It’s Not All on You
Thankfully, the maturity of a steadfast heart that reflects the image of your Savior and clings to the truth doesn’t weigh on only your shoulders. You’ve likely heard theologians, pastors, or church members debate the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Hopefully, you’ve heard it debated kindly and with proper use of Scripture. When it comes to perseverance and faithfulness in the life of the believer, the same question looms large before us. Do we persevere or does God persevere us?
Well, yes. The apostle Paul encouraged the first-century Christians in Philippi, and us by extension, to obey the Lord and to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). I don’t think Paul is speaking out of both sides of his mouth here. He’s saying yes to both. We are commanded to work out our salvation, to persevere in the faith, to obey the commands of Christ while recognizing that it is God who works in us to do those things. Any desire to be holy, any inclination to obey, any hope anchored in him comes from him and is initiated by him. We obey God and credit him for our obedience.
When we repent and believe in order to be saved, we do so because God predestined us for salvation, called us, justified us, and will one day glorify us (see Rom. 8:30). When it comes to following Christ between justification and glorification (that long journey we call sanctification), we obey him and we acknowledge that he gives us the will and follow-through to obey. The Godhead is personally invested in your faithfulness! John Piper says:
If you are persevering in faith today, you owe it to the blood of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, who is working in you to preserve your faith, is honoring the purchase of Jesus. God the Spirit works in us what God the Son obtained for us. The Father planned it. Jesus bought it. The Spirit applies it—all of them infallibly.1
Paul gives us the purpose of working out our salvation and recognizing God’s work in it in Philippians 2:14–16: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Here is the purpose in our everyday faithfulness: to know him and to make him known. Perhaps it seems a daunting endeavor to shine perpetually bright in a world dark with hostility toward the gospel and the people of God. But faithfulness leans into the world while keeping us from becoming like it. Holding firmly to the message of life every day ensures that we do not deviate from it.
A Regular Reminder
Everyday faithfulness is a protection from reverting back to the life you lived before Jesus saved you, from abandoning faith in him when life takes a hard turn, from accepting a false gospel in a world of tantalizing but twisted versions of it. Reorienting our hearts to the truths of Scripture each day keeps us aligned with that purpose of knowing and making him known. Meeting with the body of Christ on a regular basis holds us accountable and encourages our faith. Individual and corporate spiritual disciplines are tools for knowing Christ better on a daily and weekly basis. These tools equip us to point others to Christ as well. Speaking the gospel message to our unbelieving friends and family requires that we live in a manner that upholds our claim that Jesus is worth our very lives. Faithful evangelism assumes we know well the one we are sharing with our lost neighbors and family members.
God has promised to preserve those who are his, and he always keeps his promises.
Yes, it’s weighty to know that so much of our spiritual trajectory hangs on our perseverance. But this is where Paul’s follow-up statement to his exhortation to “work out” is so glorious. It’s God who is working in your perseverance! Paul uses similar language in Colossians when he explains that presenting everyone mature in Christ is his goal. He says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). Paul labored for the maturity of believers, but he did so with Christ’s energy that worked powerfully in him. Paul’s labor, Christ’s energy and power.
And here’s more good news to encourage you: God has promised to preserve those who are his, and he always keeps his promises. If you are working out your salvation with fear and trembling, then be comforted knowing you are not in any way doing it alone. He is working in you, enabling you to remain faithful. If you belong to him, no one can pluck you out of his hand (see John 10:27–29). You will persevere because he has purposed to finish the good work he began. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
If all of this is true, how do we “work out” our faithfulness when so many predators and distractions are out to thwart our perseverance? The suffering, hostility, and apathy we face on this fallen planet will require us to be vigilant in every season. There will never be a season of our sanctification when we will casually arrive at holiness. Following isn’t passive, and it isn’t drifting. Following Christ assumes action.
- John Piper. “Eternal Security Is a Community Project,” Desiring God website, September 15, 2012, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/eternal-security-is-a -community-project—2/.
This article is adapted from Everyday Faithfulness: The Beauty of Ordinary Perseverance in a Demanding World by Glenna Marshall.
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