Work Out What God Has Worked In

Editor’s note: The following is from Sue Tell’s weekly blog at

The beautiful fall weather in Estes Park, Colorado, provided the perfect setting for a retreat with Dr. Bryan Chapell, former president of Covenant Theological Seminary and now a senior pastor in Illinois.

For two days I had the privilege of joining 23 of our Navigator staff from across the country, sitting at tables set in a big circle as Dr. Chapell led our time together. Informal, intimate, and instructive.

The speaker gave content-rich teaching leaving me hungry to continue to grow in my understanding of the Gospel and a desire to communicate it well to others.

His words, referring to Philippians 2:12, “work out your own salvation,” prompted some serious reflection for me.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed,
so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence,
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,”
—Philippians 2:12

Work out does not mean manufacture. The correct understanding means to form something that already exists. In Dr. Chapell’s words, we work out what God has worked in—let the Gospel fulfill its purpose, continuing to mature us.

For too many years, I looked around my Christian community to discern how to work out my salvation. It looked to me like public speaking was the goal—you know, sharing my wisdom with the big group. Possibly a piece of my story, a recent devotional thought, or even better, teaching the Bible with clarity and authority.

But I was ignoring the second part, what God has worked in.

According to Ephesians 2:10, I am God’s “workmanship” and I was created with a specific purpose that He worked in me because I am His child. I’m continually learning the amazing creativity of God in my life, and relaxing into what He designed. Even blog writing never appeared on my little girl wish list.

Or Work Out What I Want Others to Believe about Me

Six days after the Colorado retreat, I boarded a plane for another retreat, this one in North Carolina on writing. Unlike the Dr. Chapell retreat, all these attendees are new friends. I was tempted to put on my writing hat, you know, try to look like an author (of a blog) and base my testimony on the outward. After all, I’m starting with a clean slate.

I’ve been there before. What do I want you to believe about me? Even when the slate isn’t clean, there is the temptation to want to manufacture my identity; to want you to believe who I am by the hat I am currently wearing.

But Dr. Chapell’s teaching was fresh in my mind, Sue, be who I have created you to be—work out what I have worked in.

The Example of Jesus

Mark 14 records Jesus and His trial before the Sanhedrin. He could have played his Son of God card, and forced His identity on the unbelieving Sanhedrin. But the Scripture records, although accused of many things, when directly asked to defend Himself, “he (Jesus) remained silent” (v. 61). He did not allow the Sanhedrin to define Him.

But when the high priest specifically queried, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (v. 61), Jesus replied, “I am” (v. 62). He claimed His identity.

Coming off the time in Colorado, my desire going into the writing retreat was to work out what God had worked in. I didn’t want to succumb to my far too familiar temptation to be defined by what I do, or what I write, but I wanted to claim my identity as the beloved child of God—to cling to the testimony that is already mine and will never change!

Dr. Chapell shared a poignant story about Rembrandt, one of the most well-known painters and printmakers in Dutch history and European art. Rembrandt often worked with apprentices who would do the first drafts of what became Rembrandt’s paintings. Although their drafts were excellent, with a stroke or two of a brush, Rembrandt made the drafts brilliant.

One of his apprentices asked Rembrandt one day the value of their drafts; after all it was Rembrandt’s brush that created the masterpiece. Rembrandt’s response, “I treasure your work and I will use it.”

What do you hear in Rembrandt’s words?

God has worked something deeply wonderful in our lives. He has given us salvation. But we continually need God’s brush strokes working out what God has worked in, sanctifying the treasure God initiated in our lives.

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time
those who are being sanctified.
—Hebrews 10:14 (italics mine)

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