Paul writes:” continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, …”
Don’t miss the profound truth of this statement. Paul did NOT say, “Continue to work for your salvation” he said, “to work out your salvation.” The difference between those two statements is huge. God does not expect us to work our way to heaven or into a right relationship with God. God expects us to “work out” our salvation as if it was a “spiritual muscle.” When was the last time you “worked out?” I hope it was regularly. The old saying about the body is “use it or lose it.” I believe the same can be said of spiritual strength and vitality.
Sadly many of us, who live under the gift of grace, fail to realize the importance of spiritual disciplines and exercise. Take “love” or “faith” as examples. Some of us have the faulty notion that there is a limited reserve of “love” in our hearts and lives. If we love someone, then we diminish our ability to love someone else. We think our “love capacity” is like our gas tank in our car or SUV. When I love I have reduced my capacity to love. The reality is your capacity to love is more like a muscle—a “love muscle.” Have you been to a gym lately? Have you seen the young men and young women lifting weights in front of the mirrors? On a side note, what is up with the mirrors? That is a question for another time.
As they lift weights, are they reducing their strength or increasing their strength? At the moment they are exerting a great deal of energy, but in reality they are not making themselves weaker, but stronger. You want to make yourself weaker, and then spend a day in bed, and then another day in bed. According to some doctors, you lose 1% of your lean body muscle mass each day you spend in bed, so in ten days you would lose 10% of your strength, why because you did not use it. God designed our bodies to be parables of our spiritual lives. You want to be able to love more then “work out” your love muscle by love others, and if you really want to get strong—love your enemies!
Do you get the point, God wants us to “work out” our salvation. You probably noticed the statement “with fear and trembling.” So what is up with that? Does God want us to serve him out of fear and dread? Does God believe we do our best work when we are scared to death of him as if he was a raging authoritarian father watching over everything we say or do just waiting for us to mess up? I remember years ago my brother Tommy playing on a basketball team under a head coach who pulled his players everything they made a mistake. They played “scared” not good, and his team failed instead of thrived. No, God is not an angry coach, general or dad. The “fear and trembling” relates to the importance and significance of our work. Often as I prepared to baptize someone on a Sunday morning, I can tell from the look in their eyes and even the trembling of their hands that they are nervous and scared. I will often ask them if they are scared or nervous. Most of the time they nod with affirmation, and I will instruct them saying “That’s okay, you are nervous because this is important.” To work out our salvation with fear and trembling means what we are doing is important. I promise you tonight when the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals take the field in the fourth game of the World Series they will be a bit nervous because this is one of the biggest series in their lives—a game they will replay the rest of their lives—it is important, if they are not a bit nervous or scared they either don’t care of don’t understand.