“Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12.
This verse has been a very controversial one. Many have interpreted it as, “Work for your salvation, work to earn your salvation or work to keep your salvation or risk losing it.”
None of that is an accurate understanding of this Bible verse.
- We can NEVER earn or work for our salvation. It is God’s gift (Ephesians 2:8-9)
- We can NEVER maintain our salvation with good works because we can NEVER lose it (John 3:16, 1 John 5:11-13, John 10:28-29, etc).
So what does the Bible verse mean?
To accurately understand this bible verse we need to start reading from the beginning of the Chapter (Please go back and read the whole chapter – Philippians 2). Paul is addressing the Philippians, telling them to imitate Jesus. To love one another, be kind, compassionate, humble, selfless just like Jesus. Though Jesus is God he didn’t assert equality to God but remained humble and because of this God exalted him (This is Philippians 2:1-11 summarized. Then came verse 12)
“Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
So, Paul is telling them that they must continue to obey and do all these things (be kind, full of love, compassionate, etc just like Jesus) and WORK OUT your salvation with fear and trembling.
It means that we should walk in and live out our new saved nature. Be Christ-like.
After being saved, we are called to good works (Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus FOR good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.)
So salvation produces good works in us.
I find Philippians 2:12 a parallel of Matthew 3:8 where John the Baptist said to the people, “Produce fruits consistent with repentance.” This is also like saying, work out your repentance.
We don’t do good works in order to earn or keep our salvation, rather we do good works because we are saved people.
When we obey the greatest commandment to love God and love others in all possible forms and areas of life, this is us working out our salvation and producing fruits that are consistent with salvation.
And we do this with fear and trembling (Obediently and reverentially in awe of God).
This is also to cancel any thought of just sitting back and doing nothing after you get saved. And just “do you.”
No! You are called to live like someone who is truly saved. Your new faith should be evident in your works. Called to be Christ-Like.
Just as you worked out your past sinful life and it was evident in the things you did.
Now, you must “work out your new saved life” and it should be evident in the things you do.
You may say, “I cannot work out my salvation by my own power.”
Of course, none of us can. This is why Philippians 2:13 is also there.
For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure. (AMP version)
“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
So, my dear, we are able to work out our salvation, bear good fruits, do good works and be Christ-like because God works in us and when we remain connected to the vine (Jesus), we will surely bear good fruits and are enabled to do good works. For without him we can do nothing. Not even working out our salvation.
You are Eternally Loved.