“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12,13).
Perhaps you have seen the Christian slogan, “Exercise Daily. Walk with the Lord!” Essentially, that is what the Apostle Paul is calling for when he requests for the Philippians to “work out your own salvation.” When Paul makes this statement, he has already acknowledged that he is writing to “saints” (Phil. 1:1), to believers who were positionally in Christ, set apart from sin and set apart to God. Paul does not say to “work for your own salvation,” but to work “out” the salvation God had already given them. Scripture is clear that salvation today is all of grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8,9). Salvation must first be worked in before it can be worked out.
The Philippians are instructed here by Paul to “work out,” to put into practice in their daily experience what God had wrought in them by His Spirit. When we trust the all-sufficient provision made for us by Christ’s death and resurrection, salvation is worked in by the Spirit (Titus 3:5). And salvation is worked out by the Spirit through our faith and obedience to God’s Word (Rom. 8:11).
Working out your salvation is about living the way you were saved: by grace through faith in Christ (Col. 2:6). Salvation is found in a Person. Christ is our salvation. At the moment of trusting Him alone for our salvation, Christ’s life is in-worked in us. Paul says in Colossians 1:27 that all who have trusted the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior have “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” After salvation from sin’s penalty, God desires Christ’s life to be outworked practically in our lives, so others see His life in our life. As we do so through the Spirit’s power, by the Word, in faith, we work out our own salvation and our lives will exhibit Christ-like attributes (cf. Gal. 5:22,23). To work out our salvation is also to live in victory over sin in our daily lives, experiencing salvation over sin’s power by God’s resurrection power within, living righteously in the life and freedom we have in Christ (Rom. 6:1-13).
Verse 12 shows us there is human responsibility to our Christian lives as we are told to “work.” Effort must be put into the Christian life, effort to grow, effort to know the Word, effort to pray, effort to serve, and effort to be in fellowship with others. And Paul says that we are to work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling.” These terms show us that the outworking of our salvation must be done realizing the seriousness of the Christian life in living before a lost and dying world. We live “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation [generation]” and God would have us shine brightly and boldly for Him “as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). Working out our own salvation with fear and trembling also reminds us of our own weakness and inability to live the Christian life in our own strength. We should rightly fear and distrust our own ability to meet God’s will and instruction. We need to humbly trust in Him and not in ourselves to live godly lives. By His power we work out our own salvation and can show Christ’s life in us.
Paul is talking about the believer’s practical, daily sanctification here and he shows both the believer’s responsibility and God’s role in it. Verse 12 could not be carried out without the reality of verse 13. We could never work out our own salvation and grow and mature to be more like Christ without God working in us. God does not ask of us what we can’t do, and He Himself is our provision. The Christian life is a process of “ins” and “outs.” God works in and we work out. As God works in us and we grow spiritually in Him and His Word and prayer, we then work out His life and light, serving Him and others.
I Thessalonians 2:13 says, “the Word of God…effectually worketh…in you that believe.” God works in us by His Word, and changes our will and desires as we grow and apply it. Our minds, attitude, priorities, worldview, and understanding of life are transformed by the Word of God. Through it we learn to see the world through His eyes and feel with His heart. As God works in us by the Word, His “will” becomes ours, and we will seek to “do” things of “His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). And to will and do of God’s good pleasure is about “Look[ing] not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). God’s will and desire is for us to put the needs of others first, in love, like Christ did for us at the Cross (Phil. 2:5-8).
In Ephesians 3:20, Paul writes, “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Paul says the unlimited power by which Almighty God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask in prayer is the same power that works in us. So there is no limit to what God can do in and through you and me. As God works in us, He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, or could ever conceive, or possibly imagine through you and me!