12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
The pursuit of holiness is a cooperative effort between the Lord and the believer in Christ. While justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and regeneration is a work upon the heart and soul of a sinner by the Holy Spirit alone, sanctification, or a life of holiness, is a mutual effort involving both the sanctifier and the sanctified. In other words, sanctification involves both the Lord and me.
Today’s text is an immediate conclusion, notice the word “therefore,” following the Apostle Paul’s magnificent treatise on the humility of the believer based upon the humility of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:1-11). The confidence the apostle expressed towards the obedience of the Philippian believers concerned the subject of humility. Paul was absolutely sure that they would continue esteeming other people better than themselves whether he was with them in body or spirit.
He then challenged them to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” This is the believer’s responsibility in pursuing a life of daily holiness. To “work out” (κατεργάζεσθε; katergazomai) is a present and personal imperative command for all those who are in Christ. It means to cause something to happen, to make something happen, or to bring upon or to bring about a desired goal.
The work the believer is to cause to happen is not their own salvation or justification. Philippians 2:12 is not a proof text for a works based justification but rather a text focusing upon the believer’s work in sanctification. The believer’s responsibility in pursuing a life of daily holiness involves a daily reading, meditating, memorizing and application of Scripture (Psalm 1; Psalm 19; Psalm 119). It also involves daily prayer (Matthew 6:9-15; I Thessalonians 5:17). Thirdly, it involves daily and weekly, individual and corporate, worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24; Ephesians 5:19; Hebrews 10:24-25).
Dr. Don Carson writes, “The example of Christ is not only one of humility; it is also one of obedience (8). To such obedience, whether or not Paul is with them (cf. 1:27), the Philippians are called. Work out here has the sense of bringing to completion. It is not a matter of working for salvation. We could never do that. The very word salvation (which means ‘rescue’) signifies that we cannot save ourselves (cf. Jn. 15:4–5; 1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 2:5, 8), but we can and must live lives that show God’s saving power that we have made our own.”
Living a life of holiness and separateness from sin involves the attitudes of both fear and trembling. Fear (φόβου; phobou) refers to reverence and awe. Trembling (τρόμου; tromou) means to literally, or emotionally, shake or tremble because of sheer loyalty. Both of these nouns have the Lord as their object. This is to be the believer’s vision for holiness.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “The Greek verb rendered “work out” means “to continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion.” It cannot refer to salvation by works (cf. Rom. 3:21–24; Eph. 2:8–9), but it does refer to the believer’s responsibility for active pursuit of obedience in the process of sanctification (see notes on Phil. 3:13–14; Rom. 6:19; cf. 1 Cor. 9:24–27; 15:58; 2 Cor. 7:1; Gal. 6:7–9; Eph. 4:1; Col. 3:1–17; Heb. 6:10–11; 12:1–2; 2 Pet. 1:5–11). The attitude with which Christians are to pursue their sanctification involves a healthy fear of offending God and a righteous awe and respect for him (cf. Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Isa. 66:1–2).”
Do you have a desire to work out your pursuit of holiness with the attitude of fear and trembling before the Lord? Has your fear of offending God and respect for God recently waned, diminished or faded? Immediately pray that the Lord would restore in your soul a reverential awe of Him, so as to live a holy life for the glory and praise of God.
Soli deo Gloria!