“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13
The whole gospel is expressed in these two verses—in a nutshell. But for many Christians it has been and remains a tough nut to crack. That’s because of its paradoxical nature—two truths that seem to conflict with each other and yet are inseparable.
But we are all familiar with this paradox if we’ve studied our Bibles carefully. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that “For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of works; it is a gift of God.” On the other hand James 2:18 says “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.
Probably no truth of the New Testament is as difficult to grasp as this. It seems contradictory. On the one hand, salvation is all of God, a sheer gift that cannot be earned. On the other hand, salvation is something we work at, we have a role to play in it.
Throughout Christian history, and still today, this paradox has given rise to two opposite and equally mistaken interpretations. The pendulum swings between two extremes.
Many of these people, maybe like many of us, have wrongly divided verses 12 and 13 of Philippians 2 and pitted them against each other—emphasizing one to the neglect of the other. Either verse 12 is underscored with human beings contributing to our salvation with good works or verse 13 is highlighted with God doing everything himself.
What many don’t see is that Philippians 2:12-13 isn’t about initial salvation—conversion. It’s about the Christian life after conversion—about maintaining a healthy relationship with God as a converted believer.
That’s where Philippians 2:12-13 comes into play. It answers that crucial question in a paradox but not a contradiction.
A clue to why the message is not a contradiction lies in the Greek words translated “work” in English Bibles. “Work out your own salvation,” it says, “for God is at work in you….” The secret is that in the original language, these are two different words, not one. We just don’t have two different English words to translate the two Greek words, so most English translations simply use “work.”
But that’s confusing because it makes the passage sound like it’s contradicting itself—verse 13 sounds like it’s contradicting verse 12. But it’s not.
The Greek word translated “work” in verse 12 is one that means “continue a task; carry it out to completion.” The Greek word translated “work” in verse 13 is one that means “provides the ability and means, the energy.”
So let’s read the passage with the Greek in mind: “Carry out, continue your task of salvation with fear and trembling, for God is providing all the ability, means and energy….”
Now the light is dawning. The passage’s meaning is clearer. When it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship with God, we do something and God does something. We are not puppets, being micromanaged by God. We are responsible people in a personal relationship with a personal God. But, on the other hand, we are weak and God gives us everything we need to maintain a strong, healthy relationship with him.
So, the supposed paradox becomes a clear spiritual principle summarized in this concise statement: OBEDIENCE IS THE WORK OF SALVATION BECAUSE IT ALLOWS GOD TO WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION!
How is it you understand that obedience is so important to obtaining salvation suddenly becomes optional to maintaining it?
The key to maintaining the joy of your salvation is the same one that allows you to enter into salvation - OBEDIENCE.
Have you lost the joy of your salvation?
Does something seem to be missing in your spiritual walk with God?
Is that "something" that's missing - OBEDIENCE?