Divine Initiative and Human Responsibility

The Divine Initiative and Human Responsibility

Philippians 2:12-13

“For It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good Pleasure.”


            Every sermon has an application.  Having outlined the wonder of the incarnation, Paul comes to the response.  In light of what Christ has done, the only appropriate response is to embrace the salvation he offers.  However, this response is not just a single act but a lifestyle.  The person and work of Christ demand complete surrender and obedience to his word.  The Christian life is not an event of faith but a life of faith.  Paul encourages us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”  However, we must give careful attention to his wording.  Paul does not say, “Work for your salvation;” he states, “Work out your salvation.”  The difference is critical.  To work for your salvation makes salvation dependent upon our works and efforts, which undermines grace. When he states work out your salvation, he reminds us that God’s redemptive work is transforming.  It changes how we live. Our salvation is to lead to a changed life.  The statement “work out” means to put something into effect entirely or thoroughly.  We are to live as followers of Christ, manifesting his character in all facets of life.  We are to live by faith and allow that faith to penetrate and change our thoughts, motives, actions, and desires.

            Our obedience to God is not grounded in our ability.  If we had to make our salvation real in our own lives by our strength,  we would ultimately fail.  As Paul himself affirms, the things that we are commanded not to do are the things we do, and the commands that we are to obey are the very things we reject.  Sin still dwells within us and distorts and dominates our lives (Romans 7:14-20).  However, we are not without hope, for Paul points out in the next verse that this transformation is not done in our strength but in the power of God, who is working in us.  Having set the human responsibility to live in obedience, Paul now highlights that God takes the initiative to accomplish this work in us.

            The wonder of grace is that not only is our salvation the complete work of God apart from any effort on our part, even our sactification is the work of his sovereign grace.  Sanctification is the process by which we increasingly manifest the character of Christ.  Just as God saves us by his grace, so he sanctifies us by his grace. The wording of verse 13 is critical, for upon it hangs the hope of our salvation.  First, Paul states, “It is God who is at work in you to will.”   In other words, God gives us the desire to obey him.  In our sinfulness, we do not even desire to follow Christ.  Our natural desire is not to surrender to Christ but to continue our self-driven life.  However, the Holy Spirit penetrates our hearts of stone and begins to work in us to give us a desire to obey Christ.

            The second statement is equally important, “God who is at work in you..to work for his good pleasure.”  Paul speaks now of the new purpose that Christ gives us in our life.  Pursuing our sinful desires or the sinful desires of the world no longer defines our purpose.  Our purpose is now to fulfill his good pleasure.  It is to pursue and live according to his will.  We have a new goal in life, a new reason for living:  To live is Christ (Phil. 1:21).  

            Our whole life is lived in the context of his grace.  We are not saved by grace and then grow through our strength.  We are saved by grace and live and grow in Christ through his grace, strength, and power.  That is why obedience is possible.  Apart from his work in us, we are powerless.  However, as we daily yield to him, he empowers us to live in obedience.  At the start of each day, the best prayer is “Lord, not my will but yours.”  We discover the strength to fulfill his will when we surrender to him.  Are you struggling with sin in your life? Are you struggling to have victory? The answer lies not in yourself and your strength but in completely surrendering to Him.  In your struggle with sin, do not try harder; surrender more.


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