If we are saved by grace, which I am told is a gift from
God, and not by our good works, what does it mean in Philippians 2:12
when it says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”?
This is a question that has been asked by
many people.At first it seems that
these two concepts are contradictive, but they actually harmonize very well.
Ephesians 2:8, 9 says, “For by grace
are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of
God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”[Emphasis supplied.]Yet the same author, the apostle Paul, writes
to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”Philippians 2:12.
This quotation from Philippians is only part
of the text of the verse.Important
context and instruction is given just before the part of “working out your own
salvation.”Notice what the first part
of that text says: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in
my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out . . . .”Paul here sets the stage by telling the
believers in Philippi that they are obedient Christians
doing what is right all the time, not just when someone is watching them.They are being obedient even when he is gone
Paul acknowledges them as doing a good work
in the realm of salvation.They have
been obedient, but they need to continue on in what they are doing.Anyone who thinks that the Christian life is
doing your own thing and not being accountable to anyone is only fooling
themselves.We are to be accountable to
other Christians who make up the Lord’s body, the church.But more than that, we are to be accountable
to the Lord himself.(See 1 Corinthians
So what Paul is doing here is urging them to
work, not for the sake of approving themselves to their earthly teacher, but to
think of their unseen Lord and to realize His presence all the more in Paul’s
When he says, “work out your own salvation,”
he is saying, “Complete it;” God has begun the work; carry it out to the
end.The Greek word katergazomai
translated as “work out” in Philippians ,
is, in Ephesians 6:13, translated as “having
done all.”Christ’s work of atonement is
finished; work from the cross; carry out the great work of sanctification by
the help of the Holy Spirit.
The words “your own”
are also important here.Please do not
pass this by.Each man is to attend to his
own work.No friend, no pastor, not
even a parent can work it for him.He is
the one who must respond to the Holy Spirit by obedience.No one else can do another’s work of bringing
to completion the plan of salvation in the life.When the Bible says “with fear and
trembling,” it means “with fear and trembling.”Salvation is not a light matter.It is very serious.Those who
move through the sanctification process do so soberly and cautiously.
Verse 13 of Philippians 2
tells the conclusion of the whole matter.“For it is God which worketh
in you.”If any good is going to
come from bringing the work of God to a conclusion, it is because God has His
hand in the matter.It is God who works
This then brings us full circle.We are saved by grace, because grace is the
unmerited favor of God working in us to bring us through the complete
sanctification process.We are commanded
by the apostle to move along in the process without any complaining or
murmuring until the process is complete.
Pastor Mike Baugher is
Associate Speaker for Steps to Life Ministry.If you have a question you would like Pastor Mike to answer, e-mail it
to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail it to: LandMarks, P. O. Box 782828, Wichita, KS67278.