Grace to be Well in a World that isn’t

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett @Asbury Free Methodist

January 30, 2022, Philippians 2:12-18

            We have been talking a walk through Philippians to begin this new year. Today we are only going to look at five verses, but they are so full of truth and power that they will change your life if you let God use them.

            One of the things that I am passionate about is discipleship. Our call is to make disciples. In some ways, these verses are the most concise statement of how a disciple lives out their life in the world.


            Let me take you to where we are headed, and then come back and show us how to get there.

Philippians 2:15–16a (NIV)

15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.

            Here is the reality. You live in a warped and crooked generation just like the Philippians did. Other translations say you live in the middle of a warped and perverse people.

            Here is the promise. You are going to become blameless and pure, children of God without fault. You are going to shine among this generation like stars in the sky.

            If you have ever looked up, on a clear cloudless night from a place where the view is not distorted by light, you will see countless stars. They stand out from their dark background. The promise is that you are going to stand out from the generation that you are in. If you are like me, sometimes you don’t want to stand out, but following Jesus is going to make you someone beautiful that stands out just because of who you are. You will be like a diamond on a black felt background.


            Do you question that we live in a warped and crooked generation? We live in a generation that gets its truth from social media. Someone said, “If you can make it trend, you can make it true.”

            The apostle John describes the world this way.

1 John 2:16 (NIV)

16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.

            The lust of the flesh is clearly talking about sexual temptation towards a deformed love. Although it can be any desire of our flesh. Food, drink, control over others.

            The lust of eyes – has to do with greed – but also envy, jealousy and discontentment.

            The pride of life – is our human bent towards pride. We want to go our own way and rebel against authority – including God himself.

            When we look at our world, it is warped and crooked.

Lust is redefined as love.

Marriage, not as a covenant of lifelong fidelity but a contract for personal fulfillment.

Divorce, as an act of courage and authenticity rather than the breaking of vows.

The objectification of women’s sexuality through porn, as female empowerment.

Greed, as responsibility to shareholders.

Gross injustice toward factory workers in the developing world, as globalism.

Environmental degradation, as progress.

The decimation of once-thriving local economies, as free-market capitalism.

Racism, as a past issue.[1]

            We live in a world where it is hard to be light. But here is God’s promise.

Philippians 2:15–16a (NIV)

15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life

            We live in a culture that is influential and hard to stand against. Yet it creates broken people, and God wants something far better for you. So, how do you become something different in a world that is warped?

            Come back with me to

Philippians 2:12 (NIV)

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

            The verse starts off with “Therefore,” which means because of what comes before. You will remember the preceding verses talks about who Christ is now.

Philippians 2:9–11 (NIV)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

            Paul is saying, because of who Jesus is, that he is the king of kings and the Lord of Lord that we should

continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

            Please note that it is saying “work out,” not “work for” your salvation. You are saved by grace through faith. Your salvation is a gift of God. When you put your trust in what Jesus did on the cross for you when you surrendered your life to him. He came into you. You were saved.

            But the reality is that our salvation is ongoing. You are being saved. That is what he is talking about here. Note when he says “work out your salvation,” he is not saying work out the doctrine of salvation. What he is saying is, work out how you are going to live in this world that brings death rather than life. We will see that in the next verse.

            The church at Philippi had to figure out how to live their life well, even though Nero, a mentally disturbed emperor, was on the throne. Where the city of Philippi was hostile to the gospel. Where occult practices, like fortune-telling, were the norm. There would have been all kinds of temples dedicated to other gods. How do you live well in a place like that? You work out your own salvation- how you are going to live, with fear and trembling.

            We live in a polarized world where people can’t hear what the other side is saying. We see amazing advances in technology and medicine but no advancement in practical ethics.

            We see where money and individualism drive everything. Your main value to this world is that you are a consumer, and yet the resources of this world are becoming less and less. We live in a global world, where what we do here can affect those in poor countries overseas. How do you live well in a place like this? You work our your salvation. What does it mean to live out the gospel of life in a world where a culture of death is promoted? It is your job to work it out.

            And how you work it out is important. You work it out with “fear and trembling.” Paul is saying that this job of working out our salvation is as serious as a heart attack.

            Now the fear of God because it is not something we hear about often. In the 18th and 19th centuries, most people approached God out of fear. They would talk about such and such as being “a God-fearing man.”

            The problem was that God became so distant that it was hard to have a personal relationship with him. So, in reaction to that kind of theology, God became someone who is accepting of everything we do. The pendulum has swung so far as to make God out to be someone who doesn’t care about sin.

            So, how do we understand, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Here is a reasonable way of picturing it. God is like a locomotive train. If the train is coming towards you at 100 km/hr it depends on where you are standing in relationship to the train as to how you feel. If you are in the middle of the tracks. Be afraid, be very afraid. If you are beside the tracks, well, I don’t know if you have ever stood beside a train track while a train rushed by. It is not exactly fear, but it is not exactly comfortable either. There is this profound respect. That is the way it is with God.

            When working out our salvation, it is important that we are working with him, not working against him. You are standing before him, not opposing him.


            But here is the good news. You don’t have to figure it out all on your own. You don’t have to work out your salvation with your own smarts. Take a look at the next verse.

Philippians 2:13 (NIV)

13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

            It doesn’t say that God is a work in some of you, or even most of you. If you are a follower of Jesus, if you have given him your heart, then this is true of you. God is at work in you whether you feel it or not, whether you see it or not.

            And when it says, “God who works in you,” it uses the present tense. God is a work in you right now, as you listen to my voice. He will be at work in you as you get up on Monday morning. God is at work in you – no exceptions – present tense – right now – full stop. That is good news, and that is something to give thanks for.

            Now here is how God is at work in you. He works in you “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

            I think the NLT gets this essence of what Paul is saying

Philippians 2:13 (NLT)

13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

            God is at work in you right now. He is giving you the desire and the power to act in a way that pleases him.

            So, let me put this all together for you. We live in a warped and crooked world. More and more people are calling bad good and good bad. We live in a world that is sometimes complicated to figure out how to do right in a world gone wrong.

            I have spent a lot of time talking to business people and people who work in government, and people who work in education. Many decisions they have to make are not between good and bad but bad and worse. We don’t live in a black and white world.

            Living as a Christians means working out our salvation with God by his Spirit living in us, giving us the desire to do right and the power to act in a way that allows us to fulfill God’s good purposes for us and in us. God will help you live in a gray world in a way that is good and life-giving.


            This is why so much of our discipleship around here emphasizes Abiding in Christ and hearing God. God is at work in you. Your part is to foster that friendship. You do that by reading his word and by prayer and listening to his voice. You do that by taking time with him so that you can hear him. You do that by bringing all of your life to him and asking for his wisdom.

            As he leads you and as he speaks to you, you will learn to live well in this world. He is giving you both the desire and the power to do what he says. And when you follow what he says, it brings about his good purposes both in you and in the world.

            His good purposes in you are to give you life and give it to you in full. His purpose is to help you to look like Jesus. His good work in the world is bringing his kingdom, his culture into being right where you are. He gives you the desire and power to do this, even though life can be challenging.


            Before we go on, I want to remind you of an Old Testament story. Do you remember the story of the Exodus when Moses led the Hebrew people out of Egypt?

            Before this time, the people only knew what had been passed down to them. They had heard of how their ancestor Abraham had encountered God. They had heard of Isaac and Jacob. But if that is all you know about God – then there is a lot you don’t know.

            One of the purposes of the Exodus was not just to get the people of God to the promised land – it was to teach them how to live as the people of God.

            They were between the Pharoah’s army and the Red sea, and God made a way where there was no way. He taught them that he was their deliverer. He gave them Mana and taught them that he was their provider. He showed them where to go by a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day. He showed them that he was their guide. He gave them his laws so that they could live in his ways. He taught them about who he was.

            Now, what was the one thing that kept on tripping the Hebrew people up? They did it over and over again, and it got them into trouble over and over again. It inhibited their journey; It caused problems for their leader; It caused God to work to take a side other than theirs. If you said grumbling and complaining, you would be right. It may have been the biggest hindrance to God turning the Hebrew people into his followers.

            You, too, are on a spiritual exodus. You are coming out of a crooked and warped generation. God wants to bring you into the promised land of abundant life. He wants to teach you that he is your deliverer, your provider, and your guide. He wants to teach you to live in his ways.

            Is it any wonder that in this journey, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for God works in us to give us the desire and power to please him – is it any wonder that Paul writes verse 14.

Philippians 2:14 (NIV)

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing,

            As God is working out his way and his will in and around you, one of the ways that you can inhibit the work of God is to grumble and argue and complain.

            Remember last week’s verses

Philippians 2:2–3 (NIV)

then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

            Remember last week we talked about how true spirituality is not only about your relationship with God, but your relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

            Paul is saying that part of working out your salvation, part of living out the desires and the choices God puts in your heart, is living them out with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Your call is to do so without complaining and arguing.

            That is a timely word, isn’t it, given all the sniping back and forth over Covid protocols? Given that much of social media has become about arguing and complaining – that is not how we are to live.

            That is not how we become who we were called to be.

            Let’s put it all together. So you are, working out your salvation, living out of the desires and the power God has put in you, living with your brothers and sisters in Christ without grumbling and complaining – here is what happens.

Verse 15

Philippians 2:15–16a (NIV)

15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.

            There is something about living that out that makes you stand out like the stars in the sky. You become pure and blameless. You hold firmly to the word of life, and it makes a difference. You become something different than the darkness around you.

            As you do this, you are holding firmly to the word of life, which is Jesus and his gospel.

            This people, is the way to be a disciple. So how do you do this practically? You abide in Jesus. You foster your connection with Jesus. At the core of who you are, he has given you the desire to do what is right and to fulfill the purposes of God. As you abide in Jesus, you are going to learn to listen to his voice. You will learn to let him steer the decision of your life. You will learn to pray about what you should do and hear God on what you should do as you live your life.

            When God asks you to do something that is harder, know that he has not only given you the desire to do right, he has given you the power to do what he has called you to do.

            You are going to live this kind of life alongside other believers. You are not going to grumble and complain about life or about each other. Instead, you are going to help each other in your quest to live an abundant life in this world.

            You will stand out in the world. You will live a pure and blameless light. You will hold fast to the word of life, which is Jesus. People, that is how disciples live in this world.

Be a disciple of Jesus.

[1] Comer, John Mark. Live No Lies (pp. 216-217). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sermon Questions – January 30th, 2021

How to live well in a world that isn’t.


1. What are you celebrating this week?

2. What is your greatest challenge right now?

Digging in

3. Read Philippians 2:12-18

4. Re-Read Philippians 2:15-16a – What are the promises in these verses? Do you agree/disagree that this is a warped and crooked generation? Why

5. Re-Read Philippians 2:12 – When Paul says work out your salvation – what is he talking about? (hint – it is not the doctrine of salvation) What are some complicated issues that you or people you know face in figuring out how to live in this world?

6. Look up Psalms 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10 – What do these verses tell us about the fear of the Lord? What is the fear of the Lord?

7. Read Philippians 2:13 – Who is God at work in? How is he at work? What does he hope to accomplish by his work in us? How do we put this into practice in our lives?

8. Read Philippians 2:14, then read Philippians 2:2-5 – What is the command, and why do you think Paul included this phrase/verse? How important are brothers and sisters in Christ to your spiritual journey?

9. Remind yourself of the promises (question 4). Put all these verses together and describe how a disciple of Jesus is called to live in this world?