we do. It’s the faith with which we accept Jesus’ gift and the help He provides to get our characters into shape so we can be fit for heaven. Our “work” is holding on to Him, as He leads us down the path, and pulls us up the hilly parts. Our “work” is obedience, which we can’t even take credit for, because He gives us the power to do it. Our “work” is submission to His way.
“While it is true that our busy activities will not in themselves ensure salvation, it is also true that faith which unites us to Christ will stir the soul to activity.” Ellen White, Our High Calling, p. 121.