Summary: What does it mean to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?
Shine as Lights to the World
12 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;
13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
14 Do all things without complaining and disputing,
15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." This is not to be mistaken as working for your own salvation. This important principle builds on grace – it doesn’t replace grace. The tone in this passage is to work out the salvation you already have been given. The word salvation comes from the Greek word "soteria", which means, salvation in the present tense. To work out our salvation with fear and trembling is to take caution and show good stewardship of the gift of salvation that Christ has given to us purchased by His own blood.
The offering of salvation to us comes from an entirely different word. For example, look at Romans 10:9 "if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." The word saved comes from the word, sozo, which means to rescue from danger or destruction or to heal, restore and save from perishing. Salvation is a free gift through faith, received by trusting completely in the work Jesus Christ has already done through His life, death and resurrection. The principle taught here in scripture is that the gift is free and cannot be earned, but that does not mean it came without a cost. It was laid to our account without charge, but it came at a heavy cost by the suffering of Jesus Christ on our behalf. To take lightly the price He paid is a sin. That gift must be received by faith and then valued with honor. This gift of salvation through grace was not provided as a license to sin, but as total justification so that we are no longer in bondage to sin, but our free to serve Christ without being driven blindly by our desires. I believe the purpose of this passage is to set our focus on the day of Christ when we will be judged on the stewardship of our lives. There are three principles of instruction in this passage that we should follow: 1-Obey and work, 2-live an empowered life, and 3-have a Christ-like attitude.
1. Obey and work with fear and trembling. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 8:10 that "we are God’s workmanship in Christ Jesus, created for good works that God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." You are called for a purpose. God has created a plan for each person regardless of ability or stature. There is a common misconception among the church today that we are not be held accountable for our deeds. Some even sit behind the falsehood that "God will inspire them if God wants them to work". If that were true, there would be no need for commands. Why would the Bible stress throughout scripture the need for us to work and labor for Christ? We are commanded to work and to take this salvation and use it for God’s glory. Obedience is an act of faith. The Bible tells us that our righteousness is credited to us because of our faith, and if we have faith we will act upon it. James chapter 2 tells us that faith without works is dead. If we have received grace by faith, we should act on that grace. Look at Romans 6:
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
If we have faith in God, we will obey. Sin is disbelief but obedience is acting upon God’s commands because we believe His word – both the promises and the commands. We are commanded to be good stewards of the gift God has given us. There is an appointed Day that we will all stand before Christ and give an account for everything we have done whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). This warning is repeated throughout the scripture. Our purpose is eagerly long for that day, not to fear it. Look at the following two passages: