Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:22)
The power, grace, and beauty of salvation lie in the simple truth that it is not a static, rigid single event. It is eternal and dynamic, and provides for us in every area of our need. It is true that we are saved ‘once and for all.’ In this regard, salvation is a single even that is measurable in time, place, and situation. On this particular date, at this time, and in this place, I was saved. This salvation will not and cannot happen again. We do not have to be ‘resaved’ if we backslide. It’s already a done deal and cannot be redone. At the same time, however, we are continually being saved during our walk with Christ. We can express this as ‘working out our salvation.’ Simply put, it means the saving power of salvation is available to us in a practical way every time we encounter something we need to be saved out of. It may seem contradictory, but it’s beautifully simple and the first step to the truth that sets us free – the truth that, in all things, we look to Jesus and the cross.
Working out our salvation means living in and applying the practical power of the cross in our daily lives.
To get past the apparent contradiction, we need to remember that salvation has a two-fold purpose. The first is restoring us back to God – making it possible for us enter into a relationship with Him as a member of His family and a citizen of His kingdom. In this respect, it’s a removal from darkness to light, from death to life, and from sin to righteousness. This is the basic principle, and there are so many wonderful things that are part of the package. But while it’s ‘once and for all,’ we still need to live in it in an ongoing process of transformation. We have the passport, but it needs to be used in our travels through life if it’s going to be of any value to us. This is the essence of working out our salvation – it’s applying the passport in every situation where we need to remind ourselves, the world, and the devil that we’re citizens of God’s kingdom and His children. It’s rather like ‘diplomatic immunity.’ If we can’t produce the passport – if we’re not wearing our citizenship as we should – we’re fair game.
Using the passport isn’t difficult. It’s looking to Jesus. It’s calling on His name. It’s handing everything over to the King of kings who has the final say on how His subjects are treated and what happens to them. Salvation is available in every single situation we may find ourselves in through looking to Jesus, who has already dealt with every possible scenario on the cross. Working our our salvation means taking hold of this truth and looking to Jesus in everything.
Today’s verse reminds us of the story of the fiery serpents and what God says in Numbers 21:8. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” Of course, the Israelites were being bitten as a result of their constaint complaining and murmuring – something God hates because it kills thanksgiving. But in His Grace, as He always does, He provided a way out. Practically speaking, the way out would have been there even if the people had not taken it. Our attitude and response to the salvation God provides never alters the fact that it is there and remains unchanged and available to us. The people could have ignored the instruction to look at the bronze serpent and would have perished despite the salvation provided. This is a wonderful illustration of the very practical truth of working out our salvation – the key being ‘work.’ It’s not enough to have it. We must work it to make it work for us.
Jesus Himself refers to this passage in Numbers in John 3:14-15. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. He was talking, of course, of the cross, but we must never lose sight of the fact that the cross was a physical event with spiritual significance and consequences. The cross has become a symbol of salvation because it was the place where the flesh, the world, and the devil met eternity and lost. That fact and its significance can never be changed because it exists in eternity – it was there at the beginning of time, will be there at the end of time, was there in that moment and is now. In eternity, there is no beginning, middle, and end. All moments exit, perfect and complete, in a single eternal moment. Working out our salvation, however, is a process of applying Christ’s victory in all of our battles, of looking to Him each time and taking hold of what He purchased for us with His blood.
A very good illustration is perhaps that of the negro slaves in America. The issue of slavery was, of course, central to the American civil war which raged on between April 12, 1861 and May 9, 1865. The emancipation proclamation, however, was read by President Lincoln on new year’s day, 1863. On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and found that the slaves there had no idea that they were free. Had they not been told, they would have continued to live in slavery. Many struggled with the implications of freedom and it was a long time before they were able to ‘look to Lincoln’ and apply his proclamation in a practical and life transforming way. Working out our salvation is much the same thing. We have our King who has declared us free and purchased our freedom by His blood. He has issued a declaration to self, the world, the devil, and the citizens of heaven that we are free. But we have to look to Him, to trust in His Word and His promises, and to apply those in our lives every time we find ourselves up against something that wants to put us back into slavery.
God’s grace is infinite and merciful. He knows that our weakness, our distractions, our failures, and our temptations. For each one, He has provided the blood of His Son. Our once and for all salvation is a glorious gift, freely given, and part of its beauty lies in the fact that it is just a beginning. God could instantly transform us into perfect beings, but to be honest, I don’t think any of us could handle it. I think mercy has a lot to do with His decision to let us work out our salvation, but of course, that’s my opinion. It just makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, it is through our trials and temptations, through looking to Jesus and seeing His salvation and deliverance work in all circumstances – often in ways we could never have imagined – that we learn to know Him and love Him. The degree of faith we have is relative to how much we use it. Unused faith has no purpose. Faith is only faith when we stand in it, step out in it, and resolutely use it to look to Jesus. Faith is the wonderful ‘bonus’ of working out our salvation.
We all struggle at times, sometimes more than others, and often with things we believed we’d defeated. Old temptations, old sins, old weaknesses, return to challenge us. The glorious truth is that salvation can be ‘reused.’ It doesn’t have an expiry date. There’s no limit to the number of times we can apply the precious salve of salvation to the same sin, provided we are truly repentant. It’s not a quick-fix or cover up. We cannot use it as an excuse to keep sinning without accountability. But it is provision for those things that we genuinely struggle with, desire to be free of, and which are our particular weaknesses. Working out our salvation requires work. Some wounds may require repeated application, but the issue lies with us, not the efficacy of salvation.
Working out our salvation means learning to walk in all the promises of God. It is the process of learning the power of salvation to save in every situation, large or small. It is the process of discovering the grace and the mercy of God in every need, and of coming to understand the spiritual eternity that is our heritage. Above all, it’s looking to Jesus, our salvation, who has already purchased all we will ever need.
Thank You, Jesus, that the salvation You purchased is not rigid and static but dynamic and eternal. Thank You that has the power to continue to work in our lives in practical ways, to daily work to destroy the chains we haven’t yet learned to loose so we can walk free in Your love and in service always to You with joyful hearts.