The Work of God Through Us

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

- Philippians 2:12–13

Paul often depicts authentic Christian living as the imitation of God and, since Christ is God incarnate, the imitation of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1). He has such imitation in view in Philippians 2:5–11 when he exhorts us to have the same mind as Jesus in how we serve others. In other words, we must have the same goal as Jesus in not seeking our own interests in a way that denies the good of others.

Christ’s obedience to His vocation was an essential part of not pursuing His own ends at the expense of others, as 2:5–11 explains. Thus, it is clear that our obedience is an essential part of imitating the Savior. As a consequence of Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father, all the Lord’s disciples, patterning their lives on His example, must submit to the Almighty’s will. What is this will? That we “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (vv. 12–13).

The Apostle gives examples of what it means to obey God and work out our salvation in verses 14–18. Today we will note what the call to work out our salvation says about persevering in faith. Scripture explains that we are not saved by signing a card, raising a hand, or walking an aisle for an altar call. Instead, we are saved by the possession of an authentic, living faith. This faith manifests itself through good works of repentance, confession, and service to God and neighbor (Luke 23:39–43; Matt. 7:21–27; James 2:14–26). None of these works get us into heaven; only the perfect righteousness of Christ, which we receive by resting on Him alone by faith alone, gives us access to the Father (Gal. 2:15–16; 2 Cor. 5:21). Yet those who are resting on Jesus alone demonstrate this faith by their works (James 2:14–26).

Persevering in faith, which is evident in our perseverance in good works of service, is achieved as we, by the Spirit, strive to serve the Lord, repent when we fail, and rely always on His enabling mercy (1 John 1:8–9). Simply put, it is living a life that does not take the gospel and its implications lightly. At the same time, even though we play a role in perseverance by obeying God’s commands, heeding His warnings, and more, the very fact that we do persevere is ultimately grounded in divine sovereignty. God wills and works out our salvation through us (Phil. 2:13), and His elect cannot fail to stay in faith until the end of their lives. Augustine says that “[we] are to work with fear and trembling so th

Coram Deo

Augustine says that “[we] are to work with fear and trembling so that [we] will not, by attributing the good working to [ourselves], be elated by the good works as if they were [our] own” (ACCNT 8, p. 245). Even as we are aware that we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, we must also know that ultimately it is God who gives us the desire to persevere and moves us to do so. Indeed, salvation is of Him from first to last.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 36:26–27
Hebrews 7
Philippians 1:6
Jude 24–25

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