God and You Part 2
I would like for you for just a moment to think back in time. Think back to the time when you became a Christian. Think back to that time when you knew that God had done something in your life. Think back to that time when you first took notice that your thinking and your desires began to change. And as best as you can remember when you became a Christian, did you immediately become like Christ? Say why of course not. Good answer. James Montgomery Boyce wrote in his commentary on this passage, he said, “When a person comes to the truth of the gospel, he is not much different from what he was in the moments before he believed. He has heard the gospel preached and has responded to it. Before he believed he was filled with misconceptions about God and himself. He had problems that he could not solve. He was doing many things that were against the will of God. After he believes these things are usually exactly the same. He still has the same problems, the same misconceptions, the same sins, sometimes even the same doubts. But it now begins to dawn on him, that many of these things must change. He now has the Holy Spirit within his heart. And as he responds to the work of the Holy Spirit, he begins to see that the salvation he already has must express itself in action. It must be seen distinctly in his conduct.”
Now, what pastor Boyce is referring to is our sanctification. When God brought us the faith in Christ, he did so in order to make us like Christ. Therefore, our conduct, as Pastor Boyce says, must change. Now, I’m a realist. The struggle to change is a real one. The struggle to change is a real one and it’s a real hard one. Unfortunately, there are believers who never seem to change. Despite all the prayers offered on their behalf, despite the sermons they hear, preach, despite the time they spend in discipleship, despite their faithfulness and attending church, they never seem to make much progress in becoming like Jesus. So I asked myself, could the reason be that they struggle to change, that they never seem to make much progress in becoming like Christ is really, we can pinpoint it very simply, could it be a simple lack of effort? Now, I want to be charitable here. I do want to allow for the possibility that a professing Christian’s lack of effort could be the result of poor teaching on sanctification or perhaps no teaching on sanctification. Perhaps they’ve never heard Philippians 2:12-13 in the way that they should hear it. I will allow for the possibility, as we talked about three weeks ago, that they are of the persuasion, perhaps they’ve been taught this way, that all that they have to do is to let go and let God. They just have to sit back and let God do all of the work. But I find that mindset hard to justify, if not impossible to justify, based upon what the Apostle Paul teaches right here. And if I may be so bold, I believe it’ll be hard for you to justify holding that position based upon what you’ve already heard and what you will hear both this week and the next.
Sanctification is a matter of obedience
Now, as I said three weeks ago last time I preached– and I thank Ben for helping out the past couple of weeks– sanctification is a matter of obedience. Sanctification is a matter of obedience. So as the Apostle Paul begins verse 12, what does he address? He addresses the subject of their obedience. He reminds them that their lives were characterized by obedience in the past and he encourages them to continue to be obedient despite the fact that he is not physically present with them at that present time. So your obedience, the believer’s obedience, is a sign of your conversion. I know that’s radical in today’s church world. But apart from obedience, there is no conversion. Say now that’s awful harsh. Well, take it up with Jesus, Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, yet you don’t do anything that I say?” And what do you follow that up with? “Depart from me I never knew you.” I never knew you in a saving way. So your obedience is a sign of conversion.
So I want to emphasize this again, working out your own salvation is the process of becoming like Christ. Working out your own salvation is synonymous with sanctification. Now notice Paul does not say work for your salvation. Neither does Paul say work in your salvation. Paul says you are to work out your salvation. Well, what exactly does that mean? Well, in very broad strokes, if I can do it, say it this way this morning, we’ll look at more detail next week. Working out your salvation is the process of you becoming the person God saved you to be. Working out your salvation requires that you be an active participant in your sanctification. Working out your salvation means that you are actively cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit as he changes your character and your understanding of the world. You cannot separate sanctification from your obedience. But if we’re honest, we struggle to obey don’t we? We have the best of intentions to obey. But when push comes to shove, guess what gets shoved out of the way? Our best intentions. Would you know this? Your flesh is a bully. It’s a bully! And your flesh is such a bully that he will try and have his way every day. So therefore, we need to be aware of that.
And because that is true of all of us, it’s so easy to become discouraged. It’s very easy to become frustrated. It’s very easy to just want to throw up your hands and simply give up. Now, if any of that or all of that is true of you this morning, then Paul has incredibly good news for you. Paul says, it is possible for you to obey. Paul says it is possible for you to grow in becoming like Jesus. Paul says it is possible for you to make progress in sanctification and holiness. Say, well, why is this possible or how is this possible? Verse 13, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Now, as I read and meditate particularly on verse 13, there were four things that came to my mind that I want us to take a look at this morning. Four key words, if you will. In verse 13, we find comfort, encouragement, challenge, and a warning. So comfort, encouragement, challenge and a warning.
So verse 13, I find it to be a very comforting verse. In fact, if you take the time to meditate on verse 13, you can’t help but be comforted by what Paul says. In our struggle to obey, in our struggle to grow spiritually many of us still have a tendency to try and take on too much. We take too much on ourselves. In other words, we adopt a motto that I said, I spoke of before, if it’s got to be, it’s up to me. And so what do we do, we set out with the best of intentions. We make our resolutions, we make our promises to God, we steal our resolve, we try and stiffen our backbone and we say that we are going to be a good boy or a good girl. But what happens? We fail. Despite our best intentions, we fail. Despite our promises, we fail. Despite everything that we swore that we would do we still fail. We find that we simply cannot live up to God’s standard in our own power or in our own strength.
But as I properly understand verse 13, I find comfort. I’m comforted by the knowledge that I am not in this alone. Yes, there is work to be done, but is not work to be done in my own strength. It is not work to be done in my own power. See, this is where I begin to understand both intellectually and experientially what Paul meant when he said when I’m weak, then I’m strong. This is where I come to understand what the Bible means when it says that his strength is made perfect in my weakness. Listen to what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12: “But he said to me, my grace is sufficient for you.” All right. Now how do we know that his grace is sufficient for us? For my power is made perfect in weakness. Now, how did Paul view that? Was Paul offended by that? Was Paul upset by that? Did Paul say how dare you think that I can’t do this on my own? No, Paul says, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul boasted in the fact that he was weak. He was not afraid to admit that he was weak.
That seems so un-American. We don’t dare admit any kind of weakness. But Paul says the only way to know the power of Christ is to admit our weaknesses. Jesus has promised you that if you are in Christ, if you are truly his that his power is made perfect in your weakness. I find that to be incredibly comforting. I don’t have to put on a façade. I don’t have to act like I’m He-Man, I’m spiritual He-Man, I can conquer it all. I can do it all myself. I’m not Cam Newton scoring a touchdown and pulling back my shirt like I got Superman on my chest. I don’t. If I got an “S” for anything it’s for simpleton, simpleton. No, see, this is this is incredibly comforting knowledge for me. As I meditate on verse 13 I understand why Paul told us in Ephesians 6 to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. He understood. The success in sanctification comes from admitting our weaknesses and trusting in the power of Christ.
So when I’m strong in the Lord in the power of his might, when I understand that it is God who works in me both to will and to work for his good pleasure I can move on from both my discouragement and my depression over my failure, over my lack of progress. And I experience comfort as I realize that the motto that perhaps I’ve been living by– if it’s got to be, it’s up to me– is all wrong. It’s a falsehood, it is not true. It’s not a Christian way of thinking. So I take comfort knowing that God is at work within me, as John MacArthur says, while the believer is working out, God is working in.
I’m not only comforted by verse 13, I’m encouraged by verse 13. So where’s the encouragement in verse 13? The encouragement is found in the knowledge that God is at work in me. The encouragement is found in the knowledge that God is actively now in this passage doing two things in your life. If you’re a believer, God is right now, right here, actively doing these two things. First, he is working in you to will. And again, next week, we’ll examine this in much greater detail. But what does it mean that God is working in you to will? On a most basic level, let’s think of it this way, think of this in terms of desire. God is at work in you giving you the desire to work out your own salvation. God, through the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, is working to change your will. The Holy Spirit is working to change your desires. Before you became a Christian you had no desire for the things of God. You had no desire to please God. You live for yourself, you did whatever pleased you. You did whatever brought you pleasure.
But when you became a Christian you became what’s the Bible say? A new creation. And it says that the old has passed away and the new has come. Now let’s be honest, yes, we still have to deal with our old habits. And yes, the old desires continue to rear their ugly heads. But those old habits and those old desires now make us uncomfortable. Those old things don’t set well with the new us. And by the way, if the old things do continue to set well with you, there’s a problem. Say why is this true? Because God is at work, changing your will, changing your desires. Now, do you wander if you’re a Christian? Do you wonder have you been born again? I know people get tied up in knots over this. But I think we make it harder than we have to. For instance, just examine your desires. Examine your will. Ask yourself have they changed? Do you see them being reformed? Are they changing or are they still what they have always been? And if they are what they have always been, please check up on yourself.
Second, while God is at work and changing your will change your desires, he’s also giving you the power to carry out the new desires that are a part of your new nature. Paul says God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. In other words, God is empowering you. God is giving you all the power that you need for the doing. Again, isn’t this encouraging? God has not left this up to us to figure it out on our own, to try and do some spiritual gymnastics, to go to the spiritual gym and work up our spiritual muscles and say, okay, God, I got this. No, he says, no, you don’t have this. So therefore, I’m going to work in you both to change your desires and to change your desire so that you will work out your own salvation.
You remember last week, Ben preached on the fruit of the Spirit. And I don’t know if he used these exact terms, but him and I discussed this earlier in the week so if you didn’t hear it, you hear it now. He said that it is our responsibility to keep in lockstep with the Holy Spirit. And as we keep in step with the Spirit, what happens? The Spirit naturally produces his fruit in our lives. That’s the same principle here. In order to work out our own salvation, we simply have to keep in step with what God is already doing in our lives. We must keep in step with what God is currently doing in our lives. It is our responsibility to keep in step with God.
Do you like marching bands? There’s only one marching band that I like. The one I like to watch is only available in the fall. And only available about 12 times a year. The Ohio State marching band. Amen. And you talk about precision. There are 228 members of the Ohio State marching band, I think that works out the 456 feet, all working in unison. And again, they’re widely recognized as the best marching band in the land. Well, what makes them so special? First of all, they’re from Ohio, amen. And second is the incredible precision that they display. If you’ve never seen Ohio State marching band, it really is something to behold. I’ve had the privilege of seeing them in person. And of course, their big claim to fame is before every game they spell out the word Ohio. Script Ohio, you know, and the tuba player, some lucky tuba player goes out there and he dots the “i”. And it’s just, it’s just magical. It’s just magical to see them all working in unison to spell out the name of the greatest state in the union, Ohio and dot the “i”.
Well, you know, as Christians, we are not only to be in lockstep with one another, but also with the Holy Spirit. If I can use this analogy to illustrate this, the Holy Spirit is the band director. And it is our responsibility to follow his lead, to follow his command, to follow his direction. What would happen if the Ohio State marching band had some kind of rogue element inside of it? And some of them got together and said, you know what? We know Ohio’s spelled O-h-i-o but we’re gonna spell O-h-i-a. What a mess that would be. And by the way, who would they think they are trying to do their own thing go their own way? But you know what Christians do that all the time. They’re tone deaf, they’re disobedient, they try and go their own way, do their own thing. But we are to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. We are to keep in step with what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives.
Current work of God
Now, something I do want to emphasize here that this is the current work of God. It’s not something that we have to seek. It’s not something that we have to pray for. It’s not something that we have to wait for. It is simply something that we take advantage of and we cooperate with. Have you ever thought about this? You know, the Bible talks about Jesus was a tireless worker. And what did Jesus say was the reason or the motivation that he worked tirelessly? Because his Father was always at work. So therefore, I can take that same principle and apply it to my life. For it is God who works in you continually, constantly, at all times in all places, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Continual work of God
Not only is it a current work of God in our lives, it’s a continual work of God in our lives. There are no stops and starts with God’s working in our lives. There’s no work stoppage. God is continually at work in our lives, there will be no failure in what God is doing in our lives. Do you realize that? God says, God has promised that what he has started in us, he will bring it to completion. Paul said, referring to God the Father, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. So say, so what? Well, here’s the so what. So when I look at myself and I wonder if I will ever be different. I look at myself and I wonder, will I ever change? Will I ever make any progress? Now, how should I answer that question? What’s the biblical answer to that question? If I looked to myself, the answer is going to be what? No. I’m just going to fall flat on my face again.
But when I looked to scripture, when I looked to verse 13, you know what the answer is? It’s yes. This is what you need to tell yourself: I will be different, because I am already different. I will change because I’ve already been changed. I will make progress because God the Father has promised to complete his good work in me. So therefore, my focus is not on the if, but the how. Let’s get to it. It’s not will I change, it’s I have changed and I’m going to change more. Isn’t that incredibly liberating? Quit living in the realm of if, what if. Don’t live there! Live in the reality of what God is currently doing in your life in the here and now. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
So Paul provides words of comfort, he provides words of encouragement. But I also see a challenge here. Now stick with me, because this may get a little confusing. I’ll try and not confuse myself personally, but here we go. In verses 12 and 13, we have the word work, used three times. In verse 12, Paul challenges us to work out our own salvation. Now, the word work in verse 12 means to accomplish or to put something into effect. So of course, the something that we need to put into effect is the salvation that God has provided to us through Jesus Christ. Then in verse 13, Paul says, “For it is God who works in you.” Now, there’s a different sense of the word how it’s used here. The sense of the word here is to cause to function or to carry into effect. So stick with me. So in verse 12, Paul challenges us to put our salvation into effect, if you will. Then in verse 13 he says that God provides the power to put our salvation into effect. Now, the third use of the word work is in verse 13. And it has the sense of causing to be, to make to be, to bring about the desired result.
Say, well, where’s the challenge? Well, the challenge is in working out our own salvation. The challenge is in putting into effect our own salvation. The challenge is for us to bring about the desired result of our salvation. What is the goal of our salvation? Our sanctification to be like Christ, our growth and godliness, our progress in Christ-likeness. So that’s the challenging part. So we have these bookends of works. In verse 12, and in verse 13. Now, if all we had were the bookends, this wouldn’t be a challenge, it would be an impossibility. Because we must have what comes in between the bookends, we must have the working of God in order for our work to be successful. Would you never ever forget that? And the good news is, if you are in Christ, God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
I was thinking about this earlier this morning. I know many times I prayed I probably prayed publicly before a sermon, God work in us or whatnot. That’s wasted breath. God is at work in us. God is at work with us, within us. See, the challenge is found in the fact that although God provides the power for us, he doesn’t do it all for us. We can’t just let go and let God. That is not how sanctification works. God does his part and we do our part. Thirdly, nope, sorry. Read my notes wrong. Let’s talk more about this challenge. This is a challenge that we take on with confidence. You say how so? Because again, as I’ve said a dozen times already, it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
See, the challenges for us is to take the power, the energy, the ability that God provides for us and use it to put to death the days of the flesh. To use it to put works of the flesh to death. The challenge is for us to be filled each and every day with the Holy Spirit. The challenges for us is to believe the promises of God, to act on the promises of God, to have faith in God and His promises. The challenge is for us to actually do the work. You know what it is that keeps people for being successful in the Christian life? They won’t do the work. They won’t do the work. So I’ve said here several times recently, we as believers, we cannot be passive. We must be aggressive. We must aggressively pursue Christ’s likeness.
Are you working?
So the thing that may be keeping you from being all that God wants you to be at this point in your life is the simple fact that you’re not working. You’re not putting forth the necessary effort. And Paul makes it abundantly clear that the working of our salvation takes work. It takes effort on our part, it takes strength to resist temptation, it takes strength to be faithful and consistent. It takes strength to trust when we are unsure, amen. It takes strength to trust and not worry. We must work at our salvation. Not for our salvation, don’t misunderstand me. Your works contribute absolutely nothing your salvation for by grace are you saved through faith. You don’t contribute anything your salvation, you’re not working for your salvation, but you are called to work out your salvation. We have to work at becoming more like Christ. We have to work hard at knowing God through His Word. To work out our own salvation requires energy. It will require effort. And it requires our active involvement. You cannot be lazy and make significant progress in sanctification. We cannot be lazy and expect to change, expect to grow, and to become like Christ. And the good news is we’ll see this in detail next week that God provides us with all the energy we need to work it out.
So it’s a verse of comfort, or a verse of encouragement, a verse of challenge, but it’s also a verse of warning. Warning. Say why or how is this a verse of warning? If you lack the desire to work out your own salvation, then you should be concerned as to whether you possess salvation. You can’t work out what is not within. Is there within you a desire to be rid of sin? If there is, then work it out. Is there within you a desire to cease living for yourself and begin living for others? If there is, then work it out. Have you been made a new creation? Do you have a desire to change? Do you have a desire to become like Jesus? Do you hate the sin you once loved? Do you have a desire to work out your own salvation? If not, please follow the counsel of the Apostle Paul. He says in 2 Corinthians 13, “Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith.” Test yourselves.
Oh, what an affront that is to us. “Well, wait a minute, I prayed a prayer. It may have been 45 years ago and I’ve ever been back to church but I prayed the sinner’s prayer but I’m going to heaven.” Test yourselves. Examine yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed, you fail to meet the test? Listen, Paul was writing to a church. And he says, look, there’s some of you in the church that you need to examine yourselves. You need to examine your claim to faith. You need to put yourself to the test. You need to see whether or not you’re truly trusting in Christ. Are you trusting in your good works? Your good character, your good name, your church membership, your baptism? Are you trusting anything other than Christ? Examine yourselves, test yourself to see whether you be in the faith. And if you are in the faith, work it out. Work it out.