“12 – 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, 13 – for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13.
This is a verse that many seem to misinterpret. Those in the “salvation by works” camp point to this verse and say, “SEE!!! You’re supposed to do good works to gain salvation!” And those who disagree with them point to the fact that they stop at verse 12 and fail to continue on to verse 13 that puts the verse in the proper context. So, I’m not trying to say that our salvation is earned if we do good works. The works that Paul is speaking of here are not works that are done to earn salvation, but works that come AFTER salvation. I believe this verse goes hand in hand with James 2:26 where James tells the Jewish church, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.” And this verse, also, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I’ll show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18). If we claim to be in Christ, our life will prove that claim through our works.
In my study on this verse, someone posted a better wording that I think shows the correct meaning of the it. They broke it down to one simple phrase: “Work out(wardly) what God is working in you.” In other words, the work that God is accomplishing in us, we should be showing outwardly.
Some people profess Christ, but their daily lives don’t reflect that. How we speak around others and how we act around others are a good indication of whether that profession is true. I’m not saying that we stop sinning. We sin everyday. But I believe the amount of time we spend reading His Word or listening to His Word being preached and how much time we spend in prayer, will be reflected in how we live, because it is through the exposure to God’s Word that we can see how He is working in us. And when He works in us, it will show in how we live. And as verse 13 says, it is God who works in us, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
And I believe all this is contingent upon how our relationship with Christ is. The saying “You get out of it what you put into it,” could be used in this situation. If you’re in a relationship with someone, you can’t grow and deepen that relationship if you spend more of your time away from them than with them. We can’t expect to grow and deepen our relationship with Christ if we’re unwilling to read His Word and pray. And I will be the first to say that I am lacking in that department. I think all of us at some point let other things get in the way of that. But, I desire to do better. We can’t be angry with God for not growing us like we think He should if we’re unwilling to put more effort into the relationship. We can’t put the Bible up to our heads and expect the teachings to infiltrate our brains like osmosis. It doesn’t work that way. It takes effort on our part grow and to learn, and in that growth and learning, God works in us and through us to do His will and good pleasure.
Salvation is all of God. But our growth as Christ’s followers requires work and diligence on our part. And through the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish that knowing that God will work in and through us to accomplish His work.