Summary: Scripture teaches the Christian life involves both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. It’s not one or the other; it’s both.
From the earliest days of the church, the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of believers has been debated. Is the Christian life essentially a matter of passive trust or of active obedience? Is it all God’s doing, all the believer’s doing, or a combination of both? I realize these questions have been debated for two thousand years, but I believe Scripture teaches the Christian life involves both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. It’s not one or the other; it’s both.
Paul writes in Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8&9) The focus here is on God’s role; his sovereign gift of grace. On the other hand, in Acts 16:31 Paul says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The focus here is our role; it’s our responsibility to actively believe. Thus, we see woven in Scripture a mysterious tapestry showing that the Christian life involves both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
This mystery is one of the focal points in today’s passage in Philippians. This is the fourth message in our series which we’re calling “Got Joy?” Today we consider Philippians 2:12-18.
Verse 12 begins with the word “therefore.” Every time you see the word “therefore” in Scripture you need to ask what it’s there for? In this case, it connects verse 12 with the preceding verses. In other words, because of Christ’s obedience to leave heaven, humble himself and die on the cross, therefore, we’re also called to live a life of obedience. Paul writes, “Therefore...as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence...” In other words, as a result of Christ’s obedience, may we obey—following the Lord’s example—whether anyone is there to see it or not! One of the hallmarks of an authentic Christ-follower is obedience. In our passage three areas of obedience come into focus: our diligence, our words and our attitude about suffering.
1. Our Diligence
Look again at verses 12&13. “...Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” You might underline this in your Bible. It’s one of the clearest passages showing the mysterious blending of God’s role and our role in the Christian life. Our part is to diligently work out our salvation and God’s part is to give us the will to do that. The idea behind “working out” salvation is to apply sustained effort in developing our spiritual lives. The verb is in the present tense indicating a command that has a continuing emphasis. That’s why the NIV translates the phrase “continue to work out your salvation...” This is a process that requires ongoing effort for the rest of our lives.
The exhortation to work out salvation is to those who already know Christ. This is not a call to work to achieve salvation; it’s a call to live out our faith. This is call to show forth the fruit of our salvation. This is a call to have deeds that go along with our faith. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace which comes through faith in Christ. We can’t earn salvation. But once we receive God’s grace, once we’re adopted into God’s family by placing our faith in Christ, then we have a responsibility to work this out in our day to day lives.
Notice we’re to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling.” This means we’re to diligently pursue God’s will with reverence and healthy respect. The idea of fearing the Lord is found throughout the Bible. Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” To fear means to show reverence and respect. We’re never to forget that God is God and we’re not. It’s worth noting that every time someone in Scripture comes into God’s presence it’s an overwhelming experience. For example:
•God told Moses from the burning bush to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground.
•When Isaiah was brought before God he cried out “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips…”
•When the Apostle John saw the glorified Christ his face looked “like the sun shining in all its brilliance” and John fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead.
To work out our salvation with fear and trembling means we don’t treat the Lord in a glib cavalier manner. We view his sacrifice in holy reverent awe. Because the Lord gave his very best, we give him our very best. Over and over again Scripture calls us to diligence in our spiritual lives. In today’s passage Paul writes in verse 16 about running and laboring in his pursuit of God’s calling.