Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
God knows that we do not have the ability to improve our spiritual health in our natural self. That is why He tells us to move forward “with fear and trembling”.
God is not saying here that we need to cower in fright that He will whack us over the head if we mess up. That type of fear is never mentioned, or even implied, in the Bible. What God wants us to have is a healthy fear that comes from humility (remember, the context of this part of Paul’s letter is humility). The original Greek words here imply someone who realizes that they are not capable of doing what they are tasked with but they bravely do it anyway. The fear implied in this verse is not the fear of God but a realization that we are not up to the task.
I often see people walking around with T-shirts with the slogan “No Fear”. However, having no fear won’t make anyone better. It will only make someone careless and arrogant. The best way to go through life is with a small, healthy dose of self-doubt to remind us that we are not perfect. Viewing ourselves this way allows us to more easily rely on the Holy Spirit, who is God at work in us.
Believers are partners with God. We have a responsibility to actively participate in our own spiritual growth. We do what we can. God does what only He can. This allows us to do what we can’t.
A good example of this is the man with the withered hand that Jesus healed in Matthew 12:10-13. The man’s hand was severely bent and he could not move it. Yet that is precisely what Jesus tells him to do! The man made the attempt to do something he was not capable of doing. In response, Jesus gave Him the ability to do it. If the man had not tried, Jesus would not have done His part.
Notice that God also gives us the will to work out our salvation. Sometimes we just don’t feel like it or don’t even want to. That’s understandable. We’re often distracted by the world or have too much self doubt. But God is willing to give us the desire if we take the first step like the man with the withered hand.
The coolest part of all this is that it gives God pleasure to help us do things we cannot do. God actually enjoys working in your life to give you the ability to do things that you can’t do.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.
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