March 19, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“Therefore, my dear friends, 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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”—Philippians 2:12–13 (NIV)
After the birth of my son, I gained around 50 pounds. I was depressed, unhealthy, and getting worse. Then, I committed to working out regularly and making changes to my diet. And it worked! I lost and kept the weight off!
I think we can all agree that the best way to experience lasting, sustainable results is through discipline and devotion to healthy living. This is especially true of our walk with the Lord, as we’re told clearly in today’s passage!
Here, Paul shows us that grace and works are not mutually exclusive. You see, the word for “work out” is katergazomai, which means to carry out to its full perfection. Now, please note Paul doesn’t say work for your salvation. Believers have been saved by the work of Jesus. Our salvation is secure. We can do nothing to add to it or improve it. That’s not what Paul is saying. What he said was to work out your salvation. He’s describing sanctification.
What is sanctification? It’s the ongoing process through which a believer is transformed and conformed into Christ’s image, where we become holy and Christ-like, fit for the holy purposes of God. What does this look like? Well, in the same way that becoming fit physically involves the consistent practice of certain habits and disciplines, to become healthy and fit spiritually involves spiritual disciplines—the life-giving habits of studying Scripture, prayer, worship, fasting, silence and solitude, fellowship, service, generosity, and evangelism! These disciplines are to your spiritual health and vitality what exercise and diet are to your physical health.
Paul instructs us to dedicate ourselves to this process with “fear and trembling.” Some have translated this to say “with a holy care to do all acceptably; implying earnest surrender, deep humility, and complete submission with a sense of awe towards God.” The trembling comes from the idea of being separated from the Lord by disobedience, rebellion, laziness, or apathy. Basically, not being in close relationship and abiding in the Lord due to our own disobedience should scare us and spur us to live with devotion and discipline.
As you read this, you may feel carrying your sanctification out to its full perfection is not only difficult, but impossible. But verse 13 offers good news: It’s not you who carries it out! This is one of the most amusing and inspiring paradoxes in the Bible. A few words before, Paul instructs us to work, only to tell us that it’s actually God who provides both the Spirit who instills the desire to accomplish this and the power to actually carry it out. Our part in this process is simply to seek Him, to abide in Him, to have intimacy in relationship with Him, and to strive to know Him a little more each day through spiritual disciplines. As you “work out your salvation” by spending time with Him, as you grow to know Him deeply through devotion to the disciplines, He will work in you to change you and renew your mind and heart, and He will work in you to accomplish His will and good purposes for you, in you, and in the world!
Pause: Why are spiritual disciplines so vital to the overall health of our relationship with the Lord? How does God work and accomplish His will through our devotion to relationship and engagement in spiritual disciplines?
Practice: Do some research on key spiritual disciplines. There are multiple lists that dive deeper into the specific practices of them. After reading through these resources, spend time looking at your schedule and praying about how you can prioritize these practices that draw you into deeper relationship with Jesus and enable you to become more like Christ.
Pray: Father, I know it’s You who wills and works in me to accomplish Your good purposes. I also know that it’s You who changes me, renews me, transforms me, sanctifies me, and conforms me to the image of Your Son Jesus. As Hebrews 13:21 says, it’s You who equips me with all I need for doing Your will and it’s You who produces in me every good thing that is pleasing to You. All I need to do is devote myself to a relationship with You—to knowing You deeply and growing in intimacy with You! So, Lord, I pray for a renewed daily passion for knowing You! I pray that by Your Spirit, I may prioritize my relationship with You and make living in Your presence and walking by the Spirit the central focus of my life. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.