Your Work and God’s
Bible Reading: Philippians 2:9-16
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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
“Your own salvation”- Is there anything of greater importance or value than that? In the negative sense you have been saved from sin’s guilt and God’s wrath. In the positive sense you are being saved from sin’s power unto eternal glory. This salvation has come to you as a gift from God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for your sins.
And you now possess this salvation. But what are you to do with it? How are you to work it out? What does God expect from you? What are the attitudes and actions that God expects from you with respect to this treasured possession you now possess?
A key phrase in the text is this: “work out your salvation.” And that has caused some confusion. Some misread this and erroneously suppose that we are to somehow work for our salvation. But that would contradict other Scriptures, that make it clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5).
Our text relates to the aspect of salvation we call sanctification. That part that has to do with the Spirit’s work of transforming us from the rebel sinners which we were into the Christlikeness God has called us to. And in this part of salvation, there is something we are called upon to do. Now we need to be careful here, to keep in mind that every aspect of salvation is “by grace.” We are justified by grace, sanctified by grace, and we will be glorified by God’s grace. It all happens by the “unmerited favor” and strengthening of God’s grace. And were it not for God’s grace, there would be no salvation in any sense or any tense. We have also considered the working of the Spirit regarding these matters. All that God calls upon the believer to do is to be done “by the Spirit.” Later in this epistle Paul will address this, saying: “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). We put no confidence in the flesh when it comes to justification, sanctification, or glorification.
Having said all that, it is important that we avoid either of two extremes when it comes to our understanding of this matter. It has been noted that heresy is truth taken in its extreme. And there are extremes for us to avoid with sanctification. These two extremes could be labeled “quietism” and “pietism.” Quietism supposes that we are to simply let go and let God. While there’s an element of truth in that, it’s not the whole story. Pietism, on the other hand, supposes that the matter of spiritual growth is entirely up to us. We are to work out our salvation, but that is only possible because God is at work in us to will and to work for His good pleasure. Let me illustrate. My Toyota Venza has a lane-keeping feature that will automatically work to keep the car within the lane if I’m not paying attention. However, if I remove my hands from the steering wheel for too long, an alert will display on the dash, reminding me to keep my hands on the wheel. The car has not been designed to operate without me doing my part. And you’ve not been designed by God to operate disengaged from the spiritual disciplines that are essential to your spiritual growth (being in the Word, in prayer, and in fellowship).
The fundamental error of the pietist, on the other hand, is that he wrongly supposes he has it in himself to do that which God requires of him. Religion is no substitute to being filled with the Spirit and doing that which God calls upon us to do “by the Spirit.” And by way of my earlier example—the car on autopilot—the pietist stands on the other extreme. He’s like Fred Flintstone in the old cartoon. He’s got a car built of giant tree limbs and granite stones. The wheels themselves probably weigh several tons. But he jumps in his animated car and pedals his feet, and the car goes. But that could only happen because it was a cartoon. And it is cartoonish to suppose that we can work out our salvation in our wisdom and strength and get anywhere close to where we are supposed to be going. So, the quietist says you don’t need to do anything, “let go and let God.” And the pietist says that you need to do everything, it’s all up to you to “get ‘er done.” But our passage speaks to both. Verse 12 would be impossible were it not for verse 13. So give serious attention to the working out of your salvation, knowing that God is at work in you, for His good pleasure, to do “far more abundantly than all (you) ask or think, according to the power at work within” you (Ephesians 3:20)!
TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.