Read Philippians 2:12-18
As we continue to move through Philippians, we need to keep remembering the context. Paul is writing from prison and he expresses a deep desire for this church to continue to remember him and support him in the advancement of the gospel. He also challenged them to have the same attitude or mind as Christ—a humble, sacrificial servant who submitted to the will of the Father above all else.
What again is Paul’s primary aim for the Philippians?
As we approach 2:12-18, Paul continues this train of thought and will give three very specific areas that we are to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.
The three areas are:
- Practical Christianity (12-13)
- Positive Steadfastness (14-16)
- Participation in Paul’s ministry (17-18)
Verse 12 has been one of those very confusing verses that over the years have tripped up many Christians. We need to clearly understand just exactly what Paul is teaching.
Before diving into this verse, let us let Scripture interpret Scripture for a moment and discover what Paul is NOT saying
Read the following verses:
This may be an obvious question, but in relation to the above verses, what is our salvation based upon? Grace alone! So, when Paul tells us to “work out” our salvation, what can it NOT mean?
Paul calls us to diligently pursue Christ through activity and effort. Now in some Christian circles any mention of the word “effort” or “activity” may be frowned upon because it appears to eliminate grace and the need for the Holy Spirit. Yet, before we get to verse 13, we need to understand verse 12.
Let’s learn some new words!!!
Monergism: (mono) means “one” and “ergon” means “to work”—in other words, monergism means there is only one who does the work.
Synergism: (syn) means “together” and “ergon” again means, “to work”—in other words, synergism means that there are two working together.
In our salvation, it is monergistic. That is, God alone does the work. He elects us, He regenerates us, He calls us, and He saves us. We contribute nothing to our salvation. We were dead in our sins and trespasses and were lost, blind, enslaved sinners who lacked the ability to come to Christ without the sovereign working of God on our behalf. We have been saved by grace alone.
Yet, when it comes to our sanctification, (that is: our growing in Christ-likeness, our progress in holiness, our spiritual maturity), the work is synergistic. We work together with God to accomplish this activity. We have a part to play and the Holy Spirit has His part to play. We must always remember that any growth or fruit that occurs is still the result of the sovereign grace of God, but we are clearly called here to work out our salvation.
Read the following verses and describe the recurring theme. Pay attention to the verbs used by the writers:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
1 Timothy 4:7-10
1 Timothy 6:12
2 Timothy 4:7
2 Peter 1:3-10
From these few passages, we see the Scripture clearly calls us to put forth diligent effort in our sanctification. We are commanded to run, fight, diligently pursue, discipline, train, and grow in godliness. These are things that we must do. We are not passive channels that sit back and allow God to do everything.
He’s not going to supernaturally wake you up with a magic alarm clock in the morning in order for you to do your quiet time! You must set the alarm and actually get up and read your Bible and pray.
Verse 13 illustrates for us this synergistic work. In verse 12, we are the ones responsible for working out our salvation with fear and trembling, but yet in verse 13 it is God who works in us.
What does God do in His working in us? He affects our will and he affects our actions. He works sovereignly to move us to do His will and to act in according with His plans.
So here’s the bottom line teaching. By the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are called to pursue the means God has given us to grow. We are called to put forth effort in the ways that God has given to us.
These means are prayer, Bible reading, Scripture intake, fellowship, worship, service, the Lord’s Supper, and many of the other ways the Scriptures tell us to grow. We have the responsibility to do these things.
Author Kris Lundgaard gives this illustration in his book “The Enemy Within” about John Henry’s hammer. Remember the song about this man who out-dug the steam drill through the mountain so hard that he laid his hammer down and died. The hammer was his tool to dig through the mountain. God has called us to grow in Christ-likeness, which seems at times like digging through the Himalayas!! We have a tall mountain facing us everyday and yet we are called to work out our salvation. We are called to work with the tools that God has placed in our hands. What are these tools? Primarily, they are Scripture saturation and meditation and prayer.
When we take the responsibility to swing these hammers of Bible study and prayer, the Holy Spirit works miraculously to dig us through the mountain. Any success, growth, or transformation that occurs is solely the result of the sovereign Spirit. He produces the fruit. He brings about the transformation. He grants the growth. But we must use the tools He has given us.
Think of it this way. An army is at their base awaiting a reinforcement of supplies and ammunition so that they can continue their fight. Once the supplies come, they have two choices. They can sit there and enjoy the weapons and still wait to win the war and never put up a fight. Or they can pick up the weapons and go out and fight the war.
The Holy Spirit has given us the weapons—prayer and Bible study. But we are called to pick these up as the tools or supplies to work out our salvation. But when the victory is won, it is the Holy Spirit who gets credit. He supplied the tools, He fights behind the scenes, He wins the victory, but yet we are still called to fight.
There are two extremes in this approach to Christian growth.
One extreme is passivism in where we don’t do anything. We sit back and wait for God to deliver us from sin. We wait for God to do all the work. We never put forth effort to prayer, read our Bibles, and purse the means that the Lord has given us to grow. We expect immediate growth through very little effort.
This places the scales very heavily on the Holy Spirit to do everything.
The other extreme is legalism and duty where we put forth all of this effort in our flesh and we never rely on the Spirit and we try to produce the results ourselves.
This places the scales very heavily on us doing everything.
These two verses teach a synergistic balance that we “work out” and God “works in”
Thank you that You work in me to will and to act according to Your great purpose! I am thankful that at the end of the day, any fruit that I bear is because You produced it in me. Yet, I know that I have a responsibility to pursue holiness. Grant me the grace to persevere and to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. May I rely upon Your power and not my own! Help me to do my part in the process of sanctification as I have the utmost confidence that You will do Yours!