“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” (Philippians 2:12)
I can’t begin to number the times I have either heard someone, or read what someone wrote on this verse of Scripture using it out of context, and out of character, in an attempt to prove that God saves sinners by what He does, and by what they do. This is a favorite of those who are depending on their own performance of good works to gain favor with God and to hopefully be finally saved in the end.
A text out of context is often a pretext! If only we would take the time to see how a passage fits into the fabric of the whole much of our erroneous conclusions would disappear. This verse is one of those Bible statements that is abused and wrongfully used.
Paul sets the tone of the book in chapter 1 where he wrote:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
How could Paul have “been sure if this” if the salvation and security of the Philippian believers depended on their performance? In chapter 2 this idea is reinforced even more. He has reminded them of their partnership with him in the gospel and instructed them about how they are to live with each other and then says:
“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…” (Philippians 2:12)
Why Paul? So we can stay saved? And Paul gives the answer in the very same breath.
“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
What? God is working in a believer, willing what should be done and doing the “work“! This is an absolute scandal to the self righteous who are depending on themselves and not on the finished work and worth of Jesus for salvation or keeping that salvation. But, alas it is true anyway. God saves, God works, God keeps. In light of this Bible truth how are we to respond to God’s lavish love and grace?
Live your lives with each other before a watching world so that you can never be blamed for wrong doing. Expect suffering while you hold to the word of Life. Be unselfish, looking out for the good of others and model your lives after Christ who humbled himself and became a servant of others.
How are works related to salvation? How we live, (especially among other believers) exposes who we really are. Every one who is born from above will live a life of good deeds as God designed. (Ephesians 2 10) None of us will follow perfectly. Sometimes we stumble, and sometimes fall, but always we are God’s own possession and we are safe in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What precious promises and blessed encouragement for believers! Yet, only condemnation for “make believers”. The old song “Trust and Obey” is so true. Trust Christ and then obey.
Don’t depend on how good you can be, rather trust the one who lived perfectly and presented that life to God on your behalf. Rest from your labor and learn to cooperate with God who is at work in you. Love and loving acts are as natural as breathing when you rely completely on Christ in you the hope of glory.