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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Paul tells the Philippians in this passage that they need to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’. On the surface, this can seem frightening and can be misunderstood to mean that we must work hard and do good things in order to earn our salvation. However, far from wanting to control you and make you afraid, Paul is looking for the people to be released from fear and filled with joy.Salvation is conceptually the same as adoption. Adoption isn’t just about the part at the beginning when the papers are signed and the child is welcomed into the family. It’s about the ongoing security, acceptance and love that is received and continual learning of what it means to be a part of a new family. Similarly, salvation is not just about the initial moment of giving your life to Jesus, it’s the whole reality that we now live in, and we have to work out what that means for us.Paul’s concern is not that we might lose our salvation but that we might miss out on the fullness of all that our salvation means. This could be through doubting that you are truly saved or, by becoming passive because you know you are safe. Therefore, we must work out our salvation so that we can take hold of everything that is ours. To do this requires taking actions. This might be through conversations or tough decisions or cutting things off or accountability. As we do this, our desires become more like God’s desires.In Exodus, we see the story of how God freed his people from slavery in Egypt, but the people still grumbled and complained and because of this, their generation did not live to see the promised land. They serve as an example of people who did not work out their salvation: they were still freed but they did not get to see the promised land, they missed out. What is underlined here is not the deliverance but the inheritance.So how do we work out our salvation? With fear and trembling.Paul is not talking about the fear that is experienced when you are in danger. He is talking about the kind of fear that the disciples experienced when Jesus commanded the storm to stop and it obeyed Him. They were left in awe of the immense power that had just saved them from peril. When we understand the mercy that God has on us, it’s frightening.