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. (verses 12-13)
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Really? I thought Jesus paid it all, that his was the finished sacrifice, offered for all time – one sacrifice for sins – after which he sat down forever at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 10:12). I thought the work was done, that when he cried out, “It is finished!”, it truly was (John 19:30). I thought apart from him I could do nothing (John 15:5). I thought there was no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
I thought right. The Scriptures declare it.
What, then, does Paul mean when he says, “Work out your salvation”? Clearly, he’s not talking about securing our salvation by our own effort. After all, Paul is the one who wrote, “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).
Amen. Rejoice. There is nothing more to be added, nothing more to be done, nothing more that secures salvation for us.
But now we live into it. To the full. That’s what Paul’s talking about.
He has a specific context in mind. It’s the context he’s been dealing with ever since the end of chapter 1. It’s the community of faith. Together. He’d urged the Philippians to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one” (Phil 1:27). He followed it with the riveting example of Jesus himself, who laid aside his rights for us, stooping down to serve, pressing on to the point of death. Have that same attitude, Paul said.
Could there be a more feet-on-the-ground, practical setting, where we’ll find ourselves stretched and challenged, but also strengthened and encouraged? Jesus came down into the reality of humanity, and in that context, he sacrificed his life. It turns out this is where we are meant to live out our salvation, too. Right here, with flesh and blood, imperfect people.
So, press into it “with fear and trembling,” compelled by Christ’s sacrifice and awed by his exaltation. We can never earn salvation, but we can live it to the full, following Jesus’ example, passionately, giving it our all, right here, in relationship with one another.
But then comes an added wonder. As we “work” at this challenge, we discover it is God himself who is at “work” within us, and as he does, he causes us to will and to “work” for him. What a wonder. Paul repeatedly uses the same root word, making the point that our “work” is empowered by God’s own “work.” It’s true: apart from him we can do nothing, not only when it comes to salvation, but when it comes to living it out. Not that we’re to sit back passively. Not at all! Rather, “with fear and trembling” we engage. There’s intensity and passion, devotion and sacrifice. But in it all, we have the joy of being carried by the Lord’s own working.
Indeed, he delights to do it – it’s all for “his good purpose,” or better translated, “for his good pleasure.”
So, embrace salvation. Lean into it fully. Live it out with sisters and brothers. And whatever the challenges you encounter, whatever the sacrifices, experience the reality of the Lord himself working in you – with great joy.
O Lord, salvation is fully in your hands – it comes to me as pure gift. Thank you. I hear this instruction to lean into salvation fully, to work out from it, serving as did Jesus. As I do, it is your work itself, working in me. Thank you. To you be the glory. Amen.
Reflect: As you live out your salvation with brothers and sisters in the local church, what do you find most challenging? Place it before the Lord. Acknowledge that he is at work in you. Receive his working. Take the next step with him. (If you are not currently part of a local church, ask the Lord where he would have you engage.)