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WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, February 8, 2014

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).


In reading several commentaries on these verses I found very little help in explaining their meaning to common people like you and me. Many see a paradox here, a seeming contradiction. But I do not see contradiction. Some commentators think that verse twelve tells us that salvation depends on their own work. But, then, verse thirteen tells us that it is God’s work. They say that both cannot be true unless we make the word “salvation” mean “sanctification.” So, they say, these verses cannot be applied to unsaved people. They can only be applied to those who are already saved. They make the verses mean, “Work out your own sanctification with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The trouble with that is the Greek word here means “salvation.” A different word is used for “sanctification.”

Another problem with that view is that it makes our initial salvation depend on the grace of God, and our growth in sanctification depend on works. But that would mean you are saved by grace, and then you are on your own, without God’s grace to keep you saved! But the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace from start to finish! The Bible says,

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Romans 8:28-30 has been called “the Golden Chain” because it clearly shows that the grace of God is what saves us and keeps us saved! Salvation and sanctification both depend on the grace of God alone! Spurgeon wrote a book titled All of Grace. Here is the “Golden Chain” in the 8th chapter of Romans,

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

Why then does the Apostle say, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? Dr. R. C. H. Lenski shed light on this when he said, “The apparent paradox is non-existent. If God is the One who works in us both the willing and the working, then we... must ever go to God whose continuous grace will move us to will, and also to translate the willing into deeds” (R. C. H. Lenski, Ph.D., The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians, Augsburg Publishing House, 1937, p. 799; note on Philippians 2:12).

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Spurgeon gave wise advice on these words when he said, “I think I hear somebody say, ‘Well, but don’t you believe in predestination? What have we to do with looking to our own salvation? Is it not all fixed?’ Thou fool, for I can scarce answer thee till I have given thee thy right title; was it not fixed whether thou shouldst get wet or not in coming to this place? Why then did you bring your umbrella? Is it not fixed whether you shall be nourished with food today or shall go hungry? Why then will you go home and eat your dinner? Is it not fixed whether you shall live or not tomorrow; will you, therefore, cut your throat? No, you do not reason so...foolishly from destiny in reference to anything but ‘your own salvation,’ and you know it is not reasoning, it is just mere talk. Here is all the answer I will give you, and all you deserve” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1971 reprint, volume XVII, p. 429).

Abraham Lincoln had this problem, thinking he was not one of the elect. But Lincoln was no fool. He wasn’t merely talking, and making an excuse. He actually thought this, deep in his heart. It took a godly and wise Calvinistic pastor, Dr. Phineas Gurley, to show him the folly of such a belief. Dr. Gurley helped Lincoln to trust Christ. Lincoln was scheduled to give his salvation testimony on Easter Sunday and be baptized by Dr. Gurley. Thank God he was already saved – because John Wilkes Booth shot and killed him on Good Friday – two days before his scheduled testimony and baptism! (By the way, Lincoln almost certainly wrote out his salvation testimony, but I can’t find it. If any reader of this sermon can find it, I would very much appreciate it if you would mail it to me. I will pay $500.00 or more to the person who can find this word-for-word testimony and mail it to me. It must, however, be authenticated).

Wouldn’t it have been a horrible shame if our beloved President had died in a lost condition – because he thought he was not one of the elect? But no one else I have known held this view out of serious thought. All the people I have met only use predestination as an excuse for not trusting Jesus. They obviously think they are very clever – that no one ever thought of it before. Yet Spurgeon used very strong language in rebuking them. Spurgeon said, “Thou fool, for I can scarce answer thee till I have given thee thy right title...Your reasoning is just mere talk.” Our text makes that quite clear:

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

If you are able to comfort yourself by using predestination, then you are not one of the elect! A person who is really predestined could not possibly take any comfort by using it as an excuse! If you can use predestination for an excuse, then it is clear that you are not one of the elect. A person who is predestined would be compelled to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. But if God is not working in you, then you can go on using this as an excuse – because, by your very lack of zeal, you prove that you are not one of God’s elect. You are like Lot’s sons-in-law, who, when the old man warned them to flee from the wrath to come, “seemed as one that mocked” (Genesis 19:14). You will perish in your senseless stupor, as they did in the day of judgment, in the fire of God’s wrath, when He “rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:29), “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7).

“Well,” you may say, “I am not as bad as other people I know. I know someone who says he is saved who is not as good as me.” But when did we speak to you about levels of sin – or levels of goodness? I don’t remember ever saying that to you, have I? Then where does it come from? You don’t have to be a spiritual giant to see that this is from Satan.

God is not interested in whether you are “better” or “worse” than someone else, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved...that they are all under sin” (Romans 3:9). Since you are a sinner, you will find yourself in “the fire that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9:43). This will be your unhappy dwelling place forever, unless you

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Another person may think, “Look at all the good things I do. I never miss church. I work in the church. I give money to the church. I go to evangelism. I go to prayer meeting. What do I lack?”

My dear friend, you lack Christ! Without Christ, all your righteous works are nothing but “filthy rags” according to Scripture (Isaiah 64:6). Without pardon and salvation in Christ, on Judgment Day, He will say to you,

“I never knew you: depart from me” (Matthew 7:23).

“But, Lord, I was in church several times a week!” “I never knew you: depart from me.” “But, Lord, I faithfully tithed my money!” “I never knew you: depart from me.” “But, Lord, I actually brought people to church to hear the Gospel!” “I never knew you: depart from me.” “But, Lord, I fasted and prayed!” “I never knew you: depart from me.” “But, Lord, all these things I have kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” “I never knew you: depart from me.”

This ought to show you that nothing will change your eternal destiny if Christ does not know you! “Depart from me: I never knew you” will be His answer on that dreadful day!

Then, you say, “But what must I do?” There is only one thing that will help you,

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

But what does it mean to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? When God has taken away your false hopes of saving yourself, then you may trust Jesus and be saved by Him. The Bible says, “Strive to enter in at the strait [narrow] gate” (Luke 13:24). The Bible says, “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). Does that seem strange? I don’t think so. The “work” and the “striving” include the work and striving of admitting to yourself that you are lost without Jesus, and the labor and striving, of seeking Christ and finding your salvation in Him alone. Your sinful nature, and the Devil, keep telling you to do something to save yourself. You must work and labour to get through all that and rest in Jesus alone, as Luther and Bunyan and Whitefield and Wesley and Spurgeon did. God will draw a person who is truly elect to Christ, as He did with “Christian” in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Spurgeon labored and strove to find Christ. At last he found rest in Christ by simple “rest” in Him alone. Spurgeon said,

If thou standest upon Christ, thou art on a rock; but if thou trusteth in the merits of Christ in part, and on thy own merits in part, then thou hast one foot on a rock but another on quicksand; and thou mightest as well have both feet on the quicksand, for the result will be the same.

      None but Jesus, none but Jesus
      Can do helpless sinners good.

Thou art not saved unless Christ be all in all in thy soul...
      How vividly there comes to my memory...the moment when I first believed in Jesus! It was the simplest act my mind ever performed, and yet the most wonderful, for the Holy Spirit wrought it in me. Simply to have done with reliance upon myself, and [give up] confidence in all but Jesus, and to rest alone, my undivided confidence in him...My sin was in that moment forgiven me, and I was saved, and may it be so with you, my friend, even with you if you also trust the Lord Jesus. “Your own salvation” shall be secured by that one simple act of faith [in Jesus]...God grant that not a soul may go out of this place unsaved! (ibid., p. 431).

Amen, and amen!

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
   Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, love and power;
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more!
   He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more!
(“Come, Ye Sinners” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).

Come to Jesus! Trust Him! “Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power.”

(END OF SERMON)
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