John Wesley urged and led the early Methodists to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling”. That sounds really scary and hard, and, for too long, our churches have shied away from such disciplines. Yet, if we pay attention to the places where the Christian faith is exploding with growth, that is the very work we will see them doing.
Let’s address the fear. Fear doesn’t always mean terror. It also means awe and reverence. Our view of God, if we are going to work out our salvation, must be high. We must acknowledge the power and authority of God. Yes, God could strike you down because of your sin, but God loves you with real, unconditional, beckoning, love; not earthly love. Therefore, God is patient with humanity and pursues a relationship with each individual.
So, to “work out our salvation in fear” means to humbly submit ourselves to God’s authority, to dedicate ourselves to the study of His word, and to seek God with reverent expectation of love and transforming grace.
Trembling is not only a physical response to fear, but an internal rumbling of the Spirit as we draw deeper into relationship with God and delve into His word. The Holy Spirit stirs deep within us a fire that, if we allow it, will consume all that we are and compel us to live for Christ and contend for the faith.
To “work out one’s salvation” does not suggest that we are saved by works. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, His only begotten son, who died and rose from the dead to conquer sin and offer redemption to the whole world. To “work out our salvation” means to learn and embrace the full meaning of that statement and to accept this awesome gift of grace.
I was reminded recently of a part of my call to ordained ministry which I had not articulated in quite some time. I may not have articulated it well, or maybe it offended people when I did, so I began articulating my call differently. At any rate, as I answered a call to ministry, I sought ordination because God was calling me not to serve one youth ministry alone, but to be a kind of gatekeeper to train up pastors and congregations to engage new generations in this discipline of working out their salvation with fear and trembling together.
I had heard too many stories from youth and young adults about a youth pastor or church members who refused to answer their tough questions or at least walk through scripture together with them so they might learn to seek the Lord and God’s truth in their questioning. Instead they rebuked their questions or led them astray to seek answers in the world through reason and experience apart from scripture.
Each time I listened to such stories, the Holy Spirit trembled deep within my soul; fanning a fiery passion to contend for the faith, for the Church, and for young people. On April 30, 2021, I got to participate in a body of such gatekeepers seeking to rebuild the Methodist movement on this foundation of justification by faith and the discipline of working out salvation together; also called accountable discipleship.
What does this mean for the rural church? We have, over many generations, allowed a culture of easy discipleship to shape our ministries. The work that the Church is supposed to be about (see the book of Acts) is big and scary. We are small and can give any number of reasons why the disciplines of the early Methodists are “not going to work here”. To that thought process let us reply, “Get behind me satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)
Friends, we serve the God of creation, the highest power and authority there ever was, is, and will be! There is nothing we can not do if the Lord ordains it! Think small; take it one step at at time trusting God to direct each one on solid ground! We can do this. We must do this for the sake of our souls and every soul God will reach through our ministries.
If you would like to know more or receive training or coaching for yourself or your congregation about working out our salvation with fear and trembling together, reach out to me! This is the work God has called and equipped me for. It brings me great joy to see this vision become reality especially in rural ministries. Contact me here.