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The Christian's Serious, Satisfying, and Supernatural Obedience, Part 2

June 24, 2018 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Philippians

Topic: Gospel-Shaped Life Passage: Philippians 2:12–13




An Exposition of Philippians 2:12-13 (Part 2)

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   June 24, 2018

Series: Philippians: Gospel Partnership on Mission in the World

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Last week we began taking an in-depth look at Philippians 2:12-13, in which the apostle Paul calls us to an obedient way of life: 

“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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)

As I said last week, it is very significant that the word “therefore” stands at the beginning of verse 12. This word connects verses 12-13 all the way back to Philippians 1:27–2:11. The idea is:


since Jesus is the Lord who is worthy of your worship, obedience, and imitation, and

since the instruction and example He gives to you calls you to be a humble, loving, sacrificial servant, and

since this attitude of humble service is the very thing that enables you to experience and strengthen unity in the fellowship of our church family, and

since this Spirit-generated unity of Christ-centered fellowship is key to our work of advancing Christ’s mission,

and since this path of humble service is the path that leads to glory,

“therefore” – in light of all this – keep on obeying the Lord Jesus Christ and continually devote yourself to “[working] out your own salvation with fear and trembling”!

This obedient way of life must be conducted “with fear and trembling.” If we are Christians, then we are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ who has sovereign authority over heaven and earth and we are recipients and stewards of the great salvation that God has given to us and God is actively at work in our lives, and all this should promote in us reverence and awe. We live our entire lives on holy ground. All that we are and do must all be consecrated and set apart for the Lord. There ought to be a gravity and weightiness to our lives. When Paul tells Titus that he should teach older men to be “dignified” (Titus 2:2) and older women “to be reverent in behavior” (Titus 2:3), he is describing what happens when Christians live “with fear and trembling” before the face of God.

As we begin to dig deeper into verses 12-13, I want all of us to have a proper sense of the seriousness of this passage. Whatever it means to “work out your own salvation,” it is meant to be done with profound reverence and humble awe before the Holy One.


The focus of this second sermon is the phrase “work out your own salvation.” It may or may not surprise you to learn that there are a number of different interpretations as to the meaning of this phrase, and my own understanding of this passage will almost certainly surprise many of you. I had originally intended to discuss the meaning of this phrase last week, but late in my sermon preparation process I was knocked off my horse and thrown for a loop, and I eventually came to the conclusion that I needed an additional week to gain my bearings and properly organize my thoughts about the passage. The commentaries by Moisés Silva[1] and G. Walter Hansen[2] caused me to re-think my understanding of the passage, and the instruction by John Piper[3] was especially helpful.[4] Even so, I am not in this pulpit to parrot what others have said, but rather to show you what I see in the Scriptures.

I originally understood the phrase “work out your own salvation” to mean something like this: given the wonderful truth that the Lord Jesus Christ has saved us and brought us into His forever family, now we ought to spend the rest of our lives working out or living out or fleshing out the implications of that salvation. While this way of thinking about salvation and the Christian life is biblical and true (e.g., Romans 12:1-2), I doubt that this is the point of Philippians 2:12.

In order to understand the phrase “work out your own salvation,” I want to ask and answer three questions:

  1. What does the phrase “work out” mean?
  1. What does the word “salvation” mean?
  1. What is God’s aim in our working? The reason this question is relevant to our study is because verse 13 tells us that God is the One who is actually causing our        work. The Christian’s work in verse 12 is the direct result of God’s work in verse 13. So if we know what God’s aim is, then we will know what our aim should be, and that will help us understand what it means to “work out your own salvation.” 


The first question is: what does the phrase “work out” mean? The English phrase “work out” is actually the translation of a single Greek word. The Greek word translated “work out” generally carries the meaning bring about or produce or create or accomplish or achieve[5], and it is almost always translated this way in Paul’s New Testament writings. Here are four examples:

 “For the law brings wrath (Romans 4:15, italics added).

“… we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3, italics added).

“For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience” (Romans 15:18, italics added).

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17, italics added).

So, this word is typically translated along the lines of bring, produce, accomplish, prepare. If you put this basic meaning into Philippians 2:12 you get: bring your own salvation, produce your own salvation, accomplish your own salvation, or prepare your own salvation. This way of rendering verse 12 would deliver some oomph that work out doesn’t have, and it might even raise your eyebrows and summon your theological energies to the table!

This doesn’t mean that work out is necessarily a bad translation, but what it does mean is that the translation work out might conceal the punch of the instruction. Let me revisit a few of the other passages I just read and insert work out in place of the other rendering.

“… suffering produces [works out] endurance.” (Romans 5:3)

“For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished [worked out] through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience.” (Romans 15:18)

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing [working out] for us an eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Do you see how these passages retain the same basic meaning even if you use the phrase work out? But this helps to clarify something about the phrase work out that isn’t obvious in Philippians 2:12. Here is the clarification: work out can mean – I’m not saying that it must always mean this – but work out can mean bring about a future reality, produce a particular outcome.

You see, when we hear the phrase work out we sometimes think that we are taking a certain starting point and working it out going forward. And when we read Philippians 2:12 that way, we assume that salvation is the starting point and now we are working it out, living it out, fleshing out the implications of it. But the basic idea of this word, so clear when translated bring or produce or accomplish or prepare, is that the emphasis of the activity is not the starting point but the end point. The emphasis is on the outcome! Suffering produces, works out, leads to endurance. Our momentary afflictions are preparing for us, working out for us, leading us into eternal glory. Likewise in our passage: you are to work out or produce a future reality, namely, “your own salvation.”

It is worth noting that our phrase work out can be used this way. For instance, if you are thirty-five years old and not independently wealthy and you sit down with a financial counselor and the financial counselor says to you, You need to work out your own retirement, you would immediately know that the counselor is not telling you to start living as a retired person. For your retirement has most certainly not yet happened! You won’t be retired for another thirty-five years! Instead, you would know that the counselor is telling you to prepare for, plan for, produce and bring about your future retirement years such that they are as much a blessing as possible. 

So at this point in my study, my tentative conclusion is that the best way to understand “work out your own salvation” is to know and understand that in verse 12 “salvation” is not the starting point but the end point. Salvation is the outcome! “Work out your own salvation” means bring about your own future salvation or accomplish your own future salvation or prepare your own future salvation. This tentative conclusion is not based on what the word “salvation” means (which we will get to in just a moment), but it is based on the meaning and typical usage of the Greek word translated “work out.” Work out means bring about. Thus evangelical scholar Moisés Silva makes this comment in his commentary: “our salvation, which we confess to be God’s from beginning to end, is here described as something that we must bring about.”[6]

Of course, all this begs a very important question: can the word “salvation” be used in such a way that we Christians are in some way bringing it about?


Thus we proceed to our second question: what does the word “salvation” mean?

It troubles me that the evangelical Church in America has largely lost the ability to think biblically about our future salvation and our role in preparing for it. Many Christians, if they think about future salvation at all, would think that the only thing they can do to get ready for it is to believe in Jesus: you believe in Jesus, get your eternal life boarding ticket, and you’re good to go, nothing else to do. The problem with this perspective is that it is not biblical. And what very well-meaning people have done is taken the glorious doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and misapplied it to cancel out dozens of biblical passages that tell us how a truly justified person must live and will live in order to be finally saved on the last day. The reality is that the once-for-all, permanent justification of every true believer is only one aspect of the rich salvation that God gives to His people.

The Great Salvation That God Gives to His People

God gives to His people a great and rich salvation, and it is exceedingly sad when people gut that reality by reducing salvation down to just a couple things like escape from hell and forgiveness of sin. Escape from hell and forgiveness of sin are wonderful things, but they are not stand-alone things. Rather they are part of the larger, richer salvation reality in which the almighty gracious God draws spiritually dead sinners to Jesus and turns them rightside up:

  • God justifies us: He removes the guilt of our sin through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, clothes us in the righteousness of Christ, and accepts us as His true blood-bought child;
  • God regenerates us: He makes us spiritually alive by the power of the Holy Spirit;
  • God reconciles us to Himself through His Son and in the Spirit, so that we now have fellowship with the triune God;
  • God brings us into His forever family – now we are a Spirit-empowered member of Christ’s body, the church;
  • God makes us participants in His mission to the world – now we are God’s ambassadors, we reflect His character and wisdom, we carry out His mission to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming Christ, making disciples, building healthy Christ-centered families and churches, and by honoring Christ in everything we do;
  • God conforms us to the image of His Son – now we are imitators of the character and pattern of Christ’s life, we humble ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him all the way to resurrection glory, we pour out our lives for the sake of the gospel, we share in His sufferings and experience the world’s opposition, and we do all this together as a church community, supporting each other all along the way; and
  • God promises that one day He will bring salvation to its appointed consummation in a new heaven and new earth, and then in resurrected bodies all of God’s faithful saints will beautifully reflect the glory of the Lord and we will enjoy unhindered and joyful fellowship with the triune God and with one another forever and ever. Amen!

The reason it is so important to pause and understand the rich and full-orbed biblical concept of salvation is that you cannot read your Bible properly if you only think of salvation in the narrow sense of the forgiveness and justification that takes place at conversion. If that’s the only thing you think of when you hear the word “salvation,” then Philippians 2:12 (and other passages) will make no sense at all. Bring about your own forgiveness? Not a chance! Bring about your own justification? No way! But try this:

Bring about your own growth in holiness.

Bring about your own glad imitation of the character and pattern of Christ’s humility, love, and sacrificial service.

Bring about your own fruitful participation in God’s mission to the world.

Bring about your own cheerful acceptance and endurance of suffering as you follow Jesus.

Bring about your own unity with other believers.

Bring about all these things as the pathway to glory. In other words, bring about your readiness for the Lord’s appearing, your readiness to be glorified with Him, your readiness to inhabit the new heaven and the new earth “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

All of these things are different facets of our salvation. The past and future aspects of our salvation are all tied together in a seamless unity.

Salvation: Past, Present, and Future

Looking back, Christians can say that ‘we have been saved, we have been born again, we have been forgiven, we have been justified, we have been reconciled to God.’ We are to rest secure in these wonderful things that God has done for us. But we must never forget that the very nature of this salvation is salvation into fellowship with Christ, a fellowship in which we walk with Him and follow after Him in a life of necessary obedience, love, and mission.

Looking at this present time, Christians can say that ‘we are being saved, we are growing in grace, we are being conformed to the character and pattern of Christ’s life, we are participating in His mission, His suffering, and His work.’ Those who rest secure in the wonderful things that God has done for us, also eagerly participate in what God is presently doing in and through them. Our initial salvation at conversion leads naturally to our ongoing salvation expressed in spiritual growth and faithful obedience, and our ongoing salvation expressed in spiritual growth and faithful obedience leads naturally to our future and final salvation.

So looking forward, Christians can say that ‘we will be saved, we will be resurrected, we will be vindicated, we will be glorified and perfected, we will bear a striking resemblance to our Lord, and He will say to every true disciple who proved good and faithful, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23). The alternative to being a “good and faithful servant” is to be unfaithful and therefore banished from God’s kingdom (see Matthew 25:24-30).

Those who have been reconciled to God not only rest secure in what God has done for them and not only eagerly participate in what God is presently doing in them, but also look forward to what God will do for them – and they understand that their present participation in what God is doing is necessary anticipation, preparation, and ripening for the glory to come.

The Future Aspect of Salvation

If the Bible’s emphasis on the future aspect of salvation is unfamiliar to you, consider these four passages.

In Hebrews 9, we are told that the Lord will come again “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28). Those who are not “eagerly waiting for him” should not expect to be saved by Him when He comes.

Further, this promise of future salvation motivates our present obedience: “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to sake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-12)

This promise of future salvation should also motivate pastors and their ministry: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Paul expected Timothy to bring about the future salvation of himself and those in his charge by living a godly life and by faithfully preaching the Word, so that he and others would not wander from the faith but would pursue godliness leading to eternal life (see 1 Timothy 1:3-7, 1:18-20, 4:1-5, 4:6-8, 6:2b-21).

Speaking of eternal life, who is it that will enter into the blessedness of eternal life on the last day when Jesus comes? According to Galatians 5-6, it is precisely those who “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) and “[sow] to the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8) and persevere in doing good (Galatians 6:9) who “will… reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). The alternative is to “[sow] to the flesh” (Galatians 6:8) and therefore to “reap corruption” (Galatians 6:8) and banishment from God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21).

The Path That Leads to Glory

Some people may want to argue that justification by grace alone is inconsistent with the teaching that obedience and sanctification are the necessary pathway to glorification. But why should anyone think it is inconsistent? If you think that your obedience is currency that earns God’s love or earns God’s forgiveness or earns God’s acceptance, then that would indeed be totally inconsistent and unbiblical. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we are talking about is God’s design to save sinners and bring them to final glory. It’s His plan, He’s got the whole thing planned out, and He is totally committed to bringing all of His true children to final glory. He justifies us. He regenerates us, makes us alive, gives us a new heart, puts His own Spirit within us, and works in us – daily and hourly and moment by moment – to purify us and empower us and lead us on the straight and narrow path. He prunes us (John 15:2) and “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). However, “[if] you are left without discipline” – in other words, if God doesn’t keep you moving forward on the path of obedience – “then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:8)

So looking back, conversion brings you into a life of obedience; and looking forward, that life of obedience anticipates and is motivated by the final salvation to come. These are not three disconnected realities, but one reality. Conversion is the entrance gate where we are forgiven, reconciled to God, and born again by His Spirit. As soon as you are through the entrance gate, you join the rest of the Church on the path of obedience that leads to glory. People who live consistently disobedient lives demonstrate that they haven’t yet come through the entrance gate, regardless of their profession. For this path of humble, obedient, sacrificial servanthood is the path that runs from the entrance gate all the way to the end of the path, where there is another gate, the destination gate, where we are resurrected, glorified with Christ, and satisfied forever in the presence of God. All this – the beginning, middle, and end – is the biblical reality of salvation.

Does Philippians Speak About This Pathway to Final Glory?

So, it would make perfect sense in light of Paul’s overall teaching to say that we must bring about or produce our own future salvation by walking on the path of obedience that leads to that final salvation. But does this square with what Paul has been saying in Philippians? And the answer is: Yes! A glorious and wonderful yes! In this letter Paul is continually directing the Philippians’ attention to the promise of future salvation and to the path that leads to it. I’ll skip the first reference because it is the key answer to my third question, so let’s start at Philippians 1:9-11.

Philippians 1:9-11

Paul prays:

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

What does Paul envision here? He envisions a way of life – discerning love, moral excellence, righteousness – that leads to unashamed glory in the presence of Christ on the last day. An increasingly transformed life of holiness and love is the way to final glory!

Philippians 1:19 and Philippians 1:27-30

Next, we come to Philippians 1:19-20. Paul says: 

“… for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this [his suffering and imprisonment, see Philippians 1:12-18] will turn out for my deliverance.” (Philippians 1:19)

Here Paul envisions that his suffering will “turn out” for his deliverance – that is, his salvation. Suffering for Christ advances us in God’s saving purposes for our lives: suffering leads us deeper into fellowship with Christ now (see Philippians 3:10-11), and suffering is the pathway that leads to glorification with Christ later (see Romans 8:17).

Similarly, in Philippians 1:27-28, Paul says that the Philippians’ unity in “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not [being] frightened in anything by your opponents,” is a signpost to future realities. “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” (Philippians 1:28) Since the destruction of their opponents is necessarily future, it seems probable that Paul is also thinking about the Philippians’ future as well – future salvation in their case.[7] Paul’s suffering for the gospel advances him along the path to final salvation, and the Philippians’ suffering for the gospel advances them along the path to final salvation.

Philippians 2:6-11

Then there is Philippians 2:6-11. In other sermons I have related verses 6-11 to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23 that “whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Humility – humbly serving others for the gospel’s sake – is the path that leads to glory. And Jesus modeled it perfectly! His downward path of humble obedience and sacrificial love was actually the path to exaltation and glory. Jesus humbled Himself (Philippians 2:6-8), and the Father highly exalted Him (Philippians 2:9-11!

Philippians 2:14-16

In Philippians 2:14-16, Paul is thinking about that final day – “the day of Christ” – and he connects their ongoing faithfulness with his joy on that future day.

“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:14-16)

If the Philippians persevere in faith and holiness, then at the dawn of eternity Paul will be deeply satisfied “that [he] did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

Philippians 3:10-12

Perhaps the most important passage to consider is Philippians 3:10-12. Paul is thrilled that he has found the greatest treasure in the universe – “Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Paul doesn’t reason that since he has been saved, now he can dilly-dally around until glory. How could he? Christ meant everything to him now, just as Christ means everything to every true believer. So here is how he describes his Christian life – and he expects us to follow his example (see Philippians 3:17, Philippians 4:9):

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:10-12)

Paul embraced God’s wonderful salvation design that fellowship with Christ now in sacrificial service and suffering leads to glory with Christ on the day of resurrection, and He pursued that pathway with all his might, eager to reach the final goal.

Do you see these things? In Philippians Paul is manifestly concerned about salvation in terms of its completion and consummation in the future – and he is concerned not only about the end point but the pathway to it. There is a way of life that leads to final glory[8]: it is the path of righteousness and love, of suffering and service for the gospel’s sake, of obedience and holiness, of staying close to Jesus and pressing on toward the final goal.

And if you say: I was justified and forgiven twenty years ago, and I know I’m going to heaven, and it doesn’t matter how I live, I don’t have to actually follow Jesus, I don’t have to actually pursue obedience “with fear and trembling,” then I fear for your soul. If you use the concept of grace to cancel out all these and others of biblical passages that make faithfulness a necessary pathway to glory, then you are misunderstanding and misusing the concept of grace. Wherever God freely bestows His saving grace – free of charge to the recipient – wherever He bestows this grace, it is “for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). It doesn’t matter what you say you believe, but Paul warns the people who sit in the pews on multiple occasions that those who live in disobedience will be excluded from God’s everlasting kingdom (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5). As for you, be not careless or sluggish, but rather be an “[imitator] of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).


Now to the third question is: since our “work” in verse 12 is actually the result of God’s “work” in verse 13, what is the aim of God’s work in us? This is an important final step in discerning the meaning of “work out your own salvation,” because our work is actually the fruit of God’s work. Which means that God’s aim for our work must be our aim for our work, since He is the One who is bringing it about. Let’s look at verses 12-13 so we all see the connection:

“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Notice the tight connection between God’s working and our working. The divine Worker works in the Christian for the express purpose of enabling the Christian to do the work. The divine Worker gives the Christian the desire and will to work out his own salvation and also gives the Christian the ability and strength to do it. In other words, God is powerfully empowering us to “work out [our] own salvation,” and my question is: What is God’s aim in doing so?

Many passages would help us answer this question, but Philippians 1:6 is especially important. If you can see this verse and its connection to Philippians 2:13, then I think we will have gone a long way toward understanding “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Philippians 1:6 says,

“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.” (Philippians 1:6)

This verse has in view the entirety of salvation: beginning, middle, and end.

First, notice the end: “completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Completion of what? The “good work” that God begins in His people.

Second, notice the beginning: God “began a good work in you.” Paul is writing to the church and thinking of how the gospel came in such a powerful way to the city of Philippi! The Lord opened the heart of Lydia and brought her to faith. The Lord laid hold of that anxious Philippian jailer and set him free from his sin. The Lord reached out to Epaphroditus, whom we shall meet in Philippians 2:25-30, and the Lord saved him. In these and others, God displayed His handiwork in the conversion and transformation of sinners. But note well, brothers and sisters: the beginning of the work is not the end of the work, and betwixt the beginning and the end is a long middle.

This long middle is implied when Paul says that God “will bring it [the good work he previously began] to completion. Paul’s emphasis, of course, is on the completion of the work “at the day of Jesus Christ.” But a process of bringing to completion is implied. It’s not as if God begins the work, and then never does anything again until “the day of Christ.” The truth, rather, is that God begins the work, continues the work, and sees the work all the way through to its proper completion. I would argue that God’s continuation of the good work that He has begun in us involves the work of Philippians 2:13. “[He] who began a good work in you” now “works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Which means that His work in us now is His continuation of the work that He began at our conversion with a view to its steady progress and eventual completion. One of the ways that God brings to completion His good work in us (Philippians 1:6) is by causing us (Philippians 2:13) to do our part in bringing about that completion (Philippians 2:12).

So, my answer to the question “What is God’s aim in His work within us?” is this: God’s aim is to bring His saving purposes for His people to completion, which once again puts the emphasis on the future aspect of salvation. God’s purpose is to bring you to salvation’s completeness, consummation, and glory – and the point of Philippians 2:12 is that you have a role in this. One of the ways that God brings to completion His saving work in His people is by propelling His people forward on the path of obedience until they get to the finish line. He works in us the motivation and the might to run the race until that glorious day when we will rest from our labors and rejoice in His presence forevermore.


In light of all that, we have good reason to understand that “work out your own salvation” means bring about your own future salvation. Reason #1: the word translated “work out” puts the emphasis on the end point, the outcome. In terms of verse 12, we are pursuing and preparing for and producing a future reality, namely, our own salvation. Reason #2: the word “salvation” often refers to the future aspects of salvation, that is, our resurrection, our glorification, our blamelessness to stand in the Lord’s presence on the last day. Philippians itself has a lot to say about this future aspect of salvation and the path that leads to it, and therefore it makes good sense in Philippians 2:12. Reason #3: God’s aim in empowering and bringing about our work is precisely to bring all of His saving purposes to their beautiful completion. That is, God’s aim is to bring us to glory. Therefore, He sustains us on the path that leads to glory by working in us the strong desire and strong ability to walk this path – the path of obedience and humble service and holiness and love. So, “work out your own salvation” means bring about your own future salvation by walking faithfully along the path that leads to your own future glory, and by doing so in God’s strength. This is obedience unto future glory.

No Place for Pride or Self-Reliance

If anyone is tempted to pride by the thought that you are called to bring about your own future salvation – and now you’re going to really pull yourself together and sprint to the finish line – you should at this very moment laugh away that pride. There is simply no place for pride or self-reliance in Philippians 2:12-13, because God is the One who is working in His people and causing them to make progress on the path of obedience. If this is happening to you, then you have much to be grateful for, but nothing to be proud about. As obedient sons and daughters, we don’t put confidence in our obedience as currency that earns God’s favor, but our growth in obedience encourages us because it confirms and demonstrates that we truly do belong to God and that He is truly at work in us in order to bring us to final glory.


Let me press home two applications from this passage. As I do so, remember that everyone in this sanctuary (and everyone else who reads or listens to this sermon), will one day enter into either the blessedness of everlasting salvation or the terror of everlasting destruction (e.g., Philippians 1:28, 3:17-21).[9] The stakes are high!

First, if have you been converted and are following Jesus, do you know and understand that God’s work in bringing you all the way from deadness in your sin to utter aliveness in resurrection glory involves not only your initial conversion but also your ongoing obedience, holiness, and love? God’s will is that you progress and grow toward the final goal, that you anticipate future glory, that you pursue it and bring it about through a life of faithful discipleship and humble service, and that you press on so as to lay hold of it. To some of you, this seems like a strange teaching, but that is because the truth of it has been obscured in our day. I am on a mission to make it less strange, more common, and well lived among the saints. Look at it this way: Everyone who has the confident expectation of graduating from college, prepares for that day through diligence in his or her studies. Everyone who has the confident expectation of marriage and has actually set a wedding date, prepares for that day and makes himself or herself ready and well-pleasing for that day. Everyone who has the confident expectation of going to Bar Harbor for vacation this summer, puts into effect a plan of action that makes it possible to do so. In other words, the glory of a future good shapes your present action. Now listen to what the apostle John says: “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). By contrast: “no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). Do you understand? Everyone who truly knows the Lord and has the confident expectation of being with Him in everlasting glory, “purifies himself” as the fitting way to get ready for that day. The true believer pursues and prepares for his own glorious salvation on “the day of Christ.” And it is all of grace! 

Second, if you are not on the path of true obedience, if you know that God is not powerfully at work in your life to transform your affections and abilities so that you live in true obedience, then I have a word for you. And the word is not: join us in the long middle and start trying. That would be a dead end. And you don’t need a dead end, you need a new beginning. Indeed, what you need, dear friend, is for God to begin a work in you – and this will only happen at the cross. Jesus offered Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for sin; He suffered the punishment of divine wrath and death that we deserved; and after He died, He rose again from the grave. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus won a decisive triumphant victory over sin, over death, over the devil, and over this corrupt world system that is all around us. Friend, you don’t need a pep talk or moral advice. You need the Lord Jesus Christ to reach down His strong hand and lift your utterly weak and sin-laden self out of the muck and mire. You need to be born again into God’s family, forgiven of your sins, inwardly cleansed and renewed by the power of God’s Spirit, and brought into the blessed condition of peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn away from sin and is death-producing work, and turn to Jesus and His life-producing work: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) See Him there, the risen Lord, pure and strong, full of mercy and gentleness, mighty to save, ready to receive every brokenhearted sinner who comes to Him for healing of the soul. Then, after you go to Jesus, stay with Jesus – and with us – on the long and happy road of joyful obedience that leads to final glory. 

Let us pray.



[1] Silva, Moisés. Philippians: Second Edition (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005: p. 117-123.

[2] Hansen, G. Walter. The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009: p. 169-176.

[3] See the following resources from John Piper: i) “How Obedient Christians ‘Produce’ Salvation.” A Look at the Book teaching on Philippians 2:12-13. June 16, 2018. Available online: ii) “We Are Saved and Being Saved.” A Look at the Book teaching on Philippians 2:12-13. June 19, 2018. Available online: iii) Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018: p. 241-265 (Chapters 17 and 18).

[4] It is worth noting that even though Silva, Hansen, and Piper are all in agreement that “work out your own salvation” means bring about or produce your own salvation, they differ in their understandings of what bring about or produce your own salvation means. My own view aligns closely with Piper’s view.

[5] Silva, Philippians, p. 122; Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, p. 172. Piper also discusses the meaning of this word in “How Obedience Christians ‘Produce’ Salvation” (see footnote 3 above).

[6] Silva, Moisés. Philippians: Second Edition (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005: p. 122.

[7] Note also that Philippians 3:17-21 contrasts the future destruction of unbelievers with the future glorification of believers.

[8] I have long believed and taught this doctrinal truth that there is a way of life that leads to final glory. That said, I have been impacted by my recent reading of John Piper’s Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018: p. 241-265 (Chapters 17 and 18). Piper’s writing in Chapters 17 and 18 is an exposition of the biblical truth that there is a way of life that leads to final glory. In these chapters Piper answers the question that he puts near the beginning of Chapter 17: “What is the way of life that leads to final salvation rather than destruction?” (p. 241). He summarizes the answer near the end of Chapter 18: “Spirit-produced holiness, rooted in the cross of Christ, and lived for the glory of God, is the only path that leads to eternal life....” (p. 265) This holiness is especially characterized by “the service of love to others” (p. 249). Piper’s use of the term “final salvation” (e.g., p. 241, 242) probably influenced me to do likewise. In my sermon, I use the phrases final salvation, final glory, final day, and finally saved as a way of highlighting the future aspect of salvation, with the understanding that there is a path that leads to it.

[9] This contrast between final salvation and final destruction is evident in Philippians 1 and Philippians 3. It is also the contrast that Piper highlights in his question “What is the way of life that leads to final salvation rather than destruction?” (see footnote 8 above)

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