Wrestling the Will
By Brock Bondurant
Philippians 2:12-13 – 12… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Salvation is not fully realized all at once. Its full reality isn’t expressed in one hyper-emotional moment of response to an altar call. That’s not to downplay those moments or say that salvation can’t be secured in a moment. But I think we all can, this side of Jesus, affirm that saying ‘yes’ to Jesus once didn’t magically make us impervious to selfishness, pride, doubt, and fear. Many are likely able to pin down a moment where they prayed a prayer of surrender to Jesus and experienced profound joy, peace, and acceptance – perhaps even assurance that they are indeed “saved.” Yet, in the days, weeks, years after that incredible moment we may have experienced let down – that things are still hard, that there is still a sinful self to wage war with, and a seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb regarding what we think life in faith should look like.
Has anyone else experienced that, or just me?
I thought that saying ‘yes’ to Jesus would make life easy, make sin an afterthought, and make faith something that never waxes or wanes.
But I found Jesus’ words guaranteeing a life with trouble all too true (John 16:33).
But the Apostle Paul, a man who surely knew hardships (2 Corinthians 11), can help us interpret and practically live out the Way of Jesus. In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul instructs the church to work out their own salvation (Phil 2:12). To work something out hardly means to receive it all at once in a nice easy manner. To me, it sounds more like wrestling. It’s going to take intentional practice and sacrifice. I can know that I am saved, yet it is going to require my working out to experience the reality of salvation over my life. This is precisely what God wants from us: our partnership in our transformation.
God created humankind in his own image (Genesis 1:26), meaning that we have been endowed with a will – able to choose our path in life. Part of the work of transformation then, will require that our will is transformed. We must surrender our will to God to be transformed and experience the full effects of our salvation in Christ. Jesus models this for us in the Garden of Gethsemane approaching his coming death (Luke 22:42). He also repeatedly reminds us that he does nothing apart from the will of the Father (John 5:30). We are called to become like Jesus, requiring the submission of our will to the will of the Father, knowing that we can do nothing on our own. As verse 13 says, “it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Lest we think that we alone are responsible for our transformation, or that we alone have the power to work our salvation out, Paul reminds us that it is God himself working in us that even allows us to partner with him. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who helps us to will and to work according to God’s will. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us want what God wants. Our salvation and our transformation, completely depends upon the Trinity and absolutely requires our partnership with the work God desires to do in us. But ultimately, God is the one doing the transforming. We’re saying ‘yes’ to the wrestling on the way to the full reality of our salvation.
I thought that, after accepting Jesus many years ago, I could passively receive the reality of salvation; that I could perfectly live like Jesus in the Father’s will without my active partnership and dependence upon the Holy Spirit moment by moment. But Paul reminded me that I must work out. I must get in the metaphorical gym and actively offer up my life in partnership to the renewing work that God wants to do in me. I must wrestle and learn to say ‘yes’ to Him in all He asks of me.
As our own will gets wrestled into submission we learn to follow the will of the Father. It is in this active participation in our own transformation into the image of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18) that will allow us to one day realize the fullness of our salvation. But for now, let’s work it out together.