During his first and third missionary journeys, Paul had ministered to the young Galatian churches, and many in those assemblies were his beloved personal converts. Hence, upon being away from them for a time, he was astounded to learn that these churches were drifting, if not actually turning from grace to law. At least, through the influence of Judaizers, they were seeking to combine grace with law for both their justification and their sanctification.
Paul wrote a stern letter to these churches and said, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6, 7)
Paul’s amazement was compounded by grief, in that these converts were not only turning against him, but were also seeking to turn from the grace of the Lord Jesus back to the law of Moses—from the way of life to the way of death. “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.
“Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you” (Gal 4:9-11, 18).
“Not only when I am present with you.” The Galatians grew under Paul’s personal ministry; but when he left, they began to drift, so naturally, from blessed grace to devastating law. Paul was minded to begin all over again with them—“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal 4:19).
Compare Paul’s letter to the Philippians, some ten years later. He had ministered to the church at Philippi during his second missionary journey. Now he was writing from a Roman prison, longing to see once again his beloved converts, who were making good spiritual progress in his absence.
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.” (Phil 1:3-7).
Note: “partakers of my grace,” and not Moses’ Law!
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12, 13).
Dr. Kenneth Wuest explains these two wonderful verses for us:
“This passage does not mean that a Christian should work out an inworked salvation. There is no such idea in the Greek. The English translation is good, if one uses the words ‘work out’ as one does when referring to the working out of a problem in mathematics, that is, carrying it to its ultimate conclusion.
“The words ‘Your own salvation’ are to be taken in their context. The working out of the Philippians’ salvation was affected in some way by the presence of Paul with them and his absence from them. When Paul was with them, his teaching instructed them, his example inspired them and his encouragement urged them on in their growth in grace.
“Now in his absence they were thrown upon their own initiative. Thus Paul sets before them their human responsibility in their growth in grace, for sanctification is in the apostle’s mind. They have their justification. Their glorification will be theirs in eternity. Their growth in Christ-likeness is the salvation concerning which Paul is speaking.
“The salvation spoken of in verse twelve is defined for us in verse thirteen, namely, the definite act of willing to do God’s good pleasure and the doing of it. That is the saint’s responsibility from the human standpoint. But the believer is not left without resources with which to do both, for God the Holy Spirit indwelling him produces both the willingness and the power to do His will.
“For God is the One who is constantly supplying you the impulse, giving you both the power to resolve and the strength to perform His good pleasure.” In verse twelve we have human
responsibility, and in verse thirteen, divine enablement.” (Golden Nuggets pp. 69, 70)