You never need to work for your salvation, but you can work out your salvation.
Today’s Text: “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” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV).
If you love and cling to grace as I do, Paul’s words instructing the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13) will catch your attention. They’re puzzling verses because everywhere else the Apostle emphasizes our need to rest in God’s grace (rather than work), and he certainly never advocates a lifestyle of fear (remember, Paul is the one who told us that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear!). What could he mean?
Start with this: work is a blessing.
It is a blessing if you are given a part in working out your salvation. Imagine a school class is staging a big play. Every student gets a part in the play but you. How would you feel? You want to have a job in the play! It’s a blessing to work out the play on stage.
Or imagine yourself on the soccer team sitting on the beach during the championship game. Suddenly, the coach calls your name – it’s time to get in the game. How do you feel? Elated, of course, because it is a blessing to work out the soccer game on the field of play.
In fact, work itself is a blessing. If you don’t believe it, just watch little children. They crave the opportunity to do grown-up work. Little kids wish they could mow the lawn, cook the dinner, or even make the important phone call. But something happened on the pathway to adulthood that made work feel like a curse to many of us.
Work isn’t a curse. Work was a gift in the garden long before sin entered the world. God gave Adam a vocation – to work and keep the garden.
Work is only a curse when it is laden with the threat of punishment for failure. If you could take the fear of failure out of your work, it would become much more of a delight.
That’s what the Gospel does in the heart of the believer. Because the child of God never has to work for salvation, he or she can work out the salvation not with fear and trembling in the sense of dread of punishment but in the sense of awe that you get the privilege of being a partner with God in His glorious mission. And that’s the Gospel!