In The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace, John M. Ensor provides a great explanation and extension of Philippians 2:12-13:
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.
In terms of human experience, in fear and trembling, we face the responsibility to repent: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come” (Acts 3:19-20). Yet repentance is the work of God. Paul instructed Timothy to teach patiently, saying, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).
We are commanded to believe: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will he saved” (Acts 16:31). As a human experience, this comes down to a decision of the will. But God is at work in our willing: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
In fear and trembling, we are to keep God’s commandments: “by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 john 2:3). But this is God at work: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).
In working out our salvation we are to set our hearts and minds after God “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). But God is at work when it comes to our hearts and minds. So we find Paul praying “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:17-18).
We are to live to God: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1, NIV). And yet, “you, who were dead in your trespasses . . . God made alive” (Colossians 2:13). In terms of human experience we must “be strong in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:10). But because it is God at work, Paul says, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11). It is ours as a human experience to “rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4). Yet even in this, God is at work in us! “For you, 0 LORD, have made me glad by your work” (Psalm 92:4). We are to take heed and he careful, lest we fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). But it is God “who is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 24). We may indeed “serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11), but our honest testimony will be similar to Paul’s human experience: “I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (Ephesians 3:7). And we could go on. It is our experience of Gods outworking grace.
But it is not a partnership. It is not “I do half and God does half.” It is God’s work. Instead of a picture in our mind of meeting God halfway, a better picture might be that of dead Lazarus. Jesus called out for Lazarus to rise up (John 11:43), but with the call came the powerful work of grace, as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Without that enabling power, Lazarus would not even have heard the call, let alone heeded it. (pp. 14-15)
In reflection of what Jonathan Edwards states regarding the motivation of all that God does is for His Glory, Dana Olson, a pastor friend of Ensor wrote:
Prior to creation God had no means of revealing one pinnacle attribute of his glory, mercy. While he could within the fellowship of the Trinity express love and maintain Justice, mercy inherently requires some injustice or inadequacy before loving-kindness can be expressed in forgiveness. For this reason God set in motion redemptive history—to manifest his glory by revealing this very capacity to redeem, mercy. [p. 28]
God wants to do a work “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). God wants to show us his grace so that we “might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). This is precisely the reasoning of Romans 9:22-23: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory … ?” In his final judgment God will display the power of his wrath. But God could not demonstrate his capacity for mercy apart from ordaining a world of sin and a way for redemption. He endures with great patience the impenitent, so that he can magnify his all-glorious mercy in the eyes of those who put their hope in him! (pp. 28-29)
A great short book on the Gospel.