This Week's Focus Passage

This Week's Focus Passage: June 13, 2021: Philippians 2:13 ‘So then, my beloved….. work out your ow

This Week’s Focus Passage: Philippians 2:13

‘So then, my beloved….. work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’


    What is the apostle’s meaning when he has begun this paragraph with the words, So then, my beloved.? One writer has helpfully granted to the reader, what his thoughts are concerning the thoughts of Paul. He has written the following:

“Such a sketch as the apostle has given of the humiliation and the glory of the Lord Jesus, supplies an argument of intense and manifold cogency in support of any appeal to the believing heart to follow Him. It was immediately to illustrate self-sacrifice for the sake of others that the apostle spoke of the great ‘mystery of godliness, that, He who was manifested in the flesh; namely, He who was in the form of God made Himself of no reputation, and, being found in fashion as a man, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ Could any believer; any Christian having been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God, speak of these things; think upon these things, without having this thought prominent, even burning brightly in his mind,—silently uttering to self; ‘and all this was in self-sacrifice for me.”

In view of all that Christ has suffered and gone through for His people, for the honor of His Father’s righteous law, the apostle continues to press forward with exhortations fitting such expressions of absolute love from our heavenly Father, from His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and from God the Holy Spirit Himself. He exhorts, on the basis of what has been accomplished for us, believers in Immanuel, God with us, Christ Jesus, as he continues with, So then, my beloved.

    But what may we anticipate the exhortation to consist of? He does not make us wait very long for the answer. He responds with, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence; with that same loving obedience that you have always rendered, whether I was with you, or not, even now, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. This may be taken by some, as a ‘proof text,’ in support of the well-known, and yes, well-worn, mantra which is often put forward in some particular forms of evangelism, most pronounced in those forms that make use of so-called ‘revivals,’ and that also are inclined to employ, what has been historically referred to as ‘the altar call.’ This type of a ‘theology of evangelism’ has embraced the Charles Grandison Finney concept, which is foremost, in our day, for the common use of ‘tent meetings’ that they affirm are revival meetings; they are, for the most part, convinced that men are able to determine the time and place that a revival will take place. Finney was foremost in the acceptance of this concept, and he was very active in holding such ‘revivals,’ whether in tents, or some other adequate means of gathering people together, providing opportunity for many to hear the gospel. As we shall see, Finney had brought his own gospel to be related by him to these gathered hearers.     

    “Finney was a new-school Presbyterian, and his theology was similar to that of Nathaniel William Taylor [proponent of New Haven Theology; really a sort of New-Arminianism, adamantly denying the doctrines of God’s Sovereign Grace.]. Finney departed from traditional Calvinist theology by teaching that people have free will to choose salvation. He argued that original sin was a “selfishness” that people can overcome if they make themselves a ‘new heart.’ He taught that “Sin and holiness are voluntary acts of mind.” He also believed that preachers had important roles in producing revival, and wrote in 1835, “A revival is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means.” It should not surprise anyone, therefore, that one writer would be influenced to write the following understanding of the preaching of Finney. This writer opined of Finney, that ‘in his preaching the emphasis was always on the ability of men—and women—to choose their own salvation.” B. B. Warfield, 19th century professor of theology at Princeton, claimed, “God might be eliminated from it [Finney’s theology] entirely, without essentially changing its character.”

    “The anxious bench was for those who had been so deeply affected by the preaching that they wished to be saved. Promised with the anxious bench was that the individuals, by sitting there, coming forward, raising their hands, or kneeling, received salvation. What was not realized at this time was that by emphasizing these visual signs, many false conversions occurred. Indeed, preachers were able to manipulate the emotions of the people to achieve the end of raised conversion numbers. Raised conversion numbers were seen as a success, and success indicated everything was correct and approved by God. As a result, revival was replaced by revivalism.”  We may wonder what the distinction is between revival and revivalism. Revival is, of course, ‘the act of bringing back to life.’ Revivalism has been defined as, ‘the spirit or methods that characterize a religious awakening.’ The methods speak of those many things that emanate from the minds of men, not necessarily springing from the truth of God; i.e., man-centered. Revival: the act of bringing back to life, the act alone of God the Holy Spirit through the new birth.

    Not surprisingly, a whole new theology was now needed to justify these conversions. We are told that, “Finney saw the doctrine of man’s total depravity as an obstacle in his listener’s ears and committed a large portion of his teaching to lessen the idea of man’s inherent sinfulness in the minds of Christians. If he was to gain large numbers of converts by means of an anxious bench, or a sinner’s prayer, he was to promote the power of man’s will and denigrate the power of sin.” Does this approach not have a familiar ring, sadly, in our own day? Certainly, it must be iterated here, that this would replace true revival with revivalism. These measures employed by Finney, evolved into what we have known now for decades, as the ‘Invitation system,’ a system of so-called evangelism where the easy-gospel is preached, in order to encourage easy-believism. The hearer is called upon the come forward, to come down the aisle, if they wish to become a Christian. This altar call is the more modern equivalent of Finney’s anxious seat.  

    When we therefore, think of ‘working out our own salvation, we know very well that we cannot bring anyone back to like; we cannot grant being born again to any of the sons of mankind. Our thoughts should immediately spring back to the book of Ephesians, and chapter two, where the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, has not only taught us that we are saved by grace alone, apart from works, but also that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus [born again] for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. We are not redeemed, or saved, by or through anything that we do, or may do, but yet we are restored to the family of God; His workmanship, for good works.

So then, we are indeed saved by works. But it is not by any of our works, but by the work of Jesus Christ in His life and death, for all whom the Father had given Him from before the foundation of the world. Let us then work the works of Him who sent His Son into the world to bring us to Himself. Paul wrote to Titus, Faithful is the saying, and concerning these things I desire that thou affirm confidently, to the end that they who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. 

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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