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This rather long, and is something I found on Facebook. I like it very much. It’s the kind of thing I would write.

Work out my salvation – but how?

by Lyn Packer on Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 3:18pm ·

The other day at our “Outrageous Grace – religious detox day” someone asked me to explain the verse where Paul tells us to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12-13). While I answered the question in an okay way, to be honest I felt that my on-the-spot answer didn’t go deep enough. So this article gives a more in-depth answer to the question. I do apologise for it’s length but it is an important topic and deserves looking at and understanding properly.

First here’s the verse in two translations:

ISV – “And so, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only when I was with you but even more now that I am absent, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases him.”

WAY – “Since I am far away, work out, with fear and trembling self distrust, your own salvation. You have not to do it in your own strength. 13 It is God who is all the while supplying the impulse, giving you the power to resolve and the strength to perform the execution of his good pleasure.”

Work hard…

The most common understanding of this verse is that we were saved by grace and faith, and while we didn’t have to earn our salvation, now that we are saved we do have to work hard at working for God and pleasing Him. We are to do so with fear and trembling (having the fear of God in our lives) in case He is not happy with us, or in case that when we stand before Him He says, “Go away, I never knew you.” It is to live in a state of uneasiness and fear, never knowing if our best will actually be good enough. But that is, I believe, a very wrong interpretation of this verse.

If that is a wrong interpretation then what is the right one?

Firstly, when the disciples asked Jesus what they should do to work the works of God, He answered that they should believe in the one that God sent (in Him). John 6:28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (NASB)


  • This is the foremost and foundational part of our works before God – to believe in Jesus, who He is and what He has done!

Is that it, though? Even in a grace walk is there nothing else we are to do? Surely it is not just as simple as that? As we will continue to see in this article our idea of works and God’s are often different.

Work out your salvation…

The salvation in this verse is not the salvation that we commonly understand – Jesus dying on the cross for us and us believing and ‘receiving that salvation’. It is something different.

“The word ‘salvation’ has many different meanings in the NT. In Phil 1:19 it means deliverance from prison. In Phil 1:28 it refers to the salvation of our bodies. The meaning in any particular case must be determined in part, at least, by the context. We believe that in this passage salvation means the solution of the problem that was vexing the Philippians – that is, their contentions, squabbles & strife. The apostle has given them the remedy. Now they are to apply the remedy by having the mind of Christ. Thus they would work out their own salvation, or the solution of their difficulty.” (BBC)

“In light of Paul’s preceding exhortation to the Philippians to unity, this passage may mean that the entire church was to work together to rid themselves of divisions and discord. The Philippian Christians needed to be especially careful to obey Christ, now that Paul wasn’t there to continually remind them about what was right.” (LASB)

So we see that part of our works is to love one another – to let Christ’s love be unleashed through us, not to love in our own strength. It is to be diligent in maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ, working out our problems with each other in a godly and scriptural way, tapping into the mind of Christ. In other words it’s not about our effort, it’s about letting Christ live through us.

In fear and trembling…

The fear and trembling mentioned here in this verse is not the fear of God or the fear that we won’t be good enough for Him. According to scholars, “The kind of fear which is recommended here is self distrust, a fear that leads to caution and care. Not slavish terror, but wholesome caution, it is tenderness of conscience; it is vigilance against temptation.” (VWS)

As mentioned above, the Philippian Christians now have the mind of Christ and Paul is saying that they should use Christ’s wisdom and His knowledge in their life and church situations rather than their own or the world’s. The world’s wisdom, or even our own human wisdom, cannot wholly be trusted so we need to have self-distrust in that way. It’s a distrust that makes us ask, “Is this Christ’s wisdom or man’s that I’m about to apply to this situation?”

So what does it mean?…

Paul is in prison, not around to keep an eye on those he loves and cares for, so he writes as an apostolic father to them. Basically, I believe he is saying something like this –

“It’s time to grow up, guys, I’m not there to keep you out of trouble. I’m not there to deliver you from your squabbles and problems. I’m not there to warn you when religion and legalism is trying to creep in. You’ve got to begin to take responsibility for your own grace walk before God. You have to learn for yourself just what the Christian life is all about. You need to get your own understanding of the wonderful work Jesus did for you – you can’t keep walking in my revelation. Outward motivation like that won’t work. It’s got to become your revelation and then you’ll be inwardly motivated. But even then, don’t rely on your own efforts to live the life Christ has for you. Don’t believe that lie; your best efforts just won’t cut it. Distrust the voice that says that you need to ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ to be a good Christian. That’s not Christianity, that’s religion and it’s not what you were born again into. Remember – it’s for freedom that Christ set you free. He didn’t set you free to bring you back into another form of religious bondage. Your best efforts are not good enough for any aspect of your salvation and Christian walk. Remember that it is Christ who gives you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him, so rely on Jesus and Holy Spirit – let them live this life in you and through you.”

Unforced rhythms…

Put the above mentioned verse (Phil 2:12 – 13) together with some others and you get a good picture of the attitude and the way in which we work out our salvation.

1 Cor 2:12 – 16 “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”

  • We have been given the mind of Christ – His wisdom, His knowledge, His strategic thinking mind. We are to use His wisdom, not our own or the world’s.

Matt 11:28-30 says “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG)

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. In grace there is an ease, a rest that we can live in and walk in that is relaxed and unforced – not a result of our works, but of Christ’s.

Heb 4:11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest… (KJV)

Again here is a verse that makes it sound as if we have to work hard to obtain something in God. But does it actually mean work hard?

Labour = make haste, be diligent, zealous (SC, TGD)

Labour, in this verse, means to be diligent. Diligent means ‘to show care or conscientiousness’. It comes from the word ‘dilgens’ which means to love or take delight in. So this diligence is not something heavy it is something that is a delight. I believe that part of that delightful diligence, that conscientiousness, is that entering and staying in that state of rest should be a thing of prime importance.

So this is working out our salvation….

  • To receive and enter that rest state that Christ has provided and stay in it and then out of that to do what pleases Him.
  • To be diligent in maintaining that rest and all that Christ has given us (John 6:39), not letting the enemy steal it from us (John 10:10).
  • To allow the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds (Phil 4:7).
  • To not let the enemy whisper in our minds and establish thoughts that set themselves up against Christ (2 Cor 10:5). It means pulling down those thoughts and bringing them into submission to Christ.
  • To not let the enemy condemn us and tell us that we aren’t performing well enough (Rom 5:18; 8:1).
  • To believe that Christ will lead us, guide us, and provide a way out in every temptation (1 Cor 10:13) and give us what we need in every circumstance for everything He asks of us (2 Pet 1:3).
  • It is to believe and trust Him!

This then is what it means to work out our salvation. Our works are primarily to believe, trust and rest in Christ. When we do that we are diligently labouring to work out our salvation. From that place of rest and trust anything we do with Christ is not hard but joyful, and our burden is easy and light. And so we keep vigilant, we make sure that we enter and guard our state of rest. We work out our salvation, both eternal and earthly (problems, temptations etc), by relying on Christ, His mind, wisdom and strength to help us in every situation. Out of that state of rest, and knowing that Christ will supply our every need, we then cooperate with Him, doing His will and releasing heaven into earth.



Ephesians 2:8 (The Message)

Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! 

The word for faith means trust. God cannot give us trust. He gave us the ability to trust. Every man has that (Romans 12:3) – Paul calls it the measure of faith. God gives us that. It means the ability to believe, since God cannot trust for us. It can also mean that He has given us “the faith”, which is the new and living way. And it also means ‘fidelity’ or trustworthiness/faithfulness.

Paul is actually talking about thinking soberly of ourselves, saying that each one has the measure of trust, the same as anyone. No one has or gets more faith/trust. Either you believe or you don’t. Actually, if everyone believed because it was a gift, then preaching would be unnecessary.

The idea that faith is a gift comes from misreading and misunderstanding these passages. Perhaps seeing faith as a gift appeals to those who think that using faith is a work. But scripture says without faith it’s impossible to please God. You don’t use your faith anymore than you can use your trust. Faith is something you have.

In other words, we must believe that He is in order to even come to Him. This is called having faith toward God, often badly translated as the faith of God. But in the passages that say that, God is the modifier for the word, faith. It is having the God kind of faith, or faith in Him. God doesn’t have or need faith. He knows and doesn’t need to trust. 

Therefore all people have the ability to believe. He gave us that much, but He does not trust or believe for us or give us His trust. We trust. Suppose we want to believe and can’t seem to. If faith is a gift, then we would be blaming God for not giving us this necessary gift. How preposterous! 

Some say that the gift of faith is ours and we just need to use it. Well, how to you use trust? You have trust, you don’t use it. Trust comes from being persuaded of something. In fact, the word for faith also means to be persuaded.

Again, God doesn’t give us persuasion, any more than He gives us trust. How do we become persuaded that anything is true? We hear about it and make up our minds, perhaps with the spirit’s nudging, but we believe it. We have faith. We trust. It’s the same root word, meaning to believe or to trust.

The gift is salvation, by grace – and grace is His favoring us, and His divine influence in our hearts. Grace enables us to believe. It is that divine spark in us that only mankind has. And yes, trust is one of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, like the fruit of the spirit (1 Cor. 12:7-9).

Clearly, if faith is handed out to this one or that one, this passage in 1 Corinthians cannot be talking about basic faith or trust. It is something else here.

Grace is the gift and its various out-workings are by the Holy Spirit.

True, we do not earn grace or salvation. God gives it to us because He loves us. We are His children. The idea that we don’t deserve it is not the best understanding of favor. Like we give good things to our children without making them earn it or do something to deserve it, God gives gifts, like grace, to us. But faith/trust is not one of them.

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