How to Obey (Philippians 2:12-16)
Obey with Effort (verse 12a)
To “work out” our salvation is to take real pains and put forth thorough effort in our obedience to Christ. Salvation can come only through faith in Christ, apart from works, but as those who belong to Christ, we are called to put forth effort in becoming more like Him. When a child is adopted, he doesn’t work in order to belong to the family. Instead, the new parents seek him out, adopt him, and make him a member of the family apart from any of his own effort. But after he becomes a member of the family, he isn’t going to be allowed to sit on the couch and eat potato chips all day. Instead, he’s expected to fulfill certain responsibilities as a member of the family. In the same way, though we are saved freely by grace alone, and though we do not work in order to stay saved, we are still responsible to daily pursue greater and greater conformity to Christ through diligent effort.
Obey with Fear (verse 12b)
All who are trusting in Christ have been delivered from the fear of God’s punishment and wrath. We are able to draw near to the throne of grace with great confidence, rather than terror, because we have Christ representing us as our great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). Still, we are called to obey with a proper fear and trembling. The reason for this fear is not the uncertainty of whether or not we are accepted by God, but the certainty that it is God Himself who is at work in us. When we have a biblical understanding of God’s holiness and His hatred of sin, and when we understand that Christ died in order that we might live lives of righteousness (1 Peter 2:24), then the thought of offending and grieving Him because of our sin causes us to be fearful. For us to sin is to say that we consider the blood of Jesus, which was poured out so that we would die to sin, to be less valuable and worthy than the sin that we commit. When viewed in light of the sacrifice made for our deliverance, sin is an attempt to mock of the cross of Christ.
Obey with Confidence (verse 13)
The conviction that God Himself is at work in us, giving us all that we need in order to desire and accomplish His good purposes, gives us great confidence to obey. Though we ourselves are to work out our salvation, striving and putting forth effort to put sin to death, we are not to do so in our own strength. God not only gives us the command to obey, but He also works in us sufficient power for us to fulfill all that He desires from us. Rather than the discouragement that comes from repeated failure, we have the encouragement of knowing that in Christ, God’s divine power has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
Obey with Thankfulness (verses 14-16)
Our obedience should be without “grumbling or disputing.” Rather than discontentment, dissatisfaction, ungratefulness, argumentativeness, and a critical spirit, our lives should be characterized by thankfulness. By living lives free of grumbling and disputing, we will be “blameless and innocent,” meaning that there will be no obvious flaw in our lives that others can look at and accuse us of living contrary to our profession. It is a life unmixed with the defilement of discontented complaining. And when we live those kinds of lives, we will stand in contrast with those around, appearing as “lights in the world.” Not only are we to “shine like stars” in our behavior, but we are also to “hold forth the word of life.” Only when our lives are free of grumbling and complaining will be able to hold forth the gospel to the world with any success. There will be little effectiveness to our evangelism if we hold forth the gospel, offering hope to all who come to Christ, while all the while our lives are marked by dissatisfied grumbling.
- Why is obedience to Christ important? Why does it require effort? What is the difference between working for salvation and working because we are saved?
- How can you cultivate a greater sense of both fear and confidence in the knowledge that God is at work in you?
- What kinds of things are you tempted to grumble about? When you grumble about those things, what does it suggest about the character of God and the hope of the gospel? Why is thankfulness such an important part of the Christian life? Why does the Christian have reason to be thankful?