While I was still a theological student, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones came from London to Glasgow to preach at the great St. Andrews Hall. This auditorium held more than two thousand people. It was packed, and the preaching was wonderful. After the meeting finished, I was waiting at the side of the platform for transport home. A long line of people were waiting to speak to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, and because I was fairly close to them, I heard some of the conversations. Interestingly, I noticed that every encounter ended in the same way: “Keep on!” was the doctor’s final exhortation as he shook hands.
As it happened, on the journey home I was in the same car as the doctor, and he engaged me in conversation. After the generalities, I summoned enough courage to ask him a question. “Doctor,” I began, “forgive me, but I could not help hearing your last words to every person you spoke with. They were ‘Keep on.’ It sounded as if that was particularly important to you.” He was immediately animated: “My dear man,” he said, “there is nothing more important. The Christian life is not a sprint; it is a marathon, and that is why Jesus says, ‘He who endures to the end shall be saved.’” To my delight, he enlarged on the subject until I was reluctant to get out of the car.
Now, in the year of my eightieth birthday, I have become more convinced than ever of the importance of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ words. One of the great temptations of old age for the Christian is to accept the idea that because physical and intellectual growth may have ceased, spiritual growth will go the same way. The testimony of Scripture is unanimously opposed to that thought. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” Isaiah says in 40:29–31: “He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak… . Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength… . They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” The psalmist, speaking about the righteous in Psalm 92:14, writes, “They will still bear fruit in old age.”
Of course, we want to ask, “What is the secret of endurance, and of the renewal of the inward man?” Well, there is a “golden nugget” of truth in Philippians 2:12–13 that helps us in answering that question. There are four secrets embedded in these words of the Apostle: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
These secrets are all facts to be believed, not challenges to be faced:
1. If you are a child of God, God is at work in you (v. 13). The indwelling of God in the believer is a fundamental truth of the New Testament, exemplified in Jesus’ words in John 14:23 and Paul’s in Ephesians 3:16–19. Not only does He dwell in us, but He is engaged in a work in us—clearly the work of our full salvation.
2. God is not only at work in us, He is continuously (or, if you prefer, “perpetually”) at work in us. We know this from the tense of the verb in verse 13. Tenses are really important in the New Testament. The tense of the verb “works” is the present continuous tense, which just means that this is something God is doing all the time. He never ceases, either day or night (Ps. 121:4). God knows no “age of retirement,” so He is as active in us when we are eighty as when we were eighteen.
3. God works unto completion. Some people have great intentions and a lot of goodwill and good plans, but they achieve very little. Here, however, Paul says, “God works in you to will and to work.” That means that all His purposes are eventually fulfilled, and that continues until we are glorified in heaven.
4. God’s work in us is “for his good pleasure.” Sometimes God’s plans may differ greatly from ours. There are times when, as Jesus experienced, God’s way involves pain and loss in order to fulfill His will. But the good pleasure of God is always perfect, without flaw, and impossible to improve upon.
Is there then no challenge in these words of Paul? Of course not. Paul urges us to “work out [our] own salvation.” But that does not mean, “work out your own way of salvation,” or “work with a view to your salvation.” This salvation is already ours. God has accomplished it and given it to us. But we have to work out what God has worked in. There are two things involved in this, especially in our latter years. The first is to look to God, and to God alone for the completion of the work of our salvation. Earlier in Philippians, Paul writes, “He who has begun a good work in you will go on to complete it, until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). The second is, moment by moment, to set our hearts on the perfect will of God, as Jesus did: “Not my will but yours be done.” That is the desire with which our hearts need to be kept aflame.