Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure."
In my last post, I discussed the fact that God works. It's really up to us to work with Him. Today, I want to consider the first clause in that passage, and specifically the command to work out your own salvation. This is a clear statement that we are responsible for our own Christian life, not for the lives of others. It's important to understand this, since we are inundated with competing commands (not antithetical) that say things like, "bear one another's burdens," and "if someone is overtaken in a fault [sin], you spiritual ones restore him," and many have taken passages like these to mean that they ought to run other people's lives for them. That's not true.
In addition, if we compare these passages, we see that they are really saying different things, and don't contradict each other at all.
First, we are always responsible for ourselves. Jesus says this in so many words when He says, "First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Secondly, we are only responsible for others in the sense that sometimes people need our help to "get over" a rough patch in their lives. We can help, but we can't do the work that must go on between them and God. Ultimately, they are responsible for themselves, and sometimes their desire for "help" is really them saying, "take responsibility for me." You can't do that. God has called them to take responsibility for themselves.
Thirdly, the Scriptures specifically warn us about taking responsibility for the lives of other people: James says, "Let not many of you be teachers, knowing that we shall receive stricter judgment." Many interpreters have taken this to mean, "We will be more strictly judged for our own actions, because we know better." That is a true statement, but it is far more likely that James means we will be judged for the way we taught and guided our brothers and sisters. In other words, if you take responsibility for someone, then the results of such a decision are at least partly on you, because you advised them. It's wise to be careful with advice, and not "lord it over people," because that sort of behavior is exactly what gets you stricter judgment. I used to believe that folks who tell you what to do with your life had some sort of special relationship with God. Sometimes they do, but often they do not. It's important to test the advice that people give you, and make your own decision, since you will ultimately be responsible for that decision and its outcome.
You need to let God guide you, and also use common sense (common sense is often God speaking through the events of your life). You also need to accept ultimate responsibility for your life, regardless of what people tell you. I can't even calculate the number of times people have advised me to do/not do something (and I often did it / didn't do it on their advice), and the result was far different than they predicted. I have found that "working out my own salvation,"is better than letting somebody else decide for me. I am responsible and must take responsibility for myself. As Paul says, "each person must bear his own burden."
Ever wonder what God might have to say to YOU today? Here are things to ponder, and things to receive into your heart. If you have a question, put it in the comments. I respond as much as I can.
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