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Saved With Works Parts 2 & 3
© 06.23.21 By David Eric Williams

This article appeared in the June 24 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle

In order to understand salvation we must grasp the fact that good works are intrinsic to the new creation. Evangelicals are correct when they say salvation is by faith alone but they sometimes distort the nature of the new creation in their eagerness to completely divorce good works from salvation. As I mentioned in the first article in this series, Catholics actually end up closer to the truth, practically speaking, with their view of works in the process of salvation. Yet, let me be clear, salvation is by faith alone. At the same time, the salvation we enjoy in Jesus Christ is with works.

A common thread running throughout the epistles of Paul is his insistence that true Believers are renewed in thought and obedient in action. For Paul, the goal is renewed humanity truly reflecting God's image. Because of this, Paul's letters are full of commands - a fact often overlooked. He constantly tells his audience how they should behave. He does this even though he insists the follower of Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what pleases the Father.

Paul's letter to the church in Philippi is a good example. He begins by saying he prays for them and that he is certain God, who begin the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished (Philippians 1:6). A few verses later he says, may you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation - the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ - for this will bring much glory and praise to God (Philippians 1:11). Now, these passages seem to indicate the renewing of our minds and the resultant Christlike behavior are in the hands of God. "Let go and let God" might be an Evangelical catchphrase you are familiar with. However, these two verses do not tell the whole story. As we continue to read we find that Paul gives commands to his audience again and again. In other words, he expects the believers in Philippi to obey what he tells them and thereby produce good works. This does not preclude the empowerment of the Holy Spirit but we cannot discount the fact that Paul assumes the new creations to whom he writes will put forth effort; he expects them to strive to do good works. Paul makes this clear in chapter 2 when he says, dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear (Philippians 2:12). "Work hard to show the results of your salvation." "Obey with deep reverence and fear." The Greek word translated as "work" is katergazomai and means "to perform, to work out, i.e. to do that from which something results." So, work hard to show the results of your salvation is a sound translation.

Now, while it is true we must put forth effort to express the new creation, we do so empowered by God: for God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him (Philippians 2:13). Unfortunately, too many Christians read verse 13 in isolation in order to downplay verse 12.

Years ago I wrote an article titled "Some Assembly Required." In that missive I used the example of a model airplane given as gift. In the illustration, the airplane is yours upon receiving it but unless you put it together you do not enjoy the full benefits of the gift. In fact, the gift is not fully actualized unless it is assembled. That is what Paul is talking about. If a confessed believer ignores good works they are eviscerating the new creation. And when a living thing is disemboweled it dies. Again, faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 20, 26).

So then, how does a believer work hard to show the results of their salvation? How do you strive to do good works without falling into the trap of works salvation? What does the process of working hard necessitate? How may you always rejoice in the Lord, be gentle, be without anxiousness, in prayer and at peace (Philippians 4:4-7). As we might expect, Paul provides an answer. As he begins to wind the letter down he tells the church in Philippi, now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Paul says the same thing one way or another in every letter. To the church in Rome he says, do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). He tells Ephesian Christians to throw off the old man and former way of life and let the spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes (Ephesians 4:23) To the Colossian church he says put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him (Colossians 3:10). Galatian Christians are admonished to reject sinful behavior and embrace the leading of the Holy Spirit. For, the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22-23). These are only a few examples.

Even when it sounds like Paul is saying mind renewal is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit, the topic is embedded in a section filled with commands concerning appropriate thoughts and deeds for a Christian. Indeed, in order to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in the first place, one must think in conformity to the new creation. Thus, the key to a full bodied new creation is the work of changing the way you think resulting in the good works you were created to do in Christ (Ephesians 2:10). If you want that to happen you must immerse yourself in the word of God and think about what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise. The Holy Spirit will bless your cultivation of the new creation and, as is natural, your Christlike thoughts will produce Christlike deeds. This is necessary because salvation is with works.

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