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Frequently Asked Questions About Christianity Answered Honestly!

Work Out Your Own Salvation with Trembling and Fear
-by Tony Warren


One of the questions which comes up quite often is, if we are indeed Saved by Grace, then what does Philippians mean when it says to work out your own salvation with trembling and fear?

Work out your own salvation is a exhortation to the Church at Philippi to labour in obedience in the word to make sure that they truly have salvation and are not sloth in confirmation. The Greek word translated work is [katergazomai] meaning work to the fullest or to completion. Such work as this can only be brought about in Christ. God works in us to give us the will to do what needs to be done to bring about salvation. Note carefully the "context" in which this quote is, which often is completely ignored by many theologians who try and use this verse as a simi-works proof text:

Philippians 2:12-13

  • "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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 which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. "

Notice that when Paul told them in his absence to work out their own salvation in trembling and fear (12), he also clearly told them in Verse 13 just how they would accomplish that. He says because it is God which worketh in you both to will and do of his good pleasure. And that Greek word translated do [energeo] is the exact same word translated worketh. The word means that God is the active one within you so that you will effectually work. So that when verse 12 says they will work (to the fullest), verse 13 lets us know explicitly that the effectual working unto salvation is by His actively moving us to do. It is not ourselves! That is what is meant by never forgetting the context. Here Paul is very plainly telling them that the work in them is not of them, but it is of God Himself. Not only to do (move us to work) but also to will (not free will, God's will) in us. And this is the part which most Theologians "choose" to ignore about the verse! But when we look at the whole of scripture, we see that Paul is exhorting them that as they have listened to and obeyed his teaching of the word when he was present with them, so they should now listen and be obedient to the word when he is no longer present, and not be slothful but work out their own salvation with trembling and fear. In other words, Paul's going away and they are on their own (so to speak) with the Word of God. They must now work without the leadership of Paul. They must be earnest, work out their salvation in the word without him. And it is God who will both will and do it in them.

In agreement with this is his encouragement to them to do it with trembling and fear. They are to read the scriptures and continue to obey them in the fear of God. Fear and trembling is not just incidental language. You see the difference between the Saved and the unsaved is that the unsaved have no real fear of God. Therefore they won't listen to God's Word nor obey what is written in His Holy canon. You can quote them God's Word "Word for word" and they'll retort that "that was just your interpretation" as if you were quoting your own words. The reason is, their conscience is seared and they have not the fear and trembling that true believers do. All throughout scripture when you read of God's manifestation to His Prophets of Old, all shook with fear and trembling before God. They all had that reverential fear of God. But in our day, the arrogance in high minded Christians, has many trying to make God their partner in crime. A super buddy who goes along just to winks at their sin. This is what having no fear of God is. They show this lack of respect every time they make God out to be a liar by denying His Word. By contrast, God says the evidence of a truly saved person is that they will keep, rather than discard the Word of God. For they are those who fear God and have reverence for His Holy Word. When Paul says with trembling and fear, it is this Godly fear that he is speaking of:

Psalms 34:9

  • "O fear the LORD, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him."

Psalms 61:5

  • "For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name."

Psalms 103:17

  • "But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children;

And God contrasts this Godly fear with the wicked who have no fear of God and so transgress without worry about the consequences. It doesn't bother them anymore to contradict God because they are so use to doing it that their conscience is seared (1st Timothy 4:2). It's like having scar tissue on your body wherein you no longer have feeling there anymore. Someone may touch that particular spot and you may not feel it anymore. That may be a bad analogy, but you get my point. It is when you have the conscience wiped out so that it doesn't bother you anymore to deny God's Word, or even wrest it. That is when there is no fear of God.

Psalms 36:1

  • "..The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. "

Psalms 55:19

  • "God shall hear, and afflict them, even he that abideth of old. Selah. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God. "

Romans 3:16-18

  • "Destruction and misery are in their ways:
  • And the way of peace have they not known:
  • There is no fear of God before their eyes. "

That is the fear and trembling which Paul exhorts the Philippians to have that they will obey when he is not present. The fear which God says that the unsaved do not have.

Paul's presence didn't save them and his leaving won't save them, they are saved by the hearing of the Word of God. And Paul says they are to be a workman unto salvation. He's saying, don't be slothful. They should study and rightly divide (2 Timothy 2:15) the Word. Unlike pastors today who would likely tell them "you said the sinners prayer so you are saved". No, Paul tells them, as they obeyed the word when he was there, work out their own salvation (in the word) in fear and trembling when he's gone. Study as workman that they can "Rightly" divide the word of truth. i.e., it can't be divided seven different ways, there is only the right way to do it. Our salvation comes from the word and our work in the word comes from God. Faith cometh from Hearing, and Hearing by the Word of God. That is how we work out our own salvation. By getting into the Word in obedience, it will save us. If we are slothful in this, we haven't made our calling and election sure.

So the scenario seems pretty clear. Paul was telling them that he would not be back, and that they should carry on in the faith that he had taught them from the scriptures just as they did when he was in Philippi. Continue to obey the scriptures when He is gone, as they did when He was present. Work out their own salvation through fear of God and continued obedience because he will not be there to lead. It is this fear and trembling which will bring them knowledge of salvation through the Word:

Proverbs 1:7

  • "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

The same principle. The Believers obey and gain knowledge because they keep the Word of God. On the other hand the non-christian (as well as the unsaved who call themselves Christian) despise wisdom and instruction in "The Word". They will not work out their own salvation by gleaning from the Word, because they don't have God dwelling within them to will and to do. They will likely think it foolish to strictly obey what God says.

Proverbs 15:33

  • "The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility."

Pride makes a man look at God's Word saying that it is He that chooses and it's by His Will, not the will of man, and call that private interpretation. But it is honour (honesty) and humility "given of God" which causes one to receive that truth and "surrender" to whatever the scriptures say. That is how we work our our own salvation. Through receiving God's Word in reverential fear of God.

The phrase "Work out your own salvation" is not a declaration that we are either saved by our own works or that we have any part in helping Jesus Save us by our own efforts, rather it is an exhortation to the Church at Philippi (and indeed to us all) to labour in obedience in the word, in the reverential fear of God, to make sure by the Word that we truly have salvation. Make your calling and election sure by keeping the Word of God.

"By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. -Proverbs 16:6"
Peace,

Copyright ©2000 Tony Warren
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Created 7/22/00 / Last Modified 7/22/00
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