“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." —Philippians 2:12-13
John Wesley’s sermon “On Working Out our Own Salvation” addresses a subject that caused concern for those in Wesley’s day as it does in our time, too. Surely, like me, you remember many people who have been part of the church but abandoned the fellowship and are no longer following Jesus Christ as disciples. This reality reveals to us that many Christians have trouble remaining on the path of salvation.
Some people enjoy caring for plants—they remember to water them, fertilize them, and keep them healthy. Such people are happy when they are given a plant as a gift on a special occasion. But those who do not have the discipline to care for a live plant would likely prefer the gift of an artificial one since no major care is necessary. This same thing occurs in our experience of salvation—there are people who do not invest their time in perfecting it.
Wesley’s sermon highlights the fragility of the individual salvation that God has given us. We are confronted with the reality that it is a gift we must care for and cultivate.
The text, based in Philippians 2:12-13, affirms three important things about salvation.
First, “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (v. 13). This declaration rejects all claims of boasting on our part, affirming that salvation is not due to our own merits but only by the grace and goodness of God. Even our positive attitudes and good desires that are lived out in good words and actions are inspired by God. There is no better weapon to rid the human being of pride than the recognition that all initiatives for good in us come from the heavenly Father.
Second, we should move forward in this experience: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12). Taking care of the salvation we have received is an individual responsibility. This should be the principal work of our lives! Learning to walk in holiness and following the steps of Jesus will carry us through the rest of our lives. This is the work of perfection that the Spirit desires to accomplish in each one of us.
Finally, both God and we are indispensable in caring for salvation: “God worketh in you; therefore you must work: You must be ‘workers together with Him.’” It is impossible for us to do it alone; we must start by recognizing we do not have the ability to save ourselves apart from God. To have success toward this goal, we need to accept our role. God is the guide, and we are His followers.
Christ’s work of salvation was complete on the cross. However, the gift of salvation we embrace needs to be worked on as long as we are here on earth. Our God is the sculptor, and we are the clay that is shaped by His mighty hand.
Mónica E. Mastronardi de Fernández, originally from Argentina, has been a global missionary in the Church of the Nazarene since 1995. She currently serves at the Nazarene Seminary of the Americas in San José, Costa Rica (SENDAS). Mónica is the author and editor of several books on discipleship and formation of lay leaders in the Mesoamerican Region.
To read the full text of the sermon, click here.