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; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
|D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones|
. . . There are those who think that sanctification is something in which you and I are quite passive. There are people who teach that as you have been justified by just believing and doing nothing, so you must receive your sanctification in exactly the same way. They say that you are justified by faith, and that the big mistake that most Christian people make is that they strive and endeavor to improve and perfect themselves. That, they say, is an error; you have nothing to do but to stop and give in and receive this sanctification and then you will be held to be perfect. They put it sometimes in a phrase like this—'Let go and let God,' and they have based it upon this word that we are considering together. You have nothing to do but to let go and wait upon God and then you receive. And yet the answer is found in the Apostle's words here, which are an active commandment: 'work out,' do something, 'work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling.'
Now that is where the confusion of doctrine comes in. By all my efforts and working and striving I can never make myself a Christian, but because, and only by the grace of God, I have become a Christian, then I must work with all my might and with all the energy and effort that I can command. Once having been made a Christian I am in a position to work, and so the exhortation to me is to work out my salvation. Paul, then, exhorts us to work and to labour and to strive and fight the good fight of faith. He says in Romans 6:11 that we must reckon ourselves to be 'dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God.' Therefore, it does seem to me to be entirely contrary to the Apostle's doctrine to teach that we are to be sanctified in a passive manner and that we should do nothing but wait for God to do everything for us. . . .
. . . There are certain statements in the New Testament which appear to be contradictory, and yet are not contradictory at all; it is just that our finite minds are incapable of reconciling them logically. Here we have an example of that very thing. Let us approach it like this: our business is to submit ourselves to the revelation of what Scripture teaches us. No one can dispute that all the initiative in this matter of salvation is always with God. 'It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.'
We can summarize this great doctrine in this way. According to the Bible, man by nature is dead in trespasses and sins. If we read Ephesians 2 we see the background of this doctrine. According to the teaching of the Bible everywhere man by nature is spiritually dead, and can do nothing. We are told in Romans 8:7 that the natural mind is 'enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.' And not only can man do nothing, he does not want to do anything. He is alienated in his mind against God; he cannot please God, nor does he want to. So why are we now at all interested in these things? Why are we not spending our time, and living our whole life, in utter unconcern about God? What has happened to us? What has made the difference? The answer of the Bible is this: 'But God … for his great love wherewith he loved us …' (Eph 2:4). Our salvation was God's initiating; it was God that did something. . . .
But the Apostle goes on to say something still more striking. God does not merely start this, he goes on with it, and continues it. This statement we are considering is one of the most striking that is to be found even in Scripture itself with regard to this matter. 'It is God,' says Paul, 'which worketh in you.' He does not merely present certain things to you from the outside. God, in Christ, in the New Testament doctrine of salvation, is doing something right within our nature. In us—we must not whittle down the meaning, it really does mean inside—in the vital depths of our being, God by the Holy Spirit is doing something. And what is he doing? This is how Paul puts it: he energizes us, he works in us, 'both to will and to do of his good pleasure.' Can anything be more radical than that? It means that every good desire, every Christian thought and aspiration which I have is something which has been produced in me by God. God controls my willing, it is God who energizes my very desires and hopes and aspirations and thoughts, he stimulates it all.
Now I wonder whether we always realize that as we should; that these desires for a fuller and better and more perfect Christian life are not self-generated or self-produced. When you have a desire to do something good, or a desire to pray, it is God who energizes it in your will, God working in us both to will and to do. . . .
And yet you and I are told to work it out, we are told to do something. Is this a contradiction? I suggest that it is not and we can put it like this. God carries on this work within us by placing these desires and powers in us. In other words, God is perfecting us, he is bringing his great purpose to pass in our Christian life, not by acting upon us in a passive state or condition, but by controlling our will, our desires, our thoughts and aspirations and everything. It is God who starts it and he makes us do it. I do not say that God forces our will. Rather, God does something more gracious: he persuades our will, and gives us holy desires, so that we will those things, and our desire and ambition is to work it out because it is 'God which worketh in us.' There is no essential contradiction in this, indeed there is not ultimately any contradiction at all, it is God's initiative.
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Joy: An Exposition of Philippians 1 and 2, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 165–170.
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