A gracEmail subscriber from Texas writes, “Philippians 2:12 says to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ Does this mean that we must ‘do our part’ in addition to what Jesus has done?”
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The word here translated “work out” occurs often in the New Testament and always involves bringing to fruition something already inherent in a situation. For example, “law works wrath” (Rom. 4:15). “Sin works death” (Rom. 7:13). “Godly sorrow works repentance” (2 Cor. 7:10-11). In each case the thing “worked” is present all the time, though originally invisible. Given full process it finally comes into view. In the same way, our relationship with Christ contains our certain salvation. By the process of our obedient lives, that salvation blossoms from bud to bright flower.
Paul emphasizes the source of our salvation by explaining, “for it is God who is at work in you.” Literally the apostle says that God “energizes” you. God empowers our obedience, both internally (“to will”) and externally (“to do”). We can only “work out” what God “works in.” All that God does through us is aimed toward the accomplishment of his great saving purpose. The Greek word here translated by the phrase “his good pleasure” refers in the New Testament to God’s program for saving sinners (Lk. 2:14; 10:21; Eph. 1:5, 9; 2 Thes. 1:11-12).
Because we realize that God is at work in us, we live our lives obediently before God “with fear and trembling” (as the King James Version put it). Throughout the Bible, this expression always signifies reverential respect in view of God’s presence and activity, or in the face of some relationship ordained by God (Gen. 9:2; Ex. 15:16; 2 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:5). Knowing that God is the one energizing our every good thought and deed causes us to live seriously and reverently. What an awesome thought that our daily lives are the very arena of God’s saving purpose!