Philippians 2:12 has caused some stress to many Christians. It says, “Therefore …. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” Many have suggested, and some churches even teach, that good works will earn your salvation. But even taking the verse out of context as I did above, one can see that it does not say “work for your salvation,” or “work at your salvation,” or even “work toward your salvation.” It says “work out your salvation.” Surely, you can see that the word “your” is a possessive pronoun. It introduces something that is already possessed by the ones being addressed. You already have “salvation,” the exhortation is not to earn it, but to work at making the salvation that you already have totally reflected in the way you live. It is Paul’s way of telling the Philippians to demonstrate through their conduct, the thinking, their talking, and their general attitudes that God has saved them and He is “at work in them.”

Further taking the verse in its context we can see that Paul is really quoting from Deuteronomy 32. Philippians 2:15 explains the reasons behind Paul’s exhortation. It says, “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” The words “children” and “blameless” and the phrase “a crooked and depraved generation” are also in Deuteronomy 32:4-5. Moses reminded Israel of the great deliverance from Egypt and in preparing them to occupy the land, knowing that he would not be with them, charged them to live as God’s chosen people as obedient Children of God. Paul was in prison and could have been martyred at any time. He reflected on Moses’ last words to God’s people, and issued a similar charge to those he would leave behind. Just as Israel was exhorted to “work out” their great salvation in their conduct in the land, so too are believers to “work out” their great salvation in their conduct in life.

We are justified in God’s eyes through our faith in His Son. He declares us righteous. This is what the scriptures mean when it asserts that “you are saved…” But the scriptures also tell us that we are yet “being saved.” It’s this process of pursuing a righteous lifestyle that is called sanctification. God wants our practice; how we live and conduct ourselves, to match our position; sinless in God’s eyes.

“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” 1 John 2:6