The Fear and Trembling of Salvation

By John Thiel

The hope that we have needs to be enriched and encouraged. As we look at Scripture and seek to feed our souls we see very vividly without the help of the Holy Spirit, the reading of the bible and the Spirit of Prophecy raises many contradictions. Because of these apparent contradictions to our human mind we need the Holy Spirit to correctly appreciate. One of the contradictions we need clarifying on is regarding salvation. On one hand the Scripture says fear not, come unto me and you will find rest, my peace I leave with you, trust and perfect love casteth out all fear. Then on the other hand it says work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Do you see an apparent contradiction there?

Well, then, you say, am I to go around fearing and trembling all the way? Yes, in one sense, but not in another sense. {TDG 344.1}

Philippians 2:12 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.

2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure.

In these two texts the Scriptures exposes and unravels an essential interaction for the salvation of sinful humanity of which we all are a part.

You have the fear of God before you, and you will have a trembling lest you will depart from the counsels of God. There will be that trembling. You will be working out your own salvation all the time with fear and trembling. Does it rest here? No, let us hear how the divine power comes in: For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (verse 13). Here are man’s works, and here are God’s works. They both cooperate. Man cannot accomplish this work without the help of the divine power. {TDG 344.2}

We are to grasp it in living exercise.

We often hear we have to work together with God. What is the actual engagement? To fear and to tremble, to rest and to trust. What is the living aspect of this? Did you notice you have the fear of God before you? God the great monarch of the universe comes to every sinner on this planet as is demonstrated in his approach to the children of Israel, the Hebrews as they came out of Egypt. Here is a object lesson in living reality. God speaks to them on Mount Sinai. That is the demonstration of the fear of God before the people.

Exodus 20:1 And God spake all these words, saying,

20:2 I [am] the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

He is speaking from Mount Sinai and He reminds them, I have brought you out of bondage, with this mighty hand you have just experienced by demonstration. Now they stand in front of him these sinners he was wanting to help and with thundering tones He proclaims the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:18. And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw [it], they removed, and stood afar off

Here lies the real issue. The fear of God must be before us. God makes sure of it in dealing with the Hebrews. He comes to them with power and glory and they tremble. Moses says don’t be afraid, God is proving you that you sin not. It is essential we have this fear in place as demonstrated here. Because as that fear is in place that we sin not that those Ten Commandments we have been given, we become awe struck at this expectation and demonstration of Gods greatness. We look at the fear that is in place and its consequence.

Exodus 19:3 And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and [how] I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.

19:5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth [is] mine:

19:6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These [are] the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

19:7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.

19:8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.

The Lord may be speaking to us today. You have seen what I have done for you. Hasn’t the Lord done wonderful things for us? He has redeemed us from our past life of bondage. He reminds us of this. With the consciousness of the fear of God, the people said they would do it all. God proves you when he gives you the Ten Commandments whether you will be true to your commitment. With that fear and beautiful promise made – of course, yes Lord we will do it, He secures the human agreement and the human expression. What the Lord has said, we will do it, they say. They were in terrible fear. We will be obedient, we will do that. What does God do? He entrenches the commitment they had expressed. He drives it home. How?

Exodus 24:5 And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD.

24:6 And Moses took half of the blood, and put [it] in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.

24:7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.

24:8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled [it] on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.

They were awe struck at the demonstration of Gods glory. Animals were slain, blood was sprinkled at their commitment. It was a vow, a serious relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 26:16 This day the LORD thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.

17 Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice:

26:18 And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that [thou] shouldest keep all his commandments;

What have they done? They have avouched. Another word, vow. Solemnly promised. This unequivocal. This is no variation, it is firmly entrenched and put in to place. God has placed his laws before the sinner, and has said to them, this is what will make you great, this will give you a future. They want that of course. With the fear of God before them, they make that solemn statement, with all the heart and soul. Many people in Christian circles do not regard this covenant relevant today because they have come up with a false interpretation of Scriptures.

The covenant that God made with His people at Sinai is to be our refuge and defense….This covenant is of just as much force today as it was when the Lord made it with ancient Israel…. {AG 142.2}

This is the pledge that God’s people are to make in these last days. Their acceptance with God depends on a faithful fulfillment of the terms of their agreement with Him. God includes in His covenant all who will obey Him. To all who will do justice and judgment, keeping their hand from doing any evil, the promise is, Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off (Isa. 56:5). {AG 142.3}

we see clearly there is no alteration? The solemn trembling submission to those Ten Commandments and to all of Gods statutes are to be solemnly agreed with. We are to take hold of those principles. We have it in the words of Jesus. He was asked what must one do to have eternal life by the rich young ruler. What did Jesus say? Keep the commandments. This is how you’re going to have eternal life. With all your heart and soul are we to engage with God.

Luke 10:25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

10:26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

10:28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

On these two commandments hang all the law without any deviation of understanding, this is reality. This was and is and always will be the way of eternal life for the sinner who has not done these things who has been redeemed by Gods mighty hand from captivity. When a sinner feels that he is gagged as he has sinned already, he feels like this;

Ezekiel 33:12 The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his [righteousness] in the day that he sinneth.

The turning away from disobedience from breaking those Ten Commandments and any of Gods laws requires us to turn away from doing those things. We must follow those statutes. This is mans part of gaining salvation. This is mans part of the equation. We’ll be working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. This side of the equation is ours to put away wrong and to keep the commandments. There is no other way. As this is mans part of the equation, how do you succeed? How did the children of Israel succeed? They said yes, everything God has said we’ll do. We know the story so well. In one simple statement God puts this across in a heartbroken approach;

Jeremiah 31:32. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:

Here is the most humiliating experience that meets every sinner, like the children of Israel, they make a solemn vow. They confess very solemnly, yes. It was confirmed with the sprinkling of blood and the death of an animal so solemnly entered into. Now the human pride and intensity of trying to keep those laws has been totally shattered. They have not been kept that as promised.

Look back at your life, was there ever time you promised you would keep those commandments?  You vowed to God that you were going to keep them. Those that are baptised have made such a vow. Then comes the shattering of the reality that I have failed. There are many a people who become totally discouraged and think they’re never going to make it as they have ruined their sense of proprietary and honour by blatantly dong the opposite of what they were going to do. Does God turn his back on them? Like as a father pitieth his children. Did you notice God is ever so merciful? He looks upon the people who have made him a promise and doesn’t despair.

Psalm 103:8 The LORD [is] merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

103:9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep [his anger] for ever.

103:10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

103:11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, [so] great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

103:12 As far as the east is from the west, [so] far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

103:13 Like as a father pitieth [his] children, [so] the LORD pitieth them that fear him.

103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we [are] dust.

God does not cast us of because he remembers what we’re made of. He remembers our condition. He knows it. So like a pitying father he finds another way. What does he do with our broken vow and covenant that was so solemnly made?

Jeremiah 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

31:32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:

31:33 But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The covenant that we made, broken as it is, God makes another covenant to the people who have broken their covenant. What an amazing story when you let it sink into your heart. I’ve absolutely disgraced myself, I’m devastated, I’m lost because I’ve broken my vow. God says right, I’m going to make another with you. This time this covenant sounds different.

Hebrews 8:6 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

8:7 For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8:8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

Was it faultless? It was faultless, that’s why he had to have a second one. Where did the fault lie? Finding fault with them. What did they do? What do we do? We promise. But God is going to make a covenant built on better promises than that. The faultiness of the previous covenant is in us. He knows we’re children of dust and that he can’t rely on our promises but the promise must be made.

Hebrews 8:9. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

The better covenant, better promises. To ratify, to make that new covenant of better promises become an entrenched, embedded appreciation in the believer. What did God do in reference to that better covenant?

Hebrews 9:13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:

9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions [that were] under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

The First Testament

He looks back at that sprinkling of the blood that ratified the first covenant that was built upon mans promises. There are a lot of sinners out there who think Jesus simply died for their sins and that was it. What did Jesus die for? He died for the redemption of transgressions under the FIRST testament.

What was the first testament? I will keep those commandments. Now that I have failed miserably, what does it require? I have transgressed that solemn vow. As my conscious is struck by my weakness, my absolute shortfall, I see Jesus dying for that very transgression. Is this a better covenant when your conscious is purged no longer by the death of animals and your own promises? But by the death of Jesus for the transgression of my failed vows and my mistaken activities. It is so contrary to what I really wanted.

What did Jesus die for? For the transgressions after I made the agreement. That’s what he died for. That really drives the point home.

Behold a Two-Fold Sense of Responsibility

  1. The fear of breaking my promise and then failing, the fear of doing it again.
  2. The fear of despising Gods immense sacrifice. There is a two-fold activity in the two covenants God has laid out before us.

Look at the immense sacrifice it took to release me from the transgressions of my promises.

The cup of suffering was placed in his hand as if he were the guilty one. He bore the sin of the world to the bitter end. MR p 369:3.

Think of this is the immense sacrifice that it took to relieve us of our broken promises.

Romans 2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

It purges my conscious, my promise, honour and failure. A deep sacrifice of Jesus, his loving kindness and goodness leads me to repentance. It leads me to deal with my problem of sin breaking. I won’t ever want to break the commandment again. I’ve broken the covenant. I’m going to try to not break it. I need a firm decision. Can you see the fear that comes in now? The fear of despising the sacrifice? It leads me to repentance. What is true repentance? This is something that this two-fold covenant is going to achieve.

2 Corinthians 7:10 For Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

7:11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a Godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, [what] clearing of yourselves, yea, [what] indignation, yea, [what] fear, yea, [what] vehement desire, yea, [what] zeal, yea, [what] revenge! In all [things] ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

What is true repentance? When we have violated that covenant and we feel so crushed because we’ve done so. Then the second covenant comes into focus that Jesus has died for that. What feelings of resentment come inside of you because of your sinfulness? How careful will I be in the future? I can’t continue to do this in future any more. It is a Godly sorrow. What clearing of yourselves. What indignation. When Nathan asked King David about this man that was wrong and he bought it to his conscious, David was indignant. He said, he deserves to die. Nathan said, you are that man. What fear, but Jesus died for me. It’s overwhelming. I have vehement desire. He has done something so wonderful for me. I am going to make a difference in my life. Work out my own salvation with fear and trembling as I don’t want to break this thing again. What revenge, what zeal. He works in us a great zeal. That’s what God does with us. This is true repentance. Here is the working of the new covenant, in cohesion with the old. If you don’t have the old covenant in your experience you don’t have the new. One is needed in conjunction with the other.

2 Corinthians 3:3. [Forasmuch as ye are] manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.

The Tables of Stone

Can you see the function of the two covenants? The broken covenant is brought into function with the covenant of Jesus Christ. The conscious is purged through the activity of the first so the second becomes entrenched. The tables of stone I promised to keep is now written through the purging sense of Jesus dying for my broken promises. It’s written into my heart. That’s the new covenant in conjunction with the old. It goes hand in hand. It can’t function without the two. This activity of salvation is ongoing. A conscious wrought by intense commitment of the old covenant and a discovery of failure and a surrender to the new.

A Deepening Repentance

Notice what vehement desire and repentance was engendered by the love of God in Jesus dying for the transgression of the covenant.

All our good works are dependent on a power outside of ourselves. Therefore there needs to be a continual reaching out of the heart after God, a continual, earnest, heartbreaking confession of sin and humbling of the soul before Him. Only by constant renunciation of self and dependence on Christ can we walk safely. {COL 159.4} The nearer we come to Jesus and the more clearly we discern the purity of His character, the more clearly we shall discern the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the less we shall feel like exalting ourselves. Those whom heaven recognizes as holy ones are the last to parade their own goodness. The apostle Peter became a faithful minister of Christ, and he was greatly honored with divine light and power; he had an active part in the upbuilding of Christ’s church; but Peter never forgot the fearful experience of his humiliation; his sin was forgiven; yet well he knew that for the weakness of character which had caused his fall only the grace of Christ could avail. He found in himself nothing in which to glory. {COL 160.1}

How can you humble yourself? Only as you realise your broken promises. Otherwise you can’t humble yourself. God makes sure of it through causing us to make solemn promises. As we keep on going with the promises we have made and the failures we have engaged in, we keep coming to the cross saying Lord be merciful to me. The repentance deepens by heart breaking confession of sin. Only by constant renunciation of self and dependence on Christ can we walk safely. The two come hand in hand.

You can’t make anyone do it. It can only be through the understanding of both covenants. You can’t make someone humble himself. We often do it among human beings. Someone has really violated the law of God in the church and we come and up say, what did you do that for? You know we have to censure you now. What goes on in the heart of a person who does that? When you’ve broken your promise, Jesus had to die for that. It goes deeper than just him dying for it. He bore the sin of the world to the bitter end. Yet men continue to sin and Christ continues feels the sins as if he were the guilty one. The only way we can become humble and contrite is for me to see my sinfulness. Not only at the cross but Jesus our high priest right now. He still feels as if he were the guilty one. How do you like that? Would that stop you from sinning? If you lose sight of Jesus you’ll keep on sinning. But you will be determined with revenge upon your sinfulness. We will resist these terrible things by keeping our eyes on the two covenant activities.

Isaiah 56:1 Thus saith the Lord, keep ye judgement, and do justice for my salvation is near to come and my righteousness to be revealed.

What must we do? We must be faithful in the old covenant we make with God. We keep on doing what is right irrespective of my failures. I must continue to do it. I can’t succeed perfectly, my repentance becomes deeper and deeper. As I pursue the path and I keep on looking to Jesus suffering my sin continually as it said, he bore the sin of the world, Christ continues to feel sin as if he were the guilty one. As that continues to permeate and purge my conscious, there comes a point in time where Gods righteousness will be manifest in his people. That’s the process.

You have the fear of God before and you will have a trembling lest you depart from the counsels of God. TDG page 344:2.

You tremble, I know I’ve failed before, help me Lord. You will be working out your own salvation with fear and trembling all the time. Here are Gods works and here are mans works. They both co-operate.

Everyone of us has a work to do in our own salvation. Which is to meet every requirement of God. God does not do anything independent of him. TDG page 167.

You can’t separate this to obey every command. The ongoing process of firm resolute decision and of fear lest I fall back into breaking my covenant again.  We must have a firm reliance upon Gods sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is the ongoing exercise. My vehemence over my failures deepens and I cast myself more heavily upon Gods sustaining strength.  This is the fear and trembling of salvation.

What does this mean? It means that everyday you are to distrust your own human efforts and wisdom, you are to fear to speak at random, you are to fear to follow your own impulses. Fear the pride of heart and the love of the world. OHC page 91.

Fear that the new covenant is not going to happen in your life. Fear that. Watch closely to keep your promise of keeping those laws and if you fail, rely on the grace of Jesus. Fear to rely on the slightest human power. Only follow the decision, the will. Don’t rely upon your human effort.

But those who are waiting to behold a magical change in their characters without determined effort on their part to overcome sin, will be disappointed. We have no reason to fear while looking to Jesus, no reason to doubt but that He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto Him; but we may constantly fear lest our old nature will again obtain the supremacy, that the enemy shall devise some snare whereby we shall again become his captives. AG page 302.

The old nature is not being totally destroyed. It’s the flesh, it’s still there. All our memories of our past ways of living we may fear that this should take the supremacy and that the enemy should devise that we should become his captives again.  This co-partnership experience is described in the two covenants – mans effort and Gods power.

The work of gaining salvation is one of co partnership, a joint operation. There is to be co-operation between God and the repentant sinner. This is necessary for the formation of right principles in the character. Man is to make earnest efforts to overcome that which hinders him from attaining to perfection. But he is wholly dependent upon God for success. Human effort of itself is not sufficient. Without the aid of divine power it avails nothing. God works and man works. Resistance of temptation must come from man, who must draw his power from God. On the one side there is infinite wisdom, compassion, and power; on the other, weakness, sinfulness, absolute helplessness. {AA 482.2}

Unless you have the old covenant experience, you don’t recognise that. Unless you see the power of the cross of Jesus Christ in dying for the remission of the transgression of your broken promises, you can’t appreciate the power of God. It must go hand in hand in the two covenants. How does God interact with us in this work? How does he propose to bring us to these exercises? It will shock you.

While the Lord is working with us, we must be working for ourselves. When the Lord sends His servants to us with reproof, with cautions, with warnings, we are not to turn away and refuse to receive the message because it does not come from learned men. We are not to say, This message is not needed. Every message sent to you by God’s messenger is for your good, to teach you the way of salvation more perfectly. What means has God to communicate His will to men, unless it be through His delegated messengers? And are you not afraid to select that portion of the message that pleases you, and reject that which crosses your track? {TDG 167.3}

It is human to reject things that don’t suit me. Because of the two covenants that God has enacted, he has sent messages to make the expectations of God vivid to my mind. I‘m brought deeper and deeper into repentance. If I reject Gods messengers, where I’m going to go?  Let us thank God for the revelation of his grace, thank God for the two covenant exercises and the measure by which he has helped ups to be saved. Let us take of hold it with the whole heart and the whole soul.

Amen.

Posted on September 12, 2009, in Divine Service Sermons and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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