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.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10, NKJV)
The Protestant Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church fell far short of restoring New Testament Christianity. One such area was its failure to return to the Scriptural (and thus, essential) place of obedience to God to be saved “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Obedience is an “unprofitable” servant’s faith at work (Luke 17:10). Protestantism opted to demonize every kind of work while codifying salvation by faith only, even though Scripture says, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). And, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Nineveh’s salvation from God’s imminent destruction well illustrates the part that a working faith plays in salvation. Why would God consider Nineveh’s “works” at all, if works have nothing to do with God’s gift of salvation (Jonah 3:7-9, 10)? Jesus endorsed their works as proof that “they repented” (Luke 11:32). Even so, we do not earn salvation when we obey God’s command to repent (Acts 17:30). But, without obeying God and repenting of sins, we will not receive His grace that saves our soul. Repentance is a work of faith, a condition we must meet to be saved (Acts 3:19). God has given commands we must obey as conditions to be saved “by grace through faith.” Unless we obey them, we do not trust God. All we have is a dead faith.
1 Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; 2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2, NKJV)
While some say obeying the commands of God is not essential for eternal salvation in Christ, the apostle encourages Christians to abound more and more in that very lifestyle. The word “ought” conveys a moral obligation. That is, we are morally required before God to walk (live) so as to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9). Living to please God is accomplished by keeping the commandments we have been given by the apostles “through the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 14:37). Stay the course of faithfully obeying the commands of the Lord Jesus, and Christ will give you eternal life (Hebrews 5:8-9). We can never be content with not pleasing God, as if our sin carries no eternal consequence. They do. Therefore, let us “abound more and more” in a life of faith that keeps the commands of God.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Romans 5:9, NKJV)
To be justified means to be declared righteous, free of guilt and innocent of sin. The death of Jesus is the basis for our justification from sin. Without it we would have no way to be freed from the guilt of our sins and the wrath sin brings (Romans. 3:19; 6:23). The New Testament attributes the sinner’s justification to many things, including God’s grace (Romans 3:24), man’s faith (Galatians 2:16), and the works of faith (James 2:24). God’s love prompted the sacrificial death of His only begotten Son on Calvary’s cross (Romans 5:6-8). Although Christ died for every sinner, only those who have faith in Jesus are saved from wrath through Him (Romans 3:26; 5:9). Yet, sinners are not justified by “faith only” (James 2:24). Faith is dead without obedience to the word of God (James 2:17, 20). Do you have faith to do whatever Jesus commands of you? Or, is your faith merely an affirmation without obedience? Whoever “fears God and works righteousness” is acceptable to Him, not because they earn justification, but because they believe God justifies them by the blood of His Son when they obey His word (Acts 10:34-35). It should not surprise us that water baptism is the action of obedient faith by which sinners obtain justification by Christ’s death (Romans 6:4; Acts 22:16). The nature of your faith is crucial in assuring your justification by the blood of Jesus.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. (Romans 4:3–4, NKJV)
Obedience to Christ is not a work of merit that nullifies grace. The theology of Calvin has persuaded untold millions that obedience is a work that “earns” or merits salvation. If true, then James contradicts Paul, for he said, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23). Faith is made complete by obedience. There is no contradiction in Scripture, only with Calvinism’s faulty definitions of faith and works. Like us all, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. Only perfect law-keeping (sinlessness) would nullify grace and make salvation a debt (Romans 4:4). The faith that saved Abraham was not sinless, but it was obedient (as witnessed in the matter of Isaac). Through the gospel, it is obedient faith that God counts for righteousness today. Obedience earns nothing; it is the action of a dutiful servant (Luke 17:10). Obedience is the work that justifies the ungodly, for without it, faith is dead (James 2:20). Obedient faith, not faith only, justifies sinners (James 2:24).
3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:3–6, NKJV)
As this passage explains how we are assured that we know God, it provides an inspired commentary on what it means to “walk in the light” in 1 John 1:7. Many are heard to say they “know God” (that they “walk in the light”). John explains how we are assured that we know God; “if” we keep His commandments (v. 3). Knowing God in this passage equates to practicing the truth and “walking in the light” in 1 John 1:6-7. We cannot disobey God and correctly claim to understand or know God. To say we know God while disobeying Him makes us a liar. The love of God does not live in disobedience; it is perfected (matured) by keeping His word (v. 5). One may indeed feel in his heart that they know God, but that is not how the Bible defines knowing God. To know God and to live in the love of God, we must “keep His commandments.” Obeying God is not an attempt to earn your way to heaven; It is the express of your love for God. The “truth is not in” the disobedient; He does not know God. To know God, walk as Christ walked. He always obeyed the Father (John 8:29; 12:48-50).
18 Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. 19 And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. 20 When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:18–20, NKJV)
Jesus saw their faith, and forgave the man’s sins. In just this way, an active faith that is seen by God is the faith He requires of us for our forgiveness. Salvation is “by grace, through faith;” it is “not our yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Does anyone think that because Jesus saw their faith, the paralytic earned the right to be forgiven? Certainly not! Why then, is there so much objection to saving faith being one that obeys the Lord’s commands (to repent and be baptized, Acts 2:38; Mk. 16:16)? You see, faith that cannot be seen is incomplete (James 2:17-18). Faith must be coupled with the action of faith (obedience), because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Saving faith is active, it is obedient to the word of Jesus. Obedient faith does not earn the right to be saved. Salvation is the gift of God, and Jesus gave that gift of salvation to the paralytic. But, what he had not lowered him into Christ’s presence? Without their active faith, he would have not been saved. Do you have faith to obey Jesus, to be saved by His grace? Does Jesus see your faith?