Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.– Philippians 2:12b-13 NIV
Work out your salvation. What does Paul mean here? Is there something I need to do in order to be saved? Is salvation really works based?
There are indeed some who advocate that I need to perform certain tasks in order to be saved. But most would agree that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. That works have no place in a person’s salvation. And I wholeheartedly agree with that. But what then do we do with this passage where Paul instructs us to work out our salvation?
The first thing to note is that he is addressing believers. To those who have already been redeemed. So he is not instructing them on how to be saved. Rather he is referring to our ongoing salvation, commonly called sanctification. And I am to be an active participant in that. To be actively working toward leaving the old person behind and becoming that new person that God has created me to be.
Paul tells us to do this with fear and trembling. Our sanctification is a serious matter, and not to be taken lightly. Why? Because God is at work in my life. Looking to accomplish his purpose. And so it is important that I not be working at odds with him. If my goals are different than his goals for me, there is a problem.
Fear and trembling can invoke images of paralysis. Of being afraid to take any action. But that is not what Paul is saying here. We are to be at work. But to do so recognizing the seriousness of what we are about. God has given us the privilege of working alongside him as he forms us. Let’s not mess it up by failing to follow his direction.