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"Working Out" Your Salvation


Perhaps you have heard someone say, "I'm saved; I just don't act like it." Or maybe you have heard a church leader insist that a person can be saved, live a "worldly" life, and still get to heaven. Is this really possible? The Scripture passage explored in this study answers this question.

The Verses

Philippians 2:12-13 (New International Version)
12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Philippians 2:12-13 (GOD'S WORD® Translation)
12 My dear friends, you have always obeyed, not only when I was with you but even more now that I'm absent. In the same way continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. 13 It is God who produces in you the desires and actions that please him.
Philippians 2:12-13 (my translation)
12 Dear friends, you have always obeyed, not only when I was present, but even more so when I was away. So, as you have done in the past, continue to do now: Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. 13 After all, it is God who is working in you, not only enabling you to obey, but also enabling you to have the desire to obey!

Things to Think About - a Study guide

The word "continue" is very important, for it refers to an ongoing activity. Salvation is not a "do something once in the past" event. It's a way of life.

This passage shows us the interaction between God's sovereignty and human responsibility. These are separate concepts that always complement or parallel each other. It may be difficult for you to understand how they interact together, but that's OK. If you understand that these two concepts never go against each other, you will be able to focus on your obligations and let God "worry" about his! Do what he tells you to do and thank him for the power he gave you to do it. As you become more familiar with God's Word, you will learn more about how these concepts go together.

One of the ways these people were told to "work out" their salvation is seen in the context (the previous verses). Paul tells them what they must do, in verses 3-4, and then gives them an example to follow (Jesus), in verses 5-11.

Other Scriptures command us to "strive" to make certain about our salvation. Why? Because many who claim to be saved will be surprised at the Day of Justice, when Jesus tells them, "Depart from me; I never knew you." A typical passage would be Luke 13:23-30. Look at the command in v. 24.

Scripture also tells us what we must do to make our salvation certain. 2 Peter 1:3-11 is an example. We are first told that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness - v.3-4. It is because of this, that we must "strive" to do the things mentioned, beginning in v. 5. (Since God has given us what we need, we have no excuse if we choose to not obey this command.) The passage ends with a promise that those who do these things will be saved. (There is no such promise for the person who claims to be saved, yet doesn't do them.)

Salvation is a serious matter. If, at the Day of Justice, you discover that you threw away God's free gift of salvation, by your unwillingness to "work it out," you cannot reverse the clock and try again. When you hear the words, "Depart from me," you cannot undo it. Never.

We haven't really examined the issue of "fear and trembling," but maybe you might want to look for other verses that deal with this issue. This isn't a fear that someone might have, when he is afraid that he will lose his salvation. Rather, it is the proper response that all should have toward the eternal, holy, infinite God - a reverential fear that is bound together with love.

Everyone is going to someday have a fear of God. The only issue is what type of fear it will be: a reverential fear mixed with love and joy, accompanied by mercy and forgiveness... or a horrifying fear mixed with the fire of justice. It's your choice.

Back to the issue of God's role in salvation. If God is working in your life, you will work out your salvation. If you haven't been doing so, it is because you love the world and what it offers more than you love God. You are unsaved and trapped in the world's way of thinking. You need to start praying that God will change your attitude about what the world offers - even the good things it offers.

Salvation involves a radical change in your whole attitude about life, the world, and what you value. When you see the world's values for what they really are, and you begin to desire God's ways more than you desire the world's ways... then you will know that God is beginning to work in your life.

When you begin to trust God, you will begin to obey him. So when you see this happening, rejoice! Do what Philippians 2:12-13 tells you to do, and cling to God's promises. It is by his power that you continue to work out your salvation. And since he has promised to complete the good work he has begun (Philippians 1:6), you have nothing to worry about!

Dennis Hinks © 2006
Scripture quoted from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
GOD'S WORD® is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations. Quotations are used by permission. Copyright 1995 by God's Word to the Nations. All rights reserved.