Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
That phrase “continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling” always catches me when I read it because of that other phrase “as you have always obeyed.” Long before we even had a conscious awareness of our salvation we were learning there were times we could be disobedient and get away with it. Paul is challenging us to consider situational ethics and our faith. God has swept away old boundaries and brought new freedom to our lives. We have our doctrines, we have our statements of belief, we have God’s truth…but we still have our options.
I try not to be a “canned” Christian but it’s so easy to spout the truth you know as if you’ve really figured out how to live it. That’s the challenge of situational ethics. This last year our Pastor quoted someone-or-other with this [paraphrased] statement: “We judge others by their behavior and ourselves by our intent.” Our freedom in Christ has faced us with options and our situational ethics. That’s why we need to “continue to work out [our accomplished] salvation with fear and trembling.” You don’t think God misses those times when you still get away with misusing your freedom do you? Not a chance! That’s the “fear and trembling” part but we have these words of assurance from Paul. In the midst of working through matching up our situational ethics with our freedom we don’t have to rely on our doctrines or our statements of belief or our own will. This is God’s truth…”it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” You can’t do it alone.
Exodus 14:11-12 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Quote from Ray Cortese, Pastor at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church in Lecanto, Florida. “It’s easier to take people out of Egypt than it is to take Egypt out of people.”
That statement hit home for me in a very personal way. “Egypt” is my metaphor for entitlement – “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” See if my story sounds familiar to you.
I am like those Israelites. It seems to be built into me to feel I am entitled to more from my faith…from God…from circumstances…and from people too. There was that thrilling moment of freedom when I accepted God’s promise that he would give me more than I deserved. That’s when the amazing journey began. I could clearly see I was being led to a new place and was eager to get there. It’s that timeline between being led and getting there that is the problem.
I guarantee you won’t forget being saved. Just as surely I can testify that your sense of entitlement will become an issue. That realization hit me hard on Sunday. Like the Israelites I know what I have escaped. I have my own forty years walking with Jesus. Shouldn’t wisdom and faith be like second nature that just oozes out of me by now? Why do I have to spend so much time reading, studying, writing and rewriting to end up with a few paragraphs of belief only to discover I still have so far to go? Don’t I deserve some kind of powerful response to my will to keep walking?
Ah, there’s the tell…”my will.” That’s my “Egypt.” This is what brought me to tears: you don’t get credit hours or special privileges for time spent walking through Egypt with God. Your time is the only thing that can make the one entitlement you actually have been given a reality…to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5