God, Work and Our Fear and Trembling
April 30, 2017
As the church at Philippi likely received this letter with bittersweet tears - having heard that what has happened to Paul served to advance the gospel, having known that for Paul to live is Christ and to die is gain, having been encouraged that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and having faced the real possibility of absence and not presence - Paul laid hold of their hearts and their minds and called upon them to get serious. He urged them to work out their salvation, and to do so with fear and trembling.
What does it mean to work out your salvation? It means to be responsible and active in your obedience to Jesus Christ because of his salvation for you. It means to love your Lord because of his love for you. It means to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. It means to have the mind of Christ. This is what it means to work out your salvation.
And what does it mean for us to do this with fear and trembling? It means that we obey Christ with deep reverence for him. It means that we love Christ with utter humility before him. It involves an attitude of seriousness when we walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. It involves a sense of awe when we have the mind of Christ. This is what it means to have fear and trembling.
But why should we work out our salvation with fear and trembling? The answer that Paul gives here is simple but profound. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling… because it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure - because of the person behind it all (God), because of what is happening to us (God’s work in us), and because of the ultimate goal (his good pleasure).
If you were to look at a mirror, what would you see? Maybe you see a student or an adult. Maybe you see personality traits of various kinds. Maybe you just see a smile. Maybe you see failure.
When God looks at us, what does he see? Consider Ephesians 2:10. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Brothers and sisters, you are God’s workmanship. God is working in you. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Do you realize what God is doing to you? Do you realize the glory of what is happening in you? God’s work in you is nothing less than salvation. When we think about salvation in Christ, we often think of it as a past event, as if all the crazy and amazing stuff of our salvation happened two thousand years ago in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And that is true. But it is also true that you are being saved right now. Crazy and amazing stuff is happening right now. And in you. I’m talking about God’s work in you.
God is making a new creation of resurrection life in you. He is sanctifying you and changing you and growing you right now. He is at war against the power of sin in you. He is conforming you to the image of Christ. All of this is a gospel and a salvation. Brothers and sisters, let us marvel at this. Let us realize the drama and the epicness and the miracle and the mystery of God’s work in us. This is serious. Let us therefore work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Let us not just marvel at what is happening to us. Let us also realize who is doing it to us. We are talking about the one Triune God, who is infinite in being and perfection, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, and most holy. Let us remember that all three persons of the one Triune God have done everything to save you. This is serious. Let us therefore work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
And let us not just marvel at who is doing it to us. Let us also realize the goal of what is being done to us. The goal is God’s good pleasure. The goal is his glory and his end. The goal is also becoming what Adam and all of humanity was always supposed to be but never was. Thus, the fruit of the spirit, dying to sin and living unto righteousness, obedience to the Father - what is all of this about? It is about the goal of conforming to the image of Christ. This is serious. Let us therefore work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing casual about our salvation in Christ. I encourage all of us here to be more serious about our salvation in Christ right now. Let there by more responsibility and activity in our obedience to Christ. And let there be more fear and trembling before him. Take your sanctification seriously. You are changing and conforming to the image of Christ. And let us marvel and be in awe when we see others around us change and conform to Christ’s image.
Paul was far away from the Philippians when he wrote this letter to them. And Paul faced the real possibility of death. Paul loved them so much. They were beloved to him. And he wanted to see them at the very end - in the new heavens and the new earth. So this was his wish, that now, not only as in his presence but much more in his absence, the church of Christ would work out her own salvation with fear and trembling. This is such an appropriate request from a man facing death.
In closing, one day, the work that God is doing in you will end. One day, you will be perfect and without sin. What an amazing future for us to look forward to. Let us look forward to the day when the work of God’s salvation in us is finished, and when we no longer have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.