12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Today’s passage picks up where yesterday’s left off. The “therefore” at the beginning is a signal for us to look back at the previous context in order to interpret the immediate context. As we read yesterday, the previous verses speak directly to Christ.
Paul writes, in light of the fact that all the Philippians have just read about Christ, they are to continue to obey as they have always done (verse 12). Looking back at verse 8, we see this obedience is based in Christ’s obedience. It is Christ’s obedience that led God to exalt Him, and it is Christ’s obedience that provides the foundation for our own.
As Christ was obedient so should all who profess faith in His name. We are to “work out our salvation fear and trembling.” Paul is not suggesting that Christians earn their salvation by obedience but rather our salvation will be worked out in our life as we live by faith daily.
Fear and trembling simply refer to the attitude with which we approach God and live our lives. We should not understand this to mean we should be anxious or afraid of God, but rather that God’s holiness merits a response and an inward attitude of thankfulness respect towards Him.
Notice it is God’s enabling grace that allows us to persevere for it is He who works in us (verse 13). Paul wrote elsewhere that no one in their flesh can please God (Romans 8:8). Though this might sound like bad news, it is actually the foundation of the gospel.
We cannot please God on our own. We cannot obey His law on our own, and we are helpless because of it. Our effort would never be enough, so we rely on God to accomplish through us what we could never accomplish on our own.
Does this make us passive observers? Not at all! We work with God through the process of spiritual transformation. We rely on God, spend time with Him, love Him, and love others, and God works out more and more in our lives for His good purpose (verse 13).
Yesterday, we mentioned that you become what you behold. If that is true, what happens when you behold Christ in Scripture? Jesus modeled perfectly a life that was in line with God’s desires and purposes, and Jesus was perfectly obedient. It is Jesus’ obedience—His perfect life—that made Him an acceptable sacrifice to God. He succeeded where we failed.
In salvation, God counted Jesus’ obedience as our own, but through the process of sanctification we reap the benefits of Jesus’ success. The transformed life that follows allows God to work through us, and to change our desires for His good purpose (verse 13).
The passage helps me to see how obedience and belief are interconnected. One does not exist without the other. We obey because we believe and believe because we have obeyed. James said if we are hears of the Word but not doers of the Word we are deceived (James 1:22). John wrote that whoever says they know God, but do not keep His commands is a liar (1 John 2:4).
To put it in another way, by doing the Word, living it out in our lives we know God more completely. By keeping God’s commands we learn God’s truth. Following God’s commands allows us to cooperate with His work in our lives. As we obey, we are transformed into the image of Christ.
If you are anything like me, I always assume that I should know why I should do something before I do it. The Christian life is the opposite. I’m not suggesting that you and I should leave all reason at the door, but the path to spiritual growth is paved with obedience.
Jesus once told a Jewish crowd if anyone’s will was to do the will of God, they would know where His teaching came from (John 7:17). That means if they were concerned with doing God’s will (i.e. obeying God), they would believe Him. We are really no different. Sometimes we must obey before we know. For people like me, this almost seems counterintuitive.
There are always those passages in the Bible with which we have a difficult time. But I have found that in trying to obey difficult commands, I learn more of who Christ is. All of a sudden, a command I found burdensome or difficult becomes a joy. As I become joyful in obedience, I become more like Christ. Obedience teaches me something of God that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
- Spend some time today in quiet reflection, asking God to reveal to you areas of disobedience and opportunities for growth. What do you need to correct? What do you need to repent of? Pray that Jesus would give you the strength to obey His voice.
- What does it mean for God to work in your life? What does it mean for you to cooperate with God’s work in your life? Why is this better than trying to do it on your own?
- What is the connection between belief and obedience? Have you ever seen God’s blessing in your life after you were obedient to His commands?