Philippians 2:12-13 “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.”
Each of us is called to take responsibility for our own relationship with God. We are not saved by works but there is a work of faith involved in our relationship with God. We are to partner with the Lord by faith, with a deep desire to please him, in order to grow in Christ-like character. Our participation is required.
But, for many of us, that call to growth is frightening. We fear failing. We fear that, if we are not perfect, God or others will be angry, disappointed, or displeased with us. We fear we will be rejected. And that fear shuts down our motivation and robs us of courage. We either strive in our human effort, driven by guilt, to earn his acceptance; or we hide in shame, victimized by bondage; or we try to fake out God or others with religious behavior. All of these unhealthy responses are rooted in a lie about God, rooted in fear.
In this passage, Paul explains what our motivation to partner with God should be rooted in saying, “FOR it is God who works in you….” Notice we are called to work with him, but our work is a response to something he has already done and is doing. The truth is that God loves us and is pleased with us even while we are in process. He is working in us to will and to do FOR his good pleasure! Our work is a partnering with a work he is already doing. Like kids helping their dad carry a heavy box, he is bearing the weight and we are simply participating for our development and his enjoyment. He does not need our help. We are the ones who need his strength. He is not sitting while we work, but he is calling us to get up and work with him for our benefit and growth. This truth frees us from fear, guilt, shame, and hiding. This truth motives us to grow and fills us with courage. God is already pleased. He enjoys us in the process, he likes working with us and in us.
I say it again: our work is a partnering with a work he has already done and is doing. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” First, God has already made us perfect in Christ. Because of the blood Jesus shed for us we are already perfected, forgiven, righteous, free, accepted, loved, adopted, and more. He has “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:5).” According to the pleasure of his will! That means you are his kid because he wanted you to be. He made you, he chose you, he saved you, he adopted you. And the very fact you are his, makes him glad. He is filled with pleasure simply because you are his. Second, he is the one sanctifying us. He is making us increasingly like his Son Jesus. He is healing us, shaping and molding our character, renewing our mind, transforming our lives. It’s his work in us.
The goal: conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29) Yes! When God is all done with his work, we will look just like Jesus. We will want what he wants, love how he loves, think how he thinks, be holy as he is holy. This is the work he is committed to. It’s already paid for and he is already doing it in us by his Spirit.
The process: he is working in us to will and to do. He covers the whole process. The willingness is given to us and the doing. He gives us what we do not have–that’s grace. Where we lack in motivation or willingness, he gives us that. Where we lack the courage or ability or wisdom to do he gives us that too. He is the author and finisher; it’s his work, strength, righteousness, power, grace in us from beginning to end. The work he began he will finish, he will not fail.
And so He already enjoys us in Christ, he enjoys the process of making us like Jesus and he will enjoy when we are complete. We can’t lose, we can’t fail. He won’t reject us. He is the one bearing the weight of the work.
So get up, come out of hiding. Let God enjoy you. Let him transform you. It’s worth it. You will not become like Christ by staying stuck in fear, shame or guilt. You won’t become like Christ by hiding from God and trying to get “better” on your own before coming to God. You will only become like Christ by being with Christ. It’s his work in you and the only power for transformation is through yielding to him. It’s by knowing him that we become like him. So enjoy God, enjoy the process, enjoy life.