Apostle Paul speaking in Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV), writes to address the Christian church in Philippi about their salvation.
“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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
Often times, I hear believers debate about this bible scripture, regarding our role in keeping our salvation. The truth is this: you don’t have to do anything to keep your salvation, as you did not do anything to receive it in the first place.
Often times, I have heard preachers use this bible passage to put fear to people, saying that they can lose their salvation for this and that reason. They forget the next verse of that same passage which says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
But on the other hand, one may ask why do we need to work out our salvation when we know that our works did not save us in the first place?
What does it mean to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?
The author, Apostle Paul, did not say “work for your salvation” but “work out your salvation.” I want you to take note of the tenses here. The term “work out” is used to describe a state of improving what is already there. For instance: I work out regularly to keep fit. This means that, I have a body already, so all I do is take necessary exercise to keep fit, build muscles and stay healthy. If I don’t work out it doesn’t mean I will lose my body, No.
You see, “works” do not save us because the Bible has clearly proven to us that we have been saved by grace through faith…it is the gift of God, not a result of works.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”Ephesians 2:8–9
The good news is that, we cannot achieve this working out by our strength, Phillipains 2:13, which is the second part of the passage, says, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” You see, this means that God is the one in us to help us work out our salvation.
In fact, the Apostle Paul has never been heard addressing his audience to live in a continuous state of nervousness and anxiety. This will surely go against his many other exhortations to peace of mind, courage, and confidence in the God who is the giver of salvation. The Greek interpretation of word “fear” in this context can also mean “reverence” or “respect.”
Paul also used this same phrase where he refers to Titus as being encouraged by the Corinthians’ reception of him “with fear and trembling,” that is, with great humility and respect as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.2 Corinthians 7:15
Paul himself came to the Corinthian church in “weakness and fear, and with much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3), mindful of the great and awesome nature of the work in which he was engaged.
Romans 8:29-30 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
To understand the real context of working out our salvation, let us look at it in two direction: “work out” and “fear and trembling.” First, the Greek verb rendered “work out” means “to continually work to bring something to completion or fruition.” You may not bring out the best of something if you don’t continually work on it. In the world we live, there are ‘a thousand and one sins’ that can make us feel unworthy of our salvation and that is why we can work out our salvation by continually applying Gods word in our daily lives. Paul explains further in the next chapter of Philippians. He describes himself as “straining” and “pressing on” toward the goal of Christlikeness.
(13) Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, (14) I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 3:13-14
The second direction, “fear and trembling,” Believers are to have the attitude of total surrender to the will nd lordship of God the supreme. A believer who wants to know how healthy he is in faith, let him check how he references Gods word.
Fear and trembling means that we must always have the attitude of being on guard. As Christians, we need to have a Godly fear that protects us from temptations, pridefulness, awareness of our heart’s deceitfulness, and one’s inner corruption.
Being saved by Jesus Christ doesn’t mean that we should continue our old way of life as though nothing has changed in us. The full meaning of repentance is turning from the old way and walking in the way of the lord. That is; walking in the newness of life, to put off your old self and put on the new you. We are expected to remain committed to obeying God though his word on a daily basis, in conduct, attitude, faithfulness to him.
Obedience and submission to the God we revere and respect is our “reasonable service” (Romans 12:1-2) and brings great joy. Psalm 2:11 sums it up perfectly: “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.” We work out our salvation by going to the very source of our salvation—the Word of God—wherein we renew our hearts and minds (Romans 12:1-2), coming into His presence with a spirit of reverence and awe.
Jesus is our model for the life we have been called to live. Hebrews 12:2-3 says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Let us fix our gaze forever on Jesus and follow His model given to us in the word of God. As we look at Christ, we must be obedient to God. Just as Christ Himself was obedient, humbling Himself even to the point of death (Philippians 2:8).
I urge you, dear brothers and sisters in the lord, to work out your salvation with fear and trembling by abiding in Christ, allowing His Holy Spirit to manifest in your life accomplishing His divine work so that we are sanctified for the glory of God to the praise of the Father. Amen!