Work Out Your Own Salvation :: By Grant Phillips

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Two young children were asked the question, “What does repent mean?” The little boy said, “It means to be sorry.” The little girl said, “It means to be sorry and stop.”

This little girl had a better understanding of “repent” than many Bible ‘scholars’ of today.

We are being told repeatedly that repentance means to just “change your mind,” so just believe in Jesus and you will be saved. I agree that it is faith alone that leads us to salvation.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Clearly, we are saved by grace. The instrument God uses is our faith. We cannot save ourselves. It is a gift of God. Our works can never ever save anyone.

The question is, “Does repentance have any part of salvation, other than just changing our mind about Jesus?”

Recalling the two children, will feeling sorry for our sins save us? The answer is obviously, “No.” If the answer were “Yes,” we would then have to ask, “How sorry must I feel?”

So is there really any need for repentance, other than changing our mind about Jesus?

Repentance is a result of the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unbeliever (and also the believer). If the lost soul acknowledges the Holy Spirit’s conviction in his/her heart, then that seed will blossom into true repentance.

True repentance will change the mind of the unbeliever from, “I don’t need Jesus” to “I need Jesus in my life.” But what made that lost soul, the unbeliever, change his/her mind? The conviction of the Holy Spirit helped them to see themselves as God sees them; i.e. one who is knee deep in sin, bound for hell, and in desperate need of a Savior.

So what is behind the word “repent” other than meaning a change of mind? In Strong’s Lexicon ‘repent’ is defined as:

to change one’s mind, i.e. to repent to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins

In the above, ‘amend’ means to adjust or modify, and ‘abhorrence’ means disgust or hatred.

Tyndale defines “repent” as:

“Repentance (metanoia, ‘change of mind’) involves a turning with contrition from sin to God; the repentant sinner is in the proper condition to accept the divine forgiveness.” (F. F. Bruce. The Acts of the Apostles [Greek Text Commentary], London: Tyndale, 1952, p. 97.)

The word ‘contrition’ above means remorse, regret, sorrow or shame.

Strong’s definition states:

met-an-o-eh’-o; from G3326 and G3539; to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction):—repent.

The word ‘compunction’ above means regret, guilt or shame.

Strong’s NT Word Study shows:

μετανοέω, μετάνω; future μετανοήσω; 1 aorist μετενόησα; from (Antiphon), Xenophon down; the Sept. several times for נִחַם; to change one’s mind, i. e. to repent (to feel sorry that one has done this or that, Jonah 3:9), of having offended someone, Luke 17:3f; with ἐπί τίνι added (the dative of the wrong, Hebrew עַל, Amos 7:3; Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:10; Jonah 4:2), of (on account of) something (so Latinme paenitet alicujus rei), 2 Corinthians 12:21; used especially of those who, conscious of their sins and with manifest tokens of sorrow, are intent; on obtaining God’s pardon; to repent (Latinpaenitentiam agere): μετανοῶ ἐν σάκκῳ καί σποδῷ, clothed in sackcloth and besprinkled with ashes, Matthew 11:21;

“I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.” (2 Corinthians 12:21)

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21)

So from all this, it is most obvious that to be truly repentant is to feel ‘disgust,’ ‘hatred,’ ‘regret,’ ‘remorse,’ ‘sorrow,’ ‘shame,’ ‘guilt,’ etc. over the sins in our lives that have kept us from Jesus, and that He has paid in full. Because our eyes have been opened, we see ourselves as God sees us and we change our mind about our need to call upon Jesus to be saved. As a Christian, true repentance will cause us to see the need of our life being ‘modified’ (changed) through the power of God in Jesus Christ.

How are we saved? We are saved by grace through faith, any and all of our works excluded, but what brought us to put our faith in Jesus? Seeing ourselves through God’s eyes and realizing our need for Jesus led us to faith. In other words, true repentance led us to faith, and by faith we believed in Jesus Christ.

What does it mean ‘to believe’ in Jesus? First of all, what does it not mean? Believing in Jesus is not a casual, flippant, empty-hearted acknowledgment of believing ‘about’ Him. True belief in Jesus is total trust that He is who the Bible (His Word) says He is. It is a ‘commitment’ of faith that He will save me and keep me. It is an acceptance that Jesus will save me and perform all He has promised, even though I now recognize that I am not worth saving. It is the seed that grows into one who desires to follow Him and be like Him.

So we see that we cannot ‘work out our own salvation’ in assisting God in saving our soul. However, we now must see that Paul is talking to those who have already been saved. There must also be an emphasis at this point that we are not ‘working out our own salvation’ in order to keep the salvation God has given us. We can no more keep our salvation through our works than we could get it in the first place through our works. We are saved by the grace of God, and we are kept for eternity by the grace of God. In other words, once we are His child through Christ, we are forever His child through Christ.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Any person, who takes the credit for their salvation, is not saved. Yes, those are strong words, but they ring consistently true throughout the Bible. If we really are a true Christian, God did the saving through His Son Jesus and used our faith (that He provided) to get us there. If we take credit for that, over Jesus, we are not His child.

Now, I’m at the point I’ve been aiming at throughout this article. Every Christian should be ‘working out their own salvation.’ What does that mean? It means simply that as a Christian, we should be “studying to show ourselves approved unto God, a workman who does not need to be ashamed.” (2 Timothy 2:15) We need to put on the whole armor of God. (Ephesians 6:11, 13) The bottom line is: we need to start acting like a child of God, instead of trying to keep one foot in the Devil’s playground. As the little girl said in the beginning of this article, “Repent means “to be sorry, and stop.”

Millions of ‘professing’ Christians today have never truly repented, and therefore have never exercised true faith in Jesus Christ. They claim Christ, but they still live for the Devil.

Is it possible that true Christians are still living for the world and not Jesus? Yes it is, but if they are really a child of God they are not happy and they are tempting divine punishment.

I realize that Christians mature spiritually at different rates. Some mature quickly and some mature slowly, but they all will mature if they are truly a Christian. Why is that? It is true because His Spirit works with our spirit in aiding our growth, and God never fails.

If you are not committed to Jesus, perhaps you should seriously consider what the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians.

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6)

If you seem to be constantly failing, but your desire is to please the Lord Jesus, then persevere.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8)


Grant Phillips


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