Work Out Your Own Salvation – (What Does That Really Mean?)

Phil 2:12-13:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

One day I was at the gym, and this man came next to me, and I couldn’t help but notice how serious he looked about working out.  He had the facial expressions of someone who was serious about getting their work-out on. He had on all the work out attire, the headband, wristbands, water bottle on his side, expensive workout shoes and workout outfit. He jumped around for a couple minutes to loosen up, before starting his stretching routine.  After stretching, he shook his arms out, blew out some air, and then went over and got on the bench press. He took the bar off the rack and did a 3 or 4 reps, put it back on the rack, sat up, looked at me and said, “you have a good day, I’m done.”

I thought, “wow!  O.K., he looked the part, from his outfit to his posturing, I even thought, maybe I’ll get some pointers from this guy about working out. But, he really wasn’t there to work out. He only looked like, and postured as if he were there to slay his workout.

How, many of us go to church all dressed up in our finest of spiritual attire, Bible in hand, smiles on our faces, ready not only to bow our heads to pray, huff and puff out those traditional Christian songs! And yet, I can’t help but wonder if we are sometimes like the man in the gym, merely showing up but not really there to work out.

Paul tells us, we are not to merely “show up” looking the part, acting the part, but we are to “work out” our salvation!

The phrase “work out” is the Greek word κατεργάζομαι katergazomai (kat-ta-gaz-za-mi), meaning, to work down to the endpoint. Which is to work on something continually until you bring it to completion.  So, the better translation is “work on” your own salvation rather than work out your own salvation.

So, how can salvation be “worked on?”

Let’s go back to the beginning of Philippians 2:12, where Paul says to the Church, Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence…. 

The phrase “you have always obeyed” is one Greek word? ὑπακούω hupakouó (hoop-ah’-coo’-o); which means, to listen; to pay attention.

Let me give you an example of ὑπακούω hupakouó (hoop-ah’-coo’-o). The other day my wife and I were talking about our niece and her children. I said to my wife that our niece was really doing better with her children. My wife said, “yea, I know, I had a long talk with her about structure and properly disciplining her kids couple weeks ago, and she said to me, “auntie, I’m listening”. That’s ὑπακούω hupakouó (hoop-ah’-coo’-o), to attentively listen which then affects your choices of behavior.

So we see that Paul is speaking to their attentiveness to the things they had been taught of the Gospel, both in and out of his presence. It’s like home training. We teach are kids and they display what we teach them in our presence, but what we want is for them to be attentive to our teachings when they’re not in our presence, which is most important.

Paul then goes on to tell them they must work out or work on their own salvation, which we know he is not suggesting some kind of “self-help” salvation, because none of us could ever add to the atoning work of Christ. Paul by his own words, tell us, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and it is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).  So, clearly when Paul is speaking of working out or working on our salvation, he’s not talking about “deed works” themselves. What he is referring to is our responsibility to continue in a right relationship with God as our works.

Salvation has three different forms. Salvation past, which is when we were saved from the penalty of sin. Salvation future, which is when we reach our state of glorification in heaven; and in between those two, is our ongoing salvation through sanctification. This middle salvation is what Paul is speaking of.  This is why Paul concludes his admonition to the Church in vs. 13 by saying: For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. 

While we must not believe in salvation by works, we must most certainly believe in a salvation that works.” God is the “beginner and perfecter” of every “good work” in us (Philippians 1:6). Our cooperation is required for God to conform us into the image of His Son Jesus.  A better translation of Phil. 2:13 “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”(NLT).  So, the salvation we are to work out or on is that of listening and being attentive, to the will or desires God places in us to fulfill His good purpose for our lives.

Let’s see if we can make this clearer by Jesus own words.  When the Jews came to Jesus and asked Him, ‘What shall we do that we perform the works of God? Jesus replied, ‘This is the work of God, that ye should believe in Him whom He hath sent.’ (John 6:28-29).  Works, as spoke of, begins and ends with our having faith in the things Jesus taught us, striving to allow God’s love, peace, holiness, goodness, and justice in our hearts and lives, not that of our doing good deeds. Though we may never fully attain this, while here in this earthly life, where are to continuously allow God to work in and through us to become more and more like Christ.  This is what is meant by work out your own salvation.

Next, it says “with fear and trembling”. When we hear this phrase we can’t help but think about how in the Old Testament “fear and trembling” before God was often used to signify being afraid of the mighty power of God’s wrath to correct His own. While fear can be a powerful motivator to keep one on the narrow path, this phrase “with fear and trembling” used in Phil 2:13 does not at all speak to serving God with a mindless terror, walking on eggshells, questioning our every move as a Christian.

Paul is not encouraging believers to live in a continuous condition or state of nervousness and anxiety in their Christian walk, which would contradict many other counsels given in scripture which tell us to have peace of mind, courage, and confidence in the Lord, as well as, knowing that God did not give us the spirit of fear, but power, love and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).  Also, it tells us in 1 John 4:18, “fear has torment” in it.

We all have been around those or even ourselves, who walk on eggshells, afraid at what we do or say may set someone off. Afraid to make a mistake at work. Afraid to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, always questioning our every move or word. This is but anxiety, a state or condition of nervousness, consternation. Do you believe God would have us walking around on eggshells? So, obviously that’s not what this passage means.  But, as, many of us know, that words fear and trembling used in this context is speaking to living in a state of reverence, respect and awe of an almighty and holy God.  Having an awareness of our weakness and our desperate need for His grace and mercy. “Fear and trembling” is an attitude that says that I want to honor God in my decisions regardless of my circumstances that He might be glorified.”

When our motivation to obey God is based solely on fear of His discipline, we sometimes obey Him grudgingly, not so much to please Him, but to avoid His wrath.

When our motivation to obey God is based on fear of His wrath, and we find ourselves violating His commandments, we usually find ourselves arguing with God trying to justify ourselves as to why we did what we did.  Trying to appeal to Him, to what we believe to be His coming wrath.  This is not at all what God wants.  He wants for us to humble ourselves and accept His grace and mercy. He wants for us to be motivated by love for Him, not motivated by fear of His wrath, but a love for Him that we rejoice to see His will done in our lives!  This is why Jesus said, “if you love me, “not if you fear Me…obey my commandments.

We often fail to realize that whenever God is trying to develop us it is through trials, tribulations, and persecutions. Despite the trials, tribulations and persecutions that often come our way, we are to forever bow our knees in gratitude and faith that all things work for the good for those who love Him and called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). When I acknowledge His rule over my life, then even potentially life-threatening circumstances become a source of joy, believing beyond doubt, that He will not only sustain me but increase my spiritual growth (Rom 3:2-5; James 1:2-4)! The same it is with Him having to discipline me.  I am not fear with dread His wrath, but to be mindful that God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:4-11).  It is not fear but love, awe and a sense of gratitude that Christ saved a wretch like me that keeps me mindful that He is the Potter and I am the clay, and He never stops molding and reshaping me into His ambassador that I am meant to be (2 Corinthians 5:20)! 

We are to actively pursuing attentively listening to God’s Word, allowing it into our hearts and allow it to change us from glory to glory. This is the process of working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

I hope you’ve been blessed my friends, as I have, and the eyes of your heart enlightened, in Jesus holy and precious Name Amen!

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