Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
– Philippians 2:12
What does it mean to work out our salvation?
I listened to a sermon by Clarence Sexton (The pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Tennessee.) a couple nights ago about this verse and I realized that this was something I had never thought of. We may read this verse and imagine that the Bible is talking about good works and such. If we are saved, we will do good works because we fear the Lord, after all. But that isn’t what this verse means. Work out your salvation. Find out why God saved you, and find the path that He wants you to take. When we do this, He will intercede in our lives, and, as Pastor Sexton put it, make “divine appointments” for us in our day to day life.
God saved us for a reason, and it’s not just out of some sort of obligation. When He saved you, He set aside a plan made specifically for you. He has a path already cleared out, He has people in mind that will enter your life to either help you in your Christian walk, or vice versa. He has a plan for us all. Whether that plan is for you to be a missionary in another country, or for you to work the mission field at your job, or even in your own family. He wants to open doors for us, to make those divine appointments, but He can only show us those doors, those people that He wants us to impact, those lost souls He wants us to touch, those seeds we need to be planting, if we are working out our salvation!
But why should we do it with fear and trembling? Our minds want to put these pieces together and imagine that God wants us to live in a state of constant fear. I know so many unbelievers who think that, because God tells us so many times in the Bible to fear Him, that we are literally spending our every minute afraid of Him. And how can we love and trust someone if we’re terrified of them? Of course, we should fear God, knowing that He is a just God, that He is strong and mighty and holds our life in His hands, but when we are saved, that fear goes away. We no longer have to fear eternal damnation. We have been saved, set free. We will all face judgement, of course, but we rest easy knowing that the Lord is with us at all times. So why does He tell us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?
“Trembling is from tromos, which refers to shaking and is the word from which the English word tremor derives. Both of those are proper reactions to the awareness of one’s own spiritual weakness and the power of temptation. The Lord seeks such an attitude in His children, as His words in Isaiah 66:2 indicate: “To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
Remember that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!” (Psalms 111:10) When we are working out our salvation, constantly praying to the Lord, asking Him to show us the way that He wants us to go, when we are seeking His face, running the race with perseverance, we should be doing so in fear and trembling, with great respect and reverence, because we know that God is a great and powerful God who holds our future and who is capable of leading us! This isn’t the type of fear that the world may think of, it is a reverent fear! This fear protects us from backsliding, because we acknowledge that He is always watching us and will chastise us if necessary. This fear is what keeps us pressing towards the mark. It is not a restricting fear, it is motivation! This Godly fear isn’t just seeing our sin and the consequences of it, but it is also a loving fear, born out of great respect for God our Father. We see, because of this fear, that our sin is an attack against God, our sin is what put Him on the Cross! It will create a huge desire to stay away from sin, because we learn to hate our sin! The fear makes us see what our sin does to not only ourselves, but to Christ Jesus!
The idea of working out our salvation is simply to keep on keeping on in our walk with Christ, to complete the race, to fulfill the cause. In order to do this, we have to be obedient, cleansed and set on the things above. Our whole lives have to be dedicated to the Lord! We have to be willing to set aside everything else in order to be obedient, we have to be willing to set aside sin in order to be cleansed, and we have to be focused on God and our future eternal life in Heaven.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. – Colossians 3:2
Remember that this world is temporary, and what truly matters is our eternal life. We won’t be able to keep anything from this world other than God. He needs to be our priority, above everything and everyone else.
Later on in verses 15 and 16, we read,
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
When we work out our salvation and see the reason why God saved us, we will be eager to follow His lead. We will be strive to be blameless and harmless in the midst of the perverse. We will long to shine as lights in this world. Can you imagine that? At the end of your life, knowing that you did not run in vain? That you have “fought the good fight and finished the race!” (2 Timothy 4:7)
During his sermon, Pastor Clarence Sexton shared a few of his experiences with “working out his salvation” and how it changed his life. When you’re following God in everything, He will work in ways that you’d never expect. He will lead you to people who need to hear the Gospel! If you are serving Him, truly, you won’t be able to keep from telling others, and you’ll find that many of these moments were divine appointments set up by God. He will send you to places that will change your life, He will bring you Christian friends and show you how precious the family of God is.
I pray that at the end of our lives, we can all say that we have not run or laboured in vain.