So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing.
I sat poised in front of an elderly man who asked a pointed question with an expectant grin that he was going to put this young new pastor in an unresolvable challenge. Why does God tell us that we are to work for our salvation? Sometimes it is disappointing when the question that is expected to create anxiety actually answers the very question that is offered.
Where does it say that? I asked. He was not sure. So I asked him if Philippians 2:12 sounded familiar. He said that was it!
I explained that the intent of the text was to “work out your salvation” NOT “work for your salvation”. The idea here is to consider the significance of the salvation God has provided and take it seriously enough to give the implication of that salvation your full attention. Why? Because this salvation is not philosophical or semantical. It is not a self-help salvation and it certainly is not a cultural salvation.
This salvation means God is at work in you. God is personally committed to work in every believers heart to cultivate the same heart that God has for us. God wants us to learn how to love the way God loves us. We cannot say that we love God and hate our brother because the person who hates his brother (or sister) cannot love God either (1 John 4:19).
God is at work to change our mind so we learn to think the way God thinks. We are instructed in God’s Word that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). We need a new way of thinking and believing. When God saves us His desire is that we set aside our worldly ways of thinking and we think on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent and all things worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8).
God is at work to transform us into the image of His Son (2 Cor. 3:18). The first priority of God is not what He does through us to impact others but what He does in us to make us like His Son. We all want to do something significant but what is significant to God is that we act and look like His Son. His work is in us so that He can work out His will and work for His good pleasure.
The issue is not that we do great works for God as much as He does a great work in us. He works, we follow. He transforms and we trust. He changes and we commit. We have nothing that we can prove to God because He will never be impressed. He seeks to glorify Himself and He will not share his glory with anyone.
Are you trying to work for your salvation or work out your salvation? God does know what He is doing regardless of our stumbling around. His commitment to do a great work in us ought to bring us to a deep sense of rest and peace. He has us securely in his hand and we can live with the confidence that He is doing this work for His good pleasure. By the way, what is Paul’s admonition in light of this work God is doing? Do all things without grumbling or complaining.