Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 2.12-13

Turn in your Bible to Philippians chapter 2, and stand for the reading of my text for this evening, Philippians 2.12-13:

12     Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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.

13     For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

When we were last in Philippians, we saw that Paul was preparing the congregation for eventual persecution, by encouraging them to be steadfast, by using his own example of suffering as a model, and by using the best example of all of humility and obedience, the Lord Jesus Christ. And isn’t that what the Savior demonstrated, humility and obedience? We also took note that the phrase “work out your own salvation” refers to our congregational obligation to individually do what we can to show forth the salvation we have in common as a church. Although you are to “work out your own salvation,” so you will grow and mature spiritually, it is not God’s plan for you to do these things in isolation. There is no idea in God’s Word of a believer running along as the Lone Ranger, being an island unto himself, and being an independent entity. Not at all. Sinners come to Christ individually, but they then band together in churches to be taught God’s Word, to be held accountable to others in the church, and to be encouraged. It is this involvement in the lives of others that is suggested by the phrase “with fear and trembling.” As our examination of several New Testament passages showed us, “fear and trembling” was Paul’s way of referring to one’s attitude toward other church members. Therefore, the victories that you are to gain over sins and temptations in your Christian life are victories that are to be gained in and around, and with respect for, and with help and encouragement from, other church members. To put it bluntly: Learn how to gain victory over sins and temptations in your life within the context of your church family.

We now turn to what we did not get to previously, their ability (and your ability) to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Remember, believers are just as impotent, in and of themselves, to achieve anything of a spiritual nature as are unsaved people. Romans 5.6 shows a lost man’s spiritual ineptitude, and Romans 6.19 shows a saved man’s spiritual ineptitude:

Rom 5.6    For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

Rom 6.19  I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh.

I remind you once more that the Greek words translated “without strength” in Romans 5.6 and “infirmity” in Romans 6.19, are asqeneia and asqenhV, from a common Greek root and meaning impotent.[1] Forgiven, blessed, indwelt, sealed, adopted, the Christian enjoys many benefits. Personal strength to serve God is not one of our benefits. Philippians 2.13 is where we learn how a believer is able to do that which he is incapable of doing by means of his own will and power: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” There are three things I would like to bring to your attention:

First, notice that your ability to work out your own salvation is prompted. Paul writes, “For it is God which worketh in you.” In the Greek New Testament the word order is somewhat different than in English, and that word order is significant. The word order in Paul’s letter is “God for it is who works in you.” That word order puts stress on the word “God” and emphasizes God’s activity in the believer’s life. What is God’s activity in the believer’s life? God it is who works in you. The word “work” is the word “energew,” that our word energy comes from. What does God do to enable you to work out your own salvation in the congregational context? You can work out your own salvation only as God puts into your life energetic capacity and power. And there is no if here. God does this to every believer, without fail. Thus, God clearly prompts the Christian church member to work out his own salvation, with a concern for others that the phrase “fear and trembling” is shown to refer to.

Next, notice that your ability is produced. What does God work in you to do, church member? Both to will and to do. We remember from Romans 3.11 that “there is none that seeketh after God,” that shows us that sin has corrupted the will of sinful man. A man cannot even want to do right because of his sinfulness. And from Romans 5.6 we remember that man could not do right even if he willed to. So, because of his depraved sin nature, a man in his natural and unaffected state has neither the will nor the ability to do that which pleases God. However, a saved man, one who has come to faith in Jesus Christ, is someone whose life is now so affected by God that as a result of God working in his life he now possesses both the will and the capacity, he now possesses both the desire and the ability, to work out his own salvation with fear and a trembling regard for others he communes with in the congregation. A struggle? To be sure. But a struggle the Christian prevails in within the context of his church life and the proper use of means (prayer, reading the Bible, sitting under preaching, etc.). Thus, we see that Almighty God Himself works in the life of a genuinely saved person to overcome the corruption of your nature due to sin, so that you will be able not only to have the will to please God, but also within the church’s membership the means to live a life pleasing to God.

Finally, your ability is pointed, verse 13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” What is God’s good pleasure for you? As you work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, what is it that God wants as a common goal for each and every believer? Surely there are some common goals and objectives that God wants for each of us. We learned with the phrase “fear and trembling” will not be properly understood when divorced from the context in which it is used. And the context in which Paul writes these comments is an effort on his part to prevent squabbling and contention in the church, to head off the beginnings of bickering and fussing and pull together in a spirit of like-mindedness and humility. In succeeding verses, Paul will get very specific about what God’s good pleasure for church members is, but, generally speaking, it has to do with teamwork and harmony, as we shall see. What is to be said about those who refuse to respond in the manner that Paul directs? Nothing that is good, I promise you.

Beloved, we live in perhaps the most individualistic and atomized society in history. With our Marlboro man mindset, and our fragmented family life with its dependence on television as a substitute for meaningful interaction, we have developed into a society of truly isolated individuals. Let us understand, therefore, that this is not at all what God wants for you and me in this church. Calvary Road Baptist Church is not you and me at all. This church is an “us” proposition, and we are engaged in a vital scriptural enterprise together. God has a plan for the new Christian attending to the daily necessity of struggling against the sins that can so easily overtake the most dedicated believer. And God will work in your life to achieve victory in that struggle, but only in the context of you being faithful in church and accountable to others. That is the “with fear and trembling” part of it.

Are you fulfilling your responsibility? For our church to be spiritual, to be humble, to be steadfast in our service to God, each of us has to fulfill his responsibility. You have to do your part. Are you working out your own salvation? Are you dealing with sin in your life, or trying to? And are you seeking to grow and mature as a believer in the midst of us, or out on the fringe, with a minimum of involvement in our lives? Give up on the Marlboro man. Abandon the Lone Ranger as your model of what a Christian should be like. Rugged individualism may seem romantic and wonderful in commercials or in the movies, but when it comes to waging spiritual warfare you are in no position to go it alone. You need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us. As God works in you, realize that this is the way He wants it done. In Philippians 2.13, the Apostle Paul informed the Philippians that God worked in them. But be careful with the conclusions that you draw from that statement. The people Paul declared that to were people who were genuinely saved. His declaration was that God works in the lives of people who are saved. “For it is God that worketh in you,” writing to Philippian Christians.

That statement does not apply at all to unsaved people. One of the great misconceptions of Roman Catholicism, and much of modern day Protestantism that has unconsciously adopted Roman Catholic teachings, is that God works in the lives of unsaved people. The thinking, which is wrong, goes something like this: As you do certain things to please God and make Him happy, He will work in your life and clean up your act until you are actually good enough to go to heaven. With Roman Catholics, this process happens as a practicing Catholic participates in the various sacraments of the Catholic Church and does good deeds. This results in God, they think, infusing them with grace. Thus, they think, God thereby works in them. Protestants have a variation on this theme, but with some substitutions. Instead of confessing to a priest and doing acts of contrition, most Protestants employ their version of First John 1.9 to their situation and just ask God for forgiveness. Either way, the underlying belief is that as time goes on God works in their lives to make them better, to make them good enough to go to heaven. There is really only one problem with such a concept of salvation, the idea of God working in you to save you from your sins. It’s completely wrong. God does not so work in the lives of sinners. He works in saints, saved people. And while God works in saved people’s lives, Jesus worked for sinners. Let me explain it to you.


Illustrations abound in God’s Word showing that sinners cannot approach God. Remember Adam and Eve? When they ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, thereby plunging the entire human race into the depths of sinful depravity, God ejected them from the garden and set angels with flaming swords to prevent their return.[2] Remember the Tabernacle? The glory of God dwelt in the holy of holies in that tent the children of Israel carried through the wilderness. Only the high priest who entered in once a year with atoning blood and under thick cover of smoke could safely approach God. Anyone else who attempted it would be immediately struck dead. What about when God was on Mount Sinai, giving the Law to the children of Israel through His chosen man Moses? God warned those people not to set one foot on that mountain lest they be struck down. And there are other examples.

Why can sinful man not approach God? There are two reasons: First, because God, Who is holy, is shown in both Deuteronomy 4.24 and Hebrews 12.29, to be a consuming fire. Take note of that. Not just fire. Consuming fire. You, on the other hand, are sinful. To be sinful is to be defiled. To be sinful is to be spiritually unclean. It is to be contaminated. So, if it were theoretically possible for you to approach God, you would be consumed in an instant, rendering approach to Him impossible. Second, you cannot approach God because He is exalted to a degree unimaginable, while you are abased. The gap, you see, is too great. The chasm too broad. Only when a person has a very limited and perverse concept of God, and an overblown self-image, does the distance between God and him seem surmountable, does the gulf seem to be crossable. But when God is seen for Who He is, it is immediately apparent that approaching God is a thing not to be realized by mortal man, not when even holy angels cover their eyes and feet in His presence.[3] Therefore, there are two reasons why you cannot approach God, sinner: First, because of an inherent defect in your moral character and nature. Since all have sinned, you have sinned.[4] Having sinned, you are a sinner. And because you are a sinner, you cannot approach one so holy as God. The other reason you cannot approach God has nothing to do with your moral character, but with your physical, spiritual, and intellectual limitations as an earthbound creature. It is conclusive, then, that sinners (that you), cannot approach God.


As before, let me illustrate and then explain. In Proverbs 21.4, we are told that “the plowing of the wicked, is sin.” In other words, the wicked man, the unsaved man, cannot even plow his field without sinning against God. What an astonishing discovery for a man to reflect on. Sinful deeds are such a natural expression of an unsaved man’s nature that you cannot engage in the most innocuous and beneficial activities without those seemingly innocuous and beneficial activities at once being contaminated by your involvement in them. Another illustration is found in Isaiah 64.6, where the prophet admits, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”[5] What an admission. Isaiah, seeing with a spiritual insight that only a prophet of God could see by divine revelation, saw that your righteousness, the things you do to do good, the activities you engage in to impress and please God, are nothing in His sight but filthy rags.

Why is it that sinners cannot please God? Having shown you illustrations that you cannot please God, let me explain why you cannot please God. Three truths for you to contend with: First, your sinfulness affects your very motivations for doing things. Remember, God looks on the heart of man and judges and evaluates your heart motives for doing what you do. Therefore, because your heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, Jeremiah 17.9, God knows with a perfect understanding that what you do even when you are doing your very best to be good is actually only self-seeking and selfish. Second, the great majority of the things you do are patently wrong on the surface and have not even the outward appearance of right. There is no excuse for lying and telling half-truths. There is no excuse that can justify living with and committing sexual sin with someone you are not married to. There is no explanation that will lessen the heinousness of blasphemy or failing to honor your parents. And there can be no slack given to anyone who defiles the church of Jesus Christ through inattention or opposition.[6] Third, there are God’s books. As Revelation 20.12-13 clearly shows, God records each and every sinful deed committed against Him in His books in heaven. What will you do, come Judgment Day, about all those sins you’ve committed up to this point in time? One good deed, even if you were capable of such a good deed, does not erase or mitigate the vast record of wrongs held against you in God’s books in heaven. Dear friend, perhaps such things as sins, approaching God, and pleasing God, do not seem like such a serious matter to you. However, to God they are profoundly serious matters. Remember, in His holy Word, delivered to us over centuries by the hand of specially chosen and divinely used men, He revealed Himself to us first as the one true and living God (as opposed to the multitudes of false gods of the heathen). Second to that truth of God’s uniqueness was the revelation of His holiness. God is holy. And for that reason, sin, the violation of His holy person, must be understood in all its tragic consequences. Because of your sins, you cannot approach God. Because of your sins, you cannot please God. Because of your sins, you will never dwell with God. Because of your sins, you will someday be cast into the lake of fire.[7]


Think about this. Roman Catholics and many Protestants (and too many Baptists), because they give little thought to their sinfulness in the sight of God, think they can approach God by means of the mass or through prayer, or think they can please God by doing good deeds such as being baptized. However, because of the holy nature of God, and the sinful nature of each and every man, this is impossible. So, because God does not work in sinners to save them, He sent His Son Jesus, the Son of God, to work for sinners. Consider what Jesus Christ did for sinners:

First, the Lord Jesus died for our sins. When Jesus died for your sins 2000 years ago, did He do anything to you or did He do something for you? He did something for you, didn’t He? What He did was to take upon Himself all your sins and suffer the punishment for your sins for you. He became sin for us Who knew no sin, Paul tells us in Second Corinthians 5.21. Did He do that to you or did He do that for you? For you.

Next, the Lord Jesus was buried. When Jesus was buried after He died on the cross for your sins and shed His precious blood, did He do that to you or did He do that for you? He did that for you, didn’t He?

After three days and three nights, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Did He do that to you or for you? Obviously, when Jesus rose from the dead after three days, He did nothing to me, since I would not be born for another 1950 years. Therefore, what He did had to be something He did for me, not something He did to me.

Finally, the Lord Jesus ascended to His Father’s right hand in heaven, where He sits ready to wash away from the books with His Own precious blood every record of your sins. First John 1.7 declares that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin. Since you are down here and Jesus is up there, should He do that will He do that to you or for you? It would have to be for you, wouldn’t it?


My friends, one of the great delusions of Satan is the prospect of God doing something to you in order to prepare you for heaven. It is true that God works in the lives of saved people, but He never works in such a way as this in the life of someone who is unsaved, someone who is His enemy, Romans 5.10, someone who is a sinner. Never. No. What you need is for the Lord Jesus Christ to do something for you. He was crucified for you. He was buried for you. He rose from the dead for you. He ascended to His Father’s right hand for you. And He will do something else for you. He will cleanse God’s books with His Own blood and obliterate every record of your sin in heaven. He will do that for you, on one condition.

Many years ago a wicked man asked Paul and Silas a most important question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They did not tell that man to attempt to approach God, for he could not. They did not tell that man to attempt to please God, for he could not. They instructed him to do the one thing he could, by God’s grace, do. They said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”[8] My friend, you do not, at this point in time, need for anyone to do anything to you. Since Jesus saves sinners, you are quite fully qualified to be saved right where you sit at this moment in time. And in saving sinners, Jesus does for sinners, not to sinners. What He does for sinners is apply to sinners the benefit of His death, burial and resurrection by cleansing clean the record of your sin in heaven and giving to you the standing of a righteous person in God’s sight. Then, after Jesus Christ does this for the sinner who believes on Him, God the Father begins to work in that same person in the manner we have observed in our text for today.

My friend, let us tend to first things first. Let me urge you to come to Christ. That must come first. If you would like to speak to me after the service, I will be here for as long as anyone needs me.

[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 142-143.

[2] Genesis 3.24

[3] Isaiah 6.2

[4] Romans 3.23

[5] Isaiah 64.5 in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, where “filthy rags” refers a polluted (menstruous) garment, John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, Volume 4, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), page 194.

[6] 1 Corinthians 3.17

[7] Revelation 20.14-15

[8] Acts 16.31

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