“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.”
Let us talk about dreams. In the Bible, in the book of Genesis, Jacob had a dream about a ladder that reached up to heaven, and his son Joseph had dreams about supremacy in the family, and Pharaoh had dreams that Joseph interpreted. In the NT, another Joseph, the father of Jesus, had a dream that showed him the divine purpose for Jesus
The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology. I am sure you needed to know that. From the 1940s to 1985, Calvin S. Hall collected more than 50,000 dream reports at Western Reserve University. In 1966 Hall and Van De Castle published The Content Analysis of Dreams in which they outlined a coding system to study 1,000 dream reports from college students. It was found that most people dream the same things. For example, many people dream about being naked in a public place. You are back in high school and you sitting in class and you are entirely nude. Strangely enough you are the only one that seems to notice. Or you may dream that you are being chased by monsters or mobs of people. You are running up the stairs and something really bad is after you. Or, you may dream that your teeth are falling out or crumbling or rotting. Or you may dream that you are falling or flying. Recent personal experiences are often incorporated into dreams.
During a typical lifespan, a human being spends a total of about six years dreaming (which is about two hours each night). Most dreams last only 5 to 20 minutes, and we forget most of what we dream. You can be trained to remember dreams. There is a branch of psychiatry called dream therapy. A large part of dream therapy is training the patient to remember dreams and keep a dream journal.
Now I must tell you that generally speaking I do not set much store by dreams. Dreaming is part of our nature, but the large majority of dreams do not seem to be about anything. I already said that we do not remember most of our dreams. There is a reason for that. Most dreams are not worth remembering. Having said that, I want to tell you this morning about a recurring dream that I have had. I realize that I are running a risk here. This dream, at a certain level, is ridiculous. It is comical. When I tell you about it, you may respond that this is the dumbest thing you have every heard. Or I might just lose you. Most people are not interested in hearing about other people's dreams. Talking about MY dreams is usually just a way of talking about ME, which may be interesting to ME, but it is boring to other people. But this is not that kind of dream. In fact, I am not in the dream at all. I am just observing the dream. So bear with me on this.
As I said, this is a dream that I have had several times. The color of the dream is blue. Everything in the dream is some shade of blue. I am in a certain place. I am aware that there are other places that are not the same as this blue place, but I have the feeling that the blue place is a good place to be. In the blue place, there are many blue people and they are carrying blue bubbles. There is only one bubble per person and most people are carrying one in their hand. The Bubbles look to be slightly larger than a baseball. I do not know how substantial the bubbles are. No one squeezes a bubble. They hold them somewhat carefully. I do not see anyone drop a bubble, but I know (I do not know how I know this. There is no voice from on high or anything that. I just know) that the bubbles are very important and they represent love, and the blue people are supposed to give and receive bubbles. They are passing bubbles around.
But there is something else. I see a few people encased in a bubble, floating helplessly. I realize immediately that this is a bad situation. None of this is explained, but I remember thinking that they have not passed on their bubble and it has swallowed them and this is not good at all.
The rest of the people are giving and receiving of bubbles, and my job in the dream is to count the people with bubbles. I remember thinking, “That is 15,” and feeling very satisfied about that.
The dream seems to continue for some time. I see many people with bubbles and a few encased in a bubble. This is an ongoing process that I am watching, then the blue dream fades. And I am thinking about a Bible verse, part of Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The verse has troubled me for many years because it does not fit orthodox Christian theology at all. Orthodox theology says that we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and not by our works, but that verse clearly says that we are saved by our works. It says that we are to devote ourselves to working for our salvation. And that is about the point where I realize that I am awake. There is a smooth transition here. I am asleep dreaming about blue people and blue bubbles and then I know that I am awake and I am thinking about this puzzling Bible verse.
Part of our problem with Philippians 2:12 is the way we think about salvation. Some folks think that salvation is a one time profession of faith. If you have made that one time profession of faith then you fulfilled all the requirements. If you are Presbyterian, then if you have met with the session at some specific time, and told them that you believed in Jesus, then you are saved from now to eternity, so you can confidently spend the rest of your life channel surfing the 300 channels of cable TV and not worrying much about God. I do not know where that way of thinking comes from. It is certainly not from the Bible. But that is kind of a central ideal in American Christianity. I remember the first “soul-saving technique” I learned. It was in college and you tried to convince the person/the target that they were a sinner in need of salvation and the point of the presentation was to get them to say that they believed in Jesus. Once they say that, that was it. I could shake hands with them or hug their necks and pray with them and tell them that they are my brother of sister in Jesus, and then I go on to the next person. What did I teach people using that technique? I taught them that if you SAY you believe in Jesus, you are done. God help them. I hope none of the people I talked to believed that.
Now do not misunderstand. The NT has a lot to say about salvation through believing in Jesus and having faith in Jesus, but that is not at all the same as SAYING you believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus is a lifelong process that we work at, and some people succeed in this process and some do not.
Let me expound on this a little bit because I think this is what the blue bubble dream is about. Everything changes. We constantly say that. Nothing remains the same. There is a bumper sticker that reads, “Every time I find the meaning of life, they change it.” Older people are famous for complaining about change. They are always saying, “things are not like they used to be,” and they are right, things are different from what they used to be, and guess what, the next generation of older folks is going to say the same thing. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote: “Everything flows and nothing stays.” Actually I like John Simone's comment better. He said, “If you’re in a bad situation, don’t worry it’ll change. If you’re in a good situation, don’t worry it’ll change.”
Things change and people change. That means that things we said and believed years ago may have a different meaning to us today. To some extent, we are different people than we were years ago, with different thoughts or with a different slant on our thoughts..
There is an old Greek story that illustrates this problem. It is called the “Ship of Theseus.” Theseus was a great Greek hero. According to the story, Theseus used his ship for many years and then he sold it, and it was sold many times over the course of a generation. As the years wore on, the ship started getting weak and creaky. First the sails went. They rotted away and were replaced. The old boards were removed and replaced with new ones. Then, the masts started tottering, and soon they, too were replaced. And in this way, after fifty years, this ship now has all new boards, masts, and everything. The question then arises: Is that ship in the harbor, after 50 years, the same ship that Theseus owned? You might say, of course not. It does not have same boards, nor the same masts. But if we ask, well when did it become a different ship? You might reply that is harder to say. It was a long process of change. But apply that same reasoning to a person. Take a snapshot of you as a teenager. Take another snapshot 50 years later. Are you the same person?
You are certainly not physically the same. You may know that all the cells in the human body are replaced over a period of roughly seven years. Every cell in your body has a limited lifespan and, when it dies, it is replaced. So your body is not the same as it was 7 years ago. And if we expand the time period we see vast differences in what we once were. Every human being began life as a single microscopic cell. The cell divided and multiplied and became an embryo, the embryo grew and eventually after 9 months became a baby. The baby grew and after a number of years became an adult human being. As adults we are constantly changing also, and this change may be good or bad. With regard to our body, we are told that the rule is: “Use it or lost it.” if we do not use muscles, those muscles become weak and flabby and eventually unusable. The same thing applies to our brain, “Use it or lose it.” We are told that we need to do different kinds of puzzles or learn something new to keep our brains active or else our brains grow soft. What about our soul? “Use it or lose it?” Or, to quote the verse, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” We are constantly changing spiritually. We need to grow spiritually, and this growth is so important that we should approach it “with fear and trembling.” This is the most valuable part of our lives, our spiritual growth.
This is not something God is going to do for us. In the verse from Philippians, Paul is speaking to us. He says, you do this. Living in Christ is a process of living in a certain way. You are responsible for this process in your life. Salvation is a lifelong endeavor and it does not always have a happy ending.
Let us take a biblical example: Solomon, son of David, king of Israel. When Solomon first came to the throne, he was devoted to God. I Kings 3 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. It tells how the young king made a huge offering to God and that was pleasing to God and God told Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted and God would give it to him. And Solomon asked for wisdom and that was even more pleasing to God so God promised to give Solomon not only wisdom but fame and fortune and everything else. So I Kings 3 gives us a picture of a devout young man who has this great relationship with the lord. And Solomon went on to build the temple which was the physical representation of his spiritual life. Everything seems to go well with Solomon. We read of his wisdom and power. But then we come to I Kings 11:4: “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” What happened? We read on in v5 and 6: “For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD.” Solomon began well. He did not end well. He changed. Well we all change, but in Solomon's case, the change was not good. The devout young man became the cynical old guy who was willing to worship any god that came along. That is an example of change gone utterly wrong.
Now we need to get to an application here. What has change done to you over the years? This was Paul's concern for the Philippians. Are they working out their salvation? How do you do that? This is the point of the blue bubble dream. The dream is not hard to understand. As we say, the dream is not rocket science. The bubbles represent love. Our spiritual lives depend on giving and receiving love. That is how we work out our salvation. Jesus showed us love by dying for us on the cross. Our salvation is a salvation of love which we work out by the love in our own lives. Yes, as Christians, we should be constantly changing. We should be growing in love. So how is your growing?
Belief in Jesus is not saying a few words about Jesus. It is a growing in Christ that should go on all your life. We should be learning new lessons in love and teaching new lessons in love all our lives. So how is your growing?
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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