The Pleasing and Displeasing of God
How to please God Part 3 - Working out your salvation
by I Gordon
Phil 2:12-13 '...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.'
For this, the third part in the 'pleasing and displeasing of God' series, I want to concentrate on what has been the main verse in our study - Phil 2:13. Sometimes it pays to take a little time to break down each section of a verse to obtain its full meaning. This scripture is a good one to do it on. The Amplified Bible, which does its best to bring out the true meaning of the text, translates this verse as such -
'Work out - cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete - your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling [self distrust, that is, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation; timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ]. [Not in your own strength] for it is God who is all the while effectually at work in you - energizing and creating in you the power and desire - both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.'
Now I like that! Because there is so much meaning in the words of this text, we will take a little time to examine each part of this verse.
First it says, 'work out your own salvation...' What comes to mind when you think of the word work? Ok, bad question depending on what job you have! What comes to my mind initially is effort, time, labour, and energy. It doesn't matter what the subject is, the word work implies putting time and energy into a task. You may 'work on your tennis game', or 'work at your marriage.' The thought implies spending time and effort to improve or perfect something. Well, in its context here, the object of our work is our salvation. It is speaking of putting time and energy into your relationship with God. For a married couple, 'working at their marriage' involves spending time together, communicating effectively, being open, and sharing their whole lives with one another. So it is with our relationship with God.
I don't know about your job but mine can sometimes be awesome, sometimes boring and tedious. But whatever it is like, it is still necessary to keep going and put time and effort in. Work is like that. Reading the Bible, for example, can be like that. Sometimes nearly every word is jumping of the page and speaking to you, sometimes it's as dead as a hammer. But God still wants us to put the time and effort in and it always pays off in the end.
Prov 25:2 'It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.'
It is easy to put little effort in and build our house upon the sand, but Jesus spoke of the wise man, who put more effort in, saying
'He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.
Secondly, we are called to 'work out your own salvation...' Now let me say this as clearly as I can... The Bible never calls us to 'work for' our salvation, but to work it out! I have seen this verse used as an argument for salvation by works as well as a 'sure-thing proof text' against eternal security. This whole verse is saying the God has, and is, working his salvation in you, so you should work it out. In other words, allow that which has happened within you, be manifested outwardly. The Christian life is becoming (through your everyday life) what you already are (in your position in Christ - such as righteous and holy). The Holy Spirit indwells each and every true believer and His nature expresses itself in love, joy, peace, faithfulness, forgiveness etc. Those are the characteristics of Him who lives within you - so allow your life to openly manifest these things. Work out what He works in! This is especially important in your relationship with other people. We should treat others like God has treated us. The dictionary I have gives the following for the term 'work out' - 'to make its way out'. Hopefully the grace, love, and acceptance God pours in our heart makes its way out for others!
3. Your own salvation...
Thirdly, it's 'work out your own salvation...' It would have been very easy for the Philippi Church to look at the Apostle Paul and just think 'man, what a legend that guy is!' And they would be right, He is! But in emphasising 'your own salvation' to these believers, two thoughts come to mind. Firstly, Paul would have been saying 'It's not just me! You look at me and think I am something special, but the same Holy Spirit that works within me, you have! So work out your own salvation!' The second point is linked to this thought. That while we all have been given the same salvation, the working out of that salvation will be different for each one of us. We have been given the same Spirit, but He gives different gifts as He wills. The working out that I do will be inline with that which I believe the Lord is leading me into. We are not all going to be missionaries. We all not all going to be teachers or pastors or have gifts of administration. Whatever way the Lord is leading you, then work it out!
4. With fear and trembling...
I found the Amplified Bible very useful on this part. To expound as clearly as it could what 'fear and trembling' meant, it said
'...with reverence and awe and trembling [self distrust, that is, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation; timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ].'
In other words, the fear is toward God, but the trembling is toward ourselves! The fear speaks of working out your salvation with a reverence and awe for God. It is working it out while always being mindful of what God wants and putting his will first. It is knowing that you, the creature, are in desperate need of His strength for any of this to happen. It is the same 'fear' that the Bible says Jesus delighted in. (Isa 11:3). Jesus delighted in putting God first and allowing the Father's will and strength direct His actions. The trembling however, seems more towards us. It means working out your salvation while at the same time having an attitude of self-distrust towards yourself, knowing your own vulnerability toward temptation and actions that could discredit the name of Christ.
5. For it is God...
Why should we invest time and energy into working out the salvation He has performed within us? For it is God who works in you! We are not just talking about any old body investing time in your life - we are talking about God Himself! We are talking about the one who created the entire universe with a word, and sustains it with a breath! Isn't it amazing that out of the millions and millions of people who believe in God and have a relationship with Him, He is still interested in you? Amongst the huge crowds of people, He is still interested in how you are going. Well I find that amazing anyway. It is God Himself that we are dealing with here! We put time into our marriages because we see them as important, but the earthly marriage is only a small glimpse of the spiritual union you have with the Lord Almighty. Put time into that relationship!
6. Who works in you both to will and to do
Note the present tense of this verb. God 'works in you'. Salvation in its fullest sense incorporates all three tenses. You have been saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. These three aspects of salvation line up with the three parts of a person - the spirit, soul, and the body. Your spirit has been made alive when you first believed in Jesus and this forms part of the 'new creation'. Your body still has to wait for the resurrection at the return of Jesus before it is made like His body. But your soul, that is your mind, will and emotions - that is progressively being saved as we work out that which He is working in! So note here how God's ongoing work is performed. It says that He works in us both to will and to do. In other words God not only installs in us knowledge of His will, but He also strengthens us with the means to carry it out. Now this doesn't happen without your co-operation, but you can be assured that God will not give up on His constant work in you until that day arrives when Jesus returns...
Phil 1:6 '...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.'
7. For His good pleasure!
The Lord Almighty created the stars, every animal and living insect on the earth. He created the trees and every flower that springs up. Yet these were not the works that gave Him pleasure. God takes pleasure in His ongoing work in you, and in seeing that salvation worked out in your life! I like that. I like the fact that in such a fallen hideous world, God still has something to take pleasure in. At the time of Noah, the Bible says that it grieved the heart of God that He had created mankind, for apart for Noah and his family there was nothing but wickedness on the earth. But He now has a bride, a people set apart for His name, and in those He takes 'pleasure, satisfaction and delight' (as the Amplified Bible brings out.)
It will no longer be said to you, 'Forsaken,'
Nor to your land will it any longer be said, 'Desolate';
But you will be called, 'My delight is in her,'
And your land, 'Married';
For the Lord delights in you...
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So your God will rejoice over you.
So He takes pleasure in you His new creation. He takes pleasure in working His ways and Character in you, and He takes pleasure in seeing you work it out.