There are many often-quoted Biblical statements that people have a hard time understanding. One of the ones most heard is Philippians 2:12-13 which says “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (ESV)
Let’s hone in on a couple statements to dig deeper into. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you…” Simple statements, but what do they mean? Did Jesus not “work out” salvation for us in his death and resurrection, taking our sins and proving his power over Satan? Why should I fear a loving God? God works in me; what is that supposed to mean?
In these verses, we have a command: to work out our own salvation. Jesus worked out the path through which we can reach eternal life and eternal joy- an eternity spent with God, and not in pain, fire, and agony. He did his part. Now we have to do ours. We must obey. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence…” Supervision is not always obvious, sometimes there aren’t others around, but as Christians, we must obey. We must follow the guidelines given us of how to obtain the salvation Christ has offered. However, there are two parts to salvation: justification and sanctification. At baptism, through faith (which is belief), and grace, we are justified- our sins are paid for, and we never have to worry about them again. After baptism? We are still human. You know the statement from Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned.” Even though we have been justified, we fall down on our job, hammering the nails into him over and over and over again. That’s where sanctification comes in. We must sanctify ourselves through repentance, asking forgiveness. It seems a lost art these days. People say “I’m sorry,” but we don’t mean it. How often have you heard, sincerely, the words “Will you forgive me?” in the past ten years? God loves us, is ready to forgive us- but we must ask in true sorrow for our sins. Work out your own salvation, and keep it.
Not only do we have a command to work out our own salvation, but we are told HOW to do it. (Work? This sounds pretty easy if you ask me!) “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” Fear? Trembling? Wait a minute! I thought you said God loves us? Why should I be afraid? Look at what our sin did to His Son, and ask me that again. Our sins cried out “Crucify Him!” Our sins flogged Him. Your sins spat upon Him. My sins reviled Him. Your sin put the crown of thorns upon His head, you nailed His hands to the tree, you watched Him die, you jeered, you laughed… then at the end of the day, you looked upon Him and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Yet we have the audacity to ask “why should I be afraid? God is a god of LOVE.” God is love; He loved His Son as only a father could. My sins took Him to that tree, and my sins killed Him there. I deserve the ultimate punishment. “Therefore, my beloved,” obey! He has offered us justification, He has offered us sanctification, if only we obey. I come before his throne in fear, trembling- for I know what I have done. Yet He offers me peace that surpasses understanding. He offers me love, a patient, kind, never-ending love. After all I have done, after all the hurt I have caused Him- he offers me salvation. He allows us to work out our own salvation if we follow the path that His Son has offered through the cross. We come before him in fear, trembling, for we know we do not deserve it.
We have the command: work out your own salvation. We have the how: with fear and trembling. After that, we have the why: “for it is God who works in you…” How is God working in me? It is my turn to ask the question: Is He? Is God working in you? Every decision you make serves one purpose or another, but God leaves no gray areas. Our decisions are either working for God or not. If we are not working for him, we must be working for someone else, and who is against God, but Satan? Every decision and every action works towards God’s purposes, or away from them, for Satan’s. You give glory to God, or you take pride in self which is what Satan wants from you. You obey your parents, as he commanded, or you follow Satan’s reign. When your actions please God, they infuriate Satan. When your actions please Satan, they hurt God. One loves you, one loves your downfall. When God is working in you, when your actions are following his commands, you have peace. Perhaps not as the world views peace, but true peace of heart, for you know that whatever happens to you or in the world, God will sustain you, and carry you home in the end. We will work out our own salvation in obedience with fear and trembling if God is working in us towards perfection and towards heaven.
So, who are you working for?
By Hannah Lowe