As the beautiful early church hymn comes to a close the people of God are invited into the conversation. The beloved are those who have come to follow Jesus Christ. Paul encourages those who have followed him, to continue to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling.” All of this is in light of the beautiful kenosis hymn which has just been quoted. The humility of the Almighty God has resulted in the uniting of humanity with the Divine and participation in the Triune God. For those who have already come to the Lord, there is the charge to continue to work out their salvation, which is an encouragement to continue in the spiritual journey. Each and every single person is to remain connected and “in” Christ, daily engaged in the spiritual journey.
With fear and trembling God’s children are to reverently and humbly engage in the spiritual walk. Paul would say that this includes the practice of virtues. In other words, Christ’s followers are to intentionally imitate him in their behaviors. This is studying and practicing to become more like Christ.
This activity is synergistic. As we put forth the effort to imitate Christ, God empowers us, “enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In other words, when we work at becoming more like Christ, God empowers us to make it possible. This is what happens when God and Man are partnered together in the mission. This is not a works theology for we know that it is not by works that we are saved. However, this is the life of the sanctified. This is the one who has already been saved but must now remain on a journey of transformation into the very image and likeness of Christ. To do so, we practice being like Christ, but God empowers us, so eventually the world wonders whether they are seeing us imitating Christ, or Christ in us. It all becomes seamless, and this is what he means by working our your salvation.
I don’t recall being raised in an environment where we were encouraged to practice the virtues. That language wasn’t used, but I believe the principles were a part of the culture in which I was discipled. To follow Christ meant putting aside the things of the world and wholeheartedly seeking to know Christ. Some of us even wore bracelets embossed with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). This was a great reminder that we were to have the mind of Christ and follow him in all things. We were to stop in different situations and consider what Christ would do.
We have stepped away from talking about particular behaviors because there was a period of time in which the church was quite legalistic. At the same time we must realize that to be imitators of Christ, to practice the virtues, to work out our salvation does include the embrace of particular practices. Let’s just think about a few of them:
- Our eating habits. We don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that Jesus overate. I’m guessing he ate what was necessary for his life and ministry. We know that there were those who traveled with him and cooked for his entire ministry team. Martha loved putting on a good meal. I’m sure that Jesus enjoyed eating a good meal with those around him, but he didn’t let food define who he was. Walking everywhere that he went, he would have gotten more than 10,000 steps in daily.
- Forgiving those who hurt us. Jesus refused to allow the attitudes of others to define who he was. He graciously forgave those around him, and even went out of his way to provide a pathway for their salvation.
- Ministering to the margins. Jesus hung out with people that others would have claimed were “unclean.” He intentionally went to those who were living at the margins and provided a pathway for transformation.
- Living a life of sexual purity. Yes, Jesus is an example for us, and Paul is continually speaking to God’s people that they are not to be engaged in the sexual practices of the day. The first century Roman Empire was a society in which all kinds of sexual acts were approved by the different religions. The Emperor was known to have married a young boy. The temple prostitutes were sanctioned to “help” people to worship. In the city of Corinth it’s known that the city was rampant with sexually transmitted diseases. Married men had relations with their wives so that they would bear children, but in the meantime found other male and female partners to satisfy their “passions.” To be a follower of Christ was to embrace a completely different lifestyle, one which would seem entirely at odds with the prevailing attitudes of the surrounding world.
- Honesty and Transparency become defining factors. Truth has, at times, taken a hit and probably needs to be practiced on a regular basis. It’s far too easy to speak into the grey areas, and yet, truth should be boldly pronounced and lived out in the life of the believer. Transparency should be a virtue, for Christ-followers ought to be those who have nothing to hide. This includes faithful financial stewardship and care of God’s resources.
- Prayer. Spending time in prayer becomes transformational and life sustaining for the Christ-follower. This is the place in which we are brought into intimate fellowship with the Triune God. Time must be set-aside for prayer. This isn’t just a five minute a day relationship with God, but a genuine intimate two-sided conversation in which we become vulnerable enough to have God tell us where we need to grow and mature.
- Scripture. Studying and reading the scriptures helps them to become a part of the fiber of our very being. Just recently I stopped to reflect on the years in which I’ve been spending this time in the word and journaling (blogging). It started out slow and methodical, and yet, I kept learning more and more. Now, I struggle to get through a chapter! (As you’ve probably already learned) Something else has happened and it’s been reflected in my preaching. I may prepare a sermon but in the moment God seems to draw something out of me, and I’m surprised. What I’ve discovered recently is that this slow plodding, spending time in the word for years is suddenly bubbling out of me in unexpected ways. The well of knowledge of the word and God is continually taking me deeper and filling my life, and God is using that to speak to others.
We could all go on and on, making our lists of things that may be the virtues that we are to pursue. The reality is that in everything we do, we are to practice Christ with excellence, and in that moment God’s power will enable us to do more than we could ask or imagine. Then, as we work out our salvation, the world will wonder whether they are watching us imitate Christ, or Christ in us.
Lord, I pray for your strength and guidance to be all I can for you. Amen.
This post was written by Rev Carla Sunburg. You can find her original post here: reflectingtheimage.blogspot.com/2018/03/work-out-your-salvation.html