“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” – Philippians 2:12
I’d be lying if I said that every truth proclaimed in Scripture is easy to understand. There are many paradoxes—seeming contradictions—in our Christian faith. Here are a few examples: God is One, yet He is also Three. The Bible is God’s Word, but every word was written by men. Jesus never sinned, but he became sin for us. Huh?
And in Philippians 2:12-13, the Apostle Paul highlights another great paradox: The process of making Christians more like Christ is God’s responsibility, but at the same time, it’s our responsibility. This transformative process is called “sanctification.” Sanctification is the process of becoming holy; it’s the process whereby we become, over time, more and more like Christ . At the point of our salvation, the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. But let’s be honest: When we are first saved, our thoughts, words, actions and priorities don’t look anything like Christ’s. Sanctification changes that. Sanctification is a transformative process that requires both God’s work and ours.
In Philippians 2:12, Paul focuses on our part in the process. He identifies five truths that you and I need to understand and embrace if we ever hope to mature in our faith. For the sake of space, I’ll highlight just three of them. Truth #1: We must understand obedience. Having just urged his readers in verses 3-11 to follow Christ’s example of being a humble servant to others, Paul urges us to “always” obey. Without fail, we will hit a road block in our sanctification when we stop obeying God. We can’t expect to be growing if we’re engaged in sexual sin, neglecting God’s Word, skipping church, inflating our egos, and/or refusing to forgive. Obedience is an indispensable ingredient in our sanctification.
Truth #2: We must understand our personal responsibility. Paul urges his readers to obey God’s Word “not only in [Paul’s] presence, but much more in [his] absence.” Paul’s message to us is crystal clear: When we are spiritually stagnant, we shouldn’t play the blame game. Instead, we should look in the mirror. If we aren’t growing, our pastors and spiritual mentors aren’t the biggest culprits. We are! Spiritual growth is much easier when we have mature Christian mentors who are with us face-to-face. But regardless of whether they are present or absent, our spiritual growth should not be allowed to stagnate.
Truth #3: We must understand the fear of God. Over the years, many Christians have misunderstood what Paul means when he writes, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Is Paul saying that we can somehow earn or merit our salvation? Not at all! Instead, he is making it clear that our God-given salvation is active. It’s a salvation that is fleshed out. And we flesh it out with a healthy dose of “fear and trembling.”
Many Christians wrestle with the notion that we are supposed to fear God. But both the Old and New Testaments make it clear that God is to be feared in much the same way that a child should fear the consequences that come when he defies Mom and Dad’s rules. Christians should have a healthy fear of offending God. We should have an awe and respect both for Him and for His laws. One of the reasons why many “Christians” in America live lifestyles that are indistinguishable from those of unbelievers is because there is little fear of God in them. And without a healthy fear of God we will not experience consistent spiritual growth.
Without a doubt, sanctification is a process that requires our active participation. But if we don’t allow God to actively participate in the process, sanctification is impossible. In Philippians 2:13, Paul reminds us, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
So, here’s how this whole sanctification process works: While we are working “out” our salvation, God is working it “in.” God energizes us on the inside to obey and serve Him faithfully on the outside. The Bible is clear that on our own, we can do nothing holy. Just as we are powerless to save ourselves, we are powerless to sanctify ourselves. Only God can wash our sins away on “day one.” Similarly, only God can conform us to the image of Christ every day thereafter.
Therefore, sanctification is a process that requires a dynamic partnership between you and God. If you want to have a Christlike attitude, it’s going to require God to work on your attitude on the inside while you work it out on the outside. If you want to love God, forgive your enemies, serve the hurting, and bring much honor and glory to Christ, it’s going to require God to transform your heart while you transform your actions. You and Jesus. Jesus and you, working hard together to make you more like him. That’s sanctification. And since it pleases God so much, it should be our greatest desire.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.