Sanctification: Working Out What God Has Worked In

Sanctification: Working Out What God Has Worked In

Sanctification: Working Out What God Has Worked In
Text: Philippians 2:12-13

Is there every a time when we can put our feet up and go on a spiritual vacation? Is there ever an occasion where we can call up the devil and arrange a time out in the midst of the battle? Of course not, and this being the case, we therefore never find the scripture allowing us to rest from our duty.

Paul is addressing an excellent church, and the temptation would have been to compare them to worse churches and say to himself, I’ll not give them an exhortation except to keep doing as they’re doing. But he doesn’t do that. He, just like God, always wants them to strive to be better.

If we go back to v27 where we see his first exhortation to them to pursue lives that reflect their citizenship in heaven, we can see the importance of this reflected in the two overarching struggles the church was facing. Namely, the opposition without the church v27-31, and the strife within the church 2:1-11.

We subdivided those problems as we went through them, but those are the two issues Paul is endeavouring the help the church through. But now Paul is going to push them further in the pursuit of living the way they should. Notice the language of v12 and its similarity to 1:27. He goes back to the idea of them living the way they should whether he is there or not.

He is circling around to continue the same vein of thought he exhorted in 1:27, namely, the need for living as citizens of heaven, only now their obedience should be further stimulated by the picture of Christ’s obedience 2:8, which was unto death. v12-18 gives further needed exhortation for living as heavenly citizens.

v12 begins “Wherefore…” i.e. On the basis of everything I’ve said. And in v12-13 he deals with the biblical expounds understanding of living the Christian life.


i) Revealed by the language of affection – “Wherefore, my beloved”
Paul had a love for people. A love that was heart broken over the unbelief of his fellow Jews. However, he had a special love for God’s people. “My beloved” reveals this special love.

ii) Revealed by the language of assumption – “your own salvation”
The importance of the doctrine of sanctification is only surpassed by the doctrine of justification. That which Paul reveals they had experienced in 1:6. God did a regenerating work in them that justified them. For the benefit of those who do not understand those terms of justification and sanctification, let me define them for you.

Justification is the doctrine that covers that vital act of God in which sinners under condemnation are completely and eternally made right in God’s sight. The SC says:

Q. 33. What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

The important word to note there is “act”. It is an act that occurs in a nanosecond of time. Sanctification is what follows. It is the doctrine that covers the continued work of God in sinners now in communion with Him. Q. 35. What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

The important word to note there is “work”. It is a work that continues throughout the life of the believer from the point of justification until the point of their glorification. And as I said in the opening line, the importance of this doctrine of sanctification is only surpassed by the doctrine of justification. If you’re wrong in your understanding of sanctification, it could mess up your Christian life. But if you’re wrong on justification, you don’t have a Christian life.

It is addressed to God’s people, to the saints, and since they were saints they MUST possess the experience and work of sanctification in their lives. You can’t work out something you don’t possess. It is THEIR salvation that they already have, and at the moment of conversion, God infused into their souls a principle of holiness. Desires after godliness and yearnings for Christ-likeness. Sanctification is something which flows OUT of salvation. It does not contribute TO salvation, and these believers had a knowledge of it.


i) This plea dictates effort – “work out”
The verb here is in the present imperative, i.e. a duty that is to continually adhered to. Note: He is not telling them to work FOR their salvation but to work out what is already in them. It is the divine nature which every Christian possesses, and it moves us to work out what has been worked in us. This is the project of being saved from your sin; dying unto sin, and living unto righteousness. And as we do this, we will exhibit both to the world and to the church that we are citizens of heaven.

Our Christianity must be seen in every relationship. Is your Christianity evident to believers and unbelievers? It should be. The language shows that the Christian is not passive in this work. There is effort and responsibility involved for the Christian. In fact, the Christian senses this responsibility naturally. The concept of ‘let go and let God’ as a path to holiness is not biblical. 2 Cor 7:1. 1 Tim 6:11.

ii) This plea dictates attitude – “with fear and trembling”
This is the attitude Paul encourages as we work out our salvation. The term is used in a few other places, e.g. “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ” Eph 6:5

So what does he mean? Well it might help to look at the negative first. He is not referring to a spirit of being petrified or of one looking over their shoulder. Nor is it a fear that stems out of uncertainty about their future salvation. It is a fear that reflects the importance of what is required, and has no confidence in the flesh.

This overthrows the idea that a Christian can live like the devil and go to heaven. It ends the notion that some have that you can give your life to Jesus and it doesn’t matter what happens after that, you’re still saved.

Charles Stanley in his book on Eternal Security says – ”Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy” (Chapter 10, p. 93). ”And last, believers who lose or abandon their faith will retain their salvation, for God remains faithful” (p. 94). ”Christ will not deny an unbelieving Christian his or her salvation because to do so would be to deny Himself” (p. 94).

Sanctification is not optional. If it is not present, then neither is justification. If you have no faith and no godliness and no desire for godliness, then you have never been saved. Even in the heart of a backslider there is an uncomfortable feeling of failure, and a desire to live a godly life.


i) The certainty of the promise
Notice this is not a conditional statement. There is no ‘if’. This WILL happen. It is the promise of the grace needed to fulfill the plea in v12. We might be inclined to feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of v12. We might lament because we know something of our own weakness. So v13 gives us a wonderful promise, and true enough, if v13 wasn’t here we might rightly despair. But v13 is here! And while we’re still responsible, it is not as lone rangers without divine help.

ii) The extent of the promise – “to will and to do”
The Spirit of God produces both the desire and the ability to do what God’s will is for your life. How did your desire for Christ-likeness get there? The Spirit of God gave it to you. And how will you fulfill the desire? The Spirit of God will strengthen you.

So is it God or is it me that does this work? The answer is yes. It is both. And beloved, these are two things to pray over.
Lord, give me your desires and give me grace to obey them.

iii) The aim of the promise – “of his good pleasure”
We are to obey God and flee sin, but all the time it is not by our own power, but by God “which worketh in you”. You could translate “pleasure” as ‘will’. Summed up: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” 1 Thes 4:3.

What is God’s good pleasure concerning you? What is His good will for you? Sanctification. Regardless of what office we hold or don’t hold, what duties we have or don’t have, what age we might be or stage of the Christian life – THIS is the will of God for you.

In fact, this is the most important aspect of the will of God in your life. This is more important than discovering His will for career, or relationship, or what church to attend, or whether we should go into full-time service. A lot of people talk about trying to discover the will of God for their lives – THIS IS IT!

Now I’m not suggesting the other matters aren’t important, but I don’t find anywhere in scripture that calls me to stress about who to marry, or what career to follow, etc. But I DO find weighty instruction about this aspect of the will of God, and I put it to you Christian, unless you’re doing battle every day to obey God in His call to sanctification, you will never know the mind of God on the other matters of life. And contradistinction to that, if you emphasize the importance of daily obedience and sanctification in your life, you will discern the will of God in the details of life much more easily.

You see, most of the important decisions are made for you, and you work your life around them. You don’t have to ask God if you should marry an unbeliever. You don’t have to ask God if you should remain in a charismatic or compromised church. God has said come out from among them.

Close – Our efforts and responsibilities for the Christian life to not end at our personal cry for salvation. It is not proven by the record of a date when we responded to an altar call. The proof of my salvation is evidenced by that fact I am compelled to work out what God has worked in me. While the extent of my efforts may ebb and flow, I am repeatedly compelled to strive to be like Christ. I do this because God has worked in me and I cannot do anything else.

I take you back to 1:6 – God has invested an initial work in me which He has promised to see through to the end. I want you to leave here, not down cast by your failures to work hard enough, but rejoicing in His unfailing promise to see the work through in my life and to rededicate my heart to Him and say Lord, help me to desire all your will and do all your will.