What is the place of “works” in our pursuit of holiness? Before I answer let me tell why I think this is a very important question to ask. Works are a necessary part of our own holiness, but our holiness is not based on our own works, but the works of Jesus (incarnation, life, death, resurrection). As a Christian, you are just as holy when you do your daily devotion and prayer time as you are when you don’t do those things; and though we may feel more holy when we do our “Christian duties” we must not base our holy standing before God on these duties. So where do our own works come into play? Obviously we cannot become holy people by sitting around navel gazing, we must do something! But what exactly is the place of our own works in our sanctification? Philippians 2:12-13 shows us whats up.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
You see it? There are two things present here that must see in proper order. First, notice that there is a clear call to holiness in that we’re commanded to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Second, notice that God clearly states that He is “at work both to will and work” in us and through us what is pleasing His sight. Now the real question comes: which one of these comes first? Does our working out our own salvation happen first, or does God’s working in us happen first? If our works happen first, and God’s as a consequence of them, then that would mean God cannot “will and work in us according to his own pleasure” unless we move through “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” first. This is wrong, dishonoring to God, and I hope you see why – in this option, God is in a box and cannot do anything until we move first. This is a man-centered view of God. Think about the other way around. God decides in His own heart to “will and work in us according to His own pleasure” and because of this we have the ability to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” This is correct and very God-honoring, because we, not God, are in the box. In this option we do not do anything at all until God moves first. This is a God-centered view of God.
Do you see how this places our own works of holiness as the result of our salvation rather than the ground of it? Pursuing holiness will only happen by “works” done by us in fear and trembling, but those works only happen because God has first worked in us.
APPLICATION question: Have you reversed this idea by thinking the ground of your salvation was your own works of holiness? Hmmm…I know I have. Have you?