How to Grow Up
ans 2:1-13

The Purpose Driven Life


A young boy had just gotten his driving licence. He asked his father, who was a minister, if they could discuss the use of the car. His father took him to his study and said to him, "I'll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up, study your Scriptures a little and get your hair cut and we'll talk about it." After about a month the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss use of the car. They again went to the father's study where his father said, "Son, I've been real proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you've studied your Scriptures diligently, but you didn't get your hair cut!" The young man waited and minute and replied, "You know Dad, I've been thinking about that. Samson had long hair, Moses had long hair, why even Jesus had long hair...." To which his father replied...."Yes, and they walked every where they went!"

I think we would agree with the idea that God wants us to grow. It is sufficiently ambiguous and we’ve heard it enough times to know if you’re ever asked, the correct answer is “yes, I want to grow like Christ.”  It’s a no-brainer. But have you noticed how different it sounds when someone says “Grow up.” That one little word ‘up’ makes all the difference because it has rather negative connotations. It implies a degree of immaturity or youth. It suggests we are not there yet. And that is precisely how God views us.

In the Message translation of Ephesians 4:15 it says “God wants us to grow up ... like Christ in everything.” (Ephesians. 4:15). J.B. Philips translation of the previous verses 14 says this “We are not meant to remain as children.” (Ephesians 4:14). And that’s it. That’s the rub. If God’s purpose is that we become like Jesus Christ, then we need to grow up to become like him. Our heavenly Father's goal is for you and I to mature and develop the characteristics of Jesus Christ. Spiritual growth is not automatic. It takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow up and persist in growing up. Discipleship - that is the process of becoming like Christ is three dimensional - it involves my past, present and future.

Let me explain. Brooke Foss Westcott was one of the greatest Greek NT scholars in the 19th Century - In his life he served as Regius professor of Divinity at Cambridge University as well as Bishop of Durham. He wrote numerous commentaries and his Greek New Testament written with Frederick Hort remains a classic of scholarship.
One day he had to make a train journey, and, as English trains then had carriages containing separate compartments for six people only, he sought and found an empty compartment and settled down to read quietly.   

Just as the train was about to leave the station, the carriage door was opened, and a young girl in Salvation Army uniform jumped in. After she had settled herself in her corner she realized that the only other person with her was, as indicated by his distinctive garb, a real live bishop. She hadn't long been converted, and was keen to win others for Christ. Therefore, when she saw Westcott, and realized that he would be her companion for at least another hour, she planned how she could lead him to Christ. She assumed that because he was a bishop, he couldn't be a real believer! 

Eventually she plucked up courage and learnt across to the bishop, who was reading, and said rather quietly, "Excuse me, are you saved?" This short, but unexpected question caught Dr. Wescott by surprise, and he said in his kindly way, "Pardon me, but what did you say?"  She immediately thought, "There, he doesn't even know what I'm talking about!" and so explained, "I simply asked if you were saved." The bishop's face disappeared behind his book and his eyes twinkled merrily for a moment; then, leaning toward her he asked her, "Excuse me, my dear, but do you mean sotheis or sezosmenos or sozomenos?" The girl's face went blank, then puzzled, then startled. Finally she blurted out, "I don't know what you are talking about. I simply asked you -- were you saved."  "Yes, my dear," replied Dr. Westcott, "I realized that, and I asked you which 'saved' you mean. Did you mean 'I was saved' or 'I will be saved' or 'I am being saved'?"

And the story goes on that for the rest of the journey this great man of God explained to the simple believer the wonder and immensity of God's salvation -- past, future and present.  Hebrews 13:8 reminds us. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Westcott helped the young girl understand that our faith in Jesus Christ is three dimensional.

1. Past: We have been saved from the penalty of sin (through the death of Jesus Christ). What God has done for you.

2. Present: We are being saved from the power of sin (by the power of the Holy Spirit). What God is doing in you.

3. Future: We will be saved from the presence of sin (when the Father takes us home to be with Him). What God will do with you.

Our journey of faith begins when we hear the call of
Jesus, and by God’s grace we respond: "Come, be my disciple, Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him." (Matthew 9:9).  When the first disciples chose to follow Jesus, they didn't understand all the implications of their decision. They simply responded to Jesus' invitation. It is at this point that many believers miss God's purpose for their lives. Sadly, having trusted in Jesus Christ, many fail to see there are two more dimensions to being a Christ-follower - they remain uncertain and insecure about the future and try and live the Christian life in their own strength in the present. That is why the Apostle Paul in our reading from Philippians 2 urges us to grasp all three dimensions in order to grow up like Christ. The key verses are 2:22-23.

“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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Notice it says, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you…” We must ‘work out’ what God is ‘working in’ us. Lets take a step back and see how the three dimensions fit together. In what is probably an early Christian hymn about Jesus we see his work in securing our salvation - past and future.

1. We have been saved from the penalty of sin by Christ crucified (Philippians 2: 6-8)
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

Jesus - the perfect one died on the cross to take away our sin. He died in our place. He died so we would not have to. We don’t deserve it and cannot earn our salvation. In Paul’s similar letter to the Ephesians he spells this out.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no-one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In the following verse he explains the place of works "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10).

So we have been saved from the penalty of sin by Christ crucified (Philippians 2: 6-8). Notice Paul goes on to describe how Jesus rose and ascended to heaven and its consequences.

2. We will be saved from the presence of sin in Christ glorified (Philippians 2:9-11) “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

This is our hope. One day everyone will confess Jesus is Lord. There will be no more rebellion. No more indifference. The apostle John in his vision of heaven describes this in more detail:


“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with the people, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4)


If we trust in Jesus, we have been saved from the penalty of sin. We will be saved from the presence of sin. “Therefore” says Paul, verse 12, because of all that Jesus has and will do, therefore…” work out your salvation” (in the present), with fear and trembling for,

3. We are being saved from the power of sin through Christ, sanctified (Philippians 2:12-13)
“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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)


So how do we work out our salvation with fear and trembling? “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Christ-likeness is the result of making Christ-like choices and depending on his Spirit to help us fulfill those choices. This verse shows the two parts of spiritual growth: "work out" and "work in." The "work out" is your responsibility, and the "work in" is God's responsibility. Spiritual growth is a collaborative effort between us and the Holy Spirit.


This verse, written to believers, is not about how to be saved, but how to grow. As we have already notes, it does not say "work for" your salvation, because you can't add anything to what Jesus already did. During a physical "work out," you exercise to develop your body, not to get a body. When you "work out" a puzzle, you already have all the pieces-your task is to put them together. Farmers "work" the land, not to get land, but to develop what they already have. God has given you a new life; now you are responsible to develop it "with fear and trembling.“ That means to take your spiritual growth seriously! Let me illustrate this.

Do you remember your first day at school? The fear and trembling at beginning your formal education. The fear and trembling of leaving your home and parents to enter a strange building and be taught by someone else? It soon wears off doesn’t it and we get blaze about learning and it all becomes so boring. We so easily lose a sense of wonder and awe at the majesty and complexity of  God’s creation. Working out your salvation in fear and trembling involves realizing that God intends us to develop a life-long passion for learning and growing - for that is what the word ‘disciple’ means.

For those who are married - do you remember your wedding day?  The fear and trembling as you tried to sleep the night before, the fear and trembling as you got dressed and looked in the mirror, the fear and trembling as you arrived at the church, the fear and trembling as you walked down the aisle, the fear and trembling as you exchanged vows and exchanged rings, the fear and trembling of those first few days as you began to comprehend the promises and obligations you had made to love and to cherish, to protect and provide for this other very special person. The fear and the trembling as you misunderstood one another in the first row, then the second and the third. The fear and the trembling as you tried to understand how this person could be so very different. Has the fear and trembling worn off? Has it been replaced by the complacent and the familiar, the giving up and the taking for granted?

However many years ago that was now, one way God wants you to work out your salvation is by working at the mystery of marriage with fear and trembling. Husbands - have you read your job description recently?

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:25-28)


Does that fill you with fear and trembling? Should it? Need to reschedule your priorities? Friday evening my phone went off - it was reminding me to spend the evening with Joanna. I showed her the message thinking it would impress her. It didn’t. She thought I shouldn’t need my mobile to remind me… If you are married God wants you to work at your relationship, with fear and trembling.

Have you any children? Remember the fear and trembling on the journey to the hospital? Remember the fear and trembling through the labour pains? Remember the fear and trembling as at last you held that little child for the first time? As you realized God had entrusted this human being to you? Remember the fear and trembling as you drove home ever so slowly - how suddenly everyone else seemed to be driving like a maniac? And what has happened as they have grown up? Have you lost that sense of wonder, the fear and the trembling? Forgotten that children are a precious gift? On temporary loan?

Fathers, have you read your job description recently?  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Does that fill you with fear and trembling? Should it? Need to reschedule your priorities?

Research by the Equal Opportunities Commission published this week compared parental attitudes in 1985 and 2005. In 1985, 50% of fathers felt their primary responsibility was as breadwinners and the mother’s place was in the home. In 2005 80% of fathers now say they want to spend more time at home looking after their children. Do you need to? Who is responsible for making that happen? Does it fill you with fear and trembling at the thought of going to your boss and asking for a change in your hours to make it possible? Should it? Knowing you are part of an 80% majority should make it easier. You may just find that your boss feels exactly the same way and you may be the catalyst to enhance his marriage and family too.

One of the most helpful books I have ever read is Rob Parson’s “The Sixty Minute Father”. In it he quotes Sir John Harvey-Jones, former chairman of ICI.

“Few people who have led successful lives have also achieved the most important success of all, namely being a good father and taking part in the joys and extra dimensions what a close relationship with one’s family can give.” Sir John Harvey-Jones


Sir Tom Farmer, the founder and the former chairman and chief executive of Kwik-Fit is even more candid. Sir Tom Farmer says:

“Too often those of us heavily involved in the business world are in danger of losing out on our most important asset - our family. Reading the Sixty Minute Father reminded me of the opportunities I missed, and whilst I have been blessed with a loving family and two children who gave me great joy, I know this book will help me be a better grandfather.” Sir Tom Farmer


Maybe the book has had some impact on his company, for, according to the Sunday Times in their 2005 survey, Kwik Fit is 15th in the best 100 UK companies to work for. In 2004 they won the award “Best for work and family” one of only seven companies out of the top 100 to win such an award. Though pay is not high - most staff earn between £15,000-£25,000, - stress and exhaustion levels are among the lowest 10% of the best companies.

Has your company won that kind of award? What would have to change?  Willing to take a pay cut to make it happen? Worth aiming for?
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, as a student, in your marriage, as a parent, in your employment.

Just as there are three dimensions to our salvation, so there are three aspects to working out our salvation with dear and trembling. Paul mentions them in the opening verses of this chapter.  

In your relationship to God - think like Jesus (Phil. 2:1-2)
In your attitude to yourself - be honest and humble (Phil. 2:3)
In your relationship with others - look for ways to serve (Phil. 2:4)


In your relationship to God - think like Jesus (Phil. 2:1-2)

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:1-2)


To change your life, you must change the way you think. Behind everything you do is a thought. Every behaviour is motivated by a belief, and every action is prompted by an attitude. God revealed this thousands of years before psychologists understood it: “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts." (Proverbs 4:23 TEV).

Imagine riding in a speedboat on a lake with an automatic pilot set to go east. If you decide to reverse and head west, you have two possible ways to change the boat's direction. One way is to grab the steering wheel and physically force it to head in the opposite direction from where the autopilot is programmed to go. By sheer willpower you could overcome the autopilot, but you would feel constant resistance. Your arms would eventually tire of the stress, you'd let go of the steering wheel, and the boat would instantly head back east, the way it was internally programmed. This is what happens when you try to change your life with willpower: You say, "I'll force myself to eat less ... exercise more… quit being disorganized and late."

Yes, willpower can produce short-term change, but it creates constant internal stress because you haven't dealt with the root cause. The change doesn't feel natural, so eventually you give up, go off your diet, and quit exercising. You quickly revert to your old patterns.

We become whatever we are committed to. There is a better and easier way: Change your autopilot - the way you think. The Bible says, "Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." (Romans 12:2 NLT). In these verses Paul says become ‘like-minded’ though being united with Christ. Your first step in working out your salvation is to start changing the way you think. Change always starts first in your mind. The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel influences the way you act. To be like Christ you must develop the mind of Christ. We do this as we meditate on, as we study, as we memorise His word.

Paul says to the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Colossians 3:16). So in your relationship with God - think like Jesus (Philippians 2:1-2).

2. In your attitude toward yourself - be humble (Philippians 2:3)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)


The New Testament calls this mental shift repentance, which literally means "to change your mind." You repent whenever you change the way you think by adopting how God thinks-about yourself, sin, God, other people, life, your future, and everything else. You take on Christ's outlook and perspective. We are commanded to "think the same way that Christ Jesus thought." (Philippians 2:5) This means stop thinking immature thoughts, which are self-centered and self-seeking. The Bible says, "Stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults." (1 Corinthians 14:20). 

Babies by nature are completely selfish. They think only of themselves and their own needs. They are incapable of giving; they can only receive. That is immature thinking. Instead, like Jesus, we need to learn humility. To work out your salvation - and grow up - First: in your relationship with God - think like Jesus (Philippians 2:1-2). Second: in your attitude toward yourself - be humble. (Philippians 2:3)


3. In your relationship with others - look for ways to serve (Philippians 2:4)

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)


In his great chapter on what real love is, Paul concluded that thinking of others is the mark of maturity: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." 

Today some Christians assume that spiritual maturity is measured either by the biblical doctrine you may know or by the spiritual experiences you may have had. While knowledge and experiences are two ways to measure maturity, that isn't the whole story.
The Christian life is far more than creeds and crisis; its also about  conduct and character. Our deeds must be consistent with our creeds, and our beliefs backed up with Christ-like behaviour.

The Bible says, "Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself." (Roman s 15:2-3)

How do I work out my salvation with fear and trembling?

In your relationship to God - think like Jesus (Phil. 2:1-2)
In your attitude to yourself - be honest and humble (Phil. 2:3)
In your relationship with others - look for ways to serve (Phil. 2:4)

A servant heart and concern for others is the way to Christ-likeness and the best evidence of spiritual growth. This kind of thinking may be unnatural, it may be counter-cultural and it may be rare but with God’s strength it can be a reality for you and me. For we are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling knowing that “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13). More on that next week. Lets pray.




This sermon is based on Chapter 23 of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan), “How we Grow”, pp.179-183. I am also grateful to Alec Motyer for his very helpful commentary, The Message of Philippians (IVP).