The journey you are on is unique to you since you have particular issues that need to be dealt with. Most of these issues are universal to all human beings. For example, all humans struggle with pride which can lead to jealousy, hatred, conflict, anger, despair, judgmentalism, rivalry, selfishness, and the like. From these kinds of deep-seated passions arise evils that play out differently in each human. However, as you have become more and more aware of the wretchedness living within hindering you from truly knowing God and living as a true child of God, you’ve also discovered a fresh depth to God’s mercy. You are a son of the Father who has squandered your inheritance in careless living, now discontent in the squalor of your own making. Yet, the Father graciously welcomes your return.
The good news is that God is doing something about your foul condition. Right now He is working in you to change you. He is more aware of your wretchedness than you are. Yet, He is in every respect able to unerringly do what is necessary and needful to transform you. Right now, in His great compassion and mercy towards you, He is pouring His powerful energies into you for the transformation of your whole being. That is His “good work.”
Rejoice, O soul! He gives Himself to transform you. What compassion and goodness. How marvelous are His works and His ways past finding out.
Your beloved friend, St. Paul, mentions this good work when he writes:
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1.6).
(The “in you” is plural here, referring to the whole Church. Yet, for purposes of practice in the community, it is good to personalize this truth.)
What is this good work? It’s whatever God does! Within you and as you need it, His work may look like…
God is rescuing you now while preparing you for a life of eternity with Him – a process that has already begun and will never cease. This is the work only He can do.
So, if this “good work” has begun in you and continues to this day, why do you consistently disobey His will, disregard His teaching, ignore His work, and seek your own ways? None of this reflects God’s work in you.
Could it be that His “energy” in you is reduced by an uncooperative will or false beliefs or an unrepentant heart or sinful actions on your part? As glorious as it is to know that God is working in you, it is just as important to know that you have a part in the effectiveness of His work. His work is truly successful as you participate in His work yourself. You are to co-operate with Him for the work to work.
Again, St. Paul clearly presents this truth when he writes:
Therefore, as you have always obeyed,…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
for it is God who works in you,
both to will and do work for his good pleasure. (2.12-13)
For your part, both obedience and effort are required to experience God’s transformative work. Of course, this is not done apart from faith (better, faithfulness). It might be best to say that you must faithfully obey and work (put forth effort) to experience God’s good work. For example, as He purifies, you intentionally find areas of your life that are muddied by jealousy, self-righteousness, and discontent. Then, by the energy God provides, you consistently (i.e. faithfully) battle these vices.
Now, add “fear and trembling” to your work since humility is also needed. You are much too casual in your spiritual efforts. Stop with the superficial platitudes and perfunctory behavior. Your work is to be characterized by intense struggle, resolute training, and steadfast commitment. This is serious work demanding your utmost focus and humble devotion.
(It’s tempting and easy for you to want to argue for your understanding of these verses but this is not the time or place. For those interested in a brief summary of my perspective, see below.)
You are to work with God who is at work in you. This transformation work begins with absolute faith in Christ Jesus and continues in faith (faithfulness) in Christ Jesus.
More Scripture about God’s Good Work
- For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2.10)
- and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… (Eph. 1.19-20)
- Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3.20-21)
God at work in you. Amazing! You at work with God. Also, amazing!
This statement (Phil. 2.12-13) was not controversial or debated at the time St. Paul penned these words. Arguments over his words have come about due to more modern theological ideas foreign to St. Paul and the Holy Spirit who inspired these words. Taken at face value and correctly understood, you are to work out what God is working in. This is truly a “synergistic” (together + energy) work. God pours His good energy into you and you, in fear and trembling, work with that energy for your “salvation” (a broad term that includes all aspects of your relationship with God). There’s nothing here about working your way to heaven, good works saving you, or “works-righteousness.” In scripture, the “works vs. grace/faith” dichotomy does not exist (“works of the law” vs. grace/faith does exist). You can no longer use that dichotomous theology to excuse your lack of effort towards godliness as you once did.