12Therefore, 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; 13for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Last time we looked at the first part of Philippians 2:12 considering how it is possible for us to work out our salvation. We broke down this “working out” of salvation into two areas – our necessary action in claiming the salvation Jesus has purchased for us by first accepting the Truth of the Gospel, and then choosing to repent of our sins and turn to follow Him. Now let’s take a closer look at the last part of verse 12, and verse 13.
Verse 12 (cont)– …with fear and trembling;
I must admit, I find this concept a little problematic, too. Why should we fear the Lord. After all, has He not adopted us as His joint heirs with Christ? Does He not love us so much that while we were still sinners Christ died for us? The Gospel Truth found in John 3:16 – that God loves us so much that He gave His Son for us, and promises eternal life to all who believe in Jesus should be cause for rejoicing, not trembling in fear. Let’s take a closer look at the Greek word for fear – φόβος phobos. Of course, this is the word from which we get our English (actually borrowed Greek) word phobia. It can mean fear, dread, terror; that which strikes terror; or most interestingly reverence for one’s husband – although I could not find a Biblical example of this last meaning in any English translation. I believe it cheapens the concept of godly fear of God somewhat if we say that the word really means “reverence” or “respect” rather than fear. I believe it has been rightly translated as “fear,” as has its ancient Hebrew counterpart – יָרֵא yare’ which also has a variety of possible English translations…
to fear, be afraid
to stand in awe of, be awed
to fear, reverence, honor, respect
In modern parlance, we often say that something is “awesome” even adding that most reverential salutation – “dude.” But the hot dog we had for lunch was not awesome, nor was the huge refrigerator truck that brought it to us. But the One who created the very atoms of which the truck, the hot dog, and the entire universe are made, by merely saying they should be, is truly awesome in power and majesty. On the rare occasions when a person has actually encountered God in His glory, the reaction was always the same – falling on the face in awe, fear, and trembling.
Even though we rest at peace in God’s certain love for us, fear and trembling is nevertheless a common and natural reaction to the revelation of God’s glory, particularly for the unregenerate sinner…
1Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
6So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.’
We can certainly understand Saul’s fearful reaction to Jesus in His Glory. After all, Saul was suddenly confronted with His guilt at having approved the stoning of Steven and at having persecuted the church. Interestingly, Jesus clearly views the persecution of His saints as persecution of Himself (Acts 9:5). This is no surprise. God’s Spirit dwells within the believer, so persecuting the believer is the same as persecuting the Lord. This applies today as much as in the time of Saul. Those who persecute and murder Christians around the world will one day stand before the Great White Throne of almighty God in judgment for these crimes if they remain unrepentant.
The fear and trembling of the unbeliever seems perfectly natural, when we are suddenly confronted with the conviction of the Truth of the Gospel, and the glory of the God who created all that we know or ever can know by merely saying “Let there be…” But what about those of us who know and seek to obey God? We are actually also commanded by God to fear Him…
“You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.
Note – Here is another instance where the translators of the NKJV have inserted a word – “am” in this case – that does not appear in the original text. As we have seen, the Hebrew word cast here as LORD actually means “I Am” yet the translators following the convention that this name of God would be typed as LORD in all caps also needed to insert the word “am” so the English text would make grammatical sense.
Just as God directed the ancient Hebrews though Moses to fear Him, Jesus does the very same…
2For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. 3Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. 4And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!
Nevertheless we know with certainty, as true believers we need not fear for our own salvation, which is assured in the blood of Jesus. As we are working out our salvation, what then should we fear?…
One of my fears is that having professed to be a follower of Jesus, I might cause someone else to lose out on salvation because of something I have done or said that misrepresents Jesus in a way that might cause someone to disbelieve the Gospel and harden his heart against it.
21You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.
But is it possible for us, having once been called, and having turned in repentance, accepted the Truth of the Gospel in our hearts, and received the salvation of our Lord, to lose our salvation by practicing sin? The Calvinist perspective is that a select group of sinners is called (pre-destined) to salvation, and having once received salvation can never lose it. By contrast, Arminianists hold that it is possible to fall from grace.
I have mentioned these two names several times in our studies. This handout summarizes the main points of two conflicting theological frameworks or philosophies named for the men who first evinced them. We will not delve into any serious discussion at this time about this handout. I leave it to you to look over at your leisure in the hopes that it may stir you to delve into the scriptures for yourselves searching them in the spirit of the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11), to determine and solidify your own beliefs on these topics (e.g. pre-determination versus free will, and eternally assured salvation versus losable salvation). There is scriptural argument for both points of view.
I would venture to guess that most in our church, indeed most in the worldwide body of Christ would tend to side with Calvin with regard to enduring salvation, and with Arminian with regard to free choice. I have my own beliefs, but I am consciously going to refrain from sharing them in the hopes of stimulating deeper thought and conversation among you. I will also purposely avoid the easy argument that those who seem to fall away from faith were never true believers in the Gospel to start with, and were never actually born again. This seems to me too pat an argument, and in any case seems to stray too far into the area of being judgmental. No one can truly know another’s heart. Oftentimes we scarcely know our own hearts very well.
Here are a few scriptures you might look at as you consider the question of enduring or losable salvation…
2Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. 6Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!
8If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast itfrom you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast itfrom you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.”
1Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3And this we will do if God permits.
4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
7For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
9Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
7Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
19Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
… He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
1 Peter 1:3-5
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
27My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30I and My Father are one.
With all this talk of working out our salvation in fear and trembling, demonstrating our salvation by our good works, and the idea that it is possible to fall away from saving faith if we don’t persevere, that we found buried inside the innocent looking Philippians 2:12, we might become uneasy in our relationship with Christ, and uncertain or even fearful about our own salvation. Thank God that after overwhelming us with the questions raised by verse 12, we have the reassurance God’s Spirit gives us in verse 13…
for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
My pastor in Iraq once posed a question to our Bible study group, “Is it possible to ‘fake it until you make it’?” Opinion in the group was varied, and the pastor chose not to intervene into the discussion that ensued. Here in Philippians 2:13, though, we find our answer. It is neither possible, nor necessary to “fake it ’til you make it.” Let’s take another look at Ephesians…
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We need not fret over whether our works are “good enough” or whether they are the works which God has chosen for us. We already know that our works are not good enough to save us. Only Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross could do that. But by the same token, our works are certainly good enough to please our Father, provided we do them in obedience to His Spirit, and in the joy of His presence with us. Furthermore, we see here in Ephesians that it is God Himself who has chosen these works for us. Therefore, our works must be the right things for us to be doing provided we daily seek His perfect will in our lives. Jesus also promised us that we would not face our lives in Him alone. Take another look at Jesus’ promise…
15If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. 20At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
We do need to be careful, though. It is possible for us to believe we serve God out of a fleshly sense of duty to Him as His chosen servants, rather than a heart of joy in Him as heirs in Christ. I confess to you all I have been guilty in this of late. For example, two Friday evenings ago my heart wasn’t truly in our street outreach. I went, because I had promised to do it, not because I wanted to be there. Consequently, I did not have the infectious joy of the Lord during the outreach, which made my works on that evening in His name less effective if not totally wasted. He knows best, and I rest in this. The point, though, is that it is He who gives us not only the gift of faith we find in Ephesians 2:8, but also the desire to do good works in His Name in order to please Him, as we see in Ephesians 2:10. James tells us that faith without works is dead, but works without joy in the Spirit are not pleasing to God as they should be. When pastors preach about monetary giving, they usually quote…
2 Corinthians 9:5-8
5Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter ofgenerosity and not as a grudging obligation. 6But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things,may have an abundance for every good work.
The same principle applies equally to our service through the giving of our time and our labor.
Our service in God’s Name only pleases God if it is done in the Spirit of joy which He gives us to not only empower us in service, but also to fill us with the desire to serve in the first place. The same also applies in our prayers and Bible study. God’s desire is that we would want to draw nearer to Him in prayer and in study out of the heartfelt desire to know Him better, not out of some sense of obligation and duty. Here in Philippians 2:13, we see that it is God Himself who not only empowers us to accomplish our acts of service, but He is the very source of our desire to serve in the first place.