Work Out Your Own Salvation
Phil 2:12 So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much rather in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (13) For it is God who operates in you both the willing and the working for His good pleasure.
How is it possible for us to work out our own salvation? If we could work out our salvation, would that not make salvation a matter of our own works? Suppose I fall into a pit and someone rescues me. That is salvation. But if I succeed in delivering myself, that is not salvation, but my own working. Since salvation is not of works, but of grace, what does Paul mean by telling us to work out our salvation?
The key to understanding Paul’s word is to know the meaning of salvation in this verse. Salvation here is not salvation from the lake of fire. Rather, it refers to what Paul has already said about salvation earlier in this Epistle. The words “so then” in verse 12 indicate that what Paul says in this verse is a consequence of what has gone before. Working out our salvation is the result of taking Christ as our pattern, as seen in the preceding verses. As our pattern, Christ is our salvation. However, this salvation needs to be worked out by us.
In order for this to be accomplished in our experience, the pattern must be subjective to us as well as objective. If it were only objective, it could not be the salvation worked out by us. The salvation here is not the salvation we receive; it is the salvation we work out. The salvation we receive is the salvation from God’s condemnation and from the lake of fire. There is no need for us to work out that kind of salvation. The salvation here in Philippians is salvation of another kind, or of a different degree. It is higher than that mentioned in Acts 16:31, where the jailer is told that if he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he and his household will be saved. The salvation in 2:12 is actually a living Person. This Person is the very Christ whom we live, experience, and enjoy. A pattern which is only objective could not be our salvation in this way. The fact that salvation is a living Person and that this Person is our pattern indicates that the pattern is subjective as well as objective.