“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; for it is God who works in you both to will and do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12—13

Jonathan Edwards said, “The sure proof of our election is that one holds out until the end.” Authentically saved people have a faith that will persevere not because they inherently possess the right DNA for robust faith and they successfully work faith up from within. There is not a “special something,” be it called a capacity for deeply feeling happiness and satisfaction, or an inexhaustible supply of eternal optimism, or a nature of enduring kindness, or even a long run of good luck, that makes a persevering believer out of them. Persevering faith is always because saving faith is a complete gift from God above.

When I was a young dad looking for perfect daddy-gifts for my “wee bairns” I often found myself hampered by the phrase “batteries not included.” My job of providing the perfect gift was not complete until the energizing part was acquired. God’s gift of salvation is the perfect gift “with batteries included,” and much, much more!

Yet there is the human element in every salvation, as indeed it must be so, since individual saints are the grateful recipients of the divine grace of salvation. Our text is just one of many which expresses the fact that the miracle of salvation is all of God, and God will see to it that His beloved child will display the fruit of enduring faith to the end, with His child’s obedient cooperation.

Verses 12 and 13 pick up the thread of Paul’s thought from back in 1:27: “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.” Obedience to the Gospel is Paul’s theme. He takes the intervening verses to proclaim the primary example of a humbly obedient mind as seen in Jesus Christ during His sojourn on earth (the great Kenosis passage—Philippians 2:1-11). The same mind that motivated Christ in purchasing our salvation is to be the same mind with which we who are bought by Him are to serve Him. His was a self-humbling, God-trusting, self-sacrificing, fully participating, and thoroughly obedient mind. How is this mind to be displayed in those He came to redeem? Paul moves to address this question in verses 12–13.

In these two verses the perseverance of the saints is demonstrated in hearty and life-long obedience in character, obedience in serving, and obedience in cooperating. In verses 14ff Paul lists practical ways this inner mind is displayed to a lost world. What good is an obedient mind if it is not lived out in practical fashion?

In verse 12, Paul calls the Philippian church his beloved ones. He knows them and has discipled them, seeking to equip their fledging Christian lives with truth and love. He has seen them obey, just as loving children obey their parents. The test of a child’s obedience comes when the parent is absent. Will they obey from the heart? The parent’s absence is the test of the child’s character. In fact, character is stressed and stretched when accountability seems to be distant or non-existent. Is it any wonder a constant theme of the first century Christians was the yearning for the soon return of Christ for His church? Godly character holds a believer accountable even when no one else is watching. Nowhere is this quality of character more imperative than in the inner heart of the saint. Here is where perseverance of the saints is most pointedly evident.

Paul then encourages obedience in serving. To work out is to carry out to the goal. Victory in getting to any worthy goal takes lots of diligent work. Some have said that this verse is teaching to work out an “in-worked” salvation, for it certainly does not mean that a person can be saved by good works (Titus 3:5–7). For the Christian, working out the problem of life is a bit like working out math problems in grade school. Most math books contained answers in the back which gave a young boy the target solution for the problem when it was worked out correctly. For every saint, answers for obedience in serving are found in the Book, the Bible. Ephesians 6:13 states, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

The final thought from Paul concerning the inner mind of the believer is obedience in cooperation. Verse 13 tells us all that the One really is at work in us, working in spite of our inner DNA, happiness, satisfaction, optimism, kindness or good luck. The Greek text says that God “is at work,” constantly at work willing and doing, putting into operation His good pleasure. These two verses together explain the mechanism of perseverance of the saints. No wonder Paul challenges every believer to out-work his salvation with fear and trembling; we are in a divine partnership! Your service, in both the prompting of it and the doing of it, is the grace of God at work in you; so all you do, do it in His name, and do it with all your might (Colossians 3:23)! Trust and obey