Working Out Your Own Salvation
"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. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain."
If we want to be saved from our sins, there are things that we must do in order to receive the free gift of salvation. We must individually work out our salvation, as the apostle Paul instructs. This obviously is going to require obedience. The Hebrew writer said of Christ that, ".having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him."" (Hebrews 5:9; Emphasis Mine: JH).
Salvation comes from the grace of God, but we can only receive this gift that God wants us to have when we obey His gospel, and this is how we begin to work out our own salvation. We must hear the word, for "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). We must believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. As Jesus said: "For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). We must repent of our sins: "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30) We must be baptized for the remission of sin, as the apostle Peter taught, to: "Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). And if we have done all of those things, we must live faithfully until we die, or until the Lord returns, making sure that we a follow and obey all the commands of Christ: "Whosoever transgresses, and abides not in the doctrine of Christ, does not have God. He that abides in the doctrine of Christ, he has both the Father and the Son" (II John 9).
Taking care of your own salvation is not a selfish ploy; it is a requirement, and completely necessary if you are ever going to help others to have a right relationship with God. Jesus speaks about this in the sermon on the Mount:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:1-5
What Jesus taught on this occasion is often misused in attempt to prevent any and all proper judging. But what Jesus is actually emphasizing here is the importance of getting your own act together first. In trying to work out our salvation in the midst of this "crooked and perverse generation" (Philippians 2:15), we must be careful in how we react to others. It is possible to lose our salvation because of the manner in which we react to the world around us!
The apostle Paul saw the need to be very careful when trying to save others; he wrote: "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:27). A "castaway" in the spiritual sense is one who becomes unfaithful before the end of their life. How tragic it would be if, when we go around preaching to others the truth, we do it in such a way as to "disqualify" ourselves of God's grace! We can be more careful and "shine as lights in the world" if we do so with "fear and trembling."
The word "fear" in connection with God is not very popular today. A majority of this generation seems to have diluted the concept of the "fear of the Lord" to the point that there is no place for "trembling" in their definition of "fear." But Jesus certainly taught the "fear of the Lord." He said: "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
We must have this proper spirit of "fear and trembling." Without it, it is unlikely that we will seriously make the effort to "work out our own salvation." This could very well be the reason why there is so much apathy and fruitlessness among God's people today! There are many unjustified reasons for such fruitlessness, but if we are in continual efforts of "working out our own salvation with fear and trembling," there is no question that we would be bearing much fruit for the lord.
By John Hagenbuch
From Expository Files 12.4; April 2005