“…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.”
Mr. Matthew Pannkuk – Chaplain, Bible Teacher
12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Work out your own salvation. Seems like an odd phrase, doesn’t it? I mean, the Bible makes it very clear that we do not earn our salvation. We are saved by faith, not by works.
So what’s with this line? What does it mean to work out our salvation?
Whenever investigating the meaning of a phrase or word, it is always wise to check its context. Meaning, we look at what was said before and after, who is writing to whom, things like that.
Directly after saying work out your own salvation, Paul then says it is God who works in you! So it cannot say earn your own salvation, because whatever work he’s encouraging you to do is not even your own work, it’s God’s work through you.
Also, since Paul just talked at length in 2:1-11 about how Christians are to follow Christ’s example in putting others ahead of ourselves, we know he’s writing to believers. Why talk to people about how to get something they already have?
This passage most likely is talking about what to do with the salvation that you already have in Christ.
The phrase work out your salvation means to apply it, to tease it out. To not just have the package on your counter, but to open it up and use what’s in it! To not just have your name on the deed of the mansion, but to explore the rooms and the grounds!
So if we are called to work, and God is the one who works in us, who is the one doing the work: God or us? Yes!
We both work. This is stated or implied in many places throughout Scripture. One notable verse is Colossians 1:29. “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul toils and struggles, yet God is the one working and providing power and energy.
We must avoid two extremes. On the one hand, thinking we do all the work in our own strength. On the other hand, thinking that God will do everything while we just sit and watch. Yes God works with or without our help, but he goes to great lengths to get us off the bench and into the game.
Christians are not called to be spectators in the drama of redemption, but participators. However, we must never forget in whose power we do our part.
What does this look like in life? How can we work out our salvation, while still trusting God to work? This is not easy. It is not often outwardly obvious. It is more about a mindset. Or perhaps more accurately a “heartset.” What is your heart resting in at the end of the day: what you’ve accomplished, or the God who accomplished much for you?
Let us think about how we can work out our salvation, how we can apply the truths of what we have been given. If you inherit billions of dollars, you’ll spend and invest that money. If you were granted a super power like flight, you’d be flying.
We’ve been given eternal, indestructible life. We have the Spirit of Christ himself living within us, strengthening and comforting and encouraging us always. What will we do with these magnificent abilities? How will they impact our lives?
It is not easy to love others, to put God first, to sacrifice as Christ did. Yet never forget that what God has called you to do, he has also equipped you to do. You have God working in you! Let us then work for him as he works for us!
Twin Oaks Christian School, a ministry of Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church