Hey everyone! How are you? I hope all is well!
Today we will be looking at these two verses in Philippians that seem almost contradictory but in reality are complimentary.
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.
Philippians 2:12-13 ESV
Paul states the first duty he had in mind with these words: ‘… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling …’ (v. 12).
The apostle is not asking the Philippians to work for their salvation. If we are in doubt about this, we only have to read a bit further. He will soon give details of his own futile efforts to earn the favour of God (3:1–11).
Those who advocate salvation by works do so only because they fail to understand that God demands perfect righteousness of us. When this point hits home, it is obvious to us that we cannot be saved by works, because, no matter how many good works we do, they cannot elevate us to the level of perfect righteousness.
Paul tells his readers to ‘work out’ their salvation. His meaning becomes clearer when we look at his next phrase: ‘… for it is God who works in you …’ (v. 13).
Salvation is God’s work. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can enlighten our minds to see the truth and move our wills to accept the truth. The very faith with which we receive his work of salvation is not something we can produce. It is rather God’s gift to us. He gives us both the salvation to receive by faith and the faith to receive the salvation (Eph. 2:8–9). No one who finally enters eternal glory will have one shred of credit to claim. God will not share his glory with another.
Paul was calling the Philippians, therefore, to work out what God had worked in. They were to live in such a way as to manifest that God had done his saving work within them. They were to show outwardly what God had done inwardly.
While we must not believe in salvation by works, we must most certainly believe in a salvation that works. In other words, we must not fall for that lie of the devil which suggests that one can truly be saved and not manifest it by good works.
This was, of course, the issue with which James was so urgently concerned when he wrote: ‘… faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say,
“You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?’ (James 2:17–20).
Paul made the same point—that true salvation manifests itself in good works—in these words to the Ephesians:
‘For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ (Eph. 2:10).
We cannot leave this point without noting that the ‘working out’ for which the apostle calls is to be done with ‘fear and trembling’ (v. 12) and also with confidence (v. 13).
With the phrase ‘fear and trembling’, the apostle was calling his readers to go about their Christian lives with a sense of awe and wonder. The apostle was calling them to manifest in their daily living the salvation of the living God, the salvation that had been planned for them before the foundation of the world. They were part of something that was far more massive than they could imagine. Mundane Christian duties dance and shimmer with delight when we learn to coat them with privilege. And living for the Lord becomes easier when we understand that it is the Lord for whom we live.
Lest his readers should feel overwhelmed by the thought of having to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, Paul added a word of assurance that would give them confidence:
‘… it is God who works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure’ (v. 13).
The God who had done the work of salvation within them had not abandoned them. He was still at work in them, giving them both the desire and the power to work out their salvation. If we have no desire to live for the Lord, we have no right to say we know the Lord.
Ellsworth, Roger. Opening Up Philippians. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004.
Always, for God’s glory and our joy in Him!