Philippians 2:12-18 is a passage that gives a lot of people a challenge to understand; especially since other scriptures declare that our salvation is not gained by works. Yet, this passage tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (KJV). I believe the scriptures are inspired by God. God is truth. Therefore, there are no contradictions in the Bible. There are just what appear to be contradictions. If we look closer at scripture, we can begin to see how the above passage does not really contradict the rest of scripture. Always read the scriptures in context so that you can see what is really being said.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NET) says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”
The salvation that is being spoken of in Ephesians is about salvation from death into life. It is the salvation that you cannot work for because it is only through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and through His resurrection that our sins are forgiven and we have our names written in the book of life. This is a salvation that opens the throne room of God to us and allows us to go to heaven for eternity. All we have to do to gain this salvation is to accept the gift that God hands to us. That is, we admit we are sinners. We come to God and ask forgiveness for our sins through the finished work of Christ and His sacrifice for us. We believe in our hearts that Jesus paid for our sins on the cross and that God has raised Him from the dead. We open our mouths and declare this belief to others. That is all it takes to be saved from an eternity in hell. However, that is not all there is to a life in Christ. That is just the birth into the family of God. We don’t want to remain as infants for the rest of out lives.
In order to grow in Christ and mature, we need to spend time studying the Bible, not just reading it. We need to learn everything that we can about what it means to be a true child of Christ. That is what the Bible teaches us. Then we need to learn how to apply what we learn from the scriptures. That is what the Holy Spirit teaches us. As we spend time with God, we begin to build relationship with Him. Have you noticed what happens when people spend a lot of time together? They begin to become more like each other. The same thing happens when we spend more and more time with God. We begin to love Him more and become more like Him. It is a learning process that takes time and choice.
This is where the Philippians passage comes in.
In Philippians 2:12-18 (NET) Paul says, “So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice together with all of you. And in the same way you also should be glad and rejoice together with me.”
This passage was sandwiched between a section about what Christ has done for us and His attitude, and a section about human models of ministry. So, what does it mean then, to work out our salvation if we are already saved? I think within this context, it means to exercise self discipline, having the same attitude as Christ had, which is a humble submission to God and love for people, so that we may grow and mature in Christ, thus being an example to others of what God’s desire is for us.
But we need to keep in mind that this is still not a works based effort. It is a submission to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. It says, “continue to work out your salvation” how? “with awe and reverence.” Why? “for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort– for the sake of his good pleasure — is God.” This tells me it is a process and we are to be fully engaged, humble and submitted before the Lord, but God is the one who makes it possible for us to grow and change. Now, some people do not like the word submit because that was misused and abused in our lives. However, God will not abuse us, nor will He misuse our humility and submission before Him. We will always be blessed in this process. It may be that we need to learn to trust Him in this, as a first step. But remember, that first step is ours to take. If we don’t take it, we will not grow as well or as quickly as we could.
The awe and reverence we are to have toward God and the process He uses in us, is a respect that we owe Him. He is God, creator of the universe and of us. We need to be mindful of who He is and His holiness. But He wants relationship with us. He wants to draw us close to experience His holy and pure love. In life and relationship there is always our part to do, God’s part to do and others’ parts to do. The only part we are responsible for is our own part.
In this passage of Philippians, it talks about doing everything without grumbling or arguing. That is about putting on the attitude that Christ has. That is not easy to do, and without the Holy Spirit’s help, it is impossible. You see, the attitude is about the heart, not about a mask that we put on so that we become actors, imitating Christ. Christ does not want an imitation of Himself. He wants a genuine change of heart. The work of the Holy Spirit in us is not just to teach us, but to lead/guide us into all truth. John 16:13
We cannot be led or guided unless we are actively moving and following. That means we need to be engaged in the process and the experience of following where the Holy Spirit leads us and engaging in the relationship process so that we can receive the truth. This is just simple mind renewal. But it is so powerful in making us more like Christ and making life easier to handle especially in difficult times.
Ultimately, this is not about works. This is about us choosing to follow the Holy Spirit into the places in our own hearts that we so often avoid, and humbly submitting to Him as he removes lies and replaces them with truth. This is about relationship with the creator of the universe. This is about transforming power; power that matures us and purifies us from the power and bondage that false belief systems place us under. This is the most awesome journey that anyone can engage in.
We do not like pain, but this process that the Holy Spirit takes us through, will walk us right through the middle of our pain so that we can be set free from it. The end result is peace and more peace as we continue to follow Him where he leads us.
May we all grow and mature into the people that God wants us to be, thus, glorifying our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May our heart attitudes, even in the places no one else sees, be such that others see Christ in us.
God bless you and keep you and be glorified in you!