Some of you have known Christ for many years. Some of you have not been followers of Christ as long as others. For some it’s easier for you remember back to when you first trusted Christ. Do you remember ever feeling like now that you had Jesus in your life you now had it made? You might have thought life should be just great, now that you had trusted Christ as Savior.
Now that you’ve known Christ for some time now you realize don’t you that faithfully following Christ requires some work on your part. Maybe you’ve discovered that your spiritual life needs constant attention.
And let me say that if you are struggling spiritually—if you find it difficult to consistently put God’s Word into practice in your life—if you struggle to have the right thoughts—if you can’t help but complain about your life and the people around you—then maybe you are just beginning to discover that there’s some work that needs to be done. Maybe you’re figuring it out that your spiritual life needs constant attention.
In First Things First, A. Roger Merrill tells of a business consultant who decided to landscape his grounds. He hired a woman with a doctorate in horticulture who was extremely knowledgeable. Because the business consultant was very busy and traveled a lot, he kept emphasizing to her the need to create his garden in a way that would require little or no maintenance on his part. He insisted on automatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices.
Finally she stopped and said, "There's one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there's no gardener, there's no garden!"
Merill goes on to say,
There are no labor-saving devices for growing a garden of spiritual virtue. Becoming a person of spiritual fruitfulness requires time, attention, and care. 1
When God saves you He calls you to a life of obedience. Just as a garden isn’t going to grow without time and attention and care so it is in your spiritual life. If you’re going to be a fruitful Christian then you need to put forth some effort by living in obedience to God’s Word.
In our study in Philippians this morning I’d like to look at Philippians 2:12-13 together. In Philippians Paul uses an interesting phrase that you may have heard and wondered about before. There’s a phrase in verse 12 that says work out your own salvation. You might have heard or read that phrase before and wondered about it’s meaning. We’re going to get to that right away. And as we examine verses 12 and 13 we’ll see our responsibility in working out our salvation and God’s role in working in us. Let’s look at Philippians 2:12-13.
Philippians 2:12 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.
Working Out – Our Obedience (12)
As I said a moment ago, you may have seen or heard the phrase work out your own salvation and wondered what that meant. What does it mean to work out your own salvation?
First let’s be clear about what it doesn’t mean. Paul does not say here, “work for your salvation.” He says work out your salvation. You need to know that you can do nothing to earn your salvation. Salvation is a gift of God and has nothing to do with your works.
There are passages in the Bible that clearly explain this.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Titus 3:5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
There’s also something in Philippians 1:1 that helps us understand that Paul is not talking about earning salvation. Paul is writing this to saints. Look back for a moment at Philippians 1:1.
Phil 1:1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
Paul is writing to saints. He is writing to those who are already saved, so it wouldn’t make sense for him to tell them to work for something they’ve already received.
So don’t confuse working out your salvation with working for your salvation. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. It is only through the grace of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are saved from our sins.
What does Paul mean when he instructs the Philippians to work out your own salvation? Warren Wiersbe points out…
The verb “work out” carries the meaning of “work to full completion,” such as working out a problem in mathematics. In Paul’s day it was also used for “working a mine,” that is, getting out of the mine all the valuable ore possible; or “working a field” so as to get the greatest harvest possible.2
Working out our salvation means we live out the faith we have in Christ. Working out our salvation means living in obedience to God’s Word.
You might be thinking, “what’s the big deal about obeying God’s Word? It’s just a book. OK a popular book. But it’s just a really old book written by a bunch of really old dead guys.”
If you’ve ever thought that—and even if you haven’t—you need to know that for the follower of Christ, obeying the Bible is paramount to your life because the Bible is no ordinary book. The Bible is God’s Word. Yes, the Bible has human authors but God inspired their writing. However you want to say it God moved them to write His words. So we call the Bible God’s Word.
There are a couple of passages that tell us about the importance of obeying God’s Word.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
When you trust Jesus Christ as Savior you are saved and you have the promise of eternal life. Your salvation impacts you for eternity but it also impacts you in the here and now. While you are living in the present you need to be working out your salvation by living a life of obedience to God. And since God has spoken to us through His Word, the Bible, you have His instruction.
Look at Philippians 2:12 again. Paul points out that they have obeyed not just in his presence but in his absence as well.
That should be the goal of all of our efforts as we disciple new believers. New followers of Christ need to come to a point where they choose obedience even when we aren’t around to support and encourage them.
As I raise my children and train them to follow the Lord I need to have the goal in mind that they one day will be living in obedience to the Lord even when they are no longer under my direction.
I have seen cases, and you may have too, where new believers have been greatly encouraged by the ministry of their pastor only to come unraveled once he’s no longer around.
We need to be teaching and training new believers to follow Christ and to live obedient lives. If they are only seeking to please us then things will go awry when we are no longer influencing them and they are on their own.
If I have a child who is living an obedient life in my home merely to please me instead of the Lord, I shouldn’t be surprised if on his own one day he lives a rebellious and sinful life. It’s so important for us to encourage the spiritual growth of our children and of new believers in our church but we need to help them to see their responsibility in following the Lord so that they live obedient lives whether we are absent or present with them.
And let me say too that you may realize that you have a need in your life to be taught some of the basics of the faith. Maybe you were never really taught as a new believer from God’s Word. I’d encourage you to come to me and ask to be matched up with someone to help teach you some of the basics of the faith. I’d love to help point you to a mature believer that can help you mature in your faith.
Another important aspect of working out your salvation is to notice the very important word, own. Paul says, work out your own salvation. It’s so easy for us to become distracted with how our wife should be working out her salvation or how our friend should be working out his salvation or how our fellow church member should be working out their salvation.
It’s easy to spot the faults in others and think of ways they could improve in their walk with the Lord. But instead of getting sidetracked, worrying about how others are doing we need to work out our own salvation. Most of us would probably readily admit that we have our hands full just conducting our own lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (Phil 1:27)
And a look at verse 12 again will show you that you need to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Listen to 2 Corinthians 7:1,
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
I wonder. Do we fear God? Do we tremble at His might and power and holiness? Do we truly fear the consequences of sin? If we have a reverence for God and a healthy fear of sin, we’ll want to work out our own salvation—we’ll want to live in obedience to God and His Word. This fear and trembling comes from a heart that loves God with all its heart and soul and mind and strength; a heart that loves and reveres God so much and respects His standards so much that it seeks to please Him and live in obedience to Him.
If you were only left to your own devices in working out your own salvation you would be very weak and ineffective but the good news is that it doesn’t just depend on your efforts. Yes you have a responsibility to work out your own salvation but it is God who is working in you. Look again at verse 13.
Working In – God’s Power (13)
13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
If you have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, God is working in you. The Greek word translated works in verse 13 is the word from which we get the English word energy. God is the one who gives you the power to work out your salvation. He is the one who gives you the power to live an obedient life.
In Colossians 1:29 Paul says…
And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (NASB)
That is the same power that is at work in the lives of all believers. God gives you the energy or the power to desire to do right and to practice what is right. He is at work in you. He is the source of power to live a life marked by obedience. He is working in you. His presence is with you.
The words of Jesus in John 17:22-23 confirm this thought.
22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Jesus Christ dwells in those who believe in Him. You have the Lord Himself working in you, energizing you, giving you the power to live righteously. God is at work in you so that you are pleasing to Him. It gives Him pleasure and He is glorified when you are working out your salvation. It pleases Him when you are living an obedient life.
We could easily go to two extremes. At one extreme we could emphasize our responsibility in working out our own salvation. We could come up with a big list of do’s and don’t’s as if it all depended on us. Or we could go to the other extreme and downplay our responsibility and focus on God working in us. We could grow complacent or lazy or indifferent and not do our part to exercise our faith.
But we need to understand the balance that Paul makes clear in Philippians 2:12-13. We have a responsibility to work out our own salvation but God in His sovereignty is at the same time working in us.
Some of you know I enjoy lifting weights. I realize it’s not all that obvious and I’m not all that strong but it’s something I do to help stay physically fit. The power I need for lifting weights comes from eating healthy foods that will give me the energy to physically exert myself. If I were to go several days without eating or even just miss a couple of meals before lifting weights I wouldn’t have the strength necessary to make any progress in my lifting.
The other extreme is that I could eat plenty of food and have plenty of energy to work out but never lift a single weight and I’m not going to be very physically fit or have much strength. It’s the joint effort of me taking responsibility to work out and the energy that food provides for me to have a successful work out.
If we are going to be spiritually fit we need to exercise our faith. The power comes from God but we have to take responsibility for working out our own salvation. It takes effort on our part. We have the power. God gives us all the power we need to live obedient lives that are pleasing to Him.
How are you doing? Are you exercising your faith or are you out of shape spiritually? Maybe the power isn’t there for you because you have never received Christ as your personal Savior. Maybe you have trusted Christ but you’d have to admit that you need to shape up spiritually.
Let’s determine to work out our own salvation knowing and having confidence that God is working in us.
Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
1 Bill Norman, Ontario, Canada. Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"–Jkt. (Php 2:12). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.