Roman Catholics, Arminians, Charismatics and Free Will Baptists have no problem with the question at hand. Some of these friends believe justifying grace is given at baptism, others at the moment of conversion, but all believe it is man’s responsibility to keep himself saved. Some might say men can fall away from grace, others might teach individuals can willfully walk away from Christ, but all of these parties would deny the statement, “Once saved, always saved.” Therefore, they teach their followers to keep working hard to hold on to their eternal salvation.
Obviously, this is not the position of those who believe in justification by grace alone. They understand a person receives eternal life as a free gift from God. Human work has nothing to do with heavenly blessing. However, those in this camp do not get to treat the question, “Today, are you working out your own salvation?” as a foolish query. For the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippian Church, writes the following:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)
Jude writes something similar:
But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 1:20-21)
So how does one square the doctrines of God’s election, God’s immutability, God’s sacrifice, God’s union, God’s adoption, God’s promises, God’s integrity, and God’s preservation to the above passages? How does one believe in both sovereign grace and human responsibility? How does one interpret Paul so that he is not speaking out of both sides of his mouth? How does one hold to the Gospel of Moses, Jesus, Paul and James?
One must understand the distinction between justification and sanctification. Justification is a one-time act of God never to be repeated, improved or retracted. Sanctification is a joint-merger; it is a continuous project between God and man. God does all the work of saving individuals from Satan’s kingdom, divine wrath and eternal hell. God and man then work together in saving the believer from daily walking in sin. Scripture presents salvation with past, present and future components. For Christians, God has done all that is required for the past and future. As Christians, God expects men to work out their own salvation each and every day.
That being said, how ought we to make progress? Perhaps Exodus 17:8-16 will help:
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
God has chosen Israel, saved them from Egypt, and is now taking them to the Promised Land. The past and future aspects of their salvation have been performed by God. However, Israel still has a responsibility to daily work out their own salvation. On this particular day, their major conflict was with the Amalekites. In the end, they were successful. So what was their secret? What was their mode of operation? They did not merely fall on their knees and beg God for assistance. Neither did they run out to battle assuming they were sufficient for the task. No, they did both. They were a people who depended on God, They were desperate for his daily bread, meat, guidance, water, and defense. And because they were both humble and wise, they spent adequate time and resources in prayer. Then, at the same time, they took up the sword and began taking off heads.
Therefore, in our daily battle to fight for our family’s material needs, let us ask God for our daily bread. May we spend adequate time thanking and supplicating God. But then, may we be found courageously planning, plotting, selling, risking, stewarding, saving, investing, and profiting. May we trust in God, and then be found saving our families from poverty.
Then there is the spiritual battle for the hearts of our children. For sure, let us pray and beseech God for his saving favor. But then, may we be found discipling, disciplining, educating, encouraging, and utilizing the means of grace. May we trust in God and rejoice in his effective grace, and also be found working hard to save our children from their depravity.
What about the battle for our cities? Let us spend much time praying for them in the house of God. Let us request God’s mercy for the poor and those suffering injustice. However, let us be both prayer-warriors and culture-warriors. May we also be found giving, supporting, nursing, defending and blessing our city. May we be found in our church prayer closets and also in our community food pantries. Like the Good Samaritan, we need to partner with God in saving our cities.
Then there is the battle for the soul of our country. Let us pray, for only God can revive our nation. However, let us not be content with supplication from God’s holy mountain. Let us remember the faithful service of D. James Kennedy, Chuck Colson, and James Dobson. For years they taught us to pray. Additionally, they reminded us to preach, evangelize, convert, disciple, vote, contribute, expose, sue, boycott, protest and work hard to save America.
Finally, there is our battle with personal temptations. Spend time in prayer; fill yourself afresh with the Holy Spirit. But then, set up fences, pluck out eyes, cut off arms, and make no provision for the works of the flesh. Trust in God, but then get busy saving yourself from daily transgression. Spend time in prayer, and then pick up your sword and go to war against Satan and his minions.
It is said that Oliver Cromwell coined the famous phrase, “Trust in God, and keep your powder dry.” Solomon said, “The horse is made ready for battle, but victory comes from the Lord.” Today, let us be people of prayer and perspiration — praying fervently and working hard.