I gathered with a group of friends this morning for prayer. We come together monthly for this purpose. As we got ready to pray, we got on the subject of exercise. Each of us admitted that we don’t get excited to go workout, but feel the benefit when we do. It is worth the effort, but it takes discipline. Discipline is not a popular word, but necessary for us to flourish in almost every area of our life.
Paul writes, “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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13).
What does it mean to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?” Some mistakenly think it means to work for your salvation. In other words, work each day to earn your salvation. This is clearly not the purpose of Paul’s writing. We couldn’t do anything to earn our salvation before coming to Christ and aren’t required or capable of doing anything today that earns us the right to remain in Him. We, who believe, live in a saving relationship with God solely by placing our faith in Christ who died for our sins and resurrected for our salvation. Therefore, Paul is not writing about living in fear of whether or not we are accepted by God in Christ.
What then is Paul writing for us to do? Paul is writing to encourage us to keep in step with God. We are to live in union with Him. The “fear and trembling” is directly related to taking great care that we live a surrendered life in Christ. For our salvation to bear fruit, in the here and now, we need to obey the Lord in all things. The good news is that we don’t do this alone. God is working in us. God lovingly empowers and guides us in working out what we know to be true in our daily living.
This is where the spiritual disciplines fit into our walk with Christ. They are called spiritual disciplines because they take discipline. Time and energy are necessary to participate in these soul exercises. Richard Foster identifies twelve crucial disciplines divided into three categories: inward, outward, and corporate practices.
Disciplines of Personal Development (Inward)
- Prayer – communicating with God (Matt. 6:9)
- Meditation – focusing on God and his will (Phil. 4:8)
- Fasting – a reminder of the source of all nourishment (Luke 5:35)
- Study – careful attention to the reality that God reveals to us, especially through Holy Scripture (Luke 2:46)
Disciplines of Service to the Body of Christ (Outward)
- Simplicity – seeking God’s Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33)
- Submission – placing God’s will above one’s own (Luke 22:42)
- Solitude – withdrawing from the world to spend time with God (Matt. 14:23)
- Service – supportive action toward others (Mark 10:45)
Disciplines of Service with the Body of Christ (Corporate)
- Confession – acknowledging one’s sin with and to others in the community of faith (James 5:16)
- Guidance – giving and receiving direction from others along the journey with Jesus (Acts 15:8)
- Celebration – taking joy is what God has done (1 Cor 5:8)
- Worship – giving God glory through attitudes and actions (1 Cor. 14:26)
These disciplines help us move our perspective from a naturalistic point of view to one in alignment with the Lord. However, they do take time and energy. There may be times when we don’t want to do what is necessary to grow in Christ and keep in step with Him. But, let me remind you that it is worth the effort so that we can flourish in Christ. We know that physical exercise is worth the effort. Similarly, soul exercises are worth the effort.
Let us encourage one another to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” while being mindful that we don’t do it alone. God is at work within us. We participate in these soul exercises so that we will be prepared to live in union with God and flourish in Him. It is such a blessing to be on this great journey with the Lord as well as with each of you.