Blog #26 Is There a Place for the Fear of the Lord Under Grace? (Part 2)
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”—Philippians 2:12-13 (NKJV)
Before I begin, let me ask you this one question, are you working out your salvation, or are you working for your salvation? You may answer with, “Either way, what’s wrong with a quest toward perfection and sinless living?” I would have to reply by saying, “It all depends on the purpose.” You see, if you are working in order to earn your salvation and escape hell, then you are working for your salvation and the very means you are using (your works) to be granted entrance to heaven are the very means that will keep you out of heaven. The inner life is hidden to the world but not to God. Grace is a purifier of motive. It is the unmerited favor of God and the power of God to live holy. Here is what Romans 4:5 says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (NKJV). Hence, the prerequisite for free entrance to heaven is the cessation of works as a means of righteousness and the placing of our faith in Jesus alone. Please understand that under grace, we work, but the motive of such work isn’t fear of hell, but love for God.
If one will stop trying to be righteous under the religious commands, “You must do this! You must not do that! Or you go to hell!”, and instead place their trust in the finished work of the cross as a means of righteousness, one will find that God Himself will work in them both to will and to do for His good pleasure. In Philippians 2:12, the apostle Paul instructs the believers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, but he makes sure to add in the next verse, “For it is God who works in you…” God requires us to be faithful with what He works in us. The grace of God brought about a real change in us. As we abide in the favor of God through Christ and allow such grace to permeate our lives, we will find renewed motives for obeying God and we will discover that God enables us to live such obedient lives. What’s more? In Christ, we have a new heart, a new nature. We have received the righteousness of Christ as a free gift (see Romans 5:17). We will notice that our motives are purified by the grace of God and we are empowered by God’s grace to bear godly fruit, not out of a guilty conscience, but out of love. I find Hebrews 9:14 to convey this truth beautifully:
“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”—Hebrews 9:14 (NKJV)
Let’s also look at the following verse:
“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.”—1 Timothy 1:5 (NKJV)
We see from the above Scripture that the child of God serves God from a sincere faith, a clear conscience and a pure heart. Only the Blood of Christ can purge our conscience from dead works so that we don’t serve God out of self-centered fear, guilt and condemnation, but out of faith, love and reverence; working out what God has first worked in us. We are not afraid with a fear that throws us into works of the flesh out of panic, for God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control (see 2 Timothy 1:7 AMPC).
Empowered and taught by the very grace of God (see Romans 6:14; 2 Cor. 12:9; Titus 2:11-12), out of gratefulness for what the Lord has done for us, out of love and respect for Him, and out of graced faithfulness, we submit to God and work out what He has first performed in us by His Holy Spirit. We know where we came from and what God has done in and for us. We know by His Word and by experience that He is good and holy. The apostle Paul instructs us in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (NKJV). Then, the apostle Paul continues in verse 2 of the same book of Romans chapter twelve, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (NKJV). We see an internal work of the renewal of the mind which then leads to the discerning, knowing and proving of God’s will for our lives.
The Bible says that God’s law has been written on our heart (see Jer. 31:33). Grace changes us inside. Our self-righteousness and dead works will never cut it. For without Christ our nature is a fallen nature. A rotten tree. Nothing godly can grow out of it. That’s why we can’t improve self, it can only be crucified with Christ through faith (see Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6). From there, we live from our new life given to us as a gift from God; Christ in us the hope of glory (see Col. 1:27b). We are no longer dictated by religious rules or commands as a means of righteousness, but we serve God with circumcised hearts (see Romans 2:25-29). Thus our new nature desires to obey God. Again, God works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. As much-loved children want to do as their father does, let us do as our heavenly Father would do (see Ephesians 5:1 NLV). Thus, let us serve Him out of love because He first loved us (see 1 John 4:19), and let us do so with reverential fear, awe and respect for Him, being aware that our heavenly Father is God, He is holy and loves justice, He desires faithfulness, and that He means what He says and He says what He means—understanding that God will ask us to give an account of what we have done on this earth with the free gift of His grace that He has given us.
To conclude, under grace, we will work, but not in order to earn God’s acceptance. Instead we work because God has bestowed His favor and love upon us. Thus, we are not constantly driven by a fear that says, “If you don’t do this, God will reject you; if you do that, God will receive you.” Instead, we serve God because He graciously received us and favored us through Christ. Furthermore, as born again believers, we have a new nature, a new heart (see Ezekiel 36:25-27), and we have been made the righteousness of God in Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:21). We have repented of our sins and turned our hearts toward God in faith and love, and accordingly we live for Him. The goodness of the Lord leads men to repentance (see Romans 2:4). Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you [really] love Me, you will keep (obey) My commands” (AMPC). The Lord’s unmerited favor toward us causes us to love Him and to desire to serve Him. We reverentially fear Him because we know that He desires faithfulness and that He hates sin, thus we do not abuse the grace of God. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8 NKJV).
Be encouraged, there is hope! There is a way out.