“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.”
– Phil 2.12-13
Sanctification is a big, fat, theological term that means – at its most foundational level – being set apart. The Spiritual and Biblical application is being set apart from the world and growing in holiness over time. The doctrine, understanding and application of this facet of our salvation is extremely deep and easily misunderstood and misapplied.
There are two primary ways by which one can err in the processing of his sanctification: Taking full responsibility and attempting to earn one’s merit or lackadaisically living as though nothing is required because “God will handle it”. Such is the tension of salvation: God’s responsibility married with man’s responsibility. In order to understand and enjoy our relationship with God most fully, it is essential that we embrace both. That we work to the best of our ability and trust God for the outcome.
This Philippians passage perfectly outlines the tension. We are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; we are to be purposeful about ridding sin from our lives, and examining our hearts and motives that they would be for and unto the Lord. But at the same time, we trust God fully because it is He who is at work within us, not us – it is not of ourselves or our works that we are saved, but Him working His will within us.
In her book, “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life”, Hannah Whitall Smith helps us understand what this looks like practically:
The way that we work out our salvation “is simply to take God’s side int he matter and to adopt His order by putting faith before feeling. Give yourself to the Lord definitely and fully, according to your present light, asking the Holy Spirit to show you all that is contrary to Him, either in your heart or life. If He shows you anything, give it to the Lord immediately and say in reference to it, ‘Thy will be done’. If He shows you nothing, then you must believe that there is nothing, and must conclude that you have given Him all. Then recognize that it must be the fact that, when you give yourself to God, He accepts you; and at once let your faith take hold of this fact.”
My mentor likes to point out the fact that God is our Father. He is our perfect Father. He gives lavishly to those who ask, and He loves us. If we are humbly submitting ourselves to Him and asking Him to reveal sin in our lives, we must trust Him to do His part. Now, there are things expressed and outlined in Scripture that sometimes we do not need a Spiritual revelation to perceive. If we have a problem with stealing, we understand that intellectually from reading the Bible it is a sin – and God might not do an extra revelatory work in our hearts as it is already made clear. But the sins of the heart can be more difficult to perceive at times and He will make those things to known to us if we ask Him. If we test our lives against Scripture and if we ask Him to reveal sinful motives or tendencies, and He does not convict us, then we must trust Him that we are being obedient for the moment. The ball is in His court, if we have examined ourselves, and asked Him to convict us.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
– Phil 1.6
He is at work within us. If we are submitting ourselves to Him and seeking His will. He will perfect that work which He began. Trust that. Obey Him. Trust Him. He has a plan. Let’s not overthink this. Just do your part and have peace.