Vol. 2 - No. 4

April, 1983


God Working In Us To Will And
To Do His Good Pleasure

by William C. Sexton

Perhaps there has always been some controversy relative to "works and salvation." Extreme positions can be taken, and often it seems that the greatest amount of activity is beyond the center. Such is to be expected, probably, because we all like to extend our knowledge as far as possible, and it is easier to attract attention out there on the outer circle than by staying in the area of sure things.

What the Bible says relative to works and salvation needs to be read, understood, accepted and applied. Paul stated something relative to this in Philippians 2:12-16 which we would like to seek to explicate, consider exegetically.

"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; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain."

I. Use Of Salvation

 The word "salvation" is used in two senses in the New Testament: Immediate salvation, remission of sins, being accepted in the family of God; Eternal salvation, being ready to be received into that heavenly abode when this life is over and the judgment is completed.

Jesus pointed to being saved when one believes and is baptized (Mark 16:16). Luke speaking of the same thing calls it "remission of sins" (Luke 24:46-47).

Peter wrote of salvation to be revealed when Jesus comes (1 Peter 1:5-9). Peter was pointing to the same thing as was Paul in our text as to working it out with fear and trembling!

Throughout the scriptures the point is made time and time again, in various ways that salvation -- immediate and eternal is conditional. Few people deny such outright, but many argue in effect that man has very little if, in fact, anything to do with deciding if he/she will be saved or lost. Paul claims here and elsewhere that if man is lost it will be because he did not DO what he was capable of doing and was responsible for doing, because God is active in all such endeavor and He will do His part well, beloved. So, let us take heed.

II. Obedience is Necessary in Working Out Our Salvation!

Obedience was essential for man to be blessed by God in the Old Testament (cf. Deuteronomy 11:26-27; 1 Samuel 15:22). Whether or not man was the recipient of the blessing or curse issues from the hand of God and was dependent on man's action, and his action in fact reflected his respect or lack of it for God!

The same principle is true in the New Testament (Matthew 7:21-27; Revelation 22:14), obeying gives one the RIGHT to enter through the gates into that heavenly city and partake of the "tree of l if e."

It is significant, I believe, that we pay close attention to Paul's instructions relative to this working with fear and trembling, "for it is God who works in you both to will and do." (Emphasis mine, WCS). It is God's will that you and I, beloved brethren, work -- listening to his word and faithfully heeding what is said! In doing that, we shall be saved, not because we earn it, but because God has provided and made available to us such on those conditions! Unless we so believe and respond, regardless of our claims, we are just beating the air! (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

A lot of preaching, I believe, is just so much BEATING THE AIR, as they seek to gain attention out on the extreme edge and such results in man losing respect for God, his word and becomes loose in his behavior and has ill feelings toward his/her brethren.

III. The Working Must Please God!

All working that is not authorized by God, relative to salvation, is in vain, ineffective, worthless. One cannot save himself by works (Ephesians 2:8-10), but one will not be saved by the grace of God without working the works demanded by God, either. When one goes to the extreme, which I feel many are doing in this day, of trying to explain away the significance of the works-of-man-required-by-God in obtaining salvation, they are tools in the hands of the evil one, regardless of their frequent and loud claims of godliness.

God is the one working so as to create in us a WILL to act, and we are not going to act unless we have a will to so do. His teachings of His goodness and love for us; the history of how He has elevated people who have followed His instructions (cf. Psalms 19:7-11); the rejoicing of the heart of all such; the goodness of God is to lead to repentance and dependence (cf. Romans 2:7ff). His word teaches that the word dwelling in us will find expression in the behavior (Colossians 3:15-ff). Yes, when God is allowed to work, beloved, we both WILL and DO what pleases Him. Consequently, when we are seeking to deny the significance of the working required by Him, we are not allowing Him to WORK IN US! When we fail to perform as He directs we show by our acts that we feel OUR VIEW is more important than His; such is an ACT OF UNBELIEF, in fact! Brethren, are we pious-claiming agnostics or infidels? (cf. Hebrews 3:12ff; 1 Timothy 5:8).

IV. With Fear and Trembling

One aspect of modernism is to cast doubt on the value of "fear" in religion, claiming that such is out-of-harmony with truth and a beneficial relationship with the True God. Paul, of course, was not a modernist, rather one who saw the need to act with fear and trembling! Such in fact shows real respect and appreciation for God. When one does not have adequate respect and appreciation for God, then they can and will do whatever they desire -- claiming all the while, of course, that such is what is required of an enlightened, committed person, today.

One of the outstanding characteristics of the people in Jeremiah's day was their CLAIM to be God's people, having and deserving His protection, even though they were committing whoredom with nations and their religion (cf. Jeremiah 3:2, 9; 13:27).

One of the chief characteristics of modern denominationalism, to me, is their frequent and loud claim of their closeness to God, their respect for Him, while at the same time they go about doing what THEY WANT TO! Brethren, may we really manifest RESPECT for God, by humbly willing to follow His instructions and then quietly doing exactly what is required and feel confident that He is faithful to carry out His promises.

V. Holding Forth The Word of Life

Paul had worked to bring the gospel to these people, and he has taught them to obey while with them. Now, being absent, he reminds them of the NEED to continue to obey, thereby working out their salvation with fear and trembling. To so act, they were not to be complaining and disputing, talking about how difficult it was and manifesting displeasure on every hand. With the right understanding and condition of heart, one will be pleased to perform what the Lord requires, knowing that such is the best possible way to have a profitable and happy life here and now and be prepared for whatever comes one's way.

Christians live in a less-than-desirable circumstance; such will always be so while time remains, if I understand the book of Revelation. However, they are to reflect the Light of the world (John 8:12), Jesus Christ, the Son of God and their Master (Matthew 5:13-16).

Holding forth the Word of Life in practice and teaching is their privilege and obligation. One who verbally claims one thing while denying such by his conduct (Titus 1:16; 1 Timothy 3:3), is not worthy of being listened to. Such needs to be recognized and rebuked; we need to be careful that if and when we are guilty of such, to repent and pray God (Acts 8:22; 1 John 5-10).

If Paul was to be pleased at the end: These people (the Philippians) had to conduct themselves so as to be saved. Shall we be pleasing to the faithful people who have worked to bring to our attention the word of life? Persuade us to be motivated by God's goodness? His love? Grace? Are we working out our salvation with fear and trembling?