God Worketh in You


God Worketh in You

May 12th, 1957 @ 7:30 PM

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 2:12-18

5-12-57     7:30 p.m.



And I am happy tonight that I have one of the great, great texts of the Bible. I may deliver it very stammeringly and feebly, but the text is one of the great, great passages of the Book.  But if God will help me and if you will lend me your listening heart, we shall make that text mean more to us than we ever knew it could.  Now le us read it together.  We are in the second chapter of Philippians; the second chapter of Philippians.  And last Sunday night we closed at the eleventh verse with a message on The Exaltation of Christ.  Now tonight we begin at the twelfth verse, and let us read through the eighteenth; and the text will be the twelfth and the thirteenth verses.  Now do we have it?  Philippians, the second chapter of Philippians, beginning at the twelfth verse; and we shall read through the eighteenth.  All right, all of us together, Philippians 2:12-18:


Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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.

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Do all things without murmurings and disputings:

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain.

Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.

For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.


And the text, I say, is Philippians 2:12-13, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."  And I have said that this is one of the great texts of the Bible.  "Work out your own salvation"; it has in it the greatest name, and the greatest work, and the most meaningful in the Book, translated "salvation," soteria – soter  is a deliverer, a savior – and a soteria is what a savior and a deliverer is able to achieve for us.  Our salvation:  the greatest, most meaningful word in the Bible.  We fell in our first parents; we all have fallen personally, and if we are not delivered, if we are not saved, we face an unending and everlasting damnation:


He that believeth on Him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already

– he is judged and damned already –

because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

[John 3:18]


And that same incomparable third chapter of John closes in the same vein:


He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life:

and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life;

but the wrath of God abideth – present tense – but the wrath of God abideth on him. 

[John 3:36]


Our one great, eternal, everlasting need is to be saved.  And "salvation," I say, is the greatest word and substantive in the Bible, in the Word of God.  It has in it a vast, illimitable meaning for us.  We seek to draw our last breath compulsively, and we seek the endless quest for health and strength.  But what is it to live a few feeble days in this world and then die forever in damnation, in the world that is to come?  We seek in this life all kinds of rewards that are momentary and temporal.  Most of our men give their lives for the making of some kind of stipend, seeking money and wealth.  But what is it to be buried in a golden coffin if the soul is damned?  And what is it to be shut out from the presence of God and to comfort your miserable life with a wretched mountain of treasures?

Salvation is the most meaningful for us.  What is it to give our lives to all kinds of successes and all kinds of acclamations, if at the end, beyond their words of applause, we hear the great trumpet of God sound, and cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall on us? [Revelation 6:16-17].  We seek popularity and acceptance with our friends and in the world, but what is it to be popular when finally we die – one at a time – and we go through that iron gate alone?  The most meaningful and the most needful of all things in this world is first our deliverance, our salvation.  I said it is the most meaningful word in this Book, not only to us, but for the vast host that like witnesses surround us.  That word is the most meaningful to God our Father.  He wrought that plan out through the purpose and in the ages, revealed it finally in His Son, Jesus Christ. 

And what it meant to God our Savior, the Lord Jesus; it meant the cost of Gethsemane, and the cross, and the blood, and the tears, and the agony of an atonement on the Hill of the Skull.  And that word is the meaningful word that lies back of all of the appeal of the Holy Spirit of God.  The Spirit of God works in this earth in the name of Christ, in the name of God the Father; and He quickens the heart, and He leads the trembling soul to a faith in Christ Jesus.  He warms the spirit, He gives us a listening ear, He gives us a believing spirit.  And when we vex and grieve Him, He toils with us and pleads with us none the less.

It’s the most meaningful word to the church, the people of God.  Our gathering together is that somebody might be saved.  Our intercessions and our prayers, our toil and our cares, our tears and our appeals are to that end:  that somebody might be saved.  And it is the most meaningful thing to the angels that look and watch from the ramparts of glory, "over one sinner that repenteth" [Luke 15:10].  If there’s one somebody that comes down that aisle tonight and gives his heart to Christ, the angels in heaven watch and rejoice, and there is gladness in their presence, when one somebody, you, is saved.

And it is the most meaningful of all the words to the lost.  Dives, in torment cried to father Abraham and said, "O Father Abraham, send Lazarus that he might go to my father’s house where I have five brethren, and they are lost.  And send Lazarus that he may warn them, lest they come to this terrible place of torment" [Luke 16:27-28].  What a different judgment, what a different evaluation does a man that is lost place upon this word, "salvation," soteria, the gift of our Savior.

Notice in this text how the apostle uses it:  "Work out your own salvation."  The one and only gift that is eternally ours is this great salvation.  The house I live in is not mine; it’s made out of clay, and it’s founded in the dust, and it goes back to the ground from whence God hath taken it.  I use it – it’s loaned to me for the while – it’s not mine.  What I possess is not mine, it’s loaned to me; I use it for a while, then it passes into somebody else’s hands.  The place I have is not mine; it is loaned to me for the while.  And the Lord says, "Occupy till I come" [Luke 19:13].  Even our children, our firstborn are not ours.  A cruel providence can take them away.  We have them just for a while, as a loan.  There’s only one thing that is yours, just one, and that is what Paul says – your salvation – your own salvation! 

"Preacher, where is that?  Show it to me, the one thing that is mine!"  Here it is:  in Philippians 2:12, ",your own salvation," and it’s yours because it is the gift of God.  You don’t buy it, and you don’t achieve it, and you don’t merit it, and you don’t work for it.  Listen to the Book:  "And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace" [John 1:16]. Not "grace for works," but "grace for grace."  It is a gift of God.  It is a bestowment, an enduement, an endowment.  It is a treasure placed in your hands from God, "and the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" [Romans 11:29]:  He will never withdraw it; He will never take it back.  It is yours – yours, now and forever – your own salvation!

Then the Lord, through the spirit of the apostle, says a remarkable thing.  He says, "Now you have it, now it is in your hands, now it is yours, it is a gift, this salvation, now, work it out, work it out."  You have the garden, work it out.  You have the inheritance, use it.  You have the field, cultivate it.   You have the life, through all of the parts, and paces, and parcels of that life; work out that salvation, work it out, work it out.  Work it out into the temper that you might have.  Work it out into all of the problems you might have.  Work it out into every avenue of your life; let it touch; let it flow to every part and piece, every place in your life.  Work it out, work it out.  You have it!  Salvation is yours as a free gift; now, work it out. 

There are two words here used in this Greek text that are very meaningful.  Look at it, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you…" The word for "work" in Greek is ergo.  And energeo means "to work in"; katergo means "to work out."  The Greek says "work down"; the English would be "work out."  And what Paul says here is "energize," energeo – energy – our English word is "energy."  "Energize your salvation, implement it, work it out!"  You’ve got it in your heart, you’ve got it in your soul, now work it out into every avenue and part of soul, and mind, and life, and labor, and toil; work it out, the inside and out.

I want to illustrate that.  There is a young man who has come to me several times.  I greatly love him; he’s one of the finest young fellows in our church, so faithful, so splendid, you couldn’t help but love him.  But he’s troubled – he’s troubled – and he’s troubled about this; he’s troubled about a thing that troubled my heart for years and years when I was a youngster.  He’s come to me several times, troubled; and this is the trouble:  he says, "Pastor, I cannot rest, I cannot know that I am saved.  I don’t know whether I’m saved or not, and it bothers me, and it troubles me, and it wearies me.  And I want a surcease from it.  I need help.  I don’t know whether I’m really saved or not, and I’m troubled."

It does trouble.  If what I have said about the all-importance and all-meaning of that word soteria, "deliverance" – salvation – then if I’m not sure of it, if I’m not certain of it, then I cannot help but be deeply, vastly, illimitably troubled.  And this young man is troubled. 

All right, what we must do is to sit ourselves down and in God, and with God’s Word, we must realize some things.  And I have told this young man, and he came back, and then Friday I told him again.  Now you listen to the Word of the Lord.  We are not to do that, we are not to do it; all that a man can do, ever, is in repentance and faith look to the Lord Jesus.  You could do that a thousand times, but it is still just that. – you could come down that aisle and confess your faith in Christ every day of your life – but it’s still that.  You never improve upon it.  You can’t buy it.  You can’t be good for it.  You can’t be smart for it.  You can’t be educated or trained for it.  You can’t work for it.  It is not a reward as though a man should buy it.  It is not a wage as though a man should be paid by it.  It is a gift of God! [Ephesians 2:8].

And if I am saved, I am saved by the free mercies of God! All I can do is to look to Him for it, to trust Him for it, to commit my soul to Him against that day; that is all I can do.  I cannot do again, I cannot do else, I cannot do other, I cannot add to it; all I can do is trust God.  Now, after I have done that the best I can, whether I’m a nine year old child or whether I’m a seventy year old man, after I’ve done my best in humble trust, looking to Jesus, and after I’ve committed my soul to Him, and I have publicly confessed that trust in Jesus, then I am not to go back over that again!

"Well, why are you so certain of that?"  Because of the Word of the Lord.  Now you listen to me:  this sixth chapter of the Book of Hebrews says:


Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptism – and all of those things in the beginning.

[Hebrews 6:1-2]


 Now, you don’t see that here in this English like you can in that original Word.  Look at this, "Therefore leaving the principles,"tes arches, arche is the Greek word for beginnings, "the beginnings of the logon of Christ."  "Therefore leaving these beginnings," the infant beginnings – leaving those things – not going back and over, and over, and over again.  We are not to do it.  "Leaving those beginnings," and he names them here: repentance, and faith, and baptism. 

"Pastor, have I repented right?  Have I believed right?  Have I been baptized right?"  We’re not to live back there in those things and examine your faith as though it is the faith that saves you.  No, faith is just the instrument by which God comes to the heart.  You’re not saved by your faith.  Your faith is a work like any other work.  You’re saved by the mercy and grace of God; and faith is just the channel – it’s just a mediation – it’s just a way for God to touch you, to come into you.  We’re not to go back and examine our repentance.  "Did I repent just right?"  Or, "Did I believe just right?"  Or, "Was I baptized just right?"  If you trusted the Lord the best you know how, and if you have turned to Jesus the best you know how, and if you will confess the Lord the best you know how, you’re not to live back there, looking and turning those things over and over again.

"Let us go on unto teliotos,"  What is that?  It’s translated here "perfection" [Hebrews 6:1].  The Greek word is a simple word meaning "maturity."  You are born to grow!  And that’s what Paul says here in this text:  we are to energize that gift of God; we are to work it out, "Let us go on unto maturity."  Don’t stay a babe, don’t stay back there in what he calls "the logon of the tes arches – the doctrine, the discourse, the presentation of those first beginnings – don’t live there, but go on, grow, mature, get into the deeper things of God. 

For example, Peter who calls himself "the elder, the shepherd," he says, "Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity" [2 Peter 1:5-7].  Go on, go on, go on! God made you that way:  not to stay a babe, not to stay an infant, not to live back there in those tremblings and fears of doubt and worry about whether you’re saved or not; God made you to go on.  Take it as a gift – can’t buy it, you can’t do anything for it – take it as a gift, take it by faith, just looking to Jesus.  I trust Him today, I trust Him when I lie down tonight, I trust Him when I get up in the morning, I’ll trust Him at midday tomorrow, I’ll trust Him in manhood and in age, and I’ll trust Him in death.  Not looking to somebody else, not looking to ordinance, not looking to church, not looking to my own life; but looking to Jesus, by faith just leaving it with Jesus.  And if I’m lost, it’s in His hands and in His will.  I have cast myself, a poor undone sinner upon Jesus.

As I read on the tomb of William Carey – in Serampore, just above Calcutta on the Ganges River – I read on his tomb what he had inscribed there, written out for himself.  He said, and they incised it, "A poor, miserable, helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall."  That is the greatest missionary we have ever had.  That is the finest, most devout of all of God’s translators of the Holy Scriptures, William Carey.  And when he came to die, he had them put that on his tomb:  "A poor, miserable, helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall."  We’re trusting Jesus, and our salvation is a gift of God.  And if God fails us, we all fail.  But if God lives, He is faithful; He cannot deny Himself [2 Timothy 2:13].

So I am to take this salvation as a gift and work it out.  I am to energize it, I am to implement it, I am to "incarnate" it.  Now He says here a most unusual paradoxical thing.  He says:


Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 

For it is God which worketh in you

both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

[Philippians 2:12]


 Well, when you read a text like that, after you get through preaching what I’ve just preached, then you go to the next stanza and have to start all over again.  Now Lord, what is this?  I have just been told to work out my own salvation; then in the next stanza it says, "For it is God which worketh in you."  Here I am working it out, and then in the next verse, and it’s God that’s doing it, when He has just told me to do it.  Well, what Paul is saying there is no inexplicable, enigmatic paradox. 

What Paul is saying there is; he’s describing the whole truth of the Christian life, and it has two parts.  One, God works in us; and second, we work it out; and it takes both.  And do you know why there have been warring, theological camps armed with Scripture ever since there’s been a Bible?  On this side they say, "It is by God, by faith and God alone!"  And on this side they say, "It is by works, and the man has to do it himself!"’  Do you know why that?  Because they don’t take all of the Book and put it together, just like Paul has done here.  It is both. It is both! There is a God-given, God-inspired, and God-directed life on the inside of us, "For it is God which worketh in you,"energeo, energizing within, "to will and to do His good pleasure"; and it is you who are working it out, both of you.

Let me illustrate that.  I don’t suppose there is a more marvelous thing in this world – in the natural world, in the world of animal life – than to see and watch bees build a beehive.  There are more miracles with that than anything you can, you could find.  And you look at it in wonder and in amazement.  Let me tell you something:  you tell me how the bee got his idea, and I’ll easily tell you how he worked it out.  You tell me how he got the conception of it, how he got the thought of it, how he got the mind of it, and I’ll tell you how he worked it out; I can just watch him work it out, little dab there, little dab there, and little dabs and just watch him as he works it out.  But the mystery of it is how did he get the idea?  Where’d that come from?  I’ll tell you where it came from:  brother, if you’ve been coming to these early morning services or have been reading them, you know where it came from; brother, that came from God!  God put on the inside of that little bee the idea; and the bee worked it out!  Now that’s what I’m telling you about this thing of salvation:  it is God-conceived, it is God-energized, it is God’s idea, it’s God’s mind, and we work it out.  Just like that little thing, building a hexagonal hive; so it is with our salvation.  The thing, the idea, the plan, the program, the instinct, the energizing is of God.  It is God in you, "to will, to do" – to think, to know – the idea, that’s God.  Our part: implementing it, working it out, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."

Now this last thing, the modus operandi; how?  "With fear and trembling!"  The phrase there, "with fear and trembling," is a Hebraism, it’s a Bible expression.  Nobody in this world – English literature, Greek literature, Roman literature – nobody in this world would ever say it like that; that is a Hebraism, it is a Bible expression. Work it out, this thing of God in us, this gift of God in us, our salvation in us, work it out, "work it out with fear and trembling." 

Now what he means is this: that way of saying a thing is distinctly biblical, I say.  He will say, "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" [Proverbs 9:10].  He will say, "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling" [Psalm 2:11].  He will say, "Happy is the man," not miserable is the man, "Happy is the man that feareth always" [Proverbs 28:14].  What does the Bible mean by those expressions and this here, "with fear and trembling"?  It has no reference at all to the bondage of fear – the fetters of fear, the awful dread and foreboding of fear – the fear lest we fall into the pit, lest we be damned, lest we fall into hell, none of that at all.  Well, what does it mean?  It means this:  in reverential awe of the great, great God we are humbly to fear, lest – and I can think of a multitude of things – lest I not succeed in doing a good work for Jesus, lest I not preach as I ought to preach, with clear voice and clear thoughts, that the people can see and understand the Word of God. 

Lord, Lord, I tremble when I think how cloudy thoughts and cloudy expressions might cloud one’s mind who is seeking the light of the Lord.  It is a fear before the Lord lest I might grow indifferent, or lest I might weary in welldoing, or lest I might be discouraged and fall by the way.  It’s a fearing before the Lord; like a man would cry because he cannot cry, like a man would pray and agonize because he can’t pray, as a man might be burdened because he’s not burdened.  Those are such antithetical things to say, but they are the exact representation of the spiritual life before God.  Never fearing that God’s going to forget us, or we’re going to be damned, or the cross is not able to save us, or the blood is not able to wash our sins away, or that finally I will fall into hell after all, none of that, no part of it; but our fear and our trembling is, "Oh, that the Lord might in favor help me to do good for Him, every service a wonderful service, every service somebody giving his heart to the Lord, every effort we have a glorious effort, every representation we make of Christ a worthy representation."  With fear and trembling, O Lord, that we might do good for Thee. That’s the meaning of the text:


Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed,

not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence,

do that thing, energize this gift of salvation with fear and trembling. 

For it is God energizing on the inside, to will and to do of His good pleasure.

[Philippians 2:12-13]


You and God, God in you; and you working it out – making it blessed, and beautiful, and precious, and meaningful – God’s call to you, God’s appeal to me.

While we sing our song tonight, while we make this little season of prayer and appeal for you, tonight, somebody you give his heart to the Lord, somebody put his life with us in the church.  Maybe somebody who’d like to come down and tell me, "Pastor, in these days passed I have agonized over my salvation; I will not stay a babe any longer, I will add to that faith virtue, and then that virtue knowledge, and I will work it out as I grow in maturity into all of the avenues and parts of my life.  Pastor, God helping me I’m going on from those first beginnings, to be a mature Christian."  You might like to come and tell me that, "In days passed I have doubted and wavered; in these days future, with God’s help, I shall trust Him for the gift, and I shall work it out as God shall help me."  For any cause, as the Spirit shall lead, would you come?  Would you come, while we stand and while we sing?