A Life of Obedience (Philippians 2:12)

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A Life of Obedience

Walking worthy–part 1, Philippians 2:12

Who does it, who is responsible, who lives the Christian life? Is it you, or is it God? Is it your effort, or the power of God? Is it a matter of passive trust, or active obedience? Is it all God’s doing, or is it all the believer’s doing? The answer is what? Yes! With the Bible, is it all God’s Word, or all the words of the apostolic authors? Answer? Yes.

Christ–is He all 100% God, or in the incarnation was He all 100% man? Answer, yes. With the death of Christ, the apostle Peter plainly says God planned the entire event–yet men were held responsible for putting Christ to death. You remember 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.”

With our salvation, the Bible says in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” Yet the Bible also says in Acts 16:31, “They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ ” God makes salvation possible, but we are accountable to respond, to believe. Is it all God, or is it all you? Yes!

Christian living is the same–it is all God and all you. Do not try to solve the tension. Do not try to reconcile the truth humanly. Let it remain as God presents it in the Word of God. Submit to the teaching of the Scripture as your authority. Your sanctification, your growth in Christ, your life as a Christian is not the passive quietism of let go and let God. It is not a self-righteous legalism. Nor is it the pietistic charge to seek a level of complete surrender. No–it is exactly what you read now in Philippians 2:12-13.

Today, is one of the clearest passages demonstrating both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Both are plainly taught without controversy, right next to each other, without additional explanation or any embarrassment. Accept it as written in Philippians 2:12 and 13, “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; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Don’t you love that? Work it out, Christian–and without missing a beat, God is at work in you to accomplish His will. The Bible teaches God is sovereign and you are responsible. God will sovereignly accomplish His plan for your life, but you are responsible to obey Him. Paul is calling the Philippians to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel.

Remember Philippians 1:27, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The first 11 verses in chapter 2 are about unity. Paul tells them to walk worthy in order to live in harmony.

Paul uses the incarnation, humility and sacrifice of Christ to motivate believers to unity. If Christ would humble Himself to this degree for your sake, then you can humble yourself for the sake of others. If God is one, you should live as one. Now in verses 12 to 16, Paul continues to charge the Philippians to walk worthy. He does so by first challenging them to live responsibly, to live obediently. Holiness in general and specifically unity will require work.

This week and next are absolutely crucial for you. You need these two verses in your arsenal of weapons to survive today’s attacks on doctrine. No joke–these two verses are the lenses to look through to see life accurately and to discern what is truth and what is error. If you work, this is how you live for Christ. If you stay at home with kids, this is how you glorify Christ. If you go to school, this is how you please Christ as a student.

God is 100% sovereign in your growth in verse 13, but today in verse 12 you are 100% responsible to obey all of the New Testament commands. In order to walk worthy from Philippians 1:27, verse 2:12 declares you must be 100% responsible. How? Allow me to draw out verse 12 phrase by phrase, and exposit six keys/steps to working out your salvation.

1  Pursuing Christ as your EXAMPLE

Grab a hold of the first two words in verse 12, “So then”–so then what’s the big deal? Paul uses “so then” here because it means to draw a conclusion from the previous paragraph. “So then” because of what Christ did in verses 1 to 11, you should live a particular way in verse 12. Think about how obedient Christ was.

Even though He is glorious God, read verse 8, “Christ… humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Christ was obedient to the point of death–and not a quiet death in bed surrounded by family and friends, but the horrific death of the lowest criminal, a death of torture and shame.

How did Christ do it? How did Jesus obey to the point of death? Even though He is God, in His incredible humility, Jesus lived completely dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Luke 4:1 and 18, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, … led around by the Spirit 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me.” Then in Acts 10:38, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power.” Christ chose to live dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

So as Paul says in Philippians 2:12, “So then,” looking back at the example of Christ, who lived in the power of the Spirit–we too are to live our lives dependently upon the Spirit–to live filled with the Spirit, which results in living by God’s strength, not living in the flesh by your strength. You remember Ephesians 5:18b, “Be filled with the Spirit,” a command given to every Christian to obey 24/7, present tense, yet it must happen to them, passive voice.

To be filled with the Spirit means to be saturated, controlled, and borne along by the Spirit of God. As you’re drenched in God’s Word, confessing all known sin, completely dependent on and serving Christ and sharing Christ, you’ll be filled with the Spirit. Incredible manifestations of God will be seen in a Christian and a church which commits to be filled with the Spirit all the time. Paul reminds us in the first two words, Christ is our example—“so then.” Next Paul says, “My beloved”–working out begins with . . .

2  Remembering you are always LOVED my beloved

No question, the phrase “my beloved” is intended to comfort and encourage the Philippians. No matter what struggles you face, you are the beloved of God. No matter what difficulty you’re working through, no matter what your current failure is, as a genuine child of God, you are loved. If He died for you, if He forgave all your sins, past, present and future–if He secured you before the foundation of the world, then you’re continually loved. You are beloved.

The apostle knew the Philippians would face dangers and deal with their own failures as they sought to follow the Lord. The Philippians were currently struggling with the conflict of disunity. A couple had really blown it badly. Two women were really going at it and most likely others were foolishly taking sides. The church was also facing danger from false teachers, true enemies of the cross attacking the church with error in 3:18. This godly church was also battling with pride, since Paul continually emphasizes their need for humility.

Just as the Lord does with you, the apostle made allowances for their failures. The Lord takes sin seriously, yet the Lord is gracious, knowing your frame. Despite their imperfections, the Philippians were beloved. Twice Paul calls the Philippians his beloved. You’ll never work out or be as obedient as God desires until you’re relationally convinced of His love for you.

Obedience and working out their salvation is not a cold-hearted command, because God’s children are the beloved of God, the chosen who have God’s affections. I know you know God loves you–but to work out your salvation, your heart must be full of the truth of His love for you. Is it? Are you gripped by being the beloved of God? Working out your salvation also comes from . . .

3  Embracing the REQUIREMENT of obedience

Verse 12, “just as you have always obeyed.” A third aspect of working out your sanctification is accepting the requirement of obedience. All genuine Christians are expected to obey. All true believers will obey because they want to. John, Paul and Jesus could not be more pointed in 1 John 2:4, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.’ ” Then Titus 1:16, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.” And Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

The expectation of the Philippian Christians is obedience. The expectation of all genuine believers is obedience. Verse 12, “Just as you have always obeyed”–the verb obey here describes a general fact, not perfection but the general trend of their lives is obedience to God’s Word. Paul reminds them of their previous pattern of obedience. Like all genuine Christians, verse 12, “you have always obeyed.” You know you’re supposed to obey and you have been obeying.

Parents, stop making excuses for children who prayed a prayer or expressed words of affection toward Christ once or actually served Christ once upon a time, but now living a lifestyle/pattern of disobedience to the Word of God. Someone who calls themselves a believer, yet is continually, defiantly sinning only has two options.

#1  They are in disobedience awaiting God’s discipline, or

#2  They are deceived awaiting God’s damnation–that’s it

There is no third option. There are no carnal Christians, nor lukewarm Christians–no, “I prayed a prayer once, but now live for myself” Christians. No one can say, “I lived for Christ once,” but now they live like the devil and still claim to be saved. The one who says, “I can still have sex with my girlfriend and be saved,” or “Jesus is fine with me being independent of the church,” or “I can do what I want contrary to the Bible and God understands.” No, you are either in disobedience awaiting God’s discipline or deceived awaiting God’s damnation–period.

The one who says, “I can live continually disobedient to the Word of God and still be saved,” is a heretic believing heresy. The true Gospel says when God causes someone to be born again, they are saved by faith, but always demonstrate the reality of genuine faith by obeying God. So embrace the requirement of obedience. As Paul says, “just as you have always obeyed.”

The Greek word here for obey is a compound word coming from under and hearing. Paul says come under the hearing–place yourself under what has been heard. Be a submissive hearer. Obviously we need to hear God’s Word before we can obey it. It is crucial we hear God’s Word—it’s like breathing air.

Read these verses from your outline, Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” And 2 Timothy 3:15, “That from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”

Do you realize what you just read? It is God’s Word which saves us and only God’s Word which gives our children the wisdom to turn to Christ. And it’s God’s Word which sanctifies us to grow to be like Christ. Each one of you is being pulled apart with distractions and lesser priorities, requiring you to make intentional choices in order to hear God’s Word.

When you tell your children Jesus is the only way and His Word is the only way to know His will, but you’re inconsistent attending corporate worship, or you’re unwilling to obey a clear command of Scripture in your life, you’re telling them with your lips the way of Heaven, but taking them by the hand to the path to Hell. Hear the Word and heed the Word.

Your personal study of God’s Word and your faithfulness to weekly worship are crucial to your spiritual health, your sanctification, and to providing a clear path to your child’s salvation. Paul says in verse 12, “just as you have always obeyed.” Let’s be clear–no Christian is saved by works, but once they are saved, they work to obey the Word of God. The Christian is saved by faith without works, but once they’re saved by faith, they work.

Beware–there’re thousands of people attending churches who claim to be saved, who think they’re saved, who’ve made a profession of faith, but they’re disobedient to the Word of God. They’re not battling sin, but embracing sin, excusing sin, and presuming on grace by defiantly sinning. Jesus said these type of people were just like His people. Matthew 15:8, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.”

Which highlights that obedience is more than external behavior–obedience comes from internal heart change which always leads to obedient external behavior. All believers have a desire to obey God’s Word, even when they fail to obey God’s Word. Romans 6:17, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” Genuine believers are not stifled rule-keepers, they are transformed want-to Christ pleasers, which is exactly what Paul says work out salvation is.

4  Examining your life for HEART-MOTIVATED obedience

The next phrase in verse 12, “just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.” I love Paul’s heart here. He commends the Philippians for their obedience while he was with them. But now he reminds them, they’re just as obligated to obey during his absence.

This is the true test for your children and students. The greatest evidence of your students’ hearts is this–not that your students obey while you are around, or are compliant saying things like, “Yes, Mommy, yes, Daddy.” But the true test is when they obey Christ when you’re not around. Do they follow Christ when no authority is present? Do they obey Christ when surrounded by unsaved friends? That’s the true test, because it exposes their heart.

Do they have a regenerate heart that wants to obey? Do they have an internal want-to-meter to please Christ? Paul is not describing the singular failure to obey, but a heart which desires to follow Christ from His Word over their friends and in the absence of any authority? All genuine believers become obedient from the heart–all true Christians want to obey even when authority is absent.

Does your heart say, “They have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence?” The Philippians had an intimate relationship with Paul. They really loved that apostle. He brought them the Gospel–Lydia, the jailer with his family, and others were saved. Humanly, they owed Paul a debt they could never repay. As a result, they developed a dependent relationship on Paul, which was good–but there can be an unhealthy dependence on one person, because your first loyalty is to Christ and never to a human leader.

Paul was 800 miles away under house arrest in Rome. Their only contact with Paul was through letters, like this letter. So Paul reminds them they’re responsible to obey Christ first, not Paul—“not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.” They were to obey the Lord, in spite of Paul’s absence. If they’re genuinely saved, it won’t matter whether their spiritual father is around–they’ll still want to obey Christ. Even if parents or spiritual leaders are not around, authentic believers will obey the Word of God because they want to.

True believers obey Christ from the heart when no one is looking. Christians obey Christ first, above all human leaders. A good reminder in our celebrity culture–don’t look to a man or a movement. Obey Christ and depend only on Him. True resources for obedience are found in Christ by depending upon the Spirit of God following the Word of God. All genuine Christians have the Spirit’s power, the example of Christ, love from Christ and a heart that wants to obey. You can work out your salvation. Paul says . . .

5  Continuing to act in obedience, EVIDENCING salvation

This next phrase in verse 12 is the bell ringer—“work out your salvation.” Whoa! We know from the New Testament, “work out your salvation” is not saying to work for your salvation. The difference between Christianity and all religion is this–every religion teaches you to work for your salvation. Christianity teaches you can never work for your salvation. God did all the work for you. At the highest cost ever paid, Christ secured the only possible salvation and offers it to all who repent and believe.

So “work out your salvation” is not work for your salvation. But Paul says live life aggressively, working out the salvation God has worked into you. Work out the salvation which is in you. Work out is a continual lifestyle command, to act upon yourself in order to obey God’s Word. You’re acting upon yourself to continually be obeying God’s Word in order to demonstrate your salvation is genuine. Paul is describing the long haul–continuous, sustained effort.

Work out your salvation” means by an act of your will, like Christ, dependent upon the Spirit, you’re choosing to demonstrate a genuine salvation–by living in obedience to the Word of God. You obey God by heading toward Christ with a lifestyle of dependent obedience. You obey God by participating fully in the sanctification process of fleeing sin and pursuing Christ.

Work out your salvation” is describing the process of sanctification which ultimately proves you’re a real believer and not a make-believer. Working out your salvation is describing your responsibility in sanctification. Growing as a Christian is not “let go and let God,” nor is it “gut out your obedience,” nor is it “make a pious decision which puts you at a higher spiritual plain.” No, it’s day-by-day dependent, intentional obedience to God’s Word.

Working out your salvation is the 100% effort you invest in your walk with Christ. It’s the effort you put into an obedient lifestyle which proves the genuineness of your salvation. The Greek verb for work out literally means to keep on working out to completion–to ultimate fulfillment. Every word in the Scripture is inspired, so don’t miss “work out YOUR salvation.”

The word your is emphatic, meaning your own. The command is for each believer here to make a sustained, continual effort to work out the ultimate completion of their/your own salvation, which has been graciously granted to them by God through their faith in Christ. Most theologians see working out their salvation in two aspects:

First  Work out your salvation is PERSONAL, obedient living

This kind of obedience involves your active commitment and personal effort. Sin is to be run from and Christlikeness is to be pursued aggressively. You engage your will and obey. You do what is right until it feels right–not because it feels right. In Philippians 1 we’re told to “walk worthy of the Gospel.” In chapter 3, we’re told to press on, “forget what lies behind, reach forward to what lies ahead,” to press on toward Christlikeness.

In the New Testament we’re told to die to self, run our race to win, exercise self-control in all things, to make certain our efforts for Christ hit the target. First Timothy 6:11 to 12 says, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”

Paul is telling us the Christian life is a life of obedience–deciding to obey. Acting upon yourself to obey God’s Word. If the Christian life were merely a matter of passive yielding or surrender, letting go and letting God, then all these exhortations would be a waste. But all of them presume your personal responsibility to obey as a way of life. God holds you responsible to obey God’s Word.

Real believers will choose to live righteously–and the power necessary for that obedience comes from God’s Spirit. So as you’ve heard me say many times, God is not calling you to do this and don’t do this—do, do, do. No! God is calling you to D.O.–depend and obey. To depend on the Spirit of God, be filled with the Spirit, then act upon your will to obey.

Second  Work out your salvation is PERSEVERING obedience

The Greek word work out means bring to completion. Working out our salvation is the faithful pursuit of sanctification in this life up to the time of glorification. You are in it for the long haul–enduring to the end is rare, but it’s what God has in mind here. All true believers will persevere to the end, and we are involved in that perseverance. Really? Yes, beloved.

Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” Paul encouraged the church in Antioch to continue in the faith. And listen carefully to what Paul told his student in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

Perseverance in the faith is the duty of every genuine believer. We’re called to persevere, but we do not hold ourselves secure–that is God’s responsibility. But we are held responsible for faithful endurance in the faith. We’re held responsible to persevere. Believers will persevere because God’s power keeps their salvation secure. We persevere, and Jesus holds us secure.

John 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Also, John 10:28 to 29, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” We persevere, God protects. We endure, God holds us secure.

The call for believers to work out their salvation is found all through the New Testament. Each believer is to endure. Each Christian is to persevere by working out their sanctification. It is 100% you, yet 100% God–God alone holds you secure while you persevere. Is this serious? Yes!

6  Pursuing sanctification with a life or death SERIOUSNESS

The final phrase of verse 12 is clear–it says, “with fear and trembling.” Whoa–fear and trembling. What’s the big deal here? That seems too strong, too exaggerated–right? Trembling? Like your teacher, Mr. Rupert, who says, “Finish the exam in five minutes or I will kill you all!” Whoa, that’s a ten on the tension scale there, Mr. Rupert.

Like a parent who says, “Pick up your clothes or I will burn them all with gasoline!” Better switch to decaf, Mom.” Doesn’t this seem a little tense? “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling?” Fear is phobos, where we get phobia, meaning fright, terror and reverential awe. Trembling is tromos, where we get tremor, describing a literal shaking. Why does Paul use these words? They are proper reactions to the awareness of the horrible power of temptation and your own spiritual weakness in dealing with it.

No matter who you are, Christian, brand new believer or 40-year veteran–you are a needy person. You need Christ, you need the Bible, you need prayer, you need the Church, you need regular fellowship, you need the preaching of God’s Word, you need teaching, you need doctrine, you need discipleship, you need accountability, you need shepherding. You are not above temptation and you are not above your weaknesses and sinful bents.

You all agree, your Father is loving, merciful and forgiving. But He nevertheless holds each of you accountable for your disobedience. There’re consequences to our sin, right? Hebrews 12:6, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” This is not popular in today’s Christian culture, which overemphasizes grace to the neglect of God’s holiness. But you’ll find fear and trembling throughout the New Testament as evidence of healthy Christianity.

Paul was aware of his own personal weakness when he spoke of his fear and trembling as he ministered to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2:3. Paul described the dread of his own sin in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Why is it you often don’t feel the same way? This dread of sin comes from the awareness of the subtleness of pride and the deceitfulness of our own heart. The awareness of our own sinful weakness and the incredible power of temptation leads every genuine Christian to fear falling into sin and grieving the Lord.

This serious fear includes a reverential fear of God. You are so thankful for salvation, you have a sincere desire to not sin, which results in offending and grieving God. And because we love Jesus, we accept His discipline and pray for strength in avoiding temptation–to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

All this results in a serious pursuit of your sanctification which makes for a worthy walk. The warning of Scripture is . . .

If you’re not being sanctified, you’ll not see God.

If you’re not growing in Christ, you have no assurance of salvation.

If you’re not participating in your growth, you’re not saved.

Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” You must be about the sanctification process, fleeing from sin and pursuing Christ–a life of obedience, a sanctification which God enables, but you must act. Sanctification which involves 100% God and 100% you–you must engage your will and decide to obey. You must depend on the Spirit by faith and step out by an act of your will in obedience. You’re to follow the Lord who loves you dependently. You pursue your sanctification zealously because you want to. Genuine believers take their pursuit of Christ seriously.


1.  All Christians INITIATE actions of obedience, regardless of whether you feel like it or not.

I’m all for desiring God, but if you wait for a feeling to obey, you’re violating what Paul wrote in verse 12. Do what is right until it feels right, not because it feels right. Men, spiritual leadership is initiating obedience to God’s Word in the home–not your opinions, but God’s truth pursued in the most gracious loving way. Godly men pursue obedience.

2.  Do not seek to humanly resolve the TENSION

God is 100% sovereign and you are 100% responsible. When you seek to alter this tension, you’ll step into heresy. When you violate “Man is 100% responsible”, you’re a heretic. When you say, “don’t spank your kids since until they’re saved, they can’t obey”–no, parents are 100% responsible. Parents are to do what the Scripture says, so your kids learn they can’t obey on their own and hopefully turn to Christ.

When you violate, “God is 100% sovereign,” like saying, “God is too loving to allow this evil, therefore He didn’t know”–then you are a heretic. Leave the tension–both are fully true. God is 100% sovereign and people are 100% responsible.

3.  Sanctification is both fleeing sin and PURSUING Christ

Godliness and growth are not measured only by what you don’t do. True spiritual maturity is measured by what you DO. Service and giving are all part of the mature Christian’s life. Don’t just not sin, pursue living like Christ—serve and give.

4.  Only the genuinely SAVED can obey Christ

You must be born again, made new and filled with the Spirit for any obedience to please Christ–are you?

5.  Godliness requires WORK–get after it

DA Carson wrote this–listen carefully. “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith or delighting in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and fall it faith.

“We cherish the loss of self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” God commands us to “work out our salvation.” Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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