For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Immediately after calling on Christians to work out their salvation (Philippians 2:12), Paul now clearly asserts it is God who is at work in the lives of believers. This is encouraging because this assures our ultimate victory. We know that God is the One who began the good work in us, and He will be faithful to bring it to completion. So, when we work out our salvation, we live in the good works God has prepared for us.
We could say that God works within us, and then we work it out. The Spirit of God is active in the lives of believers, helping them to learn the will of God, respond to conviction, and equipping them for every good work. Although we so often fall short, we can rest assured that the Lord is continually working in His people.
How does God work in the lives of Christians? First, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin. It is evident to all that believers still sin and sometimes fall hard. However, when Christians disobey, the Spirit of God is breaking through the conscience and leading us to the second way the Spirit is at work within us: repentance.
As sin is revealed, the Spirit leads the Christian to repent. This turning away from sin includes a change in direction. In other words, where temptation may have won the battle, the child of God keeps fighting due to the work of God. Through repentance, we confess our sin and seek to work out our salvation by living differently.
A third way the Lord works within us is through discipline. While we sometimes mistakenly see discipline as mere punishment, the discipline of the Lord is so much more. Although our God loves us, He seeks to grow us and lead us to a deeper place of obedience. Hebrews 12:11 encourages us that “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” The good work of God in the discipline in our lives brings peace and holiness.
There is a fourth way the Lord works within us, and that is to change our will. Notice verse thirteen says, “both to will and to work.” God’s will is active in our lives as He changes our will to be in line with His. In other words, the desire we have to obey the Lord and honor His name is itself evidence that God is at work within us. Our ability to work out our salvation is our response to what He is already doing on the inside.
What follows is a small phrase with truly life-changing implications. What is the motive behind the will and work of God? He does all He does “for his good pleasure.” We know that true success is found when we align our heart with God’s, and this can only be done when our desire is the same as His. Simply put, God works according to His good pleasure, and that is precisely what should motivate us as well. Our hearts will experience a restlessness until we desire nothing other than the pleasure of God in our lives.
Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is working within us to convict us, lead us to repentance, discipline us, and conform our will to His. The result of this good work is not only that we love the Lord more but that we reflect more of who He is through our lives. God works within us, allowing us to work out our salvation so that we reflect more of Him.
In the Old Testament, Malachi said that God was “like a refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2). God is at work refining the lives of His people, molding us, and making us more into His image. In the ancient world, people would put precious metals in pots and hold those pots over fire. As the metals got hotter and hotter, eventually, the dross would rise to the top. As the dross was taken away, the metal became purer. The test of whether or not the metal was as pure as it needed to be is if the man doing the work could see the reflection of his face in the metal. In the same way, God is at work in us, changing our will and leading us to live in such a way that the world sees more of Christ reflecting from us.
How do you know if you are properly working out your salvation in a way that shows God is working within you? It is simple. Do people see the character of God reflecting in you? May His good pleasure be the overriding motivation of your life, and may the world around you see more and more of God’s love and grace emanating from all you say and do.