Mars Hill Staff Devotional
from Fred Carpenter
“. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:12b-13
Most religions of the world teach that by following their tenants you will over time be changed into a different, better person. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that the moment you are born again (Eph. 2:4-7, John 3:1-6, Tit. 3:5), God changes you into a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). He plants a new nature in you (makes you a partaker of His divine nature 2 Peter 1:4), and the rest of your life on earth becomes a process of cooperating with Him to grow and mature that new nature as an expression of His life in and through you. This process is what the Bible calls sanctification.
Perhaps nowhere else in the Bible is this truth so powerfully and succinctly stated than in Philippians 2:12-13. Here we apprehend a truth that may require a lifetime or more to comprehend. Jonathan Edwards expressed the importance of understanding this verse, writing that, “from St. Paul a sentence hit me when I was about twenty-two that has shaped my theology ever since, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure.’”
In two sentences, this passage sums up the responsibility of man and the sovereignty of God. Here, we have come upon a new math. The natural mind can calculate x%(God’s role) + x%(man’s role)=100%. But the equation in this verse is only completed with 100% God and 100% man. In the realm of theology, “quietists” stress God’s role in sanctification, to the virtual exclusion of any human effort. “Pietists”, on the other hand, emphasize self-effort at the expense of reliance on God’s power. Here, Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but boldly proclaims both.
Unpacking the verse, notice first that you are told to “work out” your salvation, not to “work for” your salvation. The phrase “work out” comes from the Greek, κατεργαζεστε – katergazesthe, which literally means, to work on to the finish. W.A Criswell wrote, “A works salvation is not being taught. The idea is to progress to the finish or completion in spiritual growth and maturity.”
William Barclay wrote, “It is as if Paul says: “Don’t stop halfway; go on until the work of salvation is fully wrought out in you. No Christian should be satisfied with anything less than the total benefits of the gospel.” And so he translates this as “carry to its perfect conclusion.”
Martyn Lloyd Jones writes that working out what God has worked in is the exhortation in this verse, “The seed has been planted; I have been given it in embryo. My business is to allow and to encourage this gift to grow and develop, until it comes to its final perfection and full maturity. I have got the gift: I need not be worried lest God is not present and not with me. God is working in me and I must develop it all I can.”
Make no mistake, this “work” can be trying and painful. There will be times when you can almost hear the ripping away of flesh. And while God does not deny our role in this, verse 13 states clearly that, He is the one who provides the inertia to endure and finish. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Phil.1:6
So you might ask, if the end of the process is certain, why then are we told to work it out with fear and trembling? In the “Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis wrote that “it is a serious thing . . . to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” To borrow Lewis’s word, if we could understand the “seriousness” of the process we have been discussing, we would likely experience some “fear and trembling.” . . . not because we are anxious about the outcome, but because we are so moved by the awesomeness of it all.
Please plan to join us next week as we launch our online study through “The HOPE.”