Keep On Working Out Your Own Salvation!
“Beloved ones, . . . keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”—PHILIPPIANS 2:12.
1, 2. What popular notions have led many people to feel that they have no control over how their lives turn out?
“WERE you born that way?” Recently, that question was emblazoned on the cover of a popular magazine. Beneath the headline appeared the words: “Personality, temperament, even life choices. New studies show it’s mostly in your genes.” Such claims may cause some to feel that they have little control over their own life.
2 Others fear that their parents’ poor parenting or their teachers’ poor teaching has somehow condemned them to an unhappy life. They may feel doomed to repeat their parents’ mistakes, to act on their worst impulses, to prove unfaithful to Jehovah—in short, to make bad choices. Is that what the Bible teaches? There are, to be sure, religionists who insist that the Bible teaches something like this, the doctrine of predestination. According to this doctrine, God long ago foreordained every event in your life.
3. What encouraging message does the Bible have about our ability to take responsibility for our future?
3 All these different notions have one message in common: You have little choice, little control over how your life turns out. That is a discouraging message, is it not, and discouragement adds to the problem. Proverbs 24:10 says: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.” We are encouraged to learn, though, that according to the Bible, we can ‘work out our own salvation.’ (Philippians 2:12) How can we bolster our confidence in this positive Scriptural teaching?
The “Building” Work We Do in Ourselves
4. Although 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 speaks of building with fire-resistant materials, what does this not imply?
4 Consider the apostle Paul’s illustration found at 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. There, he speaks of a Christian building work, and the principle of his illustration can apply to the internal and external ministry. Does he imply that whether a disciple finally chooses to serve Jehovah and stays by that choice is entirely the responsibility of those who taught and trained him? No. Paul was emphasizing the importance of the teacher’s doing the best possible building work. But as we learned in the preceding article, he was not saying that the student or disciple has no choice in the matter. True, Paul’s illustration focuses on the work we do in others, not the building up of ourselves. This is evident because Paul speaks of slipshod building work as being destroyed while the builder himself is saved. Nonetheless, the Bible does at times apply that same figure of speech to the work that we do in ourselves.
5. What Scriptures show that Christians must do a “building” work in themselves?
5 Consider, for example, Jude 20, 21: “You, beloved ones, by building up yourselves on your most holy faith, and praying with holy spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love.” Jude here uses the same Greek word for “building” that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, but his point seems to be that we build ourselves up on the foundation of our faith. Luke, in recording Jesus’ illustration of the man who founded his house upon a rock-mass, uses the same Greek word for “foundation” that Paul uses in his illustration of Christian building. (Luke 6:48, 49) Furthermore, Paul uses the imagery of being established on a “foundation” when exhorting his fellow Christians to make spiritual progress. Yes, God’s Word teaches that we do “building” work in ourselves.—Ephesians 3:15-19; Colossians 1:23; 2:7.
6. (a) Illustrate how each Christian disciple is the result of a joint building project. (b) What responsibility does each individual disciple have?
6 Is building a Christian a one-man job? Well, imagine that you decide to build a house. You go to an architect for the plans. While you intend to do much of the work yourself, you hire a contractor to work with you and to advise you on the best methods. If he lays a solid foundation, helps you to understand the plans, suggests the best materials to purchase, and even teaches you much about building, you would likely agree that he has done a good job. But what if you were to ignore his advice, buy cheap or shoddy materials, and even deviate from the architect’s plans? Surely you could not blame the contractor or the architect if the house collapsed! Similarly, each Christian disciple is a result of a joint building project. Jehovah is the master architect. He supports the faithful Christian who, as one of “God’s fellow workers,” teaches and builds up a student. (1 Corinthians 3:9) Yet the student is involved too. In the final analysis, he is responsible for his own life course. (Romans 14:12) If he wants to have fine Christian qualities, he must work hard to acquire them, to build them in himself.—2 Peter 1:5-8.
7. What challenges do some Christians face, and what may comfort them?
7 Does this mean, then, that genetics, environment, and the quality of our teachers are meaningless? Far from it. God’s Word recognizes each of these as important and influential. Many sinful, negative tendencies are inborn and can be very hard to fight. (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12; 7:21-23) Parental training and the home environment can have a tremendous impact on the young—for good or for bad. (Proverbs 22:6; Colossians 3:21) Jesus condemned the Jewish religious leaders for the bad effects their teaching had on others. (Matthew 23:13, 15) Today, such factors are at work on all of us. For example, some of God’s people face challenges as a result of difficult childhoods. These ones need our kindness and empathy. And they can take comfort from the Bible’s message that they are not doomed to repeat their parents’ mistakes or to prove unfaithful. Consider how some of the kings of ancient Judah illustrate this point.
Judah’s Kings—They Made Their Own Choices
8. What poor example did Jotham have in his father, yet what choice did he make?
8 Uzziah became king of Judah at the tender age of 16 and reigned for 52 years. Throughout much of this time, he “continued to do what was upright in Jehovah’s eyes, according to all that Amaziah his father had done.” (2 Kings 15:3) Jehovah blessed him with a series of stunning military victories. Sadly, though, success went to Uzziah’s head. He became haughty and rebelled against Jehovah by offering incense at the altar in the temple, a duty reserved for priests. Uzziah was rebuked but only responded with rage. Then he was humiliated—struck with leprosy and forced to live out his days in isolation. (2 Chronicles 26:16-23) How did his son Jotham react to all of this? The young man could easily have been influenced by his father and could have resented Jehovah’s correction. The people in general may have been a negative influence since they carried on wrong religious practices. (2 Kings 15:4) But Jotham made his own choice. “He kept doing what was right in Jehovah’s eyes.”—2 Chronicles 27:2.
9. What were some of the good influences upon Ahaz, but how did his life turn out?
9 Jotham ruled for 16 years, remaining faithful to Jehovah all the while. His son Ahaz, therefore, had the excellent example of a faithful father. And Ahaz had other good influences. He was blessed to live when the faithful prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah were actively prophesying in the land. Yet, he made a bad choice. “He did not do what was right in Jehovah’s eyes like David his forefather.” He made images of Baal and worshiped them and even burned up some of his own sons in sacrificial fires to pagan gods. Despite the best of influences, he failed catastrophically as a king and as a servant of Jehovah.—2 Chronicles 28:1-4.
10. What kind of father was Ahaz, but what choice did his son Hezekiah make?
10 From the point of view of pure worship, it is hard to imagine a worse father than Ahaz. However, his son Hezekiah could not choose his own father! The young sons that Ahaz slaughtered in sacrifice to Baal were likely Hezekiah’s own brothers. Did this terrible background doom Hezekiah to a life of unfaithfulness to Jehovah? On the contrary, Hezekiah became one of Judah’s few truly great kings—a faithful, wise, and beloved man. “Jehovah proved to be with him.” (2 Kings 18:3-7) In fact, there is reason to believe that Hezekiah while still a young prince was the inspired writer of the 119th Psalm. If so, it is not hard to see why he would have penned the words: “My soul has been sleepless from grief.” (Psalm 119:28) Despite his grievous troubles, Hezekiah let Jehovah’s Word guide him in life. Psalm 119:105 says: “Your word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway.” Yes, Hezekiah made his own choice—the right choice.
11. (a) Despite his father’s good influence, how extreme was Manasseh’s rebellion against Jehovah? (b) What choice did Manasseh make toward the end of his life, and what may we learn from this?
11 Paradoxically, though, from one of Judah’s best kings came one of the very worst. Hezekiah’s son Manasseh promoted idolatry, spiritism, and wholesale violence to an unprecedented extent. The record says that “Jehovah kept speaking to Manasseh and his people,” likely through the prophets. (2 Chronicles 33:10) Jewish tradition has it that Manasseh responded by having Isaiah sawn apart. (Compare Hebrews 11:37.) Whether that is true or not, Manasseh failed to listen to any divine warnings. In fact, he had some of his own sons burned alive as sacrifices, much as his grandfather Ahaz had done. Yet, this wicked man, in the face of severe trials late in life, repented and changed his ways. (2 Chronicles 33:1-6, 11-20) His example teaches us that a person who has made terrible choices is not necessarily beyond redemption. He can change.
12. What opposite choices did Amon and his son Josiah make regarding service to Jehovah?
12 Manasseh’s son Amon could have learned much from his father’s repentance. But he made wrong choices. Amon actually “made guiltiness increase” until he was finally assassinated. His son Josiah was a refreshing contrast. Josiah evidently chose to learn from what had happened to his grandfather. He began to rule at a mere eight years of age. When he was just 16, he began to search for Jehovah and thereafter proved to be an exemplary, faithful king. (2 Chronicles 33:20–34:5) He made a choice—the right choice.
13. (a) What do we learn from the Judean kings we have considered? (b) How important is parental training?
13 This brief examination of seven Judean kings teaches a powerful lesson. In some instances, the worst of kings had the best of sons and, conversely, the best of kings had the worst of sons. (Compare Ecclesiastes 2:18-21.) This does not diminish the importance of parental training. Parents who train their children according to Jehovah’s way certainly give their offspring the best possible opportunity to become faithful servants of Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Still, some children, despite the best efforts of faithful parents, choose to follow a wrong course. Other children, despite the worst parental influence, choose to love and serve Jehovah. With his blessing, they make a success of their life. Do you wonder, at times, which it will be in your case? Consider, then, some of Jehovah’s personal assurances that you can make the right choice!
Jehovah Believes in You!
14. How do we know that Jehovah understands our limitations?
14 Jehovah sees everything. Proverbs 15:3 says: “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, keeping watch upon the bad ones and the good ones.” King David said of Jehovah: “Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing, as regards the days when they were formed and there was not yet one among them.” (Psalm 139:16) So Jehovah knows what negative tendencies you struggle against—whether you inherited them or acquired them as a result of other influences beyond your control. He understands exactly how these have affected you. He understands your limitations even better than you yourself do. And he is merciful. He never expects more of us than we can reasonably do.—Psalm 103:13, 14.
15. (a) What is one source of consolation for those who have been deliberately hurt by others? (b) Jehovah dignifies each of us by giving us what responsibility?
15 On the other hand, Jehovah does not see us as helpless victims of circumstance. If we have had bad past experiences, we may find consolation in the certainty that Jehovah hates all such deliberately hurtful conduct. (Psalm 11:5; Romans 12:19) But will he then hold us exempt if we turn around and knowingly make wrong choices? Of course not. His Word says: “Each one will carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) Jehovah dignifies each of his intelligent creatures with the responsibility to do right and serve him. It is as Moses told the nation of Israel: “I do take the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you today, that I have put life and death before you, the blessing and the malediction; and you must choose life in order that you may keep alive, you and your offspring.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) Jehovah is confident that we too can make the right choice. How do we know that?
16. How can we be successful in ‘working out our own salvation’?
16 Note what the apostle Paul wrote: “Consequently, my beloved ones, . . . keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is the one that, for the sake of his good pleasure, is acting within you in order for you both to will and to act.” (Philippians 2:12, 13) The original Greek word rendered ‘work out’ here signifies bringing something to completion. So none of us is doomed to fail or to quit. Jehovah God must be confident that we can complete the work he has given us to do—the work leading to our salvation—or he would not have inspired such a statement. But how do we succeed? It is not in our own strength. If we were strong enough in and of ourselves, there would be no need for “fear and trembling.” Rather, Jehovah ‘acts within us,’ his holy spirit working in our mind and heart, helping us “to will and to act.” With that loving help, is there any reason why we should not make the right choices in life and live by them? No!—Luke 11:13.
17. What changes can we make in ourselves, and how does Jehovah help us to do so?
17 We will have obstacles to overcome—perhaps a lifetime of bad habits and harmful influences that can distort our thinking. Nevertheless, with the help of Jehovah’s spirit, we can overcome these! As Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, God’s Word is powerful enough to overturn even “strongly entrenched things.” (2 Corinthians 10:4) In fact, Jehovah can help us to make sweeping changes in ourselves. His Word urges us to “put away the old personality” and to “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) Can Jehovah’s spirit really help us to make such changes? Certainly! God’s spirit produces fruitage in us—beautiful, precious qualities that all of us want to cultivate. The first of these is love.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
18. What choice is every reasoning human fully able to make, and what should this help us to be determined to do?
18 Herein lies a great, liberating truth. Jehovah God has a limitless capacity for love, and we are made in his image. (Genesis 1:26; 1 John 4:8) So we can choose to love Jehovah. And that love—not our earlier life, not our acquired faults, not our inherited tendency to do wrong—is the key to our future. Love of Jehovah God is what Adam and Eve needed in order to stay faithful in Eden. Such love is what each of us needs in order to survive Armageddon and pass the final test at the end of Christ’s Millennial Reign. (Revelation 7:14; 20:5, 7-10) Each and every one of us, whatever our circumstances, can cultivate such love. (Matthew 22:37; 1 Corinthians 13:13) Let us be determined to love Jehovah and to build on that love for all eternity.
What Do You Think?
◻ What popular notions contradict the Bible’s positive teaching regarding individual responsibility?
◻ What building work must each Christian do in himself?
◻ How do the examples of the kings of Judah demonstrate that each individual makes his own choice?
◻ How does Jehovah assure us that we can make the right choices in life, regardless of negative influences around us?
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Is your future determined by genetics?
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Despite the bad example of his father, King Josiah chose to serve God