Words of Encouragement
After offering grave words, warning us to continue working out our salvation with fear and trembling, Paul continues: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” For Paul to say this cannot mean that God is doing it for you. Otherwise, the warning does not make any sense if God has taken control of my life to such an extent that I have no choice in the matter. Rather, these are words of encouragement. You can work out your salvation. You can bring your salvation to its completion because God is working in you. How is God working in us? If God directly intervened within us, there would be no need for the scriptures to direct our paths. However, the apostle Paul argued that faith comes through hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). It is the word of God that is at work within us.
Therefore, you can work out your salvation. You can bring your salvation to its completion by being connected to God. The work that Paul is describing is our need to draw closer to God. This is how we can have our will and our work be for God’s good pleasure. I think this is an appropriate illustration: in a sense we are like a toaster, a useful instrument. Yet the toaster is not useful if it is not plugged in. There is no value in the toaster if it is not plugged in to get the electricity to operate. Jesus used a similar illustration:
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8; ESV)
Notice that Jesus made the same point: if you are not plugged into Jesus, you cannot bear fruit. If we are not plugged in, we are of no value and will cast into the fire. What does it mean to plug in? Notice verse 7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you….” God is working in us when we are plugged into the word of God. We work out our salvation, bringing to completion, by letting God work in us through his word.
The word of God brings the desire and the work for his good pleasure. The more we read from the word of God, the more we will want to change and conform to the will of the Lord. It takes a callous person to read about the love of God, the mercy of God, the sacrifice of God, the assistance of God, the grace of God, and so forth and not have the desire to change your life (transform) for God. Our desire and determination wanes when we are not plugging in. When we are not reading, studying, and meditating on God’s word then we are slipping. We must remain plugged into the word of God to bring our salvation to its completion.
The more I read, the more I want to read more. The more I read, the more I want to think about what I have read. I want to purchase new Bibles to see how those verses read in other translations. I want to study the texts to see what this meant for the original audience and for myself. Even this study came from this building desire. I wanted to know what it meant that God is working in us, to will and to work for his good pleasure. What does that mean? What does that look like in my life? Desire builds as we want to learn more about what God said and what God meant. Waning desire needs to be the warning to us that we are not working out our salvation. Waning desires shows that we have become passive in our salvation and we are not working to bring it to its completion.
The easy application is to study for our Bible classes. Use the time to dwell upon the word of God that we will be discussing on Sundays and Wednesdays. Take this another step further by having your own personal study. Pick a topic that you want to know more about. Pick a book in the scriptures that you want to learn. Pick characters in the Bible that you want to teach you. Get yourself a study Bible, by which I mean, a Bible that has large print that will not tire your eyes and will encourage study. Get yourself a reading Bible that you can read in bed. Get yourself a portable Bible to read at lunch at work or while in waiting rooms. I am encouraging you to get plugged in by making sure you are reading regularly each day.
Finally, our purpose is to be pleasing to God. When we get plugged into the word of the Lord we will work to make God our purpose. I think this explanation of verses 12-13 fit the rest of the Paul’s teaching in verses 14-18. We are to be the blameless and innocent children of God, shining as lights in the world. The word of life has transformed our lives so that our lives will not have been in vain. We will bring our salvation to its completion.