by Tim Herwaldt
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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. ~Philippians 2:12
These words, written by the apostle Paul, may seem surprising to us at first glance. Paul, after all, preaches clearly in other writings that we are saved by grace alone. Consider, for instance, that he spent much of the book of Romans teaching us that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. In other words, salvation is all the work of God, from beginning to end. Consider also Ephesians chapter 2 where he says in verses 8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
If we continue to read in Ephesians, it casts a bright light on what Paul wants us to learn from the Philippians passage. In Ephesians 2, Paul teaches that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, and then in chapter 4 he urges the same readers to live in a way worthy of that calling: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” When we consider the order in which Paul raises these points in Ephesians, it helps us to understand what he is calling us to do in the Philippians passage above. First he teaches his readers that they are saved by the grace of God, and then he tells them to live in a manner worthy of the call of God on their lives.
In our passage from Philippians, Paul confirms this understanding by his words in verse 13: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Surely, this casts a light on how Paul sees the work that we are called to do as servants of Christ. That we even have an inclination to work for the sake of the Lord is only because he first works in us. And that we have the strength to do so is again because he has first worked in us.
So, Paul teaches us, God first works in us to bring about saving faith. We then, are called to live as people who have received the grace of God. The work to which Paul calls the followers of Christ is not work that saves, but is an outworking, a result of faith that saves. We have been saved by grace. Now, let us be at work for the glory of the God who saved us.