By Working Out Their Own Salvation - Page 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on Philippians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

The Philippians do not need to wait for Paul’s arrival to reform the flaws in their fellowship, because God himself is effectively at work in their midst. As God thus bestowed both the power to will{13.1] and to work, in order to fulfill His good pleasure in restoring the divided community to full spiritual health; it is clear that no room is left for any boasting in human achievement (Isaiah 26:12). This shows how empty is the presumption of those who divide the glory of our progress in the faith between God and ourselves; freely granting that God works in them the beginnings of salvation but pretending that, after having received the first tokens of His grace, they are afterwards the authors of the rest, which they express by a word full of vanity, saying that they co-operate with God, making themselves, by these means, companions of the Godhead in this work. But Paul insists that both the willing to do good and the putting of it into effect depends on the God who is busy working out his good and gracious purpose in us. The apostle here throws down all of their pride, announcing, gloriously, that it is God which works in them to will and to do, the progress and the end, as well as the beginning.
Now, here is something worth repeating, “Power for the Christian life comes from God.” He supplies all of the empowering that is needed to accomplish any task. Their obedience is ultimately something God brings about in or among us. And this divine power is related to Christ’s identity as Lord. Paul prayed that the Ephesians might know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power two us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at His own right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20). The power God displayed in Christ’s exultation (Philippians 2:9{13.2]) is the power He demonstrates in our sanctification.

These verses will help us to gain a clearer understanding of how a Christian progresses in his “spiritual life.” There are two primary factors that contribute to “spiritual growth.” First, “CHRISTIAN MATURITY” begins with God’s working in our hearts. Paul wrote, “For it is God who works in you”; in other words, God energizes our “spiritual desires.” “Spiritual maturity” occurs when God gives us holy desires and burdens—to will—to grow. “SPIRITUAL DISCONTENTMENT” is a grace from God. He stirs us up so we’ll move forward from our current “spiritual state,” and he enables us to accomplish—to do—everything He has burdened our hearts to do. God has given no commands that believers are unable to obey. God gives us both the power and the desire to fulfill His requests, and as Paul had already assured the Philippians, God will complete what He has begun (Philippians 1:6).

Therefore “work out your own salvation” does not mean “devote yourselves energetically to the saving of your own souls,” but instead the meaning is “Co-operate with God in producing the fruits of the Christian life, which are love, joy peace and all the rest.” Let them do this, and there will be no further need to worry about the little dissensions in their fellowship.
If God has saved you, He has saved you by faith—plus nothing. God is not accepting any kind of good works for salvation. But after you are saved, God talks to you about your works. The salvation that He worked in by faith is a salvation He will work out also. James wrote this about faith and works—“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’” (James 2:17-18). Only God can see the heart; he knows our true condition. He knows if I have a saving faith; He knows if you have a saving faith. But your neighbor can’t see your faith. The only thing he can see is the works of faith. True faith will work itself out so that the people around us will be able to tell that we are different, that we are Christians. We don’t need to wear a placard or some sort of symbol to identify ourselves as Christians.

Special notes and Scripture
[13.1} “To will” means to wish, to desire, to have in mind, to purpose.
[13.2} “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,” (Philippians 2:9).

Some Christians have wondered if verses 12 and 13 contradict each other. They say something like this, “How can you be responsible to live out your faith if it is really God who is at work?” But Scripture consistently holds these two truths together: God’s grace and man’s responsibility. They are compatible, not contradictory. That is why throughout Paul’s letters we find statements of fact about God’s grace interwoven with commands that we must obey. The Christian life is all about grace, and yet we must make every effort to please the Lord.

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