“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…” -Philippians 2:12, NKJV
This week, I woke up early one morning to the unmistakable musing of the Holy Spirit. As I opened my eyes and peered into the darkness of our bedroom, I heard Him saying, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling!”
This seemed a strange sort of thought at first. Until I padded my way downstairs, where I could pray and write without disturbing anyone, I wasn’t sure why this fragment of a verse from Philippians 2 was reverberating in my spirit. It was as I sat with the Lord and listened further that He began to clarify…
The Hour of God's Power
Just two mornings before, God had awakened me with another saying: “This is the hour of My power! Think not that I have hidden Myself or disappeared from view, for it is only YOUR view that changes, not Mine! …The hour of My power has arrived. Just as it was in the day of Peter, so shall it be now for you.”
I must confess, while I welcomed these words from my Master, I couldn’t help but entertain some doubts. After all, there is a decided lack of real power in the church at large today. Church services are typically programmatic and predictable, not always demonstrating the power of changed lives.
(Currently, I am blessed to attend a church which has more testimonies than most, but I still hunger for the kind of Acts 2 power the Bible promises!)
So for several days I had been pondering the lack of power in the church as compared to the obvious desire the Lord seems to have to display it. And I had come up empty. What would it take, I wondered, to move people from passive to powerful? From “preached-to,” to being preachers themselves?
In answer to my question, in the early hours of that morning, the Holy Spirit began to give me a broader perspective on what is happening within His Body right now, along with what needs to change if we are to regularly display the kind of power He speaks of.
I saw that a solid foundation for the Word has been laid by pastors and teachers in recent times. After much darkness and doubt historically, we have at last elevated the Word of God to its rightful place of authority.
We teach the infallibility of the Bible; we are learning to make decrees and claim the promises of God as our own. Millions of believers worldwide now understand the importance of reading the Word daily, some at great cost to themselves and their families.
Prayer, also, has taken a more prominent place. Movements like The Call, Intercessors for America, and Awaken the Dawn in recent years have combined with the 24/7 worship and prayer movement to bring together prayer warriors and worshipers worldwide. Technological advances allow us to pray together anywhere, anytime, with astounding breakthroughs.
Finally, there has been an increased emphasis on merging the two; we emphasize praying the Word as the ultimate source of power, and it is powerful. We pray for the salvation of our loved ones, proclaiming: “I and my entire household shall be saved!” (Acts 16:31.) We pray and decree the promises of God over our lives. We (somewhat carelessly, at times) “fling” the Word at our situations, knowing that the Word of God “will never return void.” (Isaiah 55)
Yet as I watched the sun rise that morning, I saw that what many people still lack is the kind of interaction with the Word that the Bible teaches from Genesis to Revelation. The kind of life-changing power that comes from heartfelt, personal interaction with the Word.
Let the Word Change YOU!
In Exodus, God commanded that the tabernacle have, in its passageway from the outer court to the holy place, a laver. This laver was made of the bronze mirrors women possessed at the time, and was used for washing.
Priests – those who ministered in God’s temple - were required to wash the filth of the world and the sacrifices they had just made off their hands and feet before they were permitted to meet with God in the holy place.
This became a symbol of the transformation that takes place in Christ. Jesus, who is both Word and Living Water, washes believers – the holy priesthood – from all sin by His sacrifice, opening the way for us to meet with God behind the veil.
While temple sacrifices and lavers are now obsolete, Jesus upheld the spirit of the law when He washed His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper:
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
John 13:2-10, NIV; emphasis mine
Unless we allow the Word to wash us, Jesus says we have no part with Him. Unless we prayerfully apply Scriptures to ourselves, allowing them to search us and praying for transformation, we will not become carriers of His power.
The Holy Spirit Wants to Give You a Makeover!
Following in this vein, James the Apostle aptly describes the Word as a mirror. To be blessed, we must gaze intently into that mirror and allow it to show us our imperfections, thus demonstrating our need for transformation.
James 1:21 says: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (NIV)
Like Esther, who needed Hegai the eunuch to cleanse and prepare her to meet her king, so we need the Holy Spirit to give us a divine “makeover,” preparing us to contain God’s power.
Sadly, most people today are not willing to invest the time it takes to deal with their “filth” – so they are not filled with God’s power, either.
Gazing intently at the Word is not always pleasant! Like the little book John ate in Revelation, the Word can taste sweet as honey, but it can also be bitter when injested. It is designed to purge us of that which contradicts God's ways!
The fallacy we have believed is that once we are saved, we are "good with God." We vehemently reject works-based Christianity in favor of grace, forgetting that salvation is just the first step on a lifelong path of deliverance. It's not either grace or works. There's a balance.
“Working out your own salvation” is not a call to earn the forgiveness and grace that is freely given. It is, however, a call to effort on our part to keep moving towards holiness as we interact with the Living Word in prayer.
It is a call to hold ourselves up to the mirror of God’s Word, see where we fall short of glory, and allow the Holy Spirit to do a makeover.
It is a call to meet with a “personal trainer” - the Holy Spirit - who shows us how to apply the Word, molding our unfit spiritual bodies into the sleek carriers of strength and power we are designed to be.
It is a call to both inward and outward transformation that leaves us so radiant with glory and full of dunamis-power that it has a “wow!” effect on those around us. Others cannot help but want to “work out,” too!
The difference is that this very biblical type of Christianity focuses on the transformation of self, not simply the reformation of others.
Have we missed it? Perhaps we have been so focused on using the Word to change our circumstances - or others - that we have not really allowed the Word to change us.
Yes, the Word is powerful. Yes, it effects change wherever it goes. But to live a life of power yourself, you must first allow the Word to change you.
Questions for Reflection
1. Do you pray the Word? What results have you seen as you have done this? Share a testimony that demonstrates the power of the Word.
2. "The Word is powerful. The Word in you makes YOU powerful!" Do you agree with this statement? How can you “implant” the Word in your spirit more deliberately?
3. Challenge yourself: go beyond just reading a passage from the Bible every day to praying through each verse as you apply it to yourself. Are there sins that need to be confessed? Is there a gap between what is promised and what you are experiencing? Taking one verse at a time, pray through every Scripture you read and ask God to manifest in your life the changes you want to see.
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.