“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13).
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This has been a difficult scripture for many people. I’ve seen it twisted by everyone from new believers to pastors into a tool of behavior modification, rather than receiving it as the blessing I believe it’s intended to be. The key to understanding it isn’t focusing on fear, but rather knowing God is the one who works in you, for you are his pleasure. God has worked in your salvation, now you get to work it out of you, to live it.
“Work out” means “to accomplish, complete, become the author.” It’s not the fear of God rejecting you because you haven’t worked for salvation hard enough, it’s overflowing the new life Jesus has won for you on the cross in awe and majesty. It’s being empowered to write the story of your life in Christ as you walk with him in loving obedience and transforming wonder.
To me, the “fear and trembling” have been in recognizing the enormity of all we get to live in and release to the world: his faith, hope, love, joy, peace, kindness, and goodness. Working out your salvation is a purposeful determination to love others as God loves you. To me, that’s the core of reverential fear—knowing you’re capable of holding back love if you fall into judging who is worthy of it. Staying fixed on who God is for you, and grateful for all he’s done, keeps you humbly aware of who you are in him, and joyfully focused on seeing everyone else as he does.
Be blessed, not stressed. Take a few minutes to think about, and thank, Jesus for all he’s done, and let his love for you push out every fear and frustration. Ask him who he wants to be for you right now, and how he wants you to live that, for yourself and others.
See Philippians 2:12-13 from a different place. Rather than reading it as if you’re alone in the desert, read it as though you’re sitting on Jesus’ lap.
“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (NLT).
“Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure” (The Message).