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; — Philippians 2:12
I want to focus in on five words within this verse today. The five words are “work out your own salvation.” Notice it does not say, “Please feel free to work out everyone else’s salvation for them!” I imagine that Paul mainly wrote this because the good Christian people of Philippi were beginning to argue about the issues of the day and vehemently take sides. Paul basically writes this to say, “Guess who the one person is that you need to worry about when it comes to salvation? You!”
Now, this is primarily a message for people who would call themselves followers of Jesus. If you consider Jesus your Savior and Lord, this is for you. This is certainly Paul’s target group when he wrote this. If you don’t call yourself a Christian, then you get the luxury of setting your own standards of what is right and what is wrong (at least within the laws of the land). However, as a Christian, Christ is the standard. Unfortunately, instead of constantly striving to grow into Christ-likeness, the overwhelming majority of today’s Christians like to set their own standards of what Christianity should look like. Then, they draw a line in the sand and say, “This is where I stand!” Now, I don’t really see a problem with this . . . unless you look down on everybody else for not standing where you do and begin to impose your standards of righteousness upon others who believe in the same God you do and were saved by the same blood that you were.
We do not lack for polar issues to talk about today. I’m not talking about cut and dry issues that the Bible addresses plainly such as lying, stealing, or sexual immorality. Good luck trying to justify those actions! I’m talking about today’s issues that the Bible doesn’t directly address: Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Are cops becoming more violent or is it just that people are becoming more and more disrespectful and refuse to do what they are told? Am I a better Christian than you because I refuse to drink alcohol and you don’t? Am I a better follower of Jesus because I took Cinderella and Godzilla trick-or-treating around our neighborhood while you took Dracula, Jason Voorhees, and some mutilated looking Zombie? Or, maybe it turns out that you are a MUCH better Christian than I am because you didn’t participate in the Pagan heresy called Halloween at all. I will stop here, but this list could go on for miles.
Here’s the thing: Everyone has pretty much drawn his or her line in the sand on these issues. Here’s the other thing: There will always be somebody out there who would tell you that you are being too lenient. On the other hand, there will always be someone out there who would accuse you of being unnecessarily strict.
So what are we to do?
We are to do what Paul instructs us to do; work out our own salvation. Which sounds nice, right? Just decide what you believe is right for you and your family and live that way. However, Paul adds 4 more words that change the game . . . with fear and trembling. As a Christian, we should absolutely never take or make moral or cultural decisions lightly. We should, no we must, search the Scriptures diligently, pray for the Holy Spirit to prick our conscience, and even seek out the advice of Pastors and Elders who have actually produced the fruits of the Spirit for a consistent number of years. Exhaust all possible resources before you officially arrive at your conclusion and draw your line in the sand.
Once we have decided, we must under no circumstances look down our noses and call people “heathen” for setting what we feel is a lesser standard. At the same time, you don’t get to look at the people who seem to set a higher standard than you and call them “fanatics.”
When it all comes down to it, each of us will stand before The Almighty God and give an account for what many would consider the “insignificant” decisions we made in our individual lifetimes. On that day, stammering out, “But, but, but everybody else . . .” will be of no use to you. There will be one person, and one person only for which you will be ultimately responsible.
Work out your own salvation.
Work it out with fear and with trembling.