Summary: We are told to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. However, what do I have to do to work out my salvation? Are there certain steps I must take? Are there some specific criteria for me to work out my own salvation? These are all good questions.
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. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
One day I was at the gym, and this man came next to me, and I couldn’t help but notice how serious he looked about working out. He had the facial expressions of someone who was serious about getting their work-out on. He had on all the work out attire, the headband, wristbands, water bottle on his side, expensive workout shoes and workout outfit. He jumped around for a couple minutes to loosen up, before starting his stretching routine. After stretching, he shook his arms out, blew out some air, and then went over and got on the bench press. He took the bar off the rack and did a 3 or 4 reps, put it back on the rack, sat up, looked at me and said, “you have a good day, I’m done.”
I thought, “wow! O.K., he looked the part, from his outfit to his posturing, I even thought, maybe I’ll get some pointers from this guy about working out. But, he really wasn’t there to work out. He only looked like, and postured as if he were there to slay his workout.
How, many of us go to church all dressed up in our finest of spiritual attire, Bible in hand, smiles on our faces, ready not only to bow our heads to pray, huff and puff out those traditional Christian songs! And yet, I can’t help but wonder if we are sometimes like the man in the gym, merely showing up but not really there to work out.
Paul tells us, we are not to merely “show up” looking the part, acting the part, but we are to “work out” our salvation!
The phrase “work out” is the Greek word ?ate?????µa? katergazomai (kat-ta-gaz-za-mi), meaning, to work down to the endpoint. Which is to work on something continually until you bring it to completion. So, the better translation is “work on” your own salvation rather than work out your own salvation.
So, how can salvation be “worked on?”
Let’s go back to the beginning of Philippians 2:12, where Paul says to the Church, Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence….
The phrase “you have always obeyed” is one Greek word? ?pa???? hupakouó (hoop-ah’-coo'-o); which means, to listen; to pay attention.
Let me give you an example of ?pa???? hupakouó (hoop-ah’-coo'-o). The other day my wife and I were talking about our niece and her children. I said to my wife that our niece was really doing better with her children. My wife said, “yea, I know, I had a long talk with her about structure and properly disciplining her kids couple weeks ago, and she said to me, “auntie, I’m listening”. That’s ?pa???? hupakouó (hoop-ah’-coo'-o), to attentively listen which then affects your choices of behavior.
So we see that Paul is speaking to their attentiveness to the things they had been taught of the Gospel, both in and out of his presence. It’s like home training. We teach are kids and they display what we teach them in our presence, but what we want is for them to be attentive to our teachings when they’re not in our presence, which is most important.
Paul then goes on to tell them they must work out or work on their own salvation, which we know he is not suggesting some kind of “self-help” salvation, because none of us could ever add to the atoning work of Christ. Paul by his own words, tell us, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and it is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10). So, clearly when Paul is speaking of working out or working on our salvation, he’s not talking about “deed works” themselves. What he is referring to is our responsibility to continue in a right relationship with God as our works.
Salvation has three different forms. Salvation past, which is when we were saved from the penalty of sin. Salvation future, which is when we reach our state of glorification in heaven; and in between those two, is our ongoing salvation through sanctification. This middle salvation is what Paul is speaking of. This is why Paul concludes his admonition to the Church in vs. 13 by saying: For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.