“Working Out Your Salvation” (Philippians 2:12-13 sermon)

SO, how do you follow up on Easter Sunday?! We had such a great day last Sunday, didn’t we?  Celebrating our Risen Savior; seeing several people follow Him in baptism — It was a great Easter Sunday. But how do you follow that up? How do I follow that up, as a pastor; where do we turn to next in the word of God?

Well, we get some direction from the Apostle Paul. I’m reading the Book of Philippians in my own morning Bible reading, and I’m in Chapter 2, where it proclaims that Christ “become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” then was glorified, so that “every knee will bow, in heaven on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the the glory of God the Father”!  THAT is as good as it gets! That’s “Easter Sunday” kind of stuff there, isn’t it?!  

So how does Paul follow THAT up in Philippians 2? This gives us some direction today:  you follow it up, he says here in Philippians 2:12-13, by “Working Out Your Salvation”

I.  You must “work out your salvation”

Now, we need to tread carefully here, because we know that our salvation is not “of works.” Ephesians 2 says “For it is by grace that you are saved.”

God created us to know Him and “to enjoy Him forever”, but we all sinned, and caused a separation between us and God. Nothing we could do could pay for our sins and reconcile us with God. The only thing that could save us, was if Jesus would die on the cross and pay for the sins that we could not pay. Then if we put our faith in Him, we are saved — NOT of any good works we have done or will ever do — but by faith in HIM!  “It is by grace we are saved … not of works.” 

If you have been trying to be “religious,” and thinking that by going to church and “being good” you might earn a place in heaven, you need to STOP right now, and just ask God to help you turn away from your sins, and ask Jesus to save you and send His Spirit into your life. RIGHT NOW in your heart, ask Him to save you! You can leave this place SAVED today — NOT by any “good works” that you have done, but because of what Jesus did for you.

But here’s the thing:  if you ARE really saved, you WILL “work out” your salvation, as Paul says here. You have been saved, and have been since the moment you asked Jesus to save you — but in a very real way you are also “BEING saved” as you grow spiritually and “work out” the implications of the salvation that was given to you in Jesus Christ.  This is called  “sanctification” — the process of gradually growing spiritually and becoming more holy; learning to serve the Lord. IF you have really been saved “by grace through faith,”  then you WILL then “work out” your salvation, in a number of ways. 

To me, it’s kind of like signing up for a football or baseball team — I know a lot of little league baseball and softball teams are starting up at this time of year.  Parents are taking their kids in, and they are signing up for a team. So they take them in, and they sign up, and now they are “on a team”! Time to celebrate!  

Well, I guess it’s ok to celebrate making a team, but that’s not the end of it, is it? That’s just the beginning. NOW it’s time to “work out.”  Now you have to go to daily workouts, where you practice the fundamentals and grow in your skills; now you have to get our body in shape for the sport; now you have to go to team meetings and learn the strategy that your coach has. Now it’s time for you to DO what you signed up to do — and actually PLAY when it comes game time!  Signing up for it was just the beginning, right? 

Well, a number of us as Christians need to realize that it is the same with the Christian life. Asking Jesus to save you, and being saved by grace through faith IS something to celebrate — but that is not the end of it; it’s just the beginning. Now:

— you have to do your Daily workouts: your daily worship time in God’s word & prayer

— Now you have to go to your team meetings (church!)

— Now It’s time to “get in shape” spiritually, by getting some sins out of your life, that have been hindering you spiritually. 

— Now you’ve got to actually get out and DO the ministry that God has called you to be a part of.

See, NOW it’s time to “work out your salvation”!  And if you have really been saved, you WILL “work it out.” Because those who are not saved by works, will show that they really ARE saved, BY their works.

We had 5 people baptized last week. One of us might say something like: 
“How neat, 5 people saved; 5 people going to heaven.” Well I hope that is so, but we will see. See, the truth is, if what happened in their lives is real, these 5 will not just “stop” the Christian life with their baptism, but they  will continue to “work out their salvation”, like Paul says here, and they will demonstrate in the days and months and years ahead that they really are saved by the way they continue to follow Jesus and “work out their salvation”! 

Remember, Jesus said, “Not everyone who SAYS to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who DOES the will of My Father who is in heaven.” (Luke 6:46). 

It’s not just coming down front and saying that you are giving your life to Jesus that saves you. It’s not just getting baptized that saves you. If you are really saved — if you are really “on the team”! — you will show it by “working out your salvation” the rest of your life.

And this doesn’t just apply to those who have recently been saved and baptized, either, This applies to ALL of us. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you should be demonstrating the reality of your commitment by working out your salvation: 

— You should be coming to “practice” here at church regularly

— You should be “working out” every day in God’s word & prayer

— You should be “getting in shape” spiritually by getting sins out of your life

— and you should be “playing your position” — you should be DOING the ministry God has given to you. 

It’s not just a matter of “signing up for the team.” If you’ve really “signed up for the team,” you will show it by what you do afterwards.

You can be confident that you have been saved, if you are “working out” your salvation.

If you claim to be a Christian, you should ask yourself: “In what specific ways am I working out my salvation?” In what ways in my life am I demonstrating that my profession of faith in Christ is real?

Again; you are NOT saved by your works; but if you are really saved, you will “work out your salvation” like Paul says here.

II.  Do not work it out for men.

Again, this is something that we really need to be careful about, and God’s word gives us several warnings about it. As you work out your salvation, DO NOT do what you do just to be seen by other people. Paul puts it this way here in Philippians 2; he says: “not as in my presence only.”  In other words, he’s saying, “Don’t just do this when I am looking.” Do what you do, for GOD, not for people who are watching. 

See, there is a kind of worker is who is really good at working when his boss is around, but not when he is gone. Ephesians 6:5-6 says something about that:  “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” 

George Washington did not like the system of slavery, but he tried to do the best he could with the system that he inherited.  Washington himself was a hard worker, a very precise man. And he required that of those who worked for him too — for his lieutenants, and workers, and his slaves. He believed that everyone should do their best.

Once in February 1760 he was dismayed to find that four slave carpenters had together cut only 120 feet of logs on one particular day. So like a modern efficiency expert, he sat down, and clocked these men in a time-and-motion study. While he was there watching, they quadrupled their output to 125 feet of timber apiece — each one of them did more individually than they had all four done together — because now the Master was watching!  One of the reasons Washington hated the system of slavery was that he did not believe it encouraged a man’s best work — and he was right. (Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life, p. 114-115 

Well, slavery was a cruel and unjust system, and you can understand someone not giving their all while being oppressed by it. But the problem is, many of us are doing that same thing with GOD’S work. We are only really good at it when someone is watching what we are doing! 

— We’re good at going to church if someone is expecting us there

— We’re good at doing our Bible reading if someone else in the house is doing it too

— We’re really good at worshiping at church, where everyone is watching how fervently we love God — but not so good as worshipping at home, when it is just us and God.

You might call that “performance” Christianity: you’re a lot better Christian when someone is watching.

You might also call that “hypocrisy.” Because that is exactly what it is.

This is just the kind of religion Jesus condemned in Matt. 6. He warned us there in His most fundamental sermon for His followers, the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not practice your righteousness before men, to be noticed by them, otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” And then He gave three examples of it, in giving, praying, and fasting. With each example He gave, He said, if you give, or pray, or fast, (or whatever you do) just to be seen by other people, then when they see you, you’ve got your reward, and there is NO reward for you with God.   

We each need to examine ourselves regarding this. If you’re a whole lot better Christian when other people are watching, than you are when it is just you and God alone — you need to take a serious look at your relationship with God — because that is one of the “giveaway” signs of the hypocrite. 

So Paul tells us here: this applies to this “working out” of your salvation in all the different ways that you do it. Whatever you do in your Christian life: having your devotion time, going to church, worshiping, witnessing, giving, serving — whatever it is — DO NOT do it to be seen by other people; do whatever you do, for God.  

The truth is: What you do when no one is looking: THAT is the Christian you really are!    Do not work out your salvation, just to be seen by other people. 

III.  Do what you do for GOD!

WHY should we do what we do? WHAT is our motivation here? 

Paul says here, Because “it is GOD who is at work in you.”  This is an awesome statement: “GOD is at work in you”! The God who made the heavens and the earth, the God who programmed the intricate DNA in every being; the God who created atoms that we still to this day do not understand (as a new scientific experiment demonstrated this week!) — THIS GOD IS WORKING IN YOU!  And HE is the One that we are to do everything that we do in our Christian life, for.  

But if you think about it, this is kind of a “two-edged sword,” isn’t it?: that GOD is working in is! It is both a comforting promise, and also a sobering responsibility.

It’s kind of like another promise in scripture, where it tells us He is always with us. Psalm 139 says “Where can I go from Your Spirit; where can I flee from Your presence?” That’s an amazing promise, but it is also a “two-edged sword” too, isn’t it? I mean, God’s always with us — that’s good to know when you’re walking down a dark alley!  But that He’s always with us is also true every time you click on anything on the internet, or whisper some gossip in someone’s ear, or do anything when you think “no one is looking”!  NO: “Someone” always IS!  That God is always with us, is both a comfort, and a challenge!

And so it is with this promise here in Philippians 2 that “it is GOD who is at work in you:” 

A.  It’s a comforting promise: you ARE going to get where you want to be, spiritually, because GOD is helping you. That’s why Paul could write in Philippians 1:6 earlier in this book: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you, WILL complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” How can he be so confident? Because as he says here, “It is GOD who is at work in you.” God is going to finish what He started. 

He came into your life and He saved you, and He is not going to stop working in you until He is finished!

– There may be times (WILL be times!) when you want to quit, but God is not going to quit on you! 

– You may feel like your progress in the Christian life is slow — maybe you even feel sometimes like you are moving backwards! — but you’re gonna get there. Because GOD will complete it. GOD is the One who is working in you.

So that GOD is the One who is working in us should be to us a source of great comfort.  But the other side of the coin of that is that:

B. It’s also a very SOBERING responsibility that Almighty God is the One working in you!   

I am reading a book by a man who came from very humble beginnings in Kentucky, and worked his way up through some deputy law enforcement positions, until his diligent work was noticed by some “highers up” and he was finally appointed as a Secret Service agent, detailed to guard the President of the United States.  This was such a great privilege: he would get to go wherever the President went, all over America and all around the world; he had many privileges associated with being a Secret Service agent.

But along with that, as you know, also came an awesome responsibility. He had the duty of guarding the life of the President of the United States from harm. He had to literally be ready, at any moment’s time, to “take a bullet” for the President. Being a Secret Service agent was a great privilege, but it was also an awesome responsibility.  

And what we need to realize is that this is exactly the way it is with us and God. Scripture says here: “It is GOD who is at work in you”! What a privilege! GOD HIMSELF is working in YOU!  He wants YOUR worship; He speaks to YOU in His word; He will use YOU in His ministry to further His kingdom here on earth. It doesn’t get any better than that! It is an amazing privilege!

But the other side of that is, we need to realize just what a big responsibility it is, too, that it is GOD who is at work in us. That’s huge. As we talked about last week with Tom Brady tossing around that Super Bowl trophy; we aren’t “playing around” here; this is GOD we are working with; this is GOD we are working for. It’s a huge privilege, but it’s also an immense responsibility. 

And like that Secret Service agent, we need to realize our awesome responsibility- and we need to be ready to take a bullet for God! NOT that we are in any way “protecting” God; no one can touch Him. But there are times when we need to be ready to “take a bullet” for His cause, because it is so important. 

— Sometimes it may be something just very little: You did something for God’s cause, but no one noticed it, or thanked you for it; that’s ok; what you are doing for the Kingdom is bigger than that. It is GOD who is working in you; so you’ll “take the bullet” for that, and serve Him unnoticed. It doesn’t matter if anyone else knows or not; it is GOD who is using you — and that is enough! You’ll take that “bullet” if you have to!

— Some of our folks “took a bullet” last week, by parking over in the lot at ACS and walking over here — or by volunteering to go to the nursery at the last minute when there was a need —thank you for doing that; you “took a bullet” there for God, in a sense.  And we SHOULD make such sacrifices, shouldn’t we — because for this is no “trite” thing we are about here in this church: “It is GOD who is at work in us.” GOD is here in this church; GOD is working in lives; GOD is doing something — and we need to be willing make big sacrifices for it!

— Sometimes we need to be literally ready to “take a bullet” for Him: soon things are going to be opening back up, and we’ll be going back on mission trips; to Bulgaria; to India, and so on. Sometimes people ask, “Is it safe?” Listen, I can’t guarantee anyone’s safety. There may be danger involved. But this is BIG; this is ETERNITY at stake for people’s souls; this is GOD who is working in us. We need to be ready to “take a bullet” for Him!

We need to remember we aren’t just playing some “religious game” here. This is GOD who is working in us. And that is an awesome responsibility.

I love what the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 13, when he says:

“For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard them begged that no further word be spoken to them” — He’s talking here about what happened when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai and got the 10 Commandments, and there was lightning, and a trumpet blast, and the voice of God that was so awesome that all the people said, “Let God speak to us no longer, Moses, you just bring down His commandments to us!”

But he says, no, you are not just dealing with Mt. Sinai; you aren’t just dealing with the 10 Commandments; he says in :22 “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the Living God … to GOD the Judge of all … to Jesus …”. You are dealing with “the sprinkled blood” of the Son of God!  What we are involved in now, with the Gospel of Jesus, is so much more serious and awesome than anything they ever experienced on Mount Sinai!

And then he closes that chapter in :28-29 by saying let us “offer to God an acceptable service, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews is saying, Listen: remember just WHO it is you are dealing with here. You aren’t just working for a George Washington; you aren’t just in the service of a Franklin Roosevelt or a Ronald Reagan — you are in the service of the Living GOD, who holds every atom together, whose voice makes the mountains shake; who holds in His hand the power of life and death; of heaven and hell.

THAT is Who is working in YOU!  It’s an amazing privilege — but it’s also an awesome responsibility.  So, Paul says: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is GOD who is at work in you”!


— IS God at work in you? If you have given your life to Christ, are you SHOWING it by the way you live? Are you working it out?

— Maybe there are some specific things God is speaking to you about: maybe you HAVE “signed up for His team,” but you haven’t been going to practice (church); you haven’t been training (in His word & prayer); you haven’t been DOING what you’ve signed up to by serving Him.

— Maybe like Hebrews says, you haven’t been taking this whole thing seriously enough; it is GOD who is at work; you just need to rededicate yourself to making God your #1 priority.

— Or maybe you’re not really “on the team” yet … 

— Or you need to be baptized, or join the church and have a place to serve …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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