Work Out Your Own Salvation

April 27, 2012

Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13 is sometimes regarded as a difficult passage. People are troubled by the phrase, work out. Doesn’t Paul say we can’t be saved by works of the law (Romans 3:20) or that the one who works, his wages are counted as his due rather than as a gift (Romans 4:4)? The answer is yes, but Paul can use the word, work, in more than one way. It can mean merit, and Paul clearly teaches we can’t merit or earn our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) . But it can also be a way of talking about deeds of obedience (Ephesians 2:10). Faith clearly leads to obedience (Romans 1:5), so Christians are created for good works. What does Paul want us to learn from this statement?

Paul wants us to lead a life of obedience (work out) because we are Christians. Obedience is our God-given purpose (see Philippians 1:9-11, 1:27). We were always meant to let God be Lord in our lives. We were always meant to obey. By the way, obedience isn’t tested when what God wants and what we want are the same. Obedience is true obedience when we are willing to say with Jesus, not my will but yours be done. Obedience is also tested by the people around us. Obedience shouldn’t depend on our human audience. Paul indicates that when he says “in my presence, but much more in my absence.”

Paul wants us to accept and live a life of individual responsibility — “work out your own salvation.” Paul is reminding them of their individual responsibility to continue in the path to salvation. There are things others can’t do for you. I can’t build your character for you. I can’t make your moral choices for you. Yes, each of us can receive guidance, but even that is something we must choose to accept or reject.

Paul wants us to live a life of perseverance (work out your own salvation). Louw and Nida give this insight into the word: “to do something with success and/or thoroughness.” A.T. Robertson in his, Word Pictures in the New Testament, notes for this passage to “work on to the finish.” We see this even in Paul’s example:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, ESV)

Paul’s statement is consistent with grace. Work out has to do with the obedience which is our purpose. Because of our status as Christians, Paul wants us to live lives of obedience, responsibility, and perseverance.

The True Audience

April 20, 2012

We live in the age of entertainment. Most of us spend hours every week being in the audience of some performance via television, and that experience may distort our view of worship. Søren Kierkegaard noted the problem in the nineteenth century. His parable is worth considering.

It is so on the stage, as you know well enough, that someone sits and prompts by whispers; [he is hidden;] he is the inconspicuous one; he is and wishes to be overlooked. But then there is another, he strides out prominently, he draws every eye to himself. For that reason he has been given his name, that is: actor. He impersonates a distinct individual. In the skillful sense of this illusionary art, each word becomes true when embodied in him, true through him—and yet he is told what he shall say by the hidden one that sits and whispers. No one is so foolish as to regard the prompter as more important than the actor.

Now forget this light talk about art. Alas, in regard to things spiritual, the foolishness of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as an actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgment upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor—not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if he is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk. The prompter whispers to the actor what he is to say, but the actor’s repetition of it is the main concern—is the solemn charm of the art. The speaker whispers the word to the listeners. But the main concern is earnestness: that the listeners by themselves, with themselves, and to themselves, in the silence before God, may speak with the help of this address.

The address is not given for the speaker’s sake, in order that men may praise or blame him. The listener’s repetition of it is what is aimed at. If the speaker has the responsibility for what he whispers, then the listener has an equally great responsibility not to fail short in his task. In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener … is the actor, who in all truth acts before God.*

The leaders of worship are prompters. Those in the assembly are the actors on the stage of life and eternity prompted by those who “whisper” the word, and God is the true audience.

*Thomas C. Oden, editor. The Parables of Kierkegaard, pp. 89-90.

Avoiding “Tiny Terror”

April 13, 2012

I was in a doctor’s waiting room when I met “Tiny Terror” and his mom. Tiny Terror was bouncing off the walls, and Mom seemed to have no way to control him. I thought the older couple sitting in the room was his grandparents. After all, Tiny Terror was on the floor in between the older gentleman’s legs banging a toy against the wall. Finally, Mom said that Tiny Terror was going to “time out.” It did not seem that Tiny Terror considered that an unpleasant prospect. When they had left the room, I learned that the people I assumed as “Grandparents” were just perturbed victims of Tiny Terror. The older gentleman commented aloud, “That boy is out of control and is the boss of his mother.”

How do we avoid raising a Tiny Terror? We have to realize that we are in a struggle to decide who is boss. The parent who can give consistent and firm discipline can win that battle. Consistency of consequences for unwanted behaviors is important because children will attempt to wear us down in this battle over wills. Punishment needs to “unpleasant” in order to be a deterrent (cf. Hebrews 12:11). Timeout can be unpleasant if done correctly, but in Tiny Terror’s case timeout was not dreaded.

I still think there is a place for spanking, and by the way, so does scripture (Proverbs13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15). Dr. James Dobson gives a number of good guidelines in his books. He suggests mild spankings could occur beginning at about 15 months. Spankings should be infrequent and reserved for defiance. Corporal punishment might continue to ages 9 to 12, but again are reserved for rebellion. I realize that there have been negative studies of spanking. However, I don’t believe researchers have carefully distinguished between the controlled corporal punishment as outlined by Dobson and the swats done out of anger and frustration. I too deplore the latter and think they fail as effect discipline.

Other punishments must also be a part of the parent’s tool kit. They will include timeout, loss of privileges, and work, although these must be tailored to the child’s age and abilities. Punishment shouldn’t be done out of anger. It should include talking about why the child is being corrected and should also include the expression of the parent’s love for the child. Discipline is not just about negative behavior. Discipline also includes reward and praise for appropriate behavior.

Parents should be clear about boundaries for their children. It is natural for children to test the boundaries set by parents, which is why consistency is important. Don’t make threats that you are not going to carry through on. Idle threats only allow the child to push your buttons and the edges of the boundaries you’ve set. If we are consistent, we won’t have to use our anger as the means of control. We can gain compliance before it reaches the anger level. Also be careful about promises. Don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep.

Raising children also includes a great deal of instruction. We are instilling values and morals. “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NASB). We should be talking about spiritual things and values in our daily lives (see Deuteronomy 4:9, 6:7, Psalm 78:4-7, and Ephesians 6:1-4).

Few parents would want to claim perfection in child rearing. We all make mistakes, but there are common sense ways of being in control—ways to avoid “Tiny Terror.”

The Meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection

April 6, 2012

How can we express what the resurrection means?

It means vindication. Jesus really is the Messiah, the Anointed One, who fulfills the promise made to David. The chief priests had rejected him. The crowds had cried, “Crucify him!” Peter preached that the resurrection gives us the certainly “that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

It means forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. God warns against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, ESV). The sacrificial system of the Law of Moses was a pointer to what God would some day do on the cross. Life was in the blood. A life was accepted in exchange for the life of a sinner. “He (that is God) made him who did not know sin a sin offering in our behalf, in order that we may become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It means reconciliation. Adam and Eve had walked with God in a way that it is difficult for us to imagine. Our only hint is in Genesis 3 when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, and they knew what the sound meant, so they hid themselves because of their sin. Paradise was lost. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden. Yet, God has sought to reconcile the world to himself. Because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence. As Christians, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit. We look forward to once more having access to the Tree of Life and walking in God’s glorious presence.

It means transformation. Yes, I need to be forgiven of my sin, but I also need a moral makeover. I need to become a better person. Following Jesus and putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit is the process of that moral transformation. God’s desire is that we be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

It means eternal life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead anticipates and is the basis of the resurrection at his coming. Death has been conquered. Yes, we may still have to experience physical death, but those who are in Jesus have life and hope of eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11, ESV).

How wonderful and marvelous — He is risen!