Turn with me to Philippians 2:12-13. Today we will be looking at only two verses, and it will take as all of 45 minutes to do it. So we are going to get right to work this morning.
- Philippians 2:12-13 – “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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
So with that said, if you run into an apparent paradox in the Bible do not reject it. Instead, recognize that the Bible is not the problem. You are, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you mine the depths of God’s truth. When you do this, you will most likely find that the deeper you dig, the greater the treasure you will find.
So let us start with the paradox. In verse 12 we see Paul telling the Church in Philippi to “work out your own salvation.” This is a command. Paul is telling them to work, to do something. He places the obligation, the responsibility on the people. Then in verse 13, in the same sentence, Paul says, “it is God who works in you.” Paul is saying that God does the work.
Is Paul schizophrenic? He starts his sentence with us doing the work, and ends the sentence with God doing the work. Which is it? Is it us, or is it God? At first glance, we believe that these positions are mutually exclusive. We believe that they cannot both be true. It has to be one or the other, but not both.
Why? Because when we read the Bible we wrongly superimpose our finite, our limited knowledge over the Bible. We wrongly have a tendency to Lord over God’s word. We wrongly approach the Bible as if we are god, and we therefore then attempt to shape God’s word to match our view of reality. This is not the way you read the Bible. We should not twist the Bible to match our metanarrative, the Bible that should shape us to match God’s redemptive narrative. For it is the Bible that is the revelation of true reality. We must humble ourselves beneath the Word of God and allow it to refine us. We must be willing to accept difficult truths, even if we don’t understand it initially.
So today I encourage you, to start from that position, as position of humility as we attempt to mine the depths of the reality that we work out our salvation, and God works out our salvation.
Next, lets us talk about the foundation of this text. We are focusing on only two verses, and there is a risk that when you do this, you read it with blinders on. We must recognize that these verses are not on an island. They are a part of a letter. They are part of a flow of thought. Verses 12 and 13 have a foundation under them, so let us spend some time looking at that foundation. The foundation begins in Philippians 1:3.
- Philippians 1:3-6 – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.“
At that moment, Lydia is saved. Salvation has come into her heart. She is eternally secure in the arms of Jesus. On the cross, Jesus paid for all her sin; past, present, and future, and she has been given the righteousness of Christ. This is the great substitution. Christ takes our sin, and we take his righteousness. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” For those who are in Christ, the gift of salvation is received at the moment of faith. This is why Paul can confidently say in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
It is a guarantee that all who are in Christ will be brought to completion. We will all reach the end. We will endure. We will persevere. If you don’t persevere, that means that you were never in Christ. That God never began a work in you, but you were just fooling yourself.
However, for a true follower of Jesus, in between the beginning and the end is the Christian walk. And this is what Paul starts to discuss in Philippians 1:27.
- Philippians 1:27 – “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
And it is this foundation that Paul lays out before he says in verse 12, where he says, “work out your own salvation.” Why is this important? Because Satan would love for you to read verse 12 as saying, “work for your salvation.” Satan would love for you to think that your salvation is dependent upon what you do, as if salvation is something to be earned. But we all know that salvation is a gift of God’s Amazing Grace, not a wage.
So what does verse 12 say? It says we are to “work out your salvation” not “work for your salvation.” To work out your salvation means that you already have salvation. God, at the moment of conversion has taken out your heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh. At the moment of conversion God has birthed you into spiritual existence. At the moment of conversion God has made you a new creation. At the moment of conversion God has adopted you into his family. And this is who you are at your core. However, this does not mean that immediately upon conversion that you will perfectly, without sin, outwardly display this inward reality.
In between justification and glorification, there is sanctification. Meaning, that in between you being declared not guilty through Christ and being perfectly like Christ in Heaven, there is a life of transformation that occurs. We call this transformation sanctification, and this is the Christian walk. This Christian walk has two sides to the coin, your role and God's role.
Work Out Your Salvation
Let us begin by talking about our role. This text makes many grace based Christians flinch. They see work and think there must be a typo, but rest assured it is not. This word work is an active word, not a passive. Paul is telling us that we play a substantial part in becoming who we already are. Becoming like Christ in obedience is not something that just happens, but something that we make happen. And this is not the only place we see text like this in the Bible. In fact later in this letter Paul says this:
- Philippians 3:13-14 - “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
- 1 Timothy 6:11-12 - “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith.
- Hebrews 12:14 - “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
We are to strive for holiness. Striving is not passive, it is active. If you are not striving, then you won't see the Lord. This should cause of to fear and tremble, should it not. And this is exactly what verse 12 says, “Work our your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Does this describe your Christian walk? Are you working out your salvation, are you straining and pressing forward, are you striving, are you fleeing and pursuing, are you fighting the fight of faith? Or are you coasting? We need to do a quick inventory of our lives in Christ. Do you look more like Jesus today then you did one year ago? How about 5 years ago? How about since you have been saved? If you cannot say confidently, yes, then you may be deceived.
How can I say this, if I believe that we are saved by Grace? How can I put so much emphasis on works when we know that it is not works that save, but grace that saves. It is because of verse 13.
- Philippians 2:13 - “ for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
- 1 Corinthians 3:16 - “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
And why does God come and reside in us? What is His reason? What is His purpose? What does verse 13 say? He lives in us “to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This is amazing. God is in your heart making you will and work. Are you tracking? God is changing your desires. He is changing your delights. He is changing your loves. He is changing you from the inside out.
So how does this look practically? It looks like Bryan and Amy Speed waking up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to read the Bible and pray. It looks like James donating over a $1000 so others can go on a mission trip. It looks like Freddie willing to travel to the other side of the planet and risk his safety so to encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ. It looks like 30 people cramming the front of our Church on Wednesday night equipping themselves to make disciples. It looks like Paul sitting chained to a Romans guard and preaching Jesus Christ to the entire imperial guard.
All of these actions are evidences of the salvation that we have already received. When Christ truly comes and takes up residence in your heart he changes you. You want to pray, you want to read the Bible, you want to share the Gospel, you want to go on mission trips, you want to wash each others feet, you want to cut off your right hand if it causes you to sin. You want to strive, press on, strain, work out, and fight the fight of faith to be like our King. Our King who obeyed to the point of death on a cross.
Over the years I have heard people say, slow down, don't take on too much, you are going to burn out. I have even had people tell me that they believe I am trying to earn my way to Heaven. When I hear those things I want to say, get behind me Satan. Because what I see in the Bible is verse like 1 Corinthians 15:10.
- 1 Corinthians 15:10 - “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”