Strengthening Your Core
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What God's part in a believer's spiritual growth, and what is the believer's part? What does it mean to "work out your salvation"?
Thank you, worship team, good morning. If I could have the screen on back there, too, please, I have been thinking a lot about storms lately, coming storms, I don't at all claim to have a gift of prophecy. And what I'm about to share with you take no way as me representing a word from the Lord, it may be an impression by the Holy Spirit, but you will have to test it.
I've been thinking a lot about storms. It is an image, first of all, that we see Jesus using when he was approached and confronted by Pharisees and Sadducees who are challenging his ministry and they demand some kind of authenticating sign, he says. And Matthew, 16 three, do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky? But you cannot discern the signs of the times. What is he saying to them there? He's saying, you know, you you look at the morning, the morning horizon and you see the sky is red, you see clouds building, and you discern from that sign that weather is coming that a physical storm is coming. You know how to do that, you know how to read signs in the natural realm, but you you miss being able to read signs in the spiritual realm. You cannot see the signs right in front of your face. He challenges them of what God is doing, of even the storm that is coming upon Israel, that that rejects its savior. Now, that's a negative image in scripture of storms and storms is a sign there. There is a positive image as well. And that is in First Chronicles. First Chronicles twelve thirty two. This is of the men of Issachar. And just to give you a brief context to this, this is in the transition from from the reign of Saul King Saul to the reign of David. David has been anointed by God, but he's not yet recognized as King. And Saul is opposing him. Saul is actually trying to eliminate him. And there are different parts of the twelve tribes, different military units that are defecting from Saul, and they are coming over in support of David. And it said specifically about a group of military, a military unit from the tribe of Issachar. It says of them the men of Issachar.
They understood the times and they knew what Israel should do.
Think about that, they understood the times, they recognized what was happening, even though it wasn't publicly recognized, they recognized that God was raising David up to be the king and they knew what Israel should do.
They knew that even though it was at that time still politically and culturally unpopular, they knew that they had to reject the status quo of Saul being king and they had to recognize the one that God was raising up as king.
And because of that, they understood what Israel should do. They knew they had to act and faith and that led them to take that step, that very risky step of defecting from Saul and coming over to David. Now, as you think about those two examples, here's the questions that run through my mind and I want to present to you, are we more like the Pharisees in the Sadducees?
Are we more like the men of Issachar?
And by that, I mean, are we discerning the signs of the times? This pandemic we're in, it's a sign. I don't claim to be able to fully read it or understand it or discern it, but it is a sign. It is a sign that God is moving. This cultural upheaval that we are in the middle of, it is a sign, it is a sign of the times and we're called to discern it. We are called to ask, what is God doing in the midst of this?
The growing secularism in our culture, in our world, it is a sign and again, we are called to be discerning of it.
So do we understand the times, are we asking, what is God doing, what is God doing in the midst of the pandemic? That's it shuts everything down, including so much about church life that we love and appreciate. What is God doing in the midst of all this cultural upheaval that is going on? What is God doing in this growing tide of secularism that is sweeping across our culture? Do we understand what God is doing? Are we seeking to understand that or are we simply trying to preserve the status quo?
Are we thinking in terms of if we could just get back to where we were, if things could just return to normal?
Preserving the status quo is the mindset and thinking of the Pharisees and the Sadducees seeking to understand what God is doing in the midst of all of these signs.
That's what the men of Issachar were doing. Do we know what Israel should do? Do we know what the people of God should do as we discern the signs? How, in other words, we should be asking, how does God want us to prepare as a church, as a community of faith, when when we think about the the changing conditions from the pandemic and from all the cultural upheaval and from the growing tide of secularism, how is it that God would have us prepare as the church, as Calvary, the church, but even the greater church, the people of God, and then individually, are we asking how does God want me to prepare as an individual follower of Christ?
Well, that really is all I've been thinking and praying as as I've been contemplating where we're going to go for the next couple months and are in the preaching and even in when I'm when I'm distributing to small groups for discussion that idea of preparing, that idea of seeking to understand the signs of the times and preparing. And today, I just kind of want to introduce that by talking about preparing as we discern the signs of the times by strengthening our core. You may know that term if you've ever worked out at all. I am approaching that age of life or I have I'm thinking very intentionally what do I need to do to just preserve my flexibility and my strength and my endurance? What do I need to do physically and through exercise and diet to be able to preserve my health in any way that I can? And I've gotten some advice on that lately. And that advice, that was the phrase giving it to me. Dan, you need to strengthen your core. You know, there are certain essential I won't go into detail. I'm not a physical trainer, but there are certain parts of our body that that are essential, that not that every part of our body isn't important, but there are certain parts of our body that are absolutely essential to keep strong, to keep flexible. If we're going to preserve the ability to to be able to function and to be able to keep doing what we're doing. And spiritually, I think that's true as well.
That is, we discern the signs of the times and we try to understand what God is doing and therefore how we should respond individually. And as a church, there is this this need to strengthen our core.
What, in other words, are the essential beliefs that we need to make sure we individually hold on to tightly, but that we as a congregation hold on to tightly? What are the initial or what are the essential virtues, the the characteristics of a follower of Christ that I want to make sure are true of me that I'm growing in, but that we want to make sure as a church that we are growing in. And what are the essential practices, what what is it that we, as followers of Jesus must be sure that we are doing in our lives and in our community all of those those essential beliefs and virtues and practices I would define as strengthening our core. And that's what I would be looking at over the next couple of months. But I want to introduce that today with our text, our text. I'm just taking a snippet out of Philippians, chapter two, verse 12 and 13. But listen to this. When you think of strengthening your core, listen to this as you think about what it means to discern the times and and to prepare, continue to work out your salvation.
Paul says with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work his good pleasure.
Now, let me pick that apart just a little bit for us this morning, what does it mean to work out your salvation? I can tell you, first of all what it doesn't mean. It does not mean that we contribute to our being saved in any way. In fact, I can prove that right from the text. Just one chapter earlier. You if you have Philippians open, if you look at Philippians, chapter one, verse six, Paul is writing clearly to Christians for he says he praises them that God has already begun a good work, the good work of salvation in them. So he is writing to people who are already saved. And if you're here this morning and you are saved, you know Christ as savior and Lord and you've responded to him in faith and repentance. This passage is for you. If you are here this morning and that's not true of you, this passage doesn't apply and there's in danger that you may misinterpreted as somehow that you can by doing enough good works, merits your salvation, which is not true, which is heresy. This is not about working for salvation. This is about being saved, working out that salvation. We are Ephesians two eight nine. We are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, so that no one can boast. So that's first of all, we have to understand that this is not about working for salvation.
So what does it mean for somebody who is already following Christ, someone who has already responded to the gospel to work out their salvation, work out that even the the Greek term that Paul uses there has the meaning of living out live out the faith that you have in Christ, live out the further realization of the benefits of the gospel that you have responded to, live out the implications of following Jesus. It has this idea of us being intentional that salvation is not just a decision we made at some point in the past vacation Bible school or maybe in high school or college. And we've passed that mark. And so everything else is clear and we can just live any way we want, know it to be intentional, be diligent. It's it's the idea that that was that was came up in the text that was read by Nancy earlier. And second, Peter, one, be diligent to make your calling and your election. Sure. And one more thing about working work out, it is in the present tense, which means it is continuous. This is something that we continue to do all through our Christian lives from the moment that we first respond to the gospel and God saves us to the day that we see Jesus face to face, either in death or at his coming, we are to be intentionally, diligently working out, living out the realization of the benefits of the gospel, the implications of what it means to follow Jesus and where to do this with fear and trembling.
Now, people sometimes hear that word fear and what comes to mind naturally, the fear, that is anxiety, fear, that is dread, that is not this kind of fear. This is this is reverence. This is as you even look at the context and in just a couple verses earlier, in verses six through 11, we see this wonderful recitation of what Christ has done for us coming down from heaven and humbling himself all the way to the cross, and then God raising him up, exalting him to the place of highest honor and authority in all of reality. And it ends at the name of Jesus. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And then it goes to where we are now, it is a view of that, that that we bow the knee to Christ as Lord, it is view of the fact that he is highly exalted. That's the meaning of the reverence. How do we respond to that? If that really is the state of our heart, if we are on bended knee before Christ in our heart, then we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, said this about fear and trembling, It is to have a right sense of the sin that still indwells us that we're still trying to rid ourselves of by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is to have a right sense of the snares and the temptations around us that make us live carefully and cautiously.
It's the idea that the apostle John talks about and second, John eight.
Watch out that you do not lose what you have work for, but that you may be fully rewarded.
And he's not talking there about a genuine believer being able to lose their salvation. He's talking about a genuine believer who just gets Lack's, who gets lazy, who doesn't really care, who is not diligent and what happens to their faith. One of the houses we were living in a number of years ago, I remember there was a construction project, a new house being built across the street, and they got the foundation poured and they put up the framing. I think the roof was on, but it wasn't shingled yet.
And all of a sudden construction stopped. I can only assume that funding dried up or something like that. And so for well over a year, that shell just sat there. No further construction was happening. Did it stay in the same state as the last day the workmen were working on it? No, you know the answer to that.
The weather and time in the midst of that inactivity began to make that house deteriorate. And when finally construction restarted, I don't know, something like 18 months later, they had to tear down much of what they had already started. They had to put up put a new roof on because all the plywood had become warped. Other modifications of the house that is much like a genuine believer who being saved is not diligent is is, as the Bible calls slothful, is not diligent in working out his or her Christian faith. His or her salvation, that there can be a decline, not a losing of the faith, but there can be a decline.
You know, that is, I know that if you've been reading your Bible, if you've been praying, if you've been in Christian fellowship on somewhat of a regular basis and then you let it go, you let it lapse, what happens?
You lose ground. And that's what we're being warned against here by John and in our text, Paul.
And so, as Thomas Watson says, we need this this fear, this reverence, he says. Fear is a remedy against presumption. We would presume that just because we've taken care of our justification, that that, you know, everything's going to be fine, it is a fear. Fear, he says, is an antidote to sloth.
If we really, in our heart see ourselves as bowing the knee before the ultimate authority of the universe, we will not be lazy out of reverence for that king.
Watson says fear is a preservative against apostacy, and that's a whole another sermon, but the New Testament is full of examples of individuals who seem to believe and then and then go off and deny the faith or deny the essentials of the faith. Fear this reverence that that keeps us working out. Our salvation is an antidote against apostasy. Now, you may still be struggling at this point, putting together this whole idea of working and salvation. And if you're there and for a long time in this passage, I struggled with this. Let me just give you this. I hope this is helpful to you. Think of salvation as in three phases. There is salvation as an accomplished fact. There is salvation as a present process, and there is salvation as a future prospect.
Salvation as an accomplished fact is our justification.
That is the moment when God saved us, and usually that aligns with when we respond to the gospel and repentance and faith and we are fully and finally saved and justification. Salvation as an accomplished fact is really to say we have been saved, but there is another stage, another phase that that it doesn't cancel out the first one, it's ongoing. And that is salvation as a present process. And that is what's called sanctification. And if you're a believer, that's the stage that you are in. If you're here this morning and you've not responded, you are right before that first stage. But if you're here this morning and you know Christ as savior and Lord, you're in that present process of sanctification. You have been saved. You are being saved. The Holy Spirit is at work in you, making you more and more into the image of Jesus.
And then there is salvation as a future prospect. This is called glorification.
This is when we stand before Jesus one day, either upon our death or if he comes before our death when he comes and all of his glory and the process of our salvation is finished, we are glorified. We are made like Christ. We will be saved. We have been saved. We are being saved.
We will be saved.
Another way to think about it is our justification is being saved from the penalty of sin. We we no longer under the guilt of sin, our sanctification.
The present stage is we are being saved from the power of sin, rooting out the flesh in us and our glorification is we will one day be saved from the very presence of sin.
All sin will be rooted out in us.
Now, I say that to give you the context of Philippians two, 12 and 13, it is in that middle stage working out your salvation is not in the first stage.
All right. Being saved justification, working out your salvation will be all done at the final stage. Glorification, working out your salvation is in the second stage, the present process of sanctification that is presently happening and every believer. If you're still struggling with with this idea of working and salvation, putting those two into the same sentence, look at verse 13 in Philippians two, because I think that that removes all doubt. You can't read Philippians 2:12 without reading verse 13. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it. Is God working and you it is God who works.
And you. What is Paul saying there? We are saved only by God's powerful work, even in being saved initially.
It's because he changes us inwardly. He does that imparting of spiritual life to us.
When we were dead in sin, Ephesians two, again, we were dead and our transgressions. But God has made us alive in Christ well in the same way God works in us to accomplish this our sanctification.
He is saying here he's the energizing power that enables you to work out your salvation.
It would be totally despairing if we had to work out our salvation, if we had to try to be more like Christ in our own power.
But Paul says here, we depend entirely upon God to sanctify us, and it's in that dependence upon him that we obey him and all he says and that we take active steps to live out that obedience.
God works and you too will and to work for his good pleasure. I love this.
He works in us to will, in other words, God, cause he changes our will, he causes us to want to do this. Who of us from our flesh would want to live a more holy life, would want to be more Christlike all on our own. God gives us that desire. He changes our will.
And not only does he change our will, he works in us to work for it, he gives us the ability and the power to obey his will, you see that he gives you the desire to live out his will and he gives you the power and the ability to do so. Well, how do we go about working out your salvation? I want to give you just a few thoughts this morning. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But I need to say right at the beginning, here's where it begins.
It begins by trusting in the gospel.
In fact, if we miss this, if we if we don't understand that this all is the overflow of the gospel in our lives, it is so easy to fall into the trap of legalism. It is so easy to fall into the pit of thinking that somehow we justify ourselves, that we work in some way that is meritorious in God's eyes.
So it begins with trusting in the gospel.
And again, this is a whole other sermon that I don't have time to go into today, but if you are not clear on what do we mean by the gospel, I would direct you to Romans three. Many writers call it the heart of the gospel versus starting with verse 19 and verse 20. Paul says no one will be declared righteous by keeping the law. Let me translate into our modern day English. You can't be saved by being a good person. We can't do enough of the good things, the law that God has told us to do to be right before him. It is absolutely impossible. No one of us can perfectly keep the law. So what do we do, Paul says. Well, God has answered that now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known. He has revealed to us through the gospel, he has revealed, you can't be good enough. But I present to you one who has been perfectly good, the Lord Jesus, who came and lived an absolutely perfect life keeping the law in every every, every jot and tittle, keeping the law perfectly. And it's in him that righteousness is imputed to you as you trust in him and believe in him. And so verse twenty to this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. You trust in who Jesus is and what he has done, you trust in God's provision, by his grace of this righteousness, not your righteousness, but Christ righteousness, and you are saved that's imputed to you. You are covered by his righteousness. All your sin is covered. And you you are fully pure in his eyes, in the righteousness and Christ, the heart of the gospel.
I love Jerry Bridges, who often used the phrase preach the gospel to yourself every day, we have to begin here and working out our salvation.
We have to every day preach the gospel to ourselves.
But having preach the gospel, there are other areas that that were called on to in working out our salvation, and the first one would be to make every effort to be diligent, to grow in Christ likeness. Again, that was the passage read earlier. But notice what Peter says, the same idea as Paul.
There's a need to make effort. There's a need to be diligent. There's a need to actually act. And on what we are obeying from God's word. And if you notice, those were read earlier. But if you notice all of those attributes, what are they describing? They're describing Christ. It is to be active and growing in Christ's likeness. That's part of working out our salvation. And then there is the writer of Hebrews says part of working out our salvation is to make every effort to be holy without holiness. No one will see the Lord now. Only one is holy, only one is totally holy. But again, this is that idea of I don't want my thoughts or my words or my actions to be formed by anything except Christ, anything but what God reveals in his word.
And as his spirit works in me, I want to grow more and more like this. So I am becoming holy like he is becoming holy. Working out your salvation is pursuing holiness.
Those would be the positive aspects. Here's here's a negative aspect. He says make abstain from sexual immorality.
He writes to the Thessalonians and to us.
And this is that idea of purity and it extends beyond sexual immorality. There are many ways that we can be immoral in our culture. And Paul is saying here that that part of what it means to work out your salvation is to root out every area of immorality in your life. Remember, for those of you who may be discouraged, especially in the eye in this area of sexual immorality, remember, this is a lifelong project of working out your salvation. So we stumble and fall and what do we do? We get back up again and we continue with the help of God's and dwelling Holy Spirit. We continue to to to pursue this. We don't let the fact that we have stumbled and fall trip us and keep us down lying there forever.
Discipline yourself, there is there's over and over again, Paul uses these images of discipline that he uses the image of a boxer, he uses the image of a runner. You're not going to be a good boxer. You're not going to be a good runner unless you are disciplined and you practice and you exercise. And Paul says in the same way, all those things are good.
It's good to work out, but discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. So working out your salvation is actually practically thinking through what do I need to do to become more self disciplined?
We talked a couple of weeks ago about reading the Bible and then meditating on scripture and then praying through scripture. And some of you may have thought, yeah, that's what the Lord wants me to do. Have you followed through on that?
Have you established the disciplines that you're going to need to do that?
All right. That's just one little example. But exercising self discipline and how I'm going to grow and godliness is essential.
And then discernment.
Hebrews, the writer of Hebrews, urges us to work at being discerning believers, being increasingly able to discern between good and evil. Remember that image of the storm coming, that image of weather, that the signs of the times of the rising secularism in our culture, of just the cultural upheaval we need the ability as followers of Jesus to discern what is good and what is evil, what is true and what is false. And you notice what the writer of Hebrews says that involves that involves practice. He says the practice of those who have their senses trained. We train ourselves, we take advantage of opportunities within the body of Christ to be trained in that. Do you see, again, that theme of diligent effort? Last thing.
It is interesting, I know Philippians two, 12 and 13 are not up on the screen right at the moment, but if you look back at that, when Paul writes, work out your salvation the form of that, that those words are second person, plural. So what's the significance of that? Yes, what he's saying implies to each of us individually, but he's saying and I think even louder, this is something we do as the community of faith. This is something that we do together. Working out your salvation. Sanctification is not just something we pursue ourselves, although we do. It is something that happens in community. And that's why, again, the writer of Hebrews says, don't neglect meeting together, there is a need to meet together where we can do it in person or, you know, second best online. We have to come together because we pursue working out our salvation most effectively in community. He says, let us encourage one another. We need each other picking us up when we fall, when we stumble and fall, we need each other encouraging us on as we develop the discipline and the habits as we practice and we train to grow and Christ likeness.
I want to close with this.
Some of the forms of community that have been most invaluable in my personal life and my sanctification up to this moment, my growing, my working out, my salvation, at times, God has used accountability groups where struggling with a particular sin. I got together in a covenant relationship with a couple other men, and we wrestled through what scripture had to say about that area of temptation. And we held each other accountable and we encouraged each other. And out of that accountability and that kind of Covenant Group relationship, God freed me from some of that sin.
Accountability groups may be something that you need in community and working out your salvation, discipleship groups.
There are many forms of discipleship groups. One that I know a number of you, because you've talked to me about, have been part of that. I've also been part of the Navigator to seven discipleship group type of series that's been really significant in my life as a young believer. There's many other forms, but a discipleship group being we are going to intentionally work through what it means to be a follower of Christ together.
I'm running out of time. Small groups, small groups, not just people getting together for fellowship, but people getting together to to focus on the word and to have some forms of accountability and support groups.
Sometimes we have a particular area of need. May maybe a single parents, maybe somebody has gone through divorce or are going through grief. And they need to bring that need together with unbelievers and working out their salvation.
What does it mean to follow Christ and their circumstances?
Here are, I think, the elements, the essential elements of an effective form of community for working out your salvation. There needs to be intimacy. We need to be able to know that we can be vulnerable and we can be real and we can trust the people that we are with. And that will be held in confidence.
There needs to be truth.
All right, a group that comes together and doesn't open the word the Bible is deluding themselves, so any form of these groups need to be rooted in scripture and opening the scripture together. There needs to be accountability, not the parole officer type of accountability. But but that that where we share what we're struggling with and we expect people to ask about it and and help us walk through that.
And there needs to be mission.
There needs to be that idea that we don't just exist for ourselves.
We actually are growing in Christ, that we may reach out outside of ourselves to people who do not yet know Christ.
Are you in some form of community that has these elements, it may be one of these groups I have up there, it may be some other kind of group. Do you have that in your life? That would be my desire for you. And even as you hear some of tonight, if you tune in to the town hall webinar, you're going to hear what the board and the pastors have been thinking and praying through and discussing about how can we more intentionally create that kind of community that will help us as a church and us individually work out your salvation.
Continue to work out your salvation, thinking of what is coming.
Thinking of the signs of the times and what they may mean.
Thinking of what Israel what the people of God should do, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work his good pleasure. Let's pray.
Oh, Heavenly Father, where would we be, by your grace? Where would we be without your mercy? If you did not first work in us, none of us would even genuinely be here.
We so thank you for your grace and Christ to us, we so thank we're so thankful for you taking dead people and making them alive in Christ, we are so thankful for your justification.
And Lord, we look forward to your glorification, we long for the culmination of the age when Jesus will return and all of his glory and we will be made like him as we see him face to face.
And now, Lord, help us in our sanctification.
Help us not to be slothful, help us to be diligent, help us to make effort, empowered by you, by your spirit, living in us to work out our salvation, to become more and more like Christ. We pray this Lord in Jesus name and for his glory. Amen.