E54: Why Paul said you have to work out your own salvation – Philippians series
PODCAST: Is my salvation something that I can work out in my daily life?
What Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12-13 is a crucial part of our salvation. “Work out your own salvation …” What did he mean by this? Isn’t salvation by grace alone? Are we meant to “help” God with our salvation? Join Milenko and Kathy this week as we tackle these questions and more.
Transcript: “Living the Gospel” podcast, Episode 54: Philippians 2:12-13 – Why Paul said you have to work out your own salvation – Philippians series
Welcome to ActiveChristianity’s “Living the Gospel” podcast. Join us as we talk about how we can “live the gospel” every day, no matter who we are, where we live, and what our circumstances are.
Milenko: Welcome to another episode of “Living the Gospel.” I’m Milenko.
Kathy: And I’m Kathy.
Milenko: And the last few weeks we’ve been looking at different Bible verses in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And we’re going to continue with that this week.
Kathy: Yes. So, today we are going to talk about these verses from chapter 2. Philippians 2:12-13. And Paul writes there: “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.” Milenko, I think salvation can be a bit of a tricky topic to talk about.
Milenko: Yeah, I think maybe it’s a matter of definition, what people actually mean by salvation. And the Bible does talk about a few different aspects of it. You’ve got the first one where it’s salvation which is redemption from our sins. Reconciliation with God, which we get through forgiveness and Jesus’ sacrifice for us. But Paul also writes about “even more we will be saved by Jesus’ life.” (Romans 5:10.) And then he’s talking about that which comes after that, once you’ve been reconciled and you’ve been redeemed from your sins, then starts a deeper work of salvation. Which is what Paul is talking about here. That’s where you come deeper into the life of Christ and where you find more of your own human nature that you hadn’t seen before. It’s not sins that you’ve committed that you need to be forgiven from, but what you see dwells in your nature.
Kathy: Right. So today we’re specifically going to talk about what it means to work out your own salvation and how God works in us. And we’re going to bring that to a practical level: is my salvation something that I can work out in my daily life?
Milenko: We have to really read what Paul is writing here. It’s quite interesting. He talks about obedience in all situations of life, whether he was present or not. We must be obedient. And then he says: “Work out your own salvation.” This can sound heretical for some people, I think.
Kathy: Yeah, because one argument against, in a way, is that we can’t help God with our salvation, right?
Milenko: And then we’re referring back to what Paul also writes, that we are saved by grace alone. (Ephesians 2:8.) And just to say from the outset, that is totally what we believe. There is no other way to be saved than by grace alone. We can’t do anything to deserve our salvation. We can’t do good deeds or different things and then come to God and claim our salvation …
Kathy: Right. Like, hand Him a note, “This is what I’ve done, so … Where’s my salvation now?”
Milenko: Exactly. That’s not what it’s about. But interestingly, Paul then writes, “work out your own salvation.” So, there’s obviously something we must do. Then he’s referring back to that obedience, right? And then comes the last part in verse 13 where it says – and this is where the grace comes in: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13.) So, in this there’s this will, there’s a longing to do it and then an action, which I have to perform. But who works that in me? Who gets me to do that, who gives me the will and the power to carry it out? That’s God! Total grace. Because I can’t do that myself.
Kathy: Right. And I thought of it like this: it is God who works in me, but I have to work out what He works in me. Right? He’s not going to force me to do it. He’s going to show me what there is that needs to be done and then I have to do that. In obedience, I have to work that out. But He’s also then, He’s the one that gives me the ability to do that. It’s not in my own strength. It’s not because I have something in me, but it’s because God has worked it in me to will and then to do that.
Milenko: Right. So, He’s created that desire in me. A longing to do His will, then He gives me the opportunity to do it, and then He gives me the strength to carry it out, through the Holy Spirit.
Kathy: Right. So, it’s all through Him.
Milenko: It’s all through Him. It’s total grace.
Kathy: So, what He wants from me is a willing heart, right? I need to be willing to put myself into His hands and give myself completely to do His will. And to be, like we read, that we are to be like clay in the Potter’s hands. So that He can mold me and do something with my life, right?
Milenko: If we go back to the beginning of creation, when He created people and it was all perfect, and He had full communion with them, and then something came between them. And that was a choice they had made. They decided that they wanted to do something that was against God’s will. Directly against His commandments. And that brought that separation. And God really wants to have us back. He wants to have someone who is willing to serve Him. That has made that opposite decision. Turned away from that disobedience and turned to obedience. And it’s absolutely vital for God that He has people who do this with their free will. He’s never going to force anyone. If He does it’s not going to have any value for Him. He wants to have people who want to do this. He works in us to will, but we have to make the choice that we respond to that and we repent. And then He starts working in us. And that’s when the obedience starts.
Kathy: And think about how exciting that is for Him! Those willing hearts. Those people who want to give their lives entirely to Him. When you think about the percentage of people who reject that and choose to live according to their own will and to go their own way and then just hope that in the end they’ll be forgiven for that. But those hearts that actually burn for Him, that want with all their heart to do His will instead of their own!
Milenko: I think He’s so enthusiastic for those people that of course He gives them every opportunity to be saved. And He gives them all the strength they need. But when we’re talking about God’s will, what are we actually talking about? And as I always do, I keep going back to the creation, starting at the beginning. But that’s where it really did begin. People chose to do their own will and that brought a separation between them and God. So, God’s will is that we come back into that obedience to Him. And that sin which destroyed His beautiful, His perfect creation, which came in and created this disharmony, He wants to get rid of that. That we come back into harmony, with Him and with each other. In your relationships to other people, even the people you love, there will come tensions, and there will come difficulties. And where does that come from? It comes from my own egotism, right? I’m not getting it exactly as I want. Or someone’s trod on my toes, so I get a little bit offended. But that there, that’s not God’s creation. God’s creation wasn’t offended people. God’s creation was perfect, in His image. And He wants that back. So, His will then, is to destroy that which is creating the disharmony. And so, then He works in me, that I want that too, this longing for Him, and then I come into a situation and He shows me: this is the problem. It’s what’s in your nature. You know, that egotism.
Kathy: And He wants to save me from it. And the reason that I need to be saved from it, is because it’s destructive to me. And it actually … sin ruins everything. It ruins my life, it ruins my relationships with people, it ruins my ability to love and be good to people, and it just causes me to be in this vortex of self and egotism and thinking about how I can benefit myself and what’s best for me, instead of thinking about the others, loving the others, doing things the way that is, first of all, pleasing to God, and then to make it as good as possible for people. Right? So that’s what I’m being saved from, is that inability to do that. I’m being saved from this ugliness of sin inside of me. Saved from that destructive power of sin.
Milenko: And the only way to do that is to obey Him. Start doing what He wants. Then you’re going in the opposite direction. And you’re coming out of that slavery to sin. And into freedom.
Kathy: And then my life just, it opens up. Like, I just think about for myself, like, I am, by nature, someone who gets very offended, very easily. Someone says something to me the wrong way and it can hit me like a ton of bricks and I could sit there and stew with these thoughts, “Why did they say that? What a terrible thing for them to say! How dare they …” You know? And it could affect my relationship with that person for years down the road. You know? But if instead, when something happens, I can take up my cross, in other words I can deny those thoughts that come up, and I can say, “No! I am crucified with Christ.” So now, instead, I choose God’s will. I choose to react with goodness and love. To just completely overcome all of those thoughts. And then, instead of ruining my relationship, I can continue to have it good with someone, right? And then I don’t have to deal with the repercussions of that for years to come. Instead, I’m free and it’s light and easy instead of this burden that I’m sitting with.
Milenko: And by doing this we’re actually following Jesus. You mentioned that verse, that we take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him. (Luke 9:23.) That’s what He said, if you want to come after Me, if you want to follow Me, you have to do these things, right? So, take up your cross, deny yourself. And denying yourself, that’s exactly that stuff that comes up from the flesh. Irritation, impatience, all those different things. You have to deny that. And then you’re following Jesus. And then you’re working on your salvation. Which is what God works in us through the Holy Spirit.
Kathy: And that, I think it just boils down to that one point: obedience.
Milenko: Yeah. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, this can often seem very difficult. And it can seem like it might be impossible, because we keep getting tempted. And here I think we really have to think about whom we’re dealing with. Or who’s dealing with us, to put it … And that’s God. God who has created me, He has chosen me, He has started a work in me. He’s placed this will in me, and now He’s giving me the opportunity and the strength to do it. And what does it say? “To His good pleasure.” It’s His will. And He is not just anybody. Far from it. God is God Himself, the Almighty God. God the Almighty, that’s His name. And Almighty? All mighty. I’ve said it a few times now, but I really want it to sink in. We’ve got to do with a God who … nothing is impossible for that God. And if we then say, well, I’m so bad because of the fall, that I can’t be saved, without that Jesus has done it for me, what I’m saying is that I can’t be obedient.
Kathy: And actually, you’re actually saying that you don’t believe that He is almighty, right?
Milenko: That’s the serious part of this.
Kathy: God created the world. From nothing. All the beauty, everything that we see, God created it. And to then say, but me, I’m so bad that God who created the whole world, can’t do something in me?
Milenko: “God can do everything except one thing, and that is that the sin in me is too strong.” That’s basically what you’re saying. Like now, when I’m getting irritated, God can do everything, He’s almighty, but that irritation He can’t do anything about. I have to get irritated, and then it’s a good thing that Jesus died for us, because then I can get that cleaned. So, I mean – this is putting it pretty strongly, and it can sound very harsh – but basically what we’re doing then, is that we’re reducing the Almighty God to a cleaner! A janitor who has to clean up our mess, but isn’t powerful to save us. But this isn’t what’s written there. What Paul writes here is actually really, really powerful words. “Work out your own salvation …” Why would he say that if that wasn’t possible? And why is it possible? Because it is God who works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure. And what’s left for me to do? I have to obey. Not only in front of people or whatever, but also when I’m by myself. When I know what God wants me to do. That’s when I have to obey Him. And that’s the salvation. God works that salvation in me through obedience, which He gives me the strength to do. It’s incredible. Now I can actually be set free!
Kathy: When I see something, when God shows me something that I can be free from, then the only that happens is that life becomes better and better.
Milenko: And it becomes really exciting too. I remember when I first began to think about this and it became clear for me, that this was possible. And it was just a really … a situation … I can tell about it. I was fairly young; I was catching the train to work and I was late. I tended to be late because I slept in and I’d have to run to catch the train. And there I came to the station and I was about to get on the train and the doors closed on me and the train drove off. And I could see that the driver had seen me in his mirror, he knew I was there.
Kathy: And he took off anyway?
Milenko: Yeah. And you can imagine. I mean, up comes all of this irritation and anger and you know, “That stupid man,” and whatever. And then suddenly it hit me. That irritation wasn’t coming from the driver. It wasn’t coming from the train. No one else was to blame. It was coming from me. And it was … God was showing me. And suddenly it worked in me also, this desire to do something about it. God was working in me. And then I thought, that irritation, that anger – that you can do something about. And I denied it. And suddenly, this whole world opened up for me. The rest of that day was so exciting. Because all those little irritations you get at work, and you know, and you meet people, and all the different things: they were opportunities. And if we can have that every single day, you know, God working in us to will and to do, for His good pleasure. And it doesn’t always feel that way. Often it feels the exact opposite, you know? You feel irritated. But there, God is working in us, and we can pray to Him, and we can get help.
Kathy: And you experience just joy, actually, when you realize that you don’t have to be burdened by irritation, you don’t have to sit with all these feelings of hurt and anger and whatever it is.
Milenko: It’s such a liberation.
Kathy: It absolutely turns life upside down, actually.
Milenko: And this is a Christian life. This is really what Christianity is about. It’s the new covenant life. It’s more than just forgiveness, which you could get in the old covenant too. This is a life of victory. And this verse explains how it happens. It’s by grace alone. All God’s grace, that He gives me the help to be obedient, to come free from it. Then we’ve got to do with an Almighty God. Not just someone who cleans up after us, but someone who gives us the strength of His mighty power.
Kathy: And then I’m saved and I’m transformed.
Milenko: Yes. What a gospel, Kathy!
Kathy: What a gospel!
Milenko: This is fantastic!
Kathy: I know! It is actually like … I sometimes think about it like, how? How do I get to know this? You know, it’s the secret for an amazing, unbelievable life!
Milenko: We believe this, and we’ve worked with this, Kathy; I know you have too. And we know many people who’ve done this, and it’s made us happy.
Milenko: Living the gospel has made us happy. And we can really testify to the results. And we can all do this. I can really recommend our listeners too, to think about this. And just to feel, to take time to really concentrate. “Is God working in me?” And I think He is. Just by listening to this – it shows we’ve got an interest. And that means that God is working in us. And then God is working that will in us and now He’s also working the power to do. And it’s all to His good pleasure. And now it’s up to me to be obedient. So really, take the next situation, grab it, make use of it, let God do His work in you. And then you will also lay hold of eternal life.
Kathy: You just have to start with what’s in front of you. Start doing what you know is right and reject what you know is wrong, and God will open up more and more for you. You’ll be able to see more and more what His will for your life is. And then you’ll experience this exciting, transforming life.
Milenko: So all the best with that, listeners. I’m going to continue with that, I hope you will too. And we’ll leave you with that thought. And remember to tune in next week.
Kathy: Thanks for listening.
Milenko: Bye everyone.