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A Life of Dependence
Walking Worthy, part 2–God is Sovereign, Philippians 2:13
We live in a weird day. It seems like putting your life at risk for fun is the norm. Everyone 16 to 28 years of age has caught the worldwide craze of extreme sports. So this morning, I thought I’d help you beat the odds–if you know the risk in advance, maybe you will make better choices in the future.
Low risk sports, from low to higher . . . snowboarding–1 out of every 2.2 million people dies snowboarding. Swimming–1 out of every million people die swimming. No need to beware of sharks. Running or jogging–1 out of every million people die running or jogging. Bungee jumping–1 out of every half-million or 500,000 people die bungee jumping.
Bicycling–1 out of 140,845 people die riding a bike (betcha Nigel didn’t tell you that!)–it’s more dangerous to bicycle than to bungee jump. Skydiving–1 out of every 101,083 people dies skydiving. Dance parties–1 out of every 100,000 . . . it’s more dangerous to dance then to skydive! Football–1 out of every 50,000 people die playing football. Scuba diving–1 out of every 34,400 people die in a scuba diving accident. Canoeing–1 out of every ten thousand people die in those horrible boats. It’s more dangerous to canoe ON the water than to scuba dive UNDER the water.
Then medium risk sports . . . boxing–1 out of every two thousand two hundred (2,200) people die boxing. We kinda’ knew that, right? Repeated punching to the head is bad for you? Mountain climbing–1 in 1,750 people die. Motorbike racing–1 out of every thousand people die on a motorbike.
And finally, high risk is hang gliding–1 out of every five hundred and sixty (560) people die hang gliding. And mountain climbing in Nepal–1 out of every 167 people. Grand Prix racing–1 out of every hundred (100) die Grand Prix racing. And what is the “almost certain death” sport? Base jumping–1 out of every sixty (60) people die base jumping, or parachuting off a cliff.
Sometimes Christians feel like following Christ is high risk. It is thrilling, there is adventure, there is dependent faith–but there is little risk. Why? Because the God who loves you, the one who saved you, the one you put your hope in is also completely in charge. The God you follow is sovereign. The Bible declares our God is totally in control. Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
“God does as He pleases, only as He pleases and always as He pleases.” RC Sproul states, “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.” God is in complete control. So-o-o-o, where do we fit in? How do we respond?
In Philippians 2:12 we learned we are responsible to obey. We are responsible to walk by faith, to trust God’s Word and to follow Christ. Last week Paul taught about the importance of obedience. To walk worthy of the Lord, you will live a life of obedience to God’s Word. He says in verse 12, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Paul says, whether I am present or not–pursue, follow, press on, fight and run in your own sanctification. Give it continuous, sustained and strenuous effort—work it out. Not work for, not work toward, not work at–but work out your salvation. God has saved you, transformed you, given you a new heart, indwelt you with His Holy Spirit. Now work that out of you. Work out what God has already worked in.
Salvation is of God. God is the one who awakens our hearts to desire salvation. God causes our dead hearts to be made alive. First Peter 1:2 says God causes our hearts to be born again. It is God alone who holds us and keeps us secure until the end. Salvation is not, “I do my part and God does His part”–no, salvation is totally of God.
Yet along with God’s sovereignty is man’s responsibility. We are responsible to respond in faith, responsible to live by faith, and responsible to endure to the end by depending on Him every day in every way. God is sovereign. God is the one who makes all things possible. Yet you are responsible. Part of the amazing truth of verse 12 is that this verse is both corporate and individual. When Paul says work out your salvation, it is second person plural—you all work out your salvation in community as well as individually.
The reason for the plural is a reminder for the church together to work out their lack of unity issues. Paul reminds them to obey, “not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence”–they are responsible not merely to obey Paul, but above all to obey Christ and to deal with their divisive issues. Work it out–obey God’s Word. And verse 12, do so with serious fear and trembling.
In the Greek text, fear and trembling are actually emphatic. They are listed before work out your salvation. They are over-emphasized to make certain the readers get serious about working out their salvation. Fear and trembling mean a nervous and trembling anxiety to do what’s right. Not a slavish terror but wholesome serious caution. God is the only one who can make it possible, but when He saves you, it’s possible for you to obey.
Work it out literally means to work it out to completion. Math majors get this–when you work out a problem in math, you bring it to its ultimate conclusion. Paul commands Christians to carry their salvation to its ultimate conclusion to become like Christ–to overcome sin and to live each day pleasing to Christ.
You do a workout not to get a body, but to develop the body you already have. When you work out a puzzle, you already have all the pieces–you just have to put it together. Now work it out to completion. Fear and trembling means take it seriously–your growth has eternal implications. It’s a life or death issue. Nothing is more important than your own spiritual growth, so Paul says take it seriously. “Work out your salvation with fear with trembling.”
Verse 12 says get to work–yet without missing a beat, in the very next verse, Paul points out that God is at work. God is doing it. God is in control. God is sovereign. Look at verse 13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” So is it God is sovereign, or you are responsible? Answer? Yes.
Is it God who writes the Word of God, or was it the apostles and prophets? Yes. Is Jesus fully, 100% God, or Is Jesus fully, 100% man? Yes. Is God sovereign in salvation, or are people responsible to respond? Yes. Are you responsible to obey, or is God responsible for your sanctification? Yes. God must be supreme to be God at all. Man must be free to be man at all.
Verse 12 clearly tells us the saved man is responsible to obey. Yes, it is God who makes obedience possible, but it’s still man who Paul commands to work out their salvation. Then without any apology, conflict, or contradiction, next to verse 12 Paul adds verse 13 telling us in the same breath, God is sovereign. This isn’t the only time this happens in the Bible. You remember Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Then in the New Testament in Acts 2:23, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Don’t slide into error over the doctrine of sanctification. On the one hand the quietists stress God’s rule in sanctification to the exclusion of human effort. The pietists emphasize self-effort at the expense of reliance on God’s power.
But in Philippians 2:12 to 13, the apostle Paul avoids both of those unbiblical extremes and presents a balanced view of sanctification. Verse 12 presents the believer’s responsibility in sanctification and verse 13 focuses on God’s sovereign role in the believer’s sanctification. While the believer is working out, God is working in.
Get this–verse 12 can’t happen without verse 13. Verse 13 actually makes verse 12 possible. But both are true in your life. Jesus stressed the need for our dependence upon God the very night before the crucifixion in John 15:4 to 5, “’Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.’”
In verses 12 to 13, Paul exhorts the Philippians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling precisely because God works in them both to will and work for His good pleasure. What I found in verse 13 are five key truths needed to live a life of dependence upon a sovereign God. Christian, today step out in obedience–but while you do, obey dependently. Battle sin, make a choice to flee, memorize Scripture, or get accountable–but do so in faith, depending upon the Holy Spirit.
Want to grow into a man after God’s own heart, or into a mature, godly woman? Then pursue Christlikeness, but remember you can’t do anything to glorify God unless God does works through you. Live out Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” What does a dependent life look like? You live . . .
#1 Depending on God’s sovereign PERSON
Verse 13 begins with, “For it is God.” Notice the personal pronouns “Who” and “His” and the personal verbs will and work. Verse 13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Our God is not distant, indifferent nor impersonal. Our God isn’t harsh, cruel or hateful. Our God does not require penance, blood or flagellation. Why? Because our Savior loves us.
His life, God’s Word, and Christ’s cross prove our God loves sinful people. Christ’s love is shocking since it’s extended toward those who’ve rebelled against Him, blasphemed Him and resisted Him. You know what God says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
And Christ’s love for His own children is even greater than His love for people in general. And that amazing love for His children is what creates the closest possible intimacy. We’re so intimate with Christ, Paul calls our intimacy with Him more precious than anything in this life. Philippians 3:8, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”
Your relationship and intimacy with Christ–His love for you is part of what motivates your sanctification. You want to work out your salvation, strive in obedience, because you know Jesus personally and He loves you–because you know not sinning and becoming like Christ would please the One you know intimately.
One of the biggest reasons Christians are defeated, sin and plateau in their growth is because they are not currently walking intimately with Christ. They are not being hateful or overtly sinful, but they are not walking intimately with Jesus through His Word and prayer. This takes the edge off their walk with Christ. You’re to live dependently on a personal God–a person you know loves you more than anyone does. Paul begins verse 13 with, “For it is God.”
#2 Depending on God’s Sovereign POWER
Verse 13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Verse 13, “God who is at work.” God’s power is what makes sanctification work–God is at work. The verb “is”–God is at work tells us God’s power is a fact. This power is not pretend, but God is genuinely at work. Plus the verb “is” indicates God is continually at work. God is never not at work, but God is always at work.
And the verb “work” itself indicates God is always at work. The word “work” is from the verb energeo— sound familiar? It’s where we get the English word energy. God is the energizer for change in your life. Paul is informing his readers–God energizes His children to obey and serve Him. God’s sovereign power is what enables their sanctification.
This is crucial–the Bible clearly teaches and I believe each of you know, no one can be justified by the works of the flesh, meaning you can’t save yourself. But equally true, Christian—no one can be sanctified by the flesh. Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected [sanctified] by the flesh?”
No one is grown by the power of the flesh–no one grows in Christ by their own strength, but only by the power of the Spirit. Get it right–it is God who is continually at work to accomplish your growth. God is the one who enables each of you to obey, grow, and be sanctified. Christians are required to serve each other.
Preachers are to serve the church, but it is God Himself who is the source of power. Paul said it so creatively in Colossians 1:29, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” It is God’s power which causes sanctification to continue throughout a believer’s life.
And God promises this–every single Christian God justifies in salvation will be sanctified. Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” Christ predestined your salvation in order for you to become conformed to the image of Christ. If you genuinely come to Christ, you will become more like Christ.
I’ve talked to many who’ve said, “I just don’t have the power to change. I know what I ought to do, but I don’t have the power to do it.” Have you ever felt like that? “I know what’s right, but I just don’t know if I have the power to do it.” Paul says here, God is the energizer. Paul says God will give you the power to will and to act.
I will give you the will and I will give you the ability. I will give you the desire and I will give you the capability to change. While the believer is working out, God is working in. While God is working in you, you are to be working out. It’s God’s power which saves you, and God’s power which sanctifies you. Verse 13, “For it is God who is at work.” Did you see where God is at work?
#3 Depending on God’s Sovereign PRESENCE
Verse 13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Verse 13, “For it is God who is at work in you.” One of the sweetest truths about your sanctification is God’s divine presence. The preposition “in”—“God who is at work in you” reminds us the Spirit dwells in us. Romans 8:9b, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” First Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” It is the Lord’s indwelling presence who encourages us in the process of growth. As God carves out sin, as we seek to obey in an area of weakness, as we die to self and resist temptation we have the sweet encouragement of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Don’t you love His indwelling presence? You’ve probably heard the overly simplistic story of the believer who suddenly began to grow. His believing friends asked him, “Rufus, how did you change so much? I know you became a Christian, but aren’t you still troubled by temptations?” Rufus said, “Yes, all the time. You see, the devil comes knocking on my heart every day. He comes knocking with temptations just like before. I used to go and answer the door and always followed him into trouble. But now, when the devil comes knocking, I let Jesus answer the door for me. When the devil sees Him, he leaves me alone.” It is “God who is at work in you”–and Christ is in you in order to accomplish His sovereign purpose.
#4 Depending on God’s Sovereign PURPOSE
Verse 13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” God’s purpose is for you to “both to will and to work.” There is a debate as to who this is referring to. Is it God’s will and work—or is it man’s will and work? It seems best to understand “both to will and to work” as actually describing your will and your work and not God’s will and work.
Both Greek words, will and work are ongoing, continuous actions. Do you get why this is a dramatic statement? God is accomplishing change in your life by directing your will and working through you. God empowers you and personally encourages you with His presence, to give you the will to do what is right before God. Then God gives you the power to accomplish the work necessary in order to obey it.
All the will and all the power to work originates with God Himself. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” God changes your will, then God empowers the work to obey so you can actually live a life pleasing to Him—“for His good pleasure.”
Look at “will”–the Greek word for will describes a thoughtful, purposeful choice. Paul is not describing an emotional desire, a feeling or an urge. But God moves in you to make an intentional choice. God actually works to change your will and direct your decisions in order to move you towards obedience to His Word, reminding you God’s will is never contrary to God’s Word.
When anyone says, “It is God’s will for us to live together”–even if they are not married. “It’s God’s will for me to leave my spouse”–even though there’s been no adultery or abandonment. “It’s God’s will for me to have this money”–even though it was a cashier error. “It’s God’s will for me to tell this little lie”–or cheat on this test, or take this item. “It’s God’s will for me to talk badly about this person in gossip, cause I need to warn others.”
God says in response, using a simple English word—“NOT” . . . that’s your will, not His will. God’s will is never contrary to God’s Word—never. But God does move believers to live His will. How does He do it? God uses two means to move the will of believers–to change your will.
First Holy DISGUST
Authentic believers experience a holy abhorrence of sin. God shows you your sin–then because of your sin you become discontent with life since you recognize you’ll always fall short of God’s holiness. Like Isaiah, who saw the Lord’s glory and said, “Woe is me I am ruined–I am unclean.” Or like Paul, “Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death?” God will bring you to a place of holy repugnance over your sin to move you away from sin toward holiness.
Just like Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:22, “Now flee from youthful lusts.” Flee means to run in terror. Paul is not talking about someone else’s sin, even though that can break your heart. No–God changes your will by showing you your own sin. As puritan John Flavel once said, “It is easier to cry against one thousand sins of others than to kill one of your own.”
That is why I am so encouraged by John Newton, the man who wrote Amazing Grace, who said this, “I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’” But not only does God direct our wills through holy disgust, but also with . . .
Second Holy DESIRE
The second means God uses to move believers’ wills is a holy aspiration. After God instills a genuine hatred of sin, He cultivates a genuine desire for righteousness. After the Lord makes you discontent with what you are, He gives you a desire for becoming someone who pleases Christ. Authentic Christians want to be like Christ.
The indwelling Holy Spirit moves a believer to be conformed to the image of Christ–this is what the Holy Spirit is pressing for and He never gives up. Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” Second Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Holy desire leads to holy living. A godly will produces a godly work. The internal disgust of sin and internal desire for Christlikeness will change the way you live. God is at work. Look at “work”—“both to will and to work.” Only God can produce a change of will and the energy to work towards obedience. Only God can transform the lives of Christians. Only God can make you like His Son.
Depend on a sovereign God in verse 13 and live responsibly in verse 12. You are to “work out your salvation.” Engage your will–step out in obedience, whether you feel like it or not and trust a sovereign God to empower you. Remember, the Greek word for work is energy. God gives the energy, the power, and the strength to obey God. We must rely on Him by faith for everything. Your work is to believe. This is why we live a life of dependence on God’s sovereign purpose.
God is the source of our overcoming sin and our growth in becoming like Christ. God is the author of our salvation and sanctification. God is the one who causes us to mature, to grow, to become godly. Listen to Hebrews 13:20 to 21 carefully, “Now the God of peace, … Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.” God gives you the desire to do His will and God works in you so you might live pleasing to Him.
#5 Pursuing God’s Sovereign PLEASURE
Verse 13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Paul ends verse 13 with “for His good pleasure.” God is doing a work in your life and doing it for His own good pleasure. His will for you is to think and do what pleases Him. Although that is accomplished primarily by His own power, when you seek His will and do His work it does bring Him great pleasure. The Greek for “good pleasure” expresses great enjoyment and satisfaction. God works in your will and empowers you to work, bringing Himself great joy and satisfaction–whoa!
Some of you are saying, “Wait a minute, Chris–God is infinitely self-sufficient. So how could anyone possibly add to His satisfaction?” Yet in the mystery of your responsibility and God’s sovereignty in verses 12 to 13, this is exactly what Paul is saying. God is abundantly pleased as He empowers you to obey His Word!
Because your sanctification brings God great satisfaction, the Lord also gives you the resources to pursue it. Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Second Peter 1:3, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” You have all you need, Christian.
The sovereign God of the universe takes personal pleasure in what He Himself inspires and empowers His redeemed children to be and to do. Every believer knows sanctification requires strenuous effort, but it is totally dependent on God’s power–100% God and 100% you. God does it all but you must also engage fully. So how should we respond?
1. A sovereign God requires PERFECTION
If you ever hope to stand in God’s presence in the future and to please Him in this life, God’s standard is 100% perfection–100% righteousness. You can’t do that. Joan is at 67% perfection, her daughter, Tracy is at 33% perfection–but sadly, her granddaughter, Jesse is only at 2% perfection–sorry James.
Not one of you is at 100%–even grandma saintly thinks selfish, envious thoughts, takes credit for what God alone does and demonstrates pride in a hundred ways. You must turn from your sin and rely on the work of Christ on the cross as He took your punishment and died for your sin, then rose from the dead. If you surrender your life to Him, then He can give you His perfect 100% righteousness and you can stand before God in Heaven and live with Him now–not because you did anything, but because Christ did everything for you. Turn to Christ today, right now.
2. A sovereign God requires SUBMISSION
Sitting around you are people who believe in a sovereign God and trust in a sovereign God. They know Christ is in control. They believe Christ controls circumstances. They know Christ oversees history. They happily affirm Christ as a Savior and the one who provides salvation. But they will not submit to Him as their King and will not surrender to Him as Lord of their lives.
They sing His praise–until Christ ascends His throne, then they gnash their teeth and refuse to bow. They’ll listen to His Word, but they will not heed His Word whenever God’s will overrules their will. You may be the church attender I am describing today and my hope is Christ will expose your unsubmissive heart, your false faith, and cause you to depend on Christ as Lord as you follow Him with your life now and forever.
3. A sovereign God requires PROGRESS
A young girl turned to Christ, then applied for membership at her church. The elder asked her, “Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied. “Well, are you still a sinner?”
“To tell you the truth, I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever.”
“Then what change have you experienced?”
“I don’t quite know how to explain it,” she said, “except I used to be a sinner running after sin. But now that I am saved, I’m a sinner running from sin!”
Authentic Christians run from sin and pursue being like Christ. Read this warning in 2 Peter 1:8 to 10, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”
All genuine Christians will be in the process of sanctification. Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Christian, are you making progress? It’s often tough to see our own progress–so ask your friends and ask your family today. If you’re not making progress, turn to Christ. If you’re progressing, continue to flee sin and pursue Christ. Ask the Lord which sin should you run from and which Christ-like quality should you pursue? Let’s pray.