12 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; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13, NKJV)
More than a few times we have heard this passage misused to endorse accepting people in error and the immorality it produces. Such brethren defy the existence of absolute truth while tacitly accepting the moral relativism it produces. Since good and sincere brethren disagree on certain doctrinal issues (which they define as gray areas), they conclude each one will have to just “work out their own salvation” on the matter. This view is applied to divorce and remarriage. One of the problems with using Philippians 2:12 this way is it results in accepting adulterers as if they are faithful Christians. No longer is the sinner rebuked and called to repentance. Now he or she is tolerated and allowed to “work out their own salvation.” People “commit adultery” when they divorce and remarry in violation of Matthew 19:9. How do you “work out your own salvation” as an adulterer? God only forgives the adulterer when the sinner repents, prays and ending the adulterous remarriage. “Work out your own salvation” means to keep on obeying God (read verse 12 again). You bring your salvation to its full accomplishment by obeying God, not by remaining in disobedience.
16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, 18 who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16–18, NKJV)
False teaching is not benign. It leads to harmful spiritual effects upon its teachers, those who follow them, and those influenced by the followers (2 Pet. 2:1-2). Yet, some will tell us that false doctrine is really a non-issue. They say things like, “everybody is in error on something;” or, “nobody is 100% doctrinally pure.” Their solution is agreeing to disagree on revealed truth. That is not the Bible solution (1 Corinthians 1:10). Today’s passage exposes and explodes this false reasoning about false teaching. First, false teaching is identifiable. Some messages are indeed profane and empty, infecting and destroying souls (v. 16). These stand in contrast with “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Second, error leads to ungodliness (v. 16). False teaching is sin. Third, error leads to more error. It spreads. Someone said, “Error does not stand still. It continues to work.” Unopposed, it spreads like cancer (v. 17). Fourth, false messages leas to overthrowing faith (v. 18). It does matter what you believe. Fifth, false messages lead to strife (2 Timothy 2:23). Avoid error. Do not begin to listen to it, or receive those who teach it (2 John 10-11). It leads you away from the truth, and straight into iniquity (2 Timothy 2:18-19).
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20, NKJV)
This Bible passage enjoins upon faithful Christians the task of rescuing a struggling, sinning Christian from spiritual death. It forever exposes and opposes the false teaching of “once saved, always saved.” Here, the soul that needs saving is a Christian who: (1) Has wandered from the truth. We must walk in the truth to be secure in our salvation (Jno. 10:27); (2) Needs turning back. The person is headed in the wrong, spiritual direction; His present way is “error.” You see, there really is only one way that leads to life (Jno. 14:6); (3) Has sinned. The person is “a sinner,” “in error” and in “death.” He/she is lost. You see, doctrine (teaching) affects salvation. False doctrine is error; a wandering from the truth. Wandering from the truth into error is a real danger. When it happens, the spiritually strong must become first responders, trying to save a soul from death (Gal. 6:1). In what more worthy endeavor can you participate? “He who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30).
Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. (Proverbs 21:23, NKJV)
Our words are the expressions of our soul. The deepest recesses of the heart are exposed by the words of our mouth. Truly, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). For example, guard your mouth against speaking corrupt words. There is no place in the Christian’s life for profanity, for it exposes a profane heart. Guard your mouth against speaking lies. Half-truths, misdirection and other forms of deception are not a trait of the pure in heart. “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor” defines the followers of Jesus (Eph. 4:25). Guard your mouth against angry words. These flow out of a heart that is bitter, resentful and unforgiving. Guard your mouth against speaking false doctrine. The Spirit of truth has spoken truth to us through Christ’s apostles (Jno. 16:13). Therefore, speak “as the oracles of God,” not with the wisdom and will of men (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 2:8). By cleansing your heart of profanity, deceit, anger and error, your soul will be protected from trouble. That’s what repentance is; changing your heart. Rather than opening wide your mouth to pour out evil things, guard your soul from the troublesome results of an uncontrolled tongue. May we recall and live what the children sing, “Be careful little mouths what you say.”
1 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy out of their own heart, ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ ” 3 Thus says the Lord God: “Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!” (Ezekiel 13:1–3, NKJV)
Does it make a difference what you teach religiously, as long as you are sincere? Yes. Because it makes a different to God, it ought to make a difference to us. It is an insult against God to teach something as being from God, when in fact it only comes one’s own heart (mind or will). It is putting words into His mouth. Such lies against God by the false prophets of Israel were among the sins that led to the nation’s demise at the hands of the Babylonian empire (approximately 600 years before Jesus was born). Even now, more than a few sincere, religious people accept and promote the false teaching that “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” What Bible passage teaches that? Truth is God’s word, not what I choose to define as truth (Jno. 17:17). Only the truth of God that is revealed in the word of Christ will free us from sin. Only by abiding in the word of Christ are we truly His disciples (Jno. 8:31-32). Be sure to speak and obey His teachings, and not the teachings that originate in the human heart. The Scriptures reveal the difference (2 Tim. 3:16-17).