(12) Therefore, my beloved, as you 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; (13) for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
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The apostle is urging us, not to work to achieve salvation, but to labor to carry out the responsibilities that the receipt of God's grace has imposed on us (Titus 2:11-15). Christianity is not merely the passive receiving of forgiveness and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We are to carry forward what we have freely received from God to its proper end.
We need to add to this another thought found in Deuteronomy 5:29: "Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" Which of these - the will to carry forward what we have received or the heart - is more important to growth in conversion and leaving Babylon? Which of them is subject to the other? Is the will a self-determining agent, or does something else determine it? Is the will superior to every other faculty of the body? Is it sovereign or servant? Does it govern, or is it subject to the pleasure of other faculties?
Most who consider themselves Christian, believe that, because free moral agency exists, the will is the more significant. Human philosophies also insist that the will governs man. However, this cannot be. To the contrary, the Word of God teaches that the heart or mind is the dominating center of our being.
Consider a circumstance that each of us faces, perhaps many times on any given day. If a person has before him two options, which will he choose? Unless some overriding reason exists, he will choose the one most agreeable to him, that is, to his heart, his innermost being.
What if the choice is between moral or immoral alternatives? If a person is what the Bible calls a "sinner," and he must choose between godliness and sinful indulgence, which will he select? He will choose the latter because he prefers it, all arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.
Why? Because, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, his heart is desperately wicked. Jesus reinforces this in Matthew 15:19-20: "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man. . . ."
If one were to present a truly converted person with the same options, he would choose the life of piety and virtue. Why? Because God has given him a new heart:
For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:24-27)
Ezekiel's prophecy is in perfect harmony with God's promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Thus, it is not the will that makes the sinner impervious to all appeals through the gospel to forsake his way, but it is his corrupt and sinful heart.
The sinner will not come to Christ and keep the Sabbath and holy days, quit stealing from God, or do any other thing commanded by God because he does not want to. He does not want to because his heart hates Christ and loves sin. Romans 8:7 is proof that human nature is at war against God.
The human will is the faculty of choice, but it is as much subject to the mind as the hands, feet, eyes, and sexual organs. It is a servant of the mind, and in turn, various influences affect the mind throughout the course of life. Proverbs 4:20-23 confirms this:
My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out it spring the issues of life.
The heart determines one's preferences and inclinations, and thus it determines one's choices, subjecting the will to it. Because of this, it is imperative to understand the evil that Satan and his demons have communicated to us either directly or through the course of this world. The world has shaped our pre-conversion heart, and thus it affects our relationship with God.
— John W. Ritenbaugh