12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Having exemplified the character and nature of Christ, Paul admonishes his hearer to obedience. As Christ is humble, so Christians should be humble. As Christ is obedient to death, so Christians should obey. If a believer bears the name of Christ, then they should behave accordingly.
Take note of the nature of this admonition. Paul’s appeal for obedience does not hinge on an obligation, law, or even assumed merit. Paul’s exhortation is based entirely on the character of Christ. Verses 1-11 serve as the premise for the exhortation of verse 12. Rightfully so, because: the character of Christ establishes the motivation for the Christian life. It is the work of Jesus that calls us to obedience, not the work of our hands or the desire of our will. Consider what Christ has done. Think about the work He accomplished. Now, consider what lay ahead of you. Is there any trial or turmoil you cannot withstand given the work that Christ has done in you?
The Philippians are marked by obedience to the Lord. Paul encourages them to continue in obedience and by doing so, “work out their own salvation” (v 12). Their working out of salvation is connected to their own obedience. When Christians pursue holiness and righteousness, they are working out their salvation. It has been common amidst pulpits in the western church to debate the meaning of “work out your own salvation.” However, there is little merit for the debate. After all, this passage is incredibly simple and self-evident. Believers are called to obey and in that obedience, their salvation is proven as genuine.
Challenge yourself! How strong is your faith? Will you be able to obey in the midst of difficult circumstance? Test yourself in this. Strengthen your faith by walking in obedience to Him with deep respect and fear. You will discern the power and effect of your salvation by your obedience to Christ.
Paul follows his exhortation with the reminder that it is God who does the work (v. 13). In the heart of a believer, God is the active agent for transformation and the subsequent evidence of obedience. The power to obey does not emanate from the human will or spirit. The ability to conquer sin does not come from a desire born within and from the heart of a man. Rather, it comes from God. God calls to Himself a people and in doing so, begins to transform and sanctify their hearts to be more like Himself.
Ponder, for a moment, the power that is given to a believer to accomplish the mission of God. Jesus has accomplished the works of humiliation and obedience on behalf of believers. He sacrificed His own majesty and kingship, became a servant, and died on a cross. He lived a life of perfect obedience on behalf of those who believe, so that they would be able to claim His righteousness. Following His death, God the Father resurrected Jesus in power and made Him King over everything, effectively establishing Jesus’ dominion over every being.
God, who resurrected Jesus, now works in those who believe to accomplish His purposes. His divine power is evident in the obedience and righteous lives of those who believe. A Christian has the power to obey, not because of their own ability or self-righteousness, but because of what God has, is, and will be doing in their hearts. He works in the believer to the ultimate end of supreme value. That is to say, God works within the hearts of believers so that His pleasure would be fully realized in them. It is the great joy of Christians to delight in God. It is God’s delight for believers delight in Him.
So then, get to work! If you are empowered by Christ to obey and God is the one who accomplishes the work, then what do you have to lose? It is not in your power that you are able to overcome, it is by His strength and His power. So… get to work! Pursue holiness and knowledge of God. Get to know the creator of all things and delight yourself in Him.