Pastor David B. Curtis


Sanctification and You

Philippians 2:12-13 - Part 2


Philippians 2:12-13 (NKJV) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

This morning we want to focus our attention on verse 12 and the subject of human responsibility in sanctification. Next week we will look at God's sovereignty in sanctification.

We saw last week that the subject of these two verses is progressive sanctification. When Paul says, "Work out your own salvation" he is using the word "salvation" -- soteria-- to speak of practical sanctification. Sanctification is the separation of yourself from sin in this life. Some synonyms for sanctification would be; practical holiness, spiritual growth, and Christlikeness.

We see a paradox in these two verses between God's sovereignty and human responsibility in sanctification. We see in verse 12 that we are responsible for our sanctification, and we see in verse 13 that God sovereignly works in our life to produce sanctification.

This morning we want to look at the believer's role in sanctification; what is our role and what is God's role in this area? Are we called to a life of discipline, or are we to "let go and let God"? Is it me or is it Him? Is it faith or discipline? Is it trust or is it obedience? The answer is yes! Verse 12 teaches us that we are to discipline ourselves toward sanctification -- it's me, it takes effort, it involves obedience. But, verse 13 teaches that it is God who works sanctification in our lives-- it is God, it is by faith, it is through trust.

Throughout the years, Christians have ignored the paradox and gone to one extreme or another. Because of this, they have ended up in trouble. To go totally to either side is sin; if you say it's all up to God, you will fail to carry out your responsibility. If you go to the side that says, "It is all me," you are walking in self-sufficiency. We need to accept the paradox and live a balanced Christian life.

Let's look at the extreme poles in this issue.

Quietism: this view teaches that the believer is passive (most believers fall into this category, practically speaking), spiritual passivism-- "let go and let God." "I can't, He can," was one of their phrases.

Pietism: this view teaches that it is a diligent effort toward personal piety. You are active, aggressive and working in all your power to live the sanctified life.

So, we have Quietism on one side and Pietism on the other. Let me give you a little history of the Quietest movement. Quietism is somewhat mystical and very subjective, it was originally popular among the Quakers and then became part of the Arminian perfectionist movement. They believed you could come to a post conversion crisis experience in which you momentarily became so totally surrendered that you never sinned again-- this is sinless perfection. Can you think of a verse that would refute that teaching?

1 John 1:8 (NKJV) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

They believed that the work of sanctification does not involve any effort on our part, except surrender. "Surrender" was one of their favorite words. In the Keswick conferences, the theme was always "surrender." They taught that our striving effort is a hindrance to the process of sanctification and we have got to get self out of there, we've got to die to self, we've got to crucify self, we've got to put self on the alter. One of their hymns stated, "Holiness by faith in Jesus, not by efforts of my own." They would appeal to:

Galatians 2:20 (NKJV) "I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me.

They put the emphasis on "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." But, we can see the tension even in this verse; "the life 'I' now live in the flesh."

One of the popular Quietist writers was Trumble, he wrote, "The simple fact is that whenever a life that trusts Christ as Savior is completely surrendered to Christ as Master, Christ is then ready to take complete control of that life and at once to fill it with himself. When we surrender and trust completely, we die to self, and Christ can and does literally replace our self with himself. Thus, it is no longer we that live, but Christ lives in us as His person literally fills our whole being with himself in actual personal presence, and He does this not as a figure of speech but just as literally as that we fill our clothes with our self."

What Trumble is saying is that you divest your self of your self and Christ becomes the new self. It sounds like an incarnation. If this is true, who are all the commands and exhortation in the New Testament written to? They must be written to Christ.

Trumble goes on to say, "In this condition a Christian does not even experience temptation for it is defeated by Christ before it has time to draw him into a fight."

Think about this, sinless perfection, no temptation!! Sinless perfection is a myth, do you know anybody who is sinlessly perfect? I don't. Now, if we hold to this view, and we sin, and we will, who's fault is it? It can't be our fault because we've surrendered. Is it Christ's fault? We know that it can't be Christ's fault because James says:

James 1:13 (NKJV) Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

The way they answer this is to say, "You took your surrender back." But how can I take my surrender back if Christ is controlling my life? As you can see, there are some real problems with the Quietist view. They saw one side of the paradox and swung completely to that side.

On the other side, we have Pietism: (Let me say that for the most part the Pietistic movement was a very good movement, although there was an over emphasis on self.)

Pietism is connected with a movement in 18th century Germany which was a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of the Lutheran church. There was a strong emphasis on Bible study, holy living, practical Christianity, spiritual exercise and self-discipline. They took the opposite view of the Quietist. They said that if there was a belief that did not lead to works, it was not a saving (justifying) belief.

This view can get out of balance because it is an over emphasis on self-effort. If you believe that all your spiritual progress is based upon your ability to dedicate your self, discipline your self, and move your self in the right direction, then you're going to experience two things:

1. When you succeed-- you'll be proud! "Look what I have accomplished, I am holy and righteous!"

2. When you fail -- you'll have despair. If you are the only resource, where do you go when you fail? If you fail and you have no place to turn, the chances are you're going to give up.

Both sides are problematic. When you read verse 12, it looks like Paul is a Pietist. When you read verse 13, it looks like he's a Quietest. These verses must be taken together, not separately. Who is responsible for holy living, God or us? Yes. It take "dependent discipline." We are dependent upon God for everything we do, and yet we are to be disciplined in our lives.

Exodus 14:13-15 (NKJV) And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. 14 "The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace." 15 And the LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.

Moses told the children of Israel to "stand still" but God told them to get moving. Yes, God would fight for them but they were to go forward. This is the Christian life, we are to "go forward" trusting God in everything that we do.

We see the tension with Paul in;

1 Corinthians 15:10 (NKJV) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Paul says, "I am laboring, but it is God's grace that enables me to be what I am."

Let's look at the subject of human responsibility in our text:

Philippians 2:12 (NKJV) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

The word "therefore" is the Greek word hoste it means: "so then." It is a particle in the Greek to draw a conclusion from a preceding section. Hoste draws our attention to the context of verse 12. The context of chapter two is Christian unity, and the key to unity is humility. In verses 5-11, he gives us an example of humility and its reward. Then in verse 12, he say, "So then." So, verses 12-13 are related to unity and humility and are tied to the example of Christ.

What Paul is saying here is, "As you work out your practical sanctification day by day, you'll find that Christian unity will grow." Spiritual maturity is "Christ likeness" and Christ likeness is humility, and humility produces unity. "So then," just as your example was, so you be also.

"My beloved." Paul had a close and very loving relationship with the Philippians. Paul is giving them this command because he loves them and he wants the best for them which they will only have as they continue to grow in Christ.

"As you have always obeyed." The word "obeyed" is from the Greek word hupakouo, which comes from two words; hupo meaning: "under"; and akouo, meaning: "to hear." It means: "to obey something you've heard." It speaks of submitting to something you've heard. Paul says they have always obeyed. The Philippians were what James calls, "doers of the word."

Could Paul have said this to you? Is your Christian life characterized by obedience to what you have heard? So many believers just akouo-- they hear, but they don't hupo-- get under it, or submit to what they have heard.

The Philippians brought Paul much joy because of their obedience.

Hebrews 13:7 (NKJV) Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.
Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV) Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

Paul was telling the Philippians that they bring him joy because of their submission to the word of God. I understand this because I am grieved over those who do not submit to the word. And it brings me great joy to see those of you who walk in obedience.

"Not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence." The word "presence" is parousia and the word "absence" is apousia. I think that what Paul is doing here is reminding them of their personal responsibility before God for sanctification. He is telling them, "You need to do it on your own. You don't need me to be there-- keep growing, keep maturing." Don't blame your lack of growth on others. We seem to want to blame anyone but ourselves for our lack of growth.

Look at the parallel here between:

Philippians 1:27 (NKJV) Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,
Philippians 2:12 (NKJV) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

The Philippians had always obeyed and were making progress spiritually but there was a danger, they might have been leaning too heavily on Paul, that is, on his physical presence with the church at Philippi. We need each other, but often we will depend too much on others when we need to be depending upon God.

"Work out your own salvation." This is a call to personal responsibility. "Salvation" here is soteria and in this context means: "practical sanctification, or personal holiness." He is not talking here about justification, we are not to work at that, that is a work of Christ. It is a free gift to us.

Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

The words "work out" (In Philippians 2:12) are the Greek word katergazomai, it means: "to carry to its ultimate conclusion." We say,"The student worked out a problem in arithmetic." We mean that he carried the problem to its ultimate conclusion. What is the conclusion for us? To work out in our lives Christ likeness. This Greek word is present tense imperative meaning it is a command that has a continual emphasis. We are to be continually working out our sanctification.

Sofaclease used katergazomai in the sense of overcoming all opposition, to accomplish something in the presence of difficulty. It is a command for sustained effort, diligence, hard work. All of the injunctions of Scripture presuppose responsibility on the part of believers. We are called to holy living:

1 Peter 1:16 (NKJV) because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."

To live out a practical holiness, involves discipline, not passivity on our part.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

Paul is saying to the Corinthians, "Run to win" -- this requires maximum effort.

25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.

The word "competes" is agonizomai, from which we get our word "agony." It means: "to struggle, to contend with adversity, to labor."

The word "temperate" is the Greek word egkrateuomai, which means: "self-controlled or disciplined. You will never succeed academically, physically, or spiritually unless you are disciplined to that particular goal. The undisciplined person accomplishes very little. An undisciplined athlete is an unsuccessful athlete.

26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

The word "discipline" is hupopiazo. It means: "to hit under the eye, to buffet or disable, lead it captive-- to lead about as a slave." Paul says he runs, struggles with adversity, fights, buffets his body and leads it about as a slave. Does this sound passive to you? No way! There is no, "let go and let God" here. Paul is involved in a very intense battle with sin. This is progressive sanctification, it involves discipline.

Why does he do this? He does it so he won't become "disqualified"-- adokimos. It means: "unapproved, rejected, worthless." He is not speaking of loss of salvation, he is talking about loss of effectiveness for the cause of Christ.

Do you understand what Paul is saying in this text? Do you fight sin or do you surrender to it? Do you understand the need for discipline in your Christian life? Do you see how your lack of discipline hurts you?

1 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV) But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.

The word "godliness" is eusebeia. It's: "personal piety, or holiness." The word "exercise" is gumnazo, from which we get our word "gymnasium." Do you go to a gym to be passive? Have you ever played passive sports? This word is related to athletics-- hard work, sweat and toil. Gumnazo means: "to train or discipline." Paul is telling Timothy that he must discipline himself for the purpose of holiness. Discipline is the key to practical sanctification. Let me give you a working definition of what discipline is: Discipline is doing what we don't want to do so that we can accomplish what we've always wanted.

There is no such thing as drifting into godliness, you drift into sin. "Let go and let sin" would be a more accurate phrase. Because when you let go you will digress in personal holiness.

We need discipline, we need to train ourselves, we need to exercise ourselves toward personal holiness. This is personal responsibility. We tend to be very lazy when it comes to our spiritual lives. It seems that the effort that most Christians put into their spiritual lives wouldn't exhaust a butterfly.

Proverbs 25:28 (NKJV) Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.

To have "no rule over his own spirit" is to have no discipline, no self-control, to be unable to govern one's desires. In the ancient east, a city without walls had no defense to an attack. Self control is not just saying, "no" to what you shouldn't do, it is also saying, "yes" to what you should do.

What are the Christian disciplines? Bible study, prayer, fellowship. It all starts with the study of the Bible. How can you even begin to live the Christian life apart from the Bible? You can't really know anything about God or your own sinfulness apart for the Scriptures. How much time do you spend a week in God's word getting to know your Creator and Redeemer? What do you know better, the Bible or the T.V. guide?

Look at how Paul describes the Christian life as he came to the end of his:

2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Do you passively fight? Not if you have any desire to win or at least stay alive. Paul gave us the same idea in:

Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Does that sound at all passive to you? Do you see any "let go and let God" in that text? The words that the Bible uses to describe progressive sanctification are; "press on, fight, discipline and exercise," to name a few. No where in the word of God are we taught to "let go and let God." The biblical theme is "get going as you trust in God."

Some of you may be saying, "I want to be godly, I have a desire to separate my life from sin, but I just can't seem to make it a reality in my life." You might compare yourself to:

Proverbs 13:4 (NKJV) The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.

Another word for "diligent" is "disciplined." If you will discipline yourself in two areas, I believe your desire can become a reality. I'll share them with you in a minute. Let's go back to our text and look at the last phrase in verse 12.

"With fear and trembling." In the Greek, "fear and trembling" come first before the verb "work out." The Greek reads, "with fear and trembling work out your own salvation."

I believe that fear and trembling are the motivation for working out your salvation. In our day, the idea of "fearing God" seems old-fashioned to many Christians. But there was a time when to be called a "God-fearing man" was a great compliment. You don't hear that phrase used anymore today. I don't think we understand what it means to fear God. Let's look at how the Bible uses this word "fear."

Proverbs 9:10 (NKJV) "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Wisdom starts with a fear of God. To the Hebrew, wisdom is right living, responding correctly to life's situations. So, when you fear God, you will begin to live right. If "wisdom" and "understanding" are parallel in this verse, and I believe they are, then the "fear of the Lord" and the "knowledge of the Holy One" are parallel also. If we fear God, we will walk in wisdom and if we know God, we will walk in understanding. To know God is to fear Him, and to fear Him is to walk in obedience. Paul said of the ungodly in:

Romans 3:18 (NKJV) "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

That is why they are ungodly, they don't fear God. What we think about God will determine our behavior. God is Holy and He is Just. God's main attribute is not love, it is holiness.

1 Peter 1:13-17 (NKJV) Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." 17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;

God is Holy and we are to fear Him. How can we come to really know God so that we do fear Him? There is only one way and that is through His Word, which is God's self revelation.

The two areas of discipline that are of vital importance in the Christian's life are; bible study and prayer. If you discipline yourself in these areas, you'll begin to know God and as you get to know Him, you'll fear Him, and as you fear Him, you'll walk in obedience.

As God dealt with the children of Israel, he continually stressed that they were to fear Him.

Deuteronomy 4:5-6 (NKJV) "Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. 6 "Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'
Deuteronomy 4:10 (NKJV) "especially concerning the day you stood before the LORD your God in Horeb, when the LORD said to me, 'Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.'
Deuteronomy 5:29 (NKJV) 'Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!

It starts with fear and then comes obedience.

Deuteronomy 6:12-15 (NKJV) "then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. 13 "You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. 14 "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you 15 '(for the LORD your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the LORD your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth.
Deuteronomy 6:23-25 (NKJV) 'Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers. 24 'And the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. 25 'Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.'

The fear of God is not strictly an Old Testament concept, it is very much part of the New Covenant.

Jeremiah 32:40 (NKJV) 'And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.

Paul and Peter both use the fear of the Lord as a motive to holy living. And Isaiah, speaking of Christ, said:

Isaiah 11:3 (NKJV) His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;

If Jesus, in his humanity, delighted in the fear of God, surely we need to work on having this attitude in our lives.

The Bible uses the term "fear of God" in two distinct ways: that of anxious dread, and that of veneration, reverence, and awe. Fear as anxious dread is produced by the realization of God's impending judgment upon sin. For the child of God, the primary meaning of the fear of God is reverence and honor. It focuses not upon the wrath of God, but upon the majesty, holiness and glory of God. It could be compared to the awe that an ordinary citizen would feel in the presence of a great king. Notice how John responded when he saw Christ in all his glory:

Revelation 1:17 (NKJV) And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.

The reverent Christian first see's God in His transcendent glory, majesty, and holiness. In our day, we have magnified the Love of God almost to the exclusion of the fear of God.

Hebrews 10:30-31 (NKJV) For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hebrews 12:28-29 (NKJV) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.
2 Corinthians 7:1 (NKJV) Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

The way to perfect holiness in you life is to have a fear of God.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11 (NKJV) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

Paul says, "Influenced by the fear of God, I persuade men." The Bible teaches that God is holy and that He is to be feared.

We desperately need to recover a sense of awe and reverence for God in our day. We must begin to view him in the infinite majesty that belongs to him who is the Creator and Supreme Sovereign of the universe. There is an infinite gap in worth and dignity between God, the Creator, and man, the creature. The fear of God is a heartfelt recognition of this gap-- not a put down of man, but the exaltation of God.

Notice the attitude of the redeemed in heaven:

Revelation 15:3-4 (NKJV) They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! 4 Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested."

To fear God is to confess his absolute uniqueness-- to acknowledge his majesty, holiness, awesomeness, glory, and power.

The reason that there is so little holiness (practical sanctification) in the church today is because there is so little knowledge of God. We do not know Him, so we do not fear him. God is holy and he is to be feared. The fear of God should provide a primary motivation for, as well as result in, obedience to him. If we truly reverence God, we will obey him, since every act of disobedience is an affront to his dignity and majesty.

Verse 12 of Philippians stresses human responsibility. Motivated by a reverential fear of God, we are to be working out our practical sanctification, our holiness, through personal discipline and dependent trust.

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