When We “Work Out” God “Works In”

By Royce Frederick

The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you 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; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). Paul was teaching several important truths in these two verses:

(1) “WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION” — This does not mean each person can create his own method of removing his sins. Paul wrote this letter to Christians, not to persons outside of Christ. Christ is the only way to salvation (Jn. 14:6; Matt. 26:28; Acts 4:12). Obeying the gospel is the only way into Christ (Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:26-27; Mk. 16:15-16). The Christians at Philippi had already been saved from their past sins when they obeyed the gospel (see Acts 16:15, 33; Eph. 4:4-6). In Philippians 2:12, “salvation” refers to Christians remaining faithful so that they will receive their final reward in heaven (see 1 Peter 1:4-9; Jas. 1:21; 5:19-20; 1 Tim. 4:16; Rom. 13:11).

(2) “WORK” — We must be diligent and watchful. It is possible for a Christian to fall away from Christ and be lost eternally (see 1 Cor. 9:27; 10:12; Gal. 5:4; Heb. 3:12-14; Rev. 3:15-16; 2:10). The Bible often urges us to continue growing stronger in our faith, guarding ourselves against sin and Satan (1 Peter 5:8-11; 2 Peter 3:17-18; Eph. 6:11-18).

(3) “WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING” — It is a very serious tragedy to fall away from Christ and remain separated from God forever (Heb. 10:26-31; Matt. 7:21-23; Mk. 9:42-48; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Rev. 21:7-8).

(4) “YOUR OWN” — Each Christian is personally responsible for remaining faithful to God. Paul could not always be at Philippi to correct and encourage the Christians. Therefore, he reminded them that they must be faithful, even when they did not have him there to help. We should try to help each other and encourage each other. But each person bears his own final responsibility for remaining faithful to Christ (Gal. 6:1-5). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12; see Rev. 20:13).

(5) “GOD WHO WORKS IN” — God does not leave us struggling all alone. Paul wrote, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). This does not mean God completely takes over all of our decisions and our will. He helps us when we are willing to let Him guide us by His word. If we truly desire to obey God, He helps our will (our determined attitude) and our actions. Paul told the Christians at Colosse, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom...” (Col. 3:15-16). The word “let” shows that Christians are able to choose. We can permit God’s word to guide us, or we can neglect His word and hinder its influence in our life (Matt. 13:22; Heb. 2:1-3). The Christian who studies God’s word and sincerely tries to do it “will be blessed in what he does” (Jas. 1:25; see Eph. 3:20-21).

When we “work out,” God “works in”! He helps us do the things which please Him and bless us now and forever!