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Work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13)

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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.”

When we read this passage or hear someone referring to it, sometimes it can be used with the wrong interpretation and instil fear in people saying that they can lose their salvation if not careful. Or on the other hand, you may ask why we need to work out our salvation when “works do not save us”?

It is essential to notice that the Apostle Paul is not saying “work for your salvation”; instead, he says, “work out your salvation”. There is a difference. You see, “works” do not save us because the Bible is clear that we have been saved by grace through faith…it is the gift of God, not a result of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The works that we do prove that our faith is genuine and is evidence of God saving us through His unconditional electing grace. Amen! 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.”

What we also need to recognise is that we cannot lose our salvation. If God chose us, predestined us, called us, justified us, glorified us, then this is a complete work of God and not man. He keeps us to the very end but the power of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Philippians 1:6 says, “And 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.”

From this, we can conclude that the passage in Philippians 2:12-13 does not mean that we can lose our salvation if not careful or do works to keep our salvation. So, then, what does it mean that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

Paul is speaking to those who are already Christians in Philippi (Philippians 1:1). He is speaking to those who have been saved, forgiven, rescued, and in whom God has placed His Holy Spirit, uniting us to God. A work that is complete – done!

Being saved by Christ does not simply mean that we can continue our old life as though nothing has happened. Repentance means turning from the old way and walking in the opposite direction in a new way. To put off your old self and put on the new. 

We are to be actively committed to obeying God in our daily living in our personal conduct and faithfulness. Through this, we are to persevere with faithful obedience to the end. This is part of our sanctification process. 

You are to work out the process of being made more and more into the image of Christ. This process of sanctification is a daily process of growing into His likeness. 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 look at 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).

Paul in Philippians 2:12-13 urges the church to go through and work out this sanctification process with “fear” and “trembling”. Salvation or regeneration initiates a believer’s life into one with obligations born out of love for God to the obedience of Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, working out your salvation means making salvation operational in your life. Once you are justified before God through Christ, it is followed by sanctification – your new self in Christ, which is demonstrated by its fruit. 

This sanctification process is to be worked out with fear and trembling. But, what is meant by fear and trembling? 

Fear and trembling

Fear describes fright or terror if we refer to Matthew 14:26, Luke 21:26, 1 Corinthians 2:3. It can also mean reverential fear according to Acts 2:43; 9:31, 2 Corinthians 5:11; and 7:1. Trembling refers to shaking, and this is where we get the English word tremor from.

Fear and trembling bring about an 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. 

We should be aware of our weaknesses and the power of temptation. We should be fearful about falling into sin and grieving God and the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. 

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Notice that this is not a fear of being eternally judged by the Lord; instead, it is reverential fear, being in awe of God, and doing the things that honour a holy God. Such a fear helps us and protects us against temptation and sin. When we love God and are in awe of Him, we are motivated to be obedient and bring about righteous living, fitting for the children of God.

This love for God and knowing how awesome God is, means that you will not give up intimacy with Him for other things in your life. 

Work out

So, to “work out” your salvation means to keep on working out to completion or ultimate fulfilment. It is to have a sustained effort to ultimately complete our salvation which God in His mercy has granted to us.

The good news is that, even though 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.” Praise God! This means God helps us to work out our salvation or process of sanctification in Him. 

God works in us by His Holy Spirit, by:

  • giving us His desires 
  • convicting us of sin
  • convicting us of righteousness
  • convicting us of judgment
  • the manifestation of His sovereign will.

God does so by powerfully working in us. Colossians 1:28-29 says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

So, allow Christ to work in you powerfully and allow Him to work in and through you. He will give you the ability to live a holy and pleasing life producing the fruits of righteousness to become more like Him every moment. 

In conclusion, I encourage you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Abide 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!

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