Working out our salvation with fear and trembling

Philippians 2:12
12 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;

In the second chapter of the book of Philippians we see a verse often used as a means of demonstrating that a born again believer can lose their salvation, and that they must do good works in order to maintain salvation for a fear of losing salvation.

Isaiah 64:6
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Isolated Philippians 2:12 is a challenging verse and does sound like we should fear losing salvation but I hope to demonstrate that it this is not what it’s saying.

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the [a]saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, [b]including the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your [c]participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

The first chapter opens up by addressing the Church in Philippi, the believers, the church leaders.

6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

We see that Paul is confident of of their salvation.
He who began a good work: It is Christ at work in us. Not us at work in us. No mention of human will or effort here it gives all glory to God.
Will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus:
Christ will perfect His work in them. Eternal security is a guarantee because Christ is the one doing the work.

7 [d]For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my [e]imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the [f]affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may [g]approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless [h]until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

  • What is real knowledge?
  • What is all discernment?
  • What does he mean by sincere and blameless?

It’s all rooted in love which is the centerpiece in Christ Jesus so that we can discern right from wrong. Sincere and blameless doesn’t mean sinless.

Having been (past tense) filled with the fruit of righteous which comes through Jesus Christ. This again gives ALL credit and all glory to God not to man. It teaches us in the previous verses how to do this which is looking to Him in all things.

Again, when we walk through scripture we don’t see them boasting in man or elevating themselves in any way shape or form. They give themselves NO credit for their deeds and works. There is a striving but that striving entails staying focused on Christ never looking to the left or to the right or behind us.

The Gospel Is Preached
12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my [i]imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole [j]praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the [k]brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my [l]imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even [m]from envy and strife, but some also [n]from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition [o]rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my [p]imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

Some are preaching for the wrong reasons and motives. Which we see today but He’s giving glory that the gospel is being preached.

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that this will turn out for my [q]deliverance through your [r]prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
To Live Is Christ
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

There really cannot be any question here following the context that Paul is very confident of his salvation. Up until this point we don’t see any indication of any kind of works based righteousness or uncertainty about salvation.

22 [s]But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know [t]which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy [u]in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

Does this sound like someone who is unsure about what’s going to happen when he dies? Is he worried about judgment? Is their any indication of a fear of losing salvation what-so-ever?

27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one [v]mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.

So here we are. Don’t be afraid of those who oppose the gospel. It is merely a sign of destruction but of salvation for you. And that too, from God.

Salvation is 100% from God and again this is a security verse. Why is our salvation secure?

29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

It’s been granted to believe. Why do we believe in Christ? Because of God. Why does someone not believe in Christ? Because of God. Another interesting point is it has been granted for us to suffer for His sake.

Chapter 2

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any [a]affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete [b]by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
3 Do nothing [c]from [d]selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

The audience is still Christians. Humble yourselves, because that’s what Christ did!

5 Have this attitude [e]in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be [f]grasped, 7 but [g]emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death [h]on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Amen. This is probably one of the stronger verses in scripture that boldly claims the deity of Christ.. But these verses follow the commands of us to not think higher than we ought or do anything out of vanity or selfish ambition etc. We then point to Christ and the example we are to follow as although being God in the flesh still became a bond-servant to carry out the will of God the Father. He is clearly pointing out who Christ is. King of Kings Lord of Lord’s and every human being will bow, on the earth and under the earth will confess Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.

Working out what?

12 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;

“Therefore” or “In Conclusion… When someone is wrapping up their arguments there is always a “therefore” – Over 8 verses in the previous chapter talk about salvation and how it is secure for those who are in Christ Jesus. The remaining give all the glory to God and not one smidgen of credit to us, or our efforts. We are told how we should act in the beginning of chapter two and then we are told with great clarity that Jesus Christ is king of kings, Lord of Lords and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him. All glory to God!

So therefore not in Paul’s presence only.

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. If we grant our works based righteousness friends their interpretation here for a minute it would read something like “make sure you are doing good works as a means of maintaining your salvation for fear and trembling of losing your salvation”

If this were true we now have the entire context flipped upside down. The previous chapters would have said so if our salvation could be lost therefore must be maintained by works of the human will.

Does it mean fear and trembling? Yes.

This is the attitude which Christians are to pursue their sanctification. It involves a healthy fear of offending God and a righteous awe and respect for Him. Prov. 1:7,9:10, Isaiah 66:1 ~ John MacArthur

Unbelievers do not fear God: as it states in Romans 3:18

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

So yes, fear the Lord but our good works do not apply to or maintain our justification before God. Why?

13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

If it is in fact God who is at work in us both to WILL and to WORK for His good pleasure; verse 12 could not possibly mean we are doing works out of fear in order to maintain, or merit our salvation in some way shape or form. Once again like in chapter 1 we see all the credit for our salvation including the works being given to Jesus Christ. So if God is truly at work within us why would we think God can somehow fail to finish the work He started especially if it is to the pleasure of His good will? If God is truly at work in you He will finish His work. Trust in Him and Him alone for your salvation working it out with fear and trembling! Amen.

Thank you Lord for your Word and I only pray that this walk-through and exegesis of Philippians is accurate and true. It is my sincerest desire to accurately interpret your Word so that we may know the truth and rest in that truth.