Salvation in the Bible and the Believer's Source of Strength
By Jim Allen
According to the apostle Paul, salvation from God's perspective is a done-deal, and no one can add anything to it (Romans 6). However, from the believer's perspective, another work is in progress after salvation called sanctification. This post-salvation work is initiated by the Holy Spirit that encourages believer participation. With words too sobering to ignore, the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippians instructed them to "work out their salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). To "work out" means to come into an understanding of what they have been given and then to apply those truths in their daily walk with the Lord. Paul goes on to say the Philippians were to do so with a sense of awe and accountability before the Lord because their salvation is a precious gift. Paul is not suggesting they are to work for salvation nor is he saying they can lose salvation. He is saying, "Once saved, don't stop there!"
Just to be clear, salvation is the result of justification, to be followed by sanctification which is also a work of Grace. Sanctification is not something performed by the believer but a "God instilled desire" encouraging the new convert to learn the things of God. It is God working in the believer to do His will (Hebrews 13:20-21). Although God works to do His will in the believer, the believer can faint (grow weary) and draw back, which is the central theme of this article. Supporting this truth is Proverbs 24:10 whereby it says, "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small." The verse is saying that "to draw back" when the going gets tough is to demonstrate weak or immature faith.
Consider, if you will, the external pressure of the sin nature after one is born again. The sin nature sticks to the believer like glue, similar to that of a cocoon attached to a tree. The cocoon, with its butterfly larva inside, is part of the world. The cocoon-like sin nature remains snugly wrapped around every believer (larva) as a force, to constrain the new life growing inside. There is a reason. In order for new life to emerge, it must grow and then struggle against the outer wrappings of the sin nature until it emerges, free from its bondage.
According to biologists, the struggle put forth by the butterfly is necessary to strengthen the flight muscles. Similarly, the struggle put forth by every believer—through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit—is necessary to develop and strengthen the spiritual muscles of faith.
Several years ago, I read an article about a biologist who thought he could help a struggling butterfly by opening its cocoon. After observing the butterfly emerge, the scientist discovered he had inadvertently crippled the small creature. The wings of the butterfly were deformed; the butterfly was unable to fly. After some research, the biologist learned that during the "struggling phase", the circulatory system carries essential nutrients to the developing wings as they flex (struggle) against the wrapping of the cocoon. Whenever the struggling phase is disrupted (or made easy), the wings develop abnormally or not at all.
During the believer's "struggling phase", the Holy Spirit supplies essential nutrients of transformation to the developing "wings of faith" as they flex (struggle) against sin and the cares of this world. The Bible teaches that the growth of a believer can be interrupted (Hebrews 4:11), resulting in a backslidden condition.
I once knew a believer who professed faith in Christ and grew steadily in the Lord for some years. He prayed and studied the Bible daily, attended church, witnessed to others and distributed salvation tracts. Well into his early walk with the Lord, he heard well-known television personalities tell their listening audience to relax and enjoy the gift of salvation because it is a finished work!
Consequently, this person relaxed in his walk with the Lord, thinking there was nothing more to do except maybe a few good works along the way. One day, several years later, he woke up to realize he had more interest in the world than Jesus. As a believer, he was sitting on the fence with one leg in church and one leg in the world. He was not reading the Bible. He had lost his first love, failing to treasure the gift of salvation. He had stopped struggling to "work out" the meaning and responsibility of his salvation (Philippians 3:12-14).
True salvation IS a done-deal. On the cross Jesus said, "It is finished (John 19:30)." However, after salvation believers have a responsibility (and indeed should have the desire) to "press on to fullness in Christ (1 Peter 2:2)." Without the desire to "press on," one must question if the person truly placed his faith in Jesus. Sanctification is not sinless perfection, but a life-long process of growing in knowledge and faith that begins at the moment we are born again and continues until our last breath.
Jesus said it best, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me" (John 15:4). Abiding in Christ is the moment-by-moment awareness of our relationship with Jesus wherein He becomes our life. To live is Christ (Galatians 2:20) and to abide in Him is eternal life (Romans 6:23).
Next time: How does it happen? How does a Christian stop following Christ?
Image Credit: Joan; "monarch butterfly, freshly hatched"; Creative Commons