In John 5:1-9 , we are introduced to a miracle Jesus performed on a man, who the Scripture tells us has “been an invalid for thirty-eight years”. He has been waiting for a miracle that long. There was, then, a popular belief among the Jews, of an event where an angel stirs up a pool and anyone who steps in first receives a miracle. This however is discounted not to be a part of Scripture but a myth people believed:
The material about an angel of the Lord stirring the water and bringing healing appears in some early manuscripts, but not the earliest. Thus v. 4 should not be considered part of Scripture. Still, v. 7 (which is in all manuscripts) shows that people believed something like what v. 4 reports.¹
This invalid, we are told, has been waiting to enter the pool when it is stirred. But there is a challenge. Because of his paralysis, others always step ahead of him. Remember according to the myth, it is the first sick person who steps into the pool that gets healed when the pool is stirred. This miracle, as we will see shortly points us to some truths about how God works in the salvation of sinners.
Firstly, we see the helplessness of sinners to save themselves. The Bible teaches that all human beings are sinners. Naturally, we are dead in sin and separated from God. Because of our spiritual death, we are bereft of the ability to draw close to God by ourselves. We are dead in sin and dead people cannot give themselves life. They can only remain dead (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:1, Romans 3:10-19, John 6:44). The picture we see clearly points us to the truth of humankind’s inability to save themselves.
Note that the man’s sickness was a result of sin: “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”(v.14). This is true in a general sense: All sicknesses have their root from sin. Sin brought the punishment of death on the human race ( Genesis 3:16-19, Romans 8:18-23 ). It is also true in a particular sense in that some sicknesses are directly related to particular sins and are God’s way of discipline and chastisement of his children (1Corinthians 11:27-32). Not all sicknesses are a result of particular sins (John 9:1-3).
As the story unfolds, the man’s inability emerges clearly. While Jesus extends a hand of healing, the invalid man utters a statement pointing to His inability: “Sir , I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” (v.7). That invalid is like us. Without Christ, we can do nothing. Without Christ, we are dead in sin deprived of eternal life.
Secondly, we come face to face with the reality of God’s sovereignty in salvation. We are told when Jesus saw the invalid man, He knew the man has been at the pool for a protracted length of time (v.6). This speaks of a divine attribute. Christ is Omniscient. He knows all things. He knew the invalid has been there for long. Of great interest also is the “…multitude of invalids— blind, lame, and paralyzed [ lying by the pool] (v.3). In spite of this, Jesus attended particularly to this one man. He didn’t heal everyone though He could have. God saves sinners according to His divine prerogative ( John 1:12-13, Romans 9:11-16).
Finally, the narrative teaches us that God brings sinners to faith through His word. In John 6:63, Jesus said “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”. There is life in Christ’s words. The narrative records that, Jesus commanded the invalid “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (v.8). There is power in Christ’s word. It has life. The effect of Jesus’ command—His word— is worth noting:
…at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked (v.9).
The invalid by Christ’s word was healed. But more than a need for physical healing; what we need most is spiritual healing—forgiveness of our sin and reconciliation to God. Like the man in this story, Christ asks you: “Do you want to be healed?”(v. 6).
1: The ESV Global Study Bible (Crossways, 2012) study note on John 5:3 [kindle edition]
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6).
Apostolic Astonishment! Paul is astonished the gospel was being messed with and people buying into the mess. Today, we must express this same astonishment. But no. The masses lack discernment. Anything cladded in Christian jargon gets their attention. They revere false teachers and their false gospels. They are their favourite.
Just as in Paul’s day, many today are walking away from the grace of God to establish their own righteousness by their works.
The gospel is simple: Christ “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). In our day, people are offended to be told they are sinners. “Life is already hard. Don’t complicate it by telling people they are sinners. No one wants to hear such discouraging words” we are told. So in the stead of this basic fact of human existence and Christian doctrine, all manner of self-help, humanistic thoughts are passing for gospel. Paul will further say, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9) .
Admirably, Paul places himself under the same scrutiny he expects the Galatians to have towards teachers. Even if he himself preaches under gospel, he stands accursed—throw him out. There are many so called gospels out there which are no gospels at all. Paul was clear on that: “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7).
Anyone who doesn’t preach the true gospel or distorts it is troubling you. They are jeopardizing your soul. From such flee.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
It appears Paul is admonishing the Philippians to work to earn their salvation: “work out your own salvation”. However, if we interpret Paul’s words in that sense, we will be (i) contradicting the whole body of biblical revelation because salvation is by grace through faith and (ii) contradicting Paul himself because he taught in his epistles that salvation is by faith.
What Does Scripture Teach About Salvation?
Scripture first and foremost teaches that all human beings are naturally sinners because of original sin inherited from Adam and as a result, are separated from God and His glory (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23). But God out of love, though humanity is separated from Him as a consequence of sin and bound for eternal destruction, provided a way of rescue to reconcile sinners unto Himself by faith in Jesus Christ:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”(Acts 16:30-31).
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
These Scriptures (not exhaustive) point us to one truth: Justification by faith. To be saved therefore, a sinner has to repent of their sins and put their trust in Christ Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”(Rom 3:25). If it is true (and it is) that sinners are saved by faith alone without any self-rigtheousness, then we must put in proper context what Paul means by “work out your own salvation”. He is obviously not writing about earning our salvation by self-effort.
Epistle From Prison.
It is crucial to note the circumstances surrounding Phillipians and the verse under consideration in particular. Paul is in prison and not physically present with the church as its leader. From prison therefeore, he writes to give instructions on numerous topics confronting the Philippian church.
In Chapter 2, Paul exhorts on Christian conduct citing Christ’s example of humility “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)… “… Have this mind among yourselves” This is a message calling on the Philippian church to take a cue from the humility and suffering of Christ.
Note also that our opening verse starts with “Therefore”. This means Paul draws on his previous teaching on Christ’s example and goes on to tell the believers to emulate Christ.
Philippians Was Written To Christians
We must bear in mind the epistles were written to Christians to give instructions on Christian living or conduct. So when Paul wrote “work out your own salvation”, he is writing to people who were already Christians. They were believers. They have salvation. They have trusted Christ by faith and needed instructions on Christian conduct. Paul calls them “my beloved” and he pointed out that they “have always obeyed”.
You can’t call on unbelievers to work out their salvation; a salvation they don’t have. The Philippians no doubt were Christians. And the fruit of their Christianity is that they are living in obedience. The mark of a true Christian is a life of obedience.
Work Out Your Own Salvation
Now if the Philippians were already Christians (and they were), Paul is greatly concerned they will continue in obedience especially because he is no not physically present with them and his imprisonment has opened up the church to infiltration by false teachers. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry…”(Philippians 1:15). “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2).
Clearly, the infiltration of false teachers in his abscence needed to be addressed. The church was in danger of falling into laxity, complacency, hypocrisy and legalism. Because of this, Paul admonished them to continue in their obedience.
Lets face it. It is human tendency that when a leader is not present or when no one is watching, people naturally fall into laxity in their faith. This is what Paul warns against. The command from Paul is this: Live like Christians. Let the salvation you already possess manifest in how you conduct your life. “Will and do God’s good pleasure”. Take personal responsibility for your Christian conduct: “your own salvation”.
The Greek. verb rendered “work out” means “to continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion.” It cannot refer to salvation by works (cf. Ro 3: 21– 24 ; Eph 2: 8 , 9 ), but it does refer to the believer’s responsibility for active pursuit of obedience in the process of sanctification ¹.
“Work out…with fear and trembling” The point here is that of godly reverence: don’t develop a cavalier attitude towards God’s grace. Don’t play slack with the grace of God. Every believer must have a “healthy fear of offending God and a righteous awe and respect for Him (cf. Pr 1: 7 ; 9: 10 ; Is 66: 1 , 2 )².
The charge to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” can be compared to Peter’s charge also: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall”(2Peter 1:10). As believer, there is already a work of grace going on in your lives. God is already at work in you “both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. If you have a desire for the will of God, you didn’t produce that desire. God planted it in you.
The Christian is always called upon to respond to God’s ongoing work of sanctification. God works first and we must cooperate “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).
1: THE MACARTHUR STUDY BIBLE Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.
Have you ever thought about it? What is the greatest need of humankind? This question will generate a lot of response. Probably, for the majority, top of the list will be eradication of poverty and disease. Others will put forth world peace, eradication of drug and sex trafficking. To others, equal rights for all humankind will top the list. These indeed are commendable, but they are not the greatest need of humankind. The Bible gives us the answer:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
This is the divine verdict from God. All humankind have sinned. Not only that, but by our sins, we are enstranged, alienated and separated from God. We are enemies of God and liable to receive the just punishment for our sins. Paul describes our hopelessness in Ephesians 2:1-3 saying , “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”.
The above is true of every human being. It is the present reality of the unbeliever and it was the reality of the believer who has now come to Faith.
Now the reality of sin as our greatest need came home to me again very strongly today when I read portions of Luke’s gospel for my devotion. In Luke 5, the story is told of Jesus using the boat of Peter to preach and afterwards, He issued a command saying “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (v.4). Here is an experienced fisherman who has toiled all night and caught nothing, so he might have been surprised by the command from Jesus. Indeed he was and his response tells:
And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”(v5a).
However, I suppose having heard Jesus preaching, his heart might have been convicted to obey. So he didn’t stop at questioning Jesus’ instruction. He responded positively afterwards: “But at your word I will let down the nets.”(v.5b). After they heeded Jesus’ instruction, we are told a miracle happened. They had a great catch to the extent they had to signal other fisherman to assist with bringing their catch (vv.6-7).
Simon’s report in the narrative is what caught my attention: “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”(v.8).
A miracle has taken place. But it seemed the miracle didn’t matter to Simon. We are looking at a great breakthrough for that day. They have a great abundance. But in the midst of that abundance, the state of Simon’s heart was laid bare. He was convicted: “he fell down at Jesus’ feet”. He was broken. He lost himself. Before Him was no ordinary man but Jesus, God incarnate.
In that moment of a great miracle, his sinful heart all played before him in front of a Holy God: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. Anyone who encounters the holiness of God is always struck with the wretchedness of their soul (Isaiah 6:5, Romans 7:24). Sin is our greatest predicament (Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 53:6) and until we are reconciled to God, nothing else matters that happens to us. A miracle or breakthrough is of no significance to a heart dead in sin.
Like Simon, we must all fall on our knees at the feet of Christ and plead for forgiveness and reconciliation. Our sin must not drive us away from God, rather it must drive us to Him. Jesus didn’t drive away Peter, but He spoke forgiveness to the need of his sinful heart: “And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”(v.10).
Here is the mercy of God in action; a man not only forgiven, but his life takes on a new direction. A sinful man cleansed and reconciled to God and commissioned to be a soul winner–fisher of men. Our greatest need is to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God. That is the foremost reason Christ walked this earth (Ephesians 2:14-17).
Last week, Christians worldwide celebrated Easter, the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you are a believer, this season marked the day your salvation was secured. If you are not a believer, He died for sinners and until you come to Him in Faith, you have no reason to celebrate Easter.
There is one fascinating account of the Easter events which teaches a number of lessons in our sourjourning as pilgrims on this side of eternity. The account is in Luke 24, where two of Jesus’ disciples were undertaking a journey to a village named Emmaus. While travelling, they discussed the events that had taken place in Jerusalem, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv.13-14). Immersed in their lamentation, Jesus joined them on their journey and we are told their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (vv. 13-16).
On hindsight, the reader of the Bible sees the victory in the death and resurrection of Christ. However, as we read the narration, one fact emerges; the disciples, who walked with Christ were dejected by His death. They believed Jesus was going to be their political deliverer from Roman rule. But in cold blood, the life of their leader who offered hope to them was brought to an abrupt end, so to speak. He was lifted on a cross and gruesomely murdered. He died a death reserved for criminals–crucifixion.
When Jesus joined in the conversation with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?”(v.17). Their reaction to the question was evident of the content of their conversation:
And they stood still, looking sad (v.17).
Why were they sad? Because their hopes and expectations about the man Jesus has been curtailed. .
We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (v.21)
The disciples had their hopes and expectations. They had hopes of deliverance from Roman oppression. Their hope was political. But God’s agenda for sending His Son was grand than political, it is redemption from spiritual death and bondage. It is reconcilatory. God is in Christ reconciling the world –Jews, Romans, Greeks, Gentiles — to Himself. Jesus came to restore lost humanity into relationship with God. The agenda is mammoth, a worldwide reconciliation; calling a “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelations7:9). This is God’s agenda for sending Christ.
Regardless of the dreams and expectations we hold for our lives, we must come to a basic truth in our faith walk that our ways are not God’s ways and most often, our expectations fall short of God’s ways. Expectations can and do slip through our hands. But God’s agenda is bigger than any expectation we may have. He is working behind the scenes working out His own agenda concerning our lives and that must settle our hearts.
Whatever expectations drive our lives, we must ensure they align with God’s revealed will in His word. We see this clearly playing out in the conversation when Jesus rebuked His disciples for lack of Faith in God’s revealed will and from the Scriptures taught them God’s will concerning His suffering:
25:And he[Christ] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26:Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory ?”
27:And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
If we are going to think God’s thoughts and not merely go through life with what we think is God’s way, we must be people who expose ourselves to God’s will through what He has revealed in His word. Our expectations must not be simply what we want God to do. But our expectations must be what God wants to do. And the only way to know this is through faith built from His word.
Christ rebukes the lack of faith of the two in the revealed will concerning His suffering. Then He takes them through an exposition of the things written about Him. Truly, there is no reliable place for the believer to thrust their anchor than in the word of God. To allay our fears and assuage our worries, we must as a matter of necessity look to the word of God.
May God grant us grace that our expectations will align with what He has revealed in His word concerning His work in us through Christ.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6).
In every generation, the gospel — the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners by grace alone through faith alone for justification before God has always been under attack. Recently, I met with a group of friends and from Galatians 1:6-10, I admonished them to go back to their churches and start listening well if the gospel is being preached on their churches’ pulpit.
Now a church that doesn’t preach the gospel and salvation by grace is not worth the name church.
Sadly, many believers have stopped listening and reading with discernment, hence, all kinds of errors are passing on for gospel preaching on many pulpits in our country. Among the numerous errors, there are two extremes by which we see the abuse of the gospel: Legalism and Antinomianism. These two are opposites to each other and are all wrong. Legalism is simply seeking justification with God through good works or by keeping the law — (10 commandments, holiness laws, etc)¹. There is also another side to Legalism where we look to the law and good works to maintain our salvation. All these fly in the face of Scripture because “…one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). What Paul means here is that, justification is by faith alone; believing and trusting in Christ’s death alone for salvation.
This naturally raises questions about whether we can live our lives anyhow since we are justified by faith alone. The question usually arises from a misunderstanding of the place of the Law in the Christians life. There are those who insist that because of grace the law of God has no place in the believers’ life. Such position leads us to the next error that confronts the gospel—Antinomianism. Antinomianism teaches that the Law has no place in a Christians’ life. But that is far from the truth. In an online article, The Threefold Use Of The Law, R.C. Sproul wrote on three uses of the law in the Christian’s life. He stated that:
Every Christian wrestles with the question, how does the Old Testament law relate to my life? Is the Old Testament law irrelevant to Christians or is there some sense in which we are still bound by portions of it? As the heresy of antinomianism becomes ever more pervasive in our culture, the need to answer these questions grows increasingly urgent. ²
You see, the preaching of the gospel is the means by which God brings people to salvation and it is of utmost importance it is not misrepresented or watered down. A watered down gospel lacks power to save. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1Corinthians 1:18). But what do we see today? We live in times when the preaching of the gospel has been replaced by human and secular philosophies which has no power to save anyone. The Galatian church to which Paul wrote his letter, were, just like today, invaded by false teachers propagating a false gospel. Paul described them as trouble makers and those who distort the gospel of Christ(v7).
The gospel is central to the salvation of sinners and any false representation of it must be a cause of concern to every believer. We see Paul registering his disapproval of what was going on in the Galatian church in a rather forceful manner: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel”.
Rightly so, Paul was astonished–greatly amazed, surprised–that a people who have been “called…in the grace of Christ” are “quickly” moving away from the gospel; not gradually, not slowly, but quickly, rendered as as hastily (tacheós)³ in the original language. It was a concern to him, that a people who have once believed in the gospel and have been justified by grace through faith alone are now shifting from grace to works salvation. Any departure from the proclamation of the gospel must just as Paul, astonish us who call on the name of the Lord.
The Christian is saved by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and this truth must remain at the back of our minds throughout our Christian journey. Grace doesn’t only bring us in. Grace keeps us till the end of the journey (Jeremiah 31:3, John 10:27-29). It is important, unlike the Galatians, we keep focus on the grace of God and continue in Him (Colossians 2:6-7, Hebrews 4:14-16). Many believers after they are saved by grace go on to live their lives as if they have works to add to their salvation.
Of course the Christian is saved to do good works. But the Christian is not saved by doing good works.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
In conclusion, just as I admonished my friends to start listening for the preaching of the gospel on their church pulpits, permit me to put the same charge to you my reader. Start listening for gospel preaching on your church pulpit and count how often sinners, guilty of the judgement and wrath of God are called to repentance by pointing them to the death and resurrection of Christ for sinners. Listen also how often believers are admonished to continue in the grace of God.
Anything short of this passes for “a different gospel”. Nothing else will do but gospel preaching and gospel centred ministries.