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Intro: Read Philippians 2:12-13 – 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.
Having presented man’s responsibility in salvation in 2:12, Paul in verse 13 focuses on God’s role. While man is working “out,” God is working “in.” In fact, apart from the reality of verse 13, the fulfillment of verse 12 would be impossible.
The work of God is accomplished through God’s power, not ours. All of our spiritual accomplishments are made possible through the energy that God provides.
Jesus stressed that truth in the Upper Room Discourse, given to His disciples on the night before His death: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
Notice the Elements of Paul’s Declaration concerning the work of God in Us:
I. “For It is God…” – Notice first the word “for”. The Greek preposition here is “gar” and it means, “assigning a reason… explanation or intensification; (Strongs). It is often translated “that”, or “because” or “therefore”. Its appearance in vs. 13 points us back to vs. 12 – work out your own salvation. It assigns a reason why we should work … because God is working is us. Many in religion teach that because God is working in our salvation, we are not responsible to work at all. They use God’s sovereign work as a reason against our work. Paul does just the opposite. He says we work because (for) God is working.
A. When the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of working on the Sabbath, He answered, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”(John 5:17). He went on to tell them that He was doing exactly what the Father commanded Him to do. He worked because the Father was working. That is the premise of Paul’s words here about our working out our salvation. We are to work because God is working in us.
1. Isn’t it thrilling to know that God is at work to bring about your salvation? If God is for us, who can be against us? The God of Scripture has unimaginable love for sinful mankind. He has such great love for them “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). It is not the Lord’s will “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is working for us.
II. “Who is at work” – God is exercising His power in the salvation and sanctification of the believer. He calls them to obey, and then provides the spiritual power they need to obey. He calls them to His service, and then empowers their service. He calls them to holiness, and then empowers them to pursue holiness.
A. “at work” is from the verb, energoon, meaning to be active and produce results. We get our word “energetic”, from this term. God energizes His children to obey and serve Him.
1. Paul did not underestimate the importance of faithful obedience. But he knew that underlying all acceptable service is the gracious power of God. 2 Corinthians 3:5 – 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, Ephesians 3:20-21 – 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
2. Paul proclaimed that God’s power energized his own ministry. Colossians 1:27-29 – 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.
B. “in you” – God is working in the Christian, through the development of the inner person. This influence is not a physical force but a moral (spiritual) influence of His Spirit on my spirit.
III. “Both to will and to do (work)” – This phrase is also the source of some debate on the nature of God’s work in us. Is the “willing and working” ours or God’s?
A. Some view this phrase as referring to the will and work of the individual Christian. God works in us to create both the will (desire) to do His will, and the power (energeo) to actually do it. Does God work in us in this way, and how does He do it?
1. The Calvinist teaches that the unregenerate sinner is incapable of faith and obedience without the direct operation of the Holy Spirit (irresistible grace). So accordingly, God chooses (unconditional election) who will be saved, and then acts upon them directly to cause them to believe. That is not what Paul is describing here. God does not work against my will.
2. Although I certainly reject the Calvinistic position that God creates faith apart from the will of the individual, I am convinced that, for the Christian, a genuine desire to do God’s will, as well as the power to obey it, originates with God. The common terms that are often used to describe these activities of God are regeneration and sanctification – both works of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:4-7 – But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 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, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
a. In Romans 6:1-4 Paul tells us that when we were baptized we were baptized into His death and raised in newness of life through the power of His resurrection. My new life is not the result of my human choice to change, or the product of my will, but rather the work of God through the power of Jesus’ death (our old man was crucified with Him) and resurrection (raised in the likeness of His resurrection). Paul calls the Christian, a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and creation is uniquely the work of God, not man.
b. Ezekiel describes the power of God to create a new heart within men, so that they will obey God. Ezek 36:25-27 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. This does not describe a mystical event, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit to bear the fruits of the Spirit in my life.
c. The NT apostles called on Christians to be holy (1 Pet. 1:15), to grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18) to not let sin reign in their bodies (Rom. 6:12), abstain from evil (1 Thess. 5:22), resist the devil… cleanse our hands (James 4:7-8), abhor what is evil, cling to what is good… (Rom. 12:9). These exhortations point to my personal obligation to pursue holiness and to be sanctified through the activity of my own free-will. But the work of sanctification is again, the work of God, not men.
• 2 Thess 2:13-14 – God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, 14 to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
• Rom 8:13 – For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
• John 6:63 – It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
3. The Spirit of God influences my spirit through the words He has revealed. The word of God has the ability to create a new heart, with a new will. This new heart has the power to serve God, even in difficult times.
4. “To will” refers to thoughtful, purposeful choice, not to mere whim or emotional desire. It is what the psalmist had in mind when he prayed, “Incline my heart to Your testimonies” (Psalms 119:36).
5. Ezra spoke of this when he reported that “the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem”. Neh 4:6 describes this as a mind to work. So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
6. The Word of God motivates the will of the individual through 2 means:
a. First is what might be called holy discontent, the humble recognition that one’s life always falls short of God’s standard of holiness. The word of God is sharper than a sword and lays open our hearts, discerning to innermost thoughts and intents. The N.T. describes this as being “pricked in the heart” in Acts 2:38 – it means stunned, “cut in the heart”. They were convicted of sin. The law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul. (Psalm 19:7)
b. The second means God uses to move believers’ wills is holy aspiration, the positive side of holy discontent. After He instills a genuine hatred of sin, He cultivates a genuine desire for righteousness. Later in Phil. Paul described his own discontent and aspiration. Phil. 3:12-14 – Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Holy resolve leads to holy living. A godly will produces godly work.
c. Paul commended the Thessalonians with these words… 1 Thess 2:13 – And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
B. Others see the willing and doing as God’s. As the Christian works out his salvation through obedience, God’s will and God’s work are accomplished in the Christian.
1. The Greek puts the word “the” before the word translated “to will” and the word translated “to do”. The ASV & NASB rightly render this “to work.” Vincent points out that this gives it the meaning “both willing and working” on behalf of His good pleasure. In other words, when we obey; when we work out our salvation; God is working in us, God is accomplishing His will.
2. In either case, the power (energy) exerted in this pursuit is God’s. He is working in us. Understanding that truth, the writer of Hebrews wrote, “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ” (Heb 13:20-21).
IV. “For His good pleasure” – God’s will for believers is that they think and do what pleases Him. Although that is accomplished primarily by His own power, when His children seek His will and do His work, it brings Him great pleasure.
A. Good pleasure translates eudokias, (yoo-dok-ee-us) which expresses great delight, enjoyment and satisfaction. If God is absolutely perfect and complete, how can anything or anyone, especially a sinful human being, add to God’s satisfaction. Yet that clearly is what Paul is saying.
1. Paul tells us that God will “fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power” (2 Thess 1:11).
2. The challenge before us is to make God’s good pleasure our good pleasure. Our will is to become His will. John 15:7 – 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 1 John 5:14-15 – Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
a. In Phil 2, Paul exhorts the Christians to work out (bring to a conclusion) their salvation through consistent obedience to the will of God. But their working is motivated by the fact that God is working in them to accomplish His will. The result is God’s work accomplished by God’s power. Notice that this is precisely what Paul prays for in behalf of the Ephesians.
b. Eph 3:16-21 – That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. God can and will strengthen me inwardly to love Him more, and to contemplate His love for me, motivating me to obey Him more. Both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
c. Psalm 119:143 – 143 Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, Yet Your commandments are my delights.
3. Every Christian should understand that sanctification takes his most strenuous effort, but is nonetheless totally dependent on God’s power. Put your faith in what He can do.
Conclusion: Ps 119:32 – I will run the course of Your commandments, For You shall enlarge my heart. One commentator paraphrased the words, “Enlarge my heart” as “help me to want your will”. That is the work of God in us through His word. Has God enlarged your heart? Do you want what He wants? He wants you to be in Christ.