Sermon Follow Up Generic

“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.” (Phil. 2:12-13 ESV)

Our collective effort of humbly obeying the exalted Christ is hard, joyous work made possible by the power of God.


1. Obey adamantly, just like our Savior did. (v.12)

The call for us to obey by working out our salvation with fear and trembling is not an empty on from a disinterested God. Jesus himself cared very deeply about obeying all that the Father commanded and tasked him with to the point of losing his life in order to do so. Jesus fully submitted to the will of Father and the Father, in turn, exalted Jesus, giving him the name above every name and putting all his enemies under his feet. This is what God does with those who trust his Son and who obey as an overflow of low just as Jesus did. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).

I think we all need to go to Jesus’ school of obedience so that we can learn exactly what it means that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. It’s not like the law… it’s full of being free to love God with all our heart soul mind and strength knowing that we are accepted through Christ. John says it this way in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3 ESV). You might say, they sure feel burdensome. They feel impossible and I’m failing at this and this and this. I’d ask you, what kind of striving are you doing… what are you working for? Are you still working to get God’s attention or to prove something? Are you laboring without any hope? Or are you following in Paul’s footsteps, “Not that I have already obtained this [the resurrection from the dead] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Phil 3:12 ESV).  We are already his, and can live to bring him glory and pleasure and honor and praise forever rather than trying to win his favor.

In Philippains 2:12, Paul is saying that real salvation is at stake here. Real salvation is connected to your faithfulness in working out what you have believed and that’s why he’s so passionate about calling us to obey. Salvation is by faith, yes, but it is verified by your manner of life. James is in full agreement with Paul here, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”(James 2:14 ESV) It’s a rhetorical question— No. That faith cannot save.  Jesus makes the same point in Matthew 7, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21 ESV).  What makes the difference? One person calls Jesus "Lord" and rehearses the gospel message up and down and raises their hands in worship and quotes Scripture just as this other person does. If one enters the kingdom of heaven and one does not, then what makes the difference? Doing the will of God—also known as— obedience. What does obedience look like? Living in a manner worthy of the gospel. Which is having a mind of humility, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, looking to the interest of others, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or concet, rejoicing in the Lord (all commands found in this book of Philippians).

Reflection Questions

  • What do you find most distateful about the word "obey"?
  • How would you describe Jesus' understanding of obedience?
  • How important would you say "good works" are to the Christian life?
  • What are ways you've heard obedience to God talked about in the past?
  • How can you work out your salvation particularly in looking to the interests of others? (Doing nothing from selfish ambition? Being of one accord with your brothers and sisters in Christ? etc.)

2. Obey in awe, because God himself is doing the work. (v.12b-13)

Paul saying "it is God who works in you to will and to work for his good pleasure" is both a promise and a reason for pause. It is immensely reassuring to know that God will complete the work he started in us (Phil 1:6), that he has chosen to put his almighty power towards something like making us more like Jesus, and that he is enabling us to obey him more fully. But it is also something that should leave us in awe. Who is it that is working in us— the living God. The one who commands thousands upon thousands of angels and who created the foundations of the earth. He, in all his might and mercy, is working in us collectively as a church and individually. 

“The right fear of God…is not the minor-key, gloomy flip side to proper joy in God. There is no tension between this fear and joy. Rather, this trembling “fear of God” is a way of speaking about the sheer intensity of the saints’ happiness in God. In other words, the biblical theme of the fear of God helps us to see the sort of joy that is most fitting for believers. Our desire for God and delight in him are not intended to be lukewarm. As our love for God is a trembling and wonder-filled love, so our joy in God is, at its purest, a trembling and wonder-filled—yes, fearful—joy. For the object of our joy is so overwhelmingly and fearfully wonderful. We are made to rejoice and tremble before God, to love and enjoy him with an intensity that is fitting for him. And what more befits his infinite magnificence than an enjoyment of him that is more than our frail selves can bear, which overwhelms us and causes us to tremble. Normally our joy in God is cold and tarnished, but as we work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), we become ever more fearfully happy…” — Michael Reeves, Rejoice and Tremble.

God causes the miracle of our obedience that leads to salvation…But we act the miracle.”—John Piper, Look at the Book "How Obedient Christians 'Produce' Salvation".

Reflection Questions

  • What are some things that have happened in your life and in your growth in Christ that point to the almighty God being the one who is working in you?
  • How would you describe "the fear of the Lord"? How does that compare with this description of Jesus in Isaiah 11:3, "And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord"?
  • In what ways are you tempted to boast as the "perfecter" of your own faith?


  1. Actively and conciously obey the commands of Christ.What is Christ commanding you to do that would be worth singling out and focusing on? Not as a matter of mastering it and moving on but as a matter of striving to do what he has commanded out of love and gratefulness to him.
  2. Recall the promise that God is at work in you.
    When you feel compelled to confess your sin to someone. When you are weary. When you feel like nothing good is going on in your heart. When you are tempted to think that you've created the good work or caring word. When you have a sense of inadequacy. Recall the promise that God is at work in you.

Further Study:

  • Hebrews 12:1-2
  • Acts 16
  • Look for verses in Scripture that describe "the fear of the Lord"
Rejoice and Tremble by Michael Reeves
"Fear is one of the strongest human emotions―and one that often baffles Christians. In the Bible the picture can seem equally confusing: Is fear a good thing or a bad thing? And what does it mean to “fear the Lord”?"

Also available as a concise version: What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?

Songs to Encourage