Note: The AMI QT Devotionals from December 5-11 are provided by Pastor Shan Gian, who serves as the Fenway site pastor of Symphony Church in Boston. Shan, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is married to Jenny, who recently gave birth to their first baby Tyler.
Devotional Thought for Today
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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Christmas is coming soon—and many of us are thinking about gifts. Let’s say, on Christmas Day, someone very close to you gives you a wonderful gift that he/she thinks you’ll love, with beautiful wrapping paper and a pretty bow on top. What would you do with it? You would, of course, either gently unwrap the gift, or, tear up the wrap like an animal, open the box, and enjoy the great gift. But now that you’ve done the work of unwrapping this gift, have you now “worked” for this gift? Of course not! The “work” that you’ve done has only led you to enjoy this gift.
Philippians 2:12 is one of the most perplexing verses in the Bible for many Christians. All of our lives, we’ve been told that salvation is a free gift from God, that our salvation is by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9); it’s not at all about what we do, but it’s about what Jesus has done. But here, Paul seems to contradict himself— and the whole gospel message—by commanding us to “work out your own salvation.” It’s as if Paul hadn’t read what he wrote in Ephesians!
Paul, of course, is not contradicting himself, and he’s not advocating a salvation based on good works. But the work that he calls us to do is a lot like the work we do in opening our Christmas gifts. There is effort required—but it’s still a gift. The work you do in opening a gift is inconsequential in comparison to the gift itself. As followers of Christ, we have been given salvation—the greatest gift imaginable— and we clearly have not earned it—it is by the grace of God. We do not work FOR our salvation, but still we work it out. Perhaps an easier way for us to think of it is that we make our salvation known or revealed; we unwrap this gift of salvation and make it known to us and to others. There is no point in having a gift that is unopened.
The theological term for this work is sanctification. We work to draw closer to God, to be set free from sin and temptation, and to be more and more like Jesus. Though sanctification is hard work, and it takes incredible amount of effort to live holy and righteous lives, our work is not the means of our salvation—rather, it reveals our salvation. At the same time, we have been given the Holy Spirit, our Counselor and Helper, through this sanctification process. And even though it takes endurance and diligence to be sanctified, it is inconsequential to the gift that we have been given. So let us rejoice in the gift of our salvation, and at the same time, unwrap the gift, as we work it out before the Lord!
Prayer: Jesus, I think You for this gift of salvation. I know I have not earned it and I do not deserve it, but it is a gift of grace. Help me, Jesus, to work out my salvation. Give me strength to seek sanctification and to be more like You. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Proverbs 31-Jude