Work Out Your Own Salvation With Fear & Trembling
In “Philippians 2:12-13” Paul writes, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his purpose.”
I recently was with a dear and precious friend of mine having a luncheon date at a local restaurant. We had a great conversation and at the conclusion of the time together whilst we were standing beside our respective vehicles the topic of “Philippians 2:12-13” arose and in particular the phrase the Apostle Paul used – “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” It was in light of “How Secure Are We in Our Salvation” that this study has arisen.
Therefore, let us spend some time together, and I pray that this dispels the “erroneous” notion that an “Individual Born of God can become Unborn” and that the “Adoption Papers in the judicial courts of Heaven forever secured by Christ’s death and indelibly signed in His blood at Calvary” can be “negated,” thereby thwarting the sovereignty of God and the work that Christ performed at Calvary for those “Chosen before the foundation of the World” and wonderfully chosen in the very first covenant between – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, before time and space existed.
It is therefore in order to bring reassurance to all that I have put these few notes together. It saddens me so very much to discover that many, many folks are trapped into erroneous mindsets and live their entire Christian pilgrimage with the cloud on “will I or won’t I be saved” – “have I done enough” etc.
This Scripture text is commonly misconstrued. It is also frequently not read and pondered in light of the context of the actual words under consideration. The inability to “contextually interpret Scripture with Scripture” is one of the great weaknesses of our doctrinally untaught “Universal Church” in the world today. It has ignited the “blue touch paper” as it was enabling the multitude of “Iconic False Teachers” to present erroneous doctrines in our generation and has gripped the Church of Jesus. We live in days in which there are so many folks with itching ears – This is what we find in “2 Timothy 4:3” – “You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching but will fill up on spiritual junk food – catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages.” The Message
I wrote a blog post and a paper a while ago, and if you are a “Leader / Pastor” in any area of authority today, I strongly encourage you to read it and meditate on it. You can find it at https://worldwidechristianministries.org/are-we-preachers-leaders-fully-persuaded/. If you are not a “Leader / Pastor,” however, I urge you to read it anyway.
This particular Scripture is often utilised to invoke a sub-conscious element of fear in individuals, thereby creating a “Works Based” pilgrimage of faith. It instils into the thinking that the absence of “works” would mean that they risk – God in Heaven” tearing up their “Adoption Papers.” To be honest it would be a laughable concept if it were not so sad a case that so many are living in the midst of the “Liberty of the Children of God” with a “Ball & Chain” firmly affixed to their spiritual ankles.
“Doctrine of Sanctification”
The context of what the Apostle Paul is teaching when he says – “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” is all based upon the “Doctrine of Sanctification.”
This is the absolute transformation that Paul discusses a little bit later on in “Philippians 3:20” and says, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Saviour [that is here and now], the Lord Jesus Christ, who will [in the future] transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” It is a transformation that is known as “Progressive Sanctification.”
This is a complete metamorphosis (μεταμόρφωσις) which Paul is writing about. However, we need to keep in mind that the complete process of the metamorphosis is only achieved in the latter stages of the game. That’s down the road of our pilgrimage. Right now, we are presently, still fighting with sin, and this finished product cannot be accomplished until He the Holy Spirit has finished perfecting us.
The Definition of Sanctification
Sanctification is a “Doctrinal Topic” all of its own and a large one at that and too large for this specific time. Unlike, the “Doctrine of Adoption” which is a “One Time and Eternal Transactional act of God” – Sanctification is an “Ongoing Work of the Holy Spirit.” Our “Adoption” is not alterable, it has the “Seal of the Holy Spirit” upon the heavenly document, but our “Sanctification” is a transforming work – day by day in our pilgrimage of faith.
Should you wish to learn more of these doctrinal topics let me reference the Worldwide Christian Ministries On-Line Bible School which has a 10-week Course on the topic of Soteriology which provides teaching on – Adoption, Sanctification and a further eight topics found at – https://worldwidechristianministries.org/online-bible-school/.
However, let me briefly list some of the things that it – “Is and Is Not.”
It Is Not:
- Doing the Right Thing.
- Having the Right Experience.
- Keeping the Right Rules.
- Gaining the Right Knowledge.
- Joining the Right Church.
- Avoiding the Right Pitfalls.
Sanctification is the procedure of genuine biblical transformation.
It is the process by which we grow increasingly conformed to Christ’s image.
The Bible depicts the sanctification process in three distinct ways with three distinct features.
- Positional Sanctification.
In “1 Corinthians 1:2”, Paul writes, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified [past tense, complete, done, in the past, finished] in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
To “dedicate” or “consecrate” something is what the word “sanctify” signifies at its most fundamental level. To “separate away from common usage for holy use” is what this phrase signifies. At the very least, this is how it is characterised in relation to the implements, artefacts, and various other things that would be engaged in the sacrifices that would take place in the tabernacle and the temple. Until it is set apart to collect the blood for the sacrifices at the altar, a pot is just a regular old pot that people use in their everyday lives. After that point, the vessel is no longer merely a pot; rather, it is a unique bowl that has been set apart for a sacred purpose after having been dedicated or sanctified.
It reminds me of the Scripture in “1 Peter 2:9-10” which says: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” Authorised King James Version
“But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” The Message
When someone becomes a Christian, they are also set apart. They are sanctified by position in order to serve God. They are also cleaned of their sins, separated from them, and given a new existence with new wants.
- Perfecting Sanctification.
In “Hebrews 12:23” the writer refers to the believers in heaven as “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” I can’t wait until that describes me as one of those “righteous made perfect.”
This is the “End Game Transformation” that I referred to earlier. The Apostle Paul himself goes on to state the following in “Philippians 3” – “Not that I have already gained this [not that I’m flawless, not that I have arrived] or am already perfect [he says that], but I press on to make it my own.”.
If Paul was unable to reach perfection before he passed away, then I sincerely doubt that either you or I will be able to do so on this side of the grave. Thus, we have the duty that we share with Paul to persist in working toward the objective of making a success of our sanctification – out of our obedience and adoration of our Saviour – (not however as a works-based style of living.) Sure! There are works that we are to carry out that’s very clear from “Ephesians 2:1” – “For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].” Amplified Version We should notice that these works are the Regenerated Side and not the Unregenerate Side which is described as filthy rags “Isaiah 64:6” I recognise that contextually the verse referring specifically to the Israelites in Isaiah’s time (760—670 B.C.) they had strayed from God. Isaiah was writing concerning his nation and their hypocrisy. But, in light of the rest of Scripture, we see its undeniable application universally in respect of the pagan world society that surrounds the children of God.
In Heaven God sees it as “Perfected” but He also sees the ongoing work of God the Holy Spirit in the entire length of our spiritual pilgrimage. This has nothing whatsoever to do with our “Eternal Security, but everything to do with the “Perfecting, Progress Sanctified Life” experience we find ourselves in and at various levels of intensity.
- Progressive Sanctification.
According to the words of one theologian, “the process of sanctification is the means through which Christians are recreated in the image of God.” According to the teachings of another theologian, sanctification might be defined as “the progressive disengagement in the life of a believer from sin toward righteousness.”
I believe that the definition provided by Wayne Grudem is especially helpful. He says, “Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”
That is the one I prefer. It’s a bit wordy, and it’s a little long-winded, but it’s a nice definition because it catches this dual aspect of sanctification.
So then with the words – Positional, Perfecting and Progressive – in our background thinking let’s now look further into our text – “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
What in reality and contextually exactly does it mean to “work out our salvation while trembling and in fear?”
As I indicated at the very beginning the text is frequently misapplied (either deliberately or inadvertently) but either way instilling a subconscious fear in individuals, implying and warning them that it implies they may lose their salvation.
Paul patently cannot possibly be encouraging believers to be constantly uneasy and anxious which at face value it would seem to be doing. Is it though? No! is the emphatic response and why? Because that would contradict Paul’s many other exhortations for inner peace, courage, and trust in the God who is the author of our redemption.
The Greek word that was translated into English as “fear” in this instance might I suggest should be interpreted as “reverence” or “respect.” Why? Because the Apostle Paul uses the same phrase in “2 Corinthians 7:15” when he refers to the reception of him by the Corinthians where he also says, “with fear and trembling.” It was indicating the meaning of “with great humility and respect for his position as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Paul says that Titus was encouraged by the Corinthians’ reception of him in this manner.
“Proverbs 1:7,” says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Notice that this is not a fear of being eternally judged by the Lord; instead, it is reverential fear, being in awe of God, and doing the things that honour a holy God. Such fear helps us and protects us against temptation and sin. When we love God and are in awe of Him, we are motivated to be obedient and bring about righteous living, fitting for the children of God.
The Greek word for “fear” is “φόβoς” – “Phobos,” which is also where we get our word “phobia” from. (Similar to a fear of closed spaces, spiders, etc.)
- Extreme apprehension.
- A source of great anxiety.
- Awe and respect.
The definitions can be found in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as Awe; Reverence; Fear (for authority, rank, dignity.)
As I have said it is quite unlikely that Paul would advise believers to maintain a state of constant agitation and unease in their daily lives. That would be in direct opposition to his numerous other admonitions to have tranquilly of mind, courage, and faith in the God who is the author of our redemption. In fact, it is in line with what Jesus said in “John 14:27” – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” NIV
Paul travelled to the church in Corinth “weak, fearful, and with much trepidation” – “1 Corinthians 2:3” because he was well aware of the tremendous and awesome character of the job in which he was engaged, and it is in this understanding that contextually we should read – “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
So then – Fear in working out our own salvation is one aspect of the meaning the second sense in which it is brought to us is the “Work Out” – “γυμνάζομαι” aspect.
The Greek verb rendered “work out” – means “to continually work to bring something to completion or fruition.” But how do we do this – Simply, we do it by actively pursuing obedience in the process of sanctification, which Paul explains further in Philippians. He describes himself as “straining” and “pressing on” toward the goal of Christlikeness “Philippians 3:13-14.”
The “trembling” he experiences is the attitude Christians are to have in pursuing this goal – an attitude of a healthy fear of offending God through disobedience and an awe and respect for His majesty and holiness. “Trembling” can also refer to shaking due to weakness, but this is a weakness of higher purpose, one which brings us to a state of dependency on God.
Obedience and submission to the God we revere, and respect is our “reasonable service” as we are told in “Romans 12:1-2” and brings great joy. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the “Security” of our state of salvation and our position as “Adopted Children of God.”
“Psalm 2:11” sums it up perfectly conveying to us – “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.” We work out our salvation by going to the very source of our salvation – the Word of God – wherein we renew our hearts and minds “Romans 12:1-2”, coming into His presence with a spirit of reverence and awe.
Let’s consider the phrase “Workout” a little further.
Workout is a directive with a persistent emphasis and translates the present middle imperative of katergazomai (κατεργάζομαι) which is used 2716 times in the Bible – If you wanted to do a word study then here are some of its various usages:
- “To work out; to effect, produce, bring out, as a result,” – “Romans 4:15” – “Romans 5:3” – “Romans 7:13” – “2 Corinthians 4:17” – “2 Corinthians 7:10” – “Philippians 2:12” – “1 Peter 4:3” – “James 1:3”
- “To work, practice, realise in practice,” – “Romans 1:27” – “Romans 2:9”
- “To work or mould into fitness,” – “2 Corinthians 5:5”
- “To despatch,” – “Ephesians 6:13”
The real message is “Keep on working out to completion, to ultimate fulfilment.”
What are believers commanded in order to fully complete their salvation? It’s an important question to be asking. Whilst it is important is also simple to answer. Believers are commanded to put in an ongoing, persistent effort. But in what? Again, simply the – good works that Ephesians 2:1 spoke to us off.
The idea is, do not scrimp on your salvation. Do not take bits and pieces when a whole parcel is available. God has given us new life in Christ, but His purpose is for us to have abundant life in His Son “John 10:10.”
So, we should not settle for a little when we may have a lot! Continue to grow until your salvation is complete “2 Peter 3:18”, and whilst we do so trust that “He Who began a good work in us will complete it in the day of Christ Jesus” – “Philippians 1:6.” Wonderfully we should notice I hope that it is God who is making all the running in this process:
- He Chose Us.
- He Regenerated Us.
- He Gave Us the Faith to Believe.
- He Adopted Us.
- He Sanctified.
- He is Sanctifying Us.
- He is Enabling Us.
- He will cause us to Preserve until the End.
He is the sovereign God and there is no way in which we or the devil can circumvent what He has decreed and already established before the foundation of the Earth.
Once Saved – Always Saved
This is a statement of Biblical fact. We need only to “Fear and Tremble” if we are trying to obtain salvation through our own works and efforts and in doing, we would perhaps inadvertently be establishing an alternative religious way of living rather that the relationship that all who have received “Saving Faith” through the grace of God.
“Accountability” is balanced by “Divine Sovereignty.”
However, with that said, we need to recognise that there is both a “Freedom and Responsibility” that the believer has revealed through what the Apostle Paul said. Our “Accountability” is balanced by “Divine Sovereignty.”
Here’s a question to ponder.
“If once saved, always saved is true, we are free to live our lives as we like.” – Yes or no! if the immediate answer is No! and the premise is rejected the majority of those who are rejecting “once saved always saved” do so for pragmatic reasons. The follow-on argument generally is – “how can we persuade people to cease sinning if they are always saved?” This line of thinking is saying, “hellfire and eternal damnation are the only threats capable of discouraging immorality.”
I would however answer with a qualified “yes” to the statement – Do read on through before rejecting the premise put forward. The question was, “If once saved always saved is true, does it mean we can live our lives whatever we choose?” Why do I say yes well simply because – Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is so perfectly perfect and sufficient that it paid the price for all of our sins. Christ’s death paid for the sins we committed prior to accepting Him as our Saviour, and it also pays for the sins we commit after accepting Him as our Saviour.
The truth you see is this I would argue that any person who has truly accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour will not live their life however they like. When we comprehend the heinousness of our sin, the eternal punishment we have merited, and the immense price Jesus paid, we undergo a profound transformation.
“Once Saved Forever is Not an Excuse to Sin“
When we obtain salvation, we become a new creation “2 Corinthians 5:17”, and everything else has also been made new. Once saved forever is not an excuse to sin. Rather, it is the realisation that we could not merit salvation on our own, and hence nothing we do can cause us to lose the salvation God purchased with the blood of Christ.
Once saved forever brings with it an awareness that God’s salvation plan is perfectly flawless.
The elect of God cannot be:
- Thrown out.
“Good actions and obedience cannot merit salvation, nor can their absence lead to the loss of salvation.”
Once saved, always saved places the emphasis of salvation where it belongs – on the holy and powerful God who completes what He begins – “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Saviour, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.” – “Jude 24-25” NKJV
In light of what we have considered, and “Jude 24-25” let’s look at some basic principles in respect of working out salvation.
There are two aspects that we need to consider.
- The first pertains to personal conduct, faithful, obedient and daily living.
- The second pertains to working out one’s salvation is perseverance, of faithful obedience to the end.
The first aspect is Personal Conduct, Faithful, Obedience and Daily Living.
It should be an obvious recognition that the Child of God when it comes to sin and sins in its and every form has a “Duty and expected Desire” to renounce it, put off and replace it with righteous thinking. We are clearly urged to “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus….” – “Philippians 2:5a.” We are privileged in our new birth experience to have received a new way of thinking and behaving. Sure, there are difficult times and in regard to our thinking the Bible tells us to “…casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” – “2 Corinthians 10:5” NKJV
Obedience of this calibre will obviously involve an active commitment and personal effort on the part of the individual. Believers are to cleanse themselves “from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” as it says in “2 Corinthians 7:1.” In addition to as previously indicated to set minds, thinking and aspirations “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth,” and why? Simple because we who claim to be Children of God have died to sin and our lives are now “hidden with Christ in God” – “Colossians 3:2-3.”
It is also enjoined upon all “Born Again” Children of God to now reverse the previous existence they had which is described as “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness” – “Romans 6:19” and now because of the transformation that has occurred “present [their] members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” – “walking” – “in a manner worthy of the calling with which [they] have been called” – “Ephesians 4:1.”
The second aspect of working out one’s salvation is perseverance, of faithful obedience to the end.
It is very clear in the Scriptures that along with all the other benefits that our new birth lives have been graced with there is a treasure that is also priceless and that is – “Persevering Faith.” It is the Gifting of Faith that God gives and is worked in and out to ensure that a true Child of God will prevail unto the end.
Persevering Faith can be understood by recognising our complete and unwavering justification is made available to us through a single, straightforward act of faith, and that the possibility of an eternal life is present right from the start.
The justification we have does not come to us in stages, one stage one day and another stage on another stage on another stage. It is received in its entirety through the initial demonstration of sincere confidence in Jesus otherwise known as “Saving Faith.” We don’t add a new piece of justification to our collection with every new act of faith and then cross our fingers that we’ll have enough of those pieces when we die.
There are no individual parts. There is no way to split the verdict of “not guilty.” And the work that Christ did on the cross, in which we find our justification, was a job that was finished and finished perfectly. The situation does not improve with the passing of time. This union with Christ does not take place in stages; rather, it occurs at the moment of our initial trust. Nobody is on the border between the two camps. If we are in Christ, then everything that he is, is for us, beginning with the very first moment that we place our faith in him. This is excellent news for all of us who are sinners saved by grace and have a long way to go before we are what Christ has made us in this life.
It further means that God himself will make sure that we persist in our faith – not that our faith will be perfect, but that we will persist in it anyway. How is it that I can claim this? In “Romans 8:30” the Bible says, “These whom [God] predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” This very final clause which I have emphasised is really important. According to what is stated here, God will undoubtedly provide glory to those whom He has vindicated. It’s close to being finished. That is, in the end, He will without a doubt bring them into the glory and life that lasts forever along with Himself. If this is the case – if God will definitely and eternally save those who have been justified – and if our justification comes via faith that endures, then God will make sure that we definitely endure in our faith if this is the case.
The fact that God will personally watch over His flock and ensure that they do not completely turn their backs on him is a very valuable piece of information. It’s true individuals might wander off for a few months however, He will retrieve them. It is possible for clouds to form, and faith could waver, but those who are in the righteousness of Christ will not go so far as to fall completely.
The ability of our own resolve to believe is not the source of our hope for glorification. Because of the reliability of God, the one who started a good work in us will see it through to completion until the day when Christ returns “Philippians 1:6.”
Salvation is seen to have three dimensions: past, present, and future:
- The past dimension is that of justification when believers placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and were redeemed.
- The present dimension is sanctification, the time between a believer’s justification and his death or the Rapture.
- The future aspect is glorification when salvation is completed, and believers receive their glorified bodies.
Believers, therefore, have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.
Perseverance in the faith is the duty of every true believer, and yet not the power of their security.
Perseverance in the faith is the duty of every true believer, and yet not the power of their security. It is, however, the unmistakable and inevitable evidence of divine power operating in the soul – see “Colossians 1:29.”
Why can we be sure that true believers will be those who persevere to the end? The answer is clear from Scripture – because God’s power keeps their salvation secure.
Jesus repeatedly emphasised that truth.
- To the great crowd that came to Him at Capernaum, He declared emphatically that “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” – “John 6:37” – “John 6:39”
- Later, in Jerusalem, He declared, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” – “John 10:28-29” and for comparison see “John 17:2” – “John 12:24” and “John 18:9”
As an underpinning for what has been previously stated it is very informative to see what Jesus Himself said in – “Matthew 24:13” this was at the time of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus declared, “The one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
Paul the Apostle also said to the Colossians in “Colossians 1:22-23” that Christ would present them before God the Father “blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed [they] continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that [they] have heard.” He admonished Timothy to “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” – “1 Timothy 4:16.”
Earlier in Philippians, Paul wrote that he was “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” – “Philippians 1:6.” Peter gave believers a similar assurance, saying that they “are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” – “1 Peter 1:5.” From beginning to end, the entire divine work of salvation is under God’s control.
God’s work in us, accomplished via the ministry of the Holy Spirit, leads to numerous fruitful outcomes.
- The Impartation of His Desires.
- The Convicting us of Sin.
- The Convicting us of Righteousness.
- The Convicting us of Judgment.
- The Manifestation of His Sovereign Will.
Therefore, the best advice I can provide is to open ourselves up to the mighty work that Christ wants to do in us. He will endow us with the power to lead holy and pleasant lives, bearing the fruits of righteousness, and therefore becoming more like Him in each and every moment.
Therefore, let us continue to dwell in Christ, submitting to the Holy Spirit to perform the wonderful work that He does in us, so that we may be sanctified for the glory of God and to the acclaim of the Father.
Be assured – “Your Salvation is Eternally Secure.”