Philippians 2:12…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
This scripture seems almost to be a contradiction. We’re told in Ephesians 2 that our salvation does not come from works but only by faith. So if salvation does not come from works why are we told to work out our salvation?
Paul wrote both of these passages of scripture. He was very emphatic in Ephesians that our salvation cannot be earned; it cannot be worked for it cannot be purchased through good deeds. He states the same thing in Romans 3 where he writes, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works…”
So how can the man who has adamantly stated that salvation is not from works turn around and tell us that we must “work out our salvation…”?
Let’s take a deeper look at Philippians 2:12 and find out the answer.
…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
The Greek word translated “work” is katergazomai. It means to accomplish, perform, achieve, to fashion therefore making something ready. It can also be translated prepared, produce, bring about, commit.
The scripture could read: perform your salvation, commit to your salvation. The works that Paul is speaking of here are not works that enables you to obtain salvation but works that comes from being saved.
Now the word salvation itself is an often misunderstood as only the initial conversion into a Christian life. We use the word “saved” to describe someone who has had that conversion but the word salvation also mean deliverance, safety and rescue.
Once again when Paul is saying that since you are “saved” commit to works that show and continue to deliver and rescue you.
Then Paul writes something else that seems to contradict other scripture. He says, while you are doing these works that show and continue to deliver you do them with “fear and trembling.”
What?! Are we not told in 1 John that “love casts out all fear,”? Yes we are. So why are we now told to have fear, especially when it is in conjunction with our salvation? We’ve got to take a deeper look once again to understand what Paul was really telling us.
The Greek word phobos, from which we get phobia, is the word translated fear in Philippians 2:12. It does mean terror or dread (a phobia) but it also means reverence. It is also translated as respect or a sense of awe.
Tremble means the same today as it did in the first century when Paul was writing, to quake with fear. But interestingly when the phrase fear and trembling were used it described the anxiousness of someone who distrusts his ability to meet a requirement but does his utmost to fulfill his duty.
Now having seen some of the behind the scenes goings on in the Greek lets venture into a bit of paraphrased translation for Philippians 2:12.
Perform, achieve and stay committed to the works that display your salvation and continue being fashioned into who you were designed to be as you are delivered and rescued. Do so knowing that your ability is limited but God’s is unlimited so stay diligent.
Let’s stay diligent and show the saving, delivering and rescuing power of our awesome God. The world needs our testimonies.