“Therefore, my beloved, as you 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 for it is God who works in you both to will and do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2: 11-13).
gracetidings: with dr doug mamvura
Many believers will quote this verse to support the idea that we still have much personal development to do in completing what Jesus started or to make ourselves worthy and acceptable to the Lord. The idea is we need to do “works” to prove we are saved, and we need to be fearful that if we don’t do and live as God has commanded, we could be tossed into hell. If this were true, I can understand why believers would be trembling in fear while working hard to stay out of hell.
Unfortunately for these types of believers who preach a gospel of performance, this isn’t what this verse means at all. Firstly, salvation isn’t something you have to work for; it is a free gift from God that is received by faith. You don’t work for salvation; it works for you. “For we are saved by grace through faith, not works lest any man boasts” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Working out our salvation is very different from working for our salvation. When Paul tells believers that they need to work out their salvation, he is simply explaining that the wonderful gift they freely received from God is inside of them. We bring out those beautiful attributes and character traits by faith.
When we get born again, the Lord deposits everything He accomplished through His death and resurrection in us. Then we have to work it out of our spirits and into the physical realm. It is a major step towards victory when we quit looking for our deliverance to come from the outside and start recognising that it is already in us and we just need to get it out. We’ve already got it. It’s not God’s turn to move. He’s already done His part. It’s our turn to believe and appropriate what God has already provided by grace. It is very sad to see many believers moving from one church to the other seeking the very things that God has already deposited in their lives the moment they are saved such as healing, deliverance, prosperity among other things.
When we put our faith in Jesus as our Lord, God puts salvation and all its blessings but we have to work it out. The phrase “work out” was translated from the Greek verb “Katergazomai,” and according to Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, it means “‘to carry out to the goal, to carry to its ultimate conclusion.” We say, “The student worked out a problem in mathematics.” That is, he carried the problem to its ultimate conclusion. This is the way it is used here. We are being exhorted to carry our salvation to its ultimate conclusion, namely, Christlikeness.”
When we “work out” our salvation, we then manifest the fruit of salvation. This precious salvation we have received as a gift from God is on the inside of us. However, a lost and dying world is waiting to see it manifest on the outside, so this life-changing love of God touches them through our lives and characters. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).
I remember how scary it was for me to stop trusting in my natural abilities and trust in God’s Word. This is what Paul is referring to when he mentions “fear and trembling.” He isn’t talking about being afraid of God. Rather, he is helping the new believer to know that in the beginning, it will seem scary to walk by faith. However, it is the only way to see our inner salvation manifest on the outside through our character.
Keep in mind many of the people Paul was writing to came from religions that opposed the type of grace he was preaching. For example, first century Jews who converted to Christianity would have struggled to believe they were in perfect union with God. Moreover, the thought that God was now living in them seemed unreal much less the idea that He could love them unconditionally. They had left a religious system that taught them God was so holy, you couldn’t mention His name. Or, that if you violated His law or did something wrong in His presence, He would strike you down.
Their mindsets needed to be completely renewed. Therefore, it is easy to see why living this new life by faith would be scary for them. No one knew it better than Paul who was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus expecting to be judged harshly for killing and imprisoning God’s children. Yet, instead of receiving the death sentence, which he expected, he was shown unfailing mercy and love that transformed him. He became one of the greatest apostles in the Bible.
John also addressed this idea that God can be scary in 1 John 4:18, “He that fears hasn’t been made perfect in love because they don’t know God yet.” New believers who don’t know God can be afraid of Him based on wrong information about who He is. To some, learning to trust in God’s love, goodness, and mercy sounds easy at first. However, if a false perspective of God is drilled into you, overcoming those strongholds could take some time. Learning to live by faith and trusting in what Jesus did for you could be a challenging way to live if you always based your righteousness on your own performance.
When Paul told believers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, he understood perfectly the challenge a new believer would experience. Initially, trusting the work of Christ to change your character and lifestyle without your own efforts can be daunting. It is a challenge to believe you can change without a self-help or sin management program. It should be noted that Paul emphasizes this point in the very next verse.
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Paul’s acceptance and journey with God into this new way of life were filled with fear and trepidation. He wasn’t afraid of God. His trepidation came from who he had become in Christ, a new creation in Christ, a son of God, holy and as righteous as Jesus is. That was a revolutionary belief for Paul.
Transitioning from a belief system that portrayed God as angry, fault finding and condemning to the truth that revealed He is kind, loving and merciful is quite the journey. It truly is one that would create fear and trepidation in the hearts of those who choose to walk this new life
In Philippians 2:13, the word “work in you”, means energizing or quickening or activating. The Lord not only gives us the ability to walk in total victory, but He also plants that desire in us. He makes us willing. It is God who empowers us to produce the results as believers. On our own we can do nothing. If we allow Him to work within us and surrender our lives to Him like Paul says “It is no longer I who lives but Christ in me” then the fruit we will produce will be amazing. He initiates the process and then we manifest the results as we work out our salvation. It is sad to note that some of us want to initiate the process then invite God to endorse our work. It will not work.
The quality of the fruit we produce will be determined by the level we allow God to fully operate in us. As long as we rely on ourselves, we will never produce fruit that will remain. This is why He made it clear that” without Me, you can do nothing”. We can only work out and produce lasting fruit as we allow Him to work in our own lives.
l Dr Doug Mamvura is a graduate of Charis Bible School. Feedback: email@example.com or Twitter @dougmamvura