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What does the bible mean to work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Does God want the Christian life to be lived in fear and trembling or godly fear?
When a believer receives eternal life in Christ Jesus, he is expected to start a whole new journey of learning Christ and continue in righteous living.
However, because the believer is new to the scriptures and not mature in understanding spiritual matters, there are tendencies to misinterpret scriptures such as this.
What Does It Mean to “Work Out Your Salvation”?
Many readers of the Bible interpret this scripture as a call to the believers to work out their salvation through personal conduct or sustained efforts, making the grace of Jesus Christ to no avail. This understanding negates the biblical reality of the new testament truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
One simple truth every believer needs to understand is that salvation is a free gift and does not require any human effort to receive it; otherwise, grace is no longer grace.
To avoid misinterpreting scriptures, a believer must contextually understand the chapter or verse.
So, let’s look at what led to apostle Paul’s statement to the Philippian church and all true believers alike.
In Philippians 1:5, the apostle Paul admonished the Philippian church regarding their obedience to the faith and becoming partakers with him in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, as referenced in Philippians 1:7.
He proceeded in the second chapter of Philippians 2 to encourage believers to take Christ as the pattern and hold him forth.
“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;” Philippians 2:12.
The fear mentioned here is the reverential fear in God, which is the inward motive for the believer while trembling depicts the outward attitude of the believer.
Why Must We Work Out Our Salvation?
When a person receives salvation, he has been called into a life of faithful obedience to the faith, a process of sanctification which was started and must be sustained by the Holy Spirit.
The believer’s daily living henceforth will be characterized by learning to walk in the spirit so as not to give in to the power of temptation. Some unlearned believers may call this legalism, which they believe is a way of using personal efforts to please God.
When we receive the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, we already have pleased God by being obedient to the faith. We are already justified and forgiven. However, how do we continue to walk in a way that always pleases God? This is why we need to work out our salvation by continuous obedience to the faith, which we see in the first part of Philippians 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,…”
Also, the preceding verse clarifies the apostle’s statement by revealing that… “For is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippian 2:13
The above verse reminds the faithful believers that it is not the workings of personal efforts but God that must be allowed to work and do things that God deems as good pleasure.
Believers sometimes become subjective or make the mistake of not allowing God to do His work in them. They become emotional and sentimental, believing what comes from their opinion will please God. This belief can be detrimental to a fruitful Christian living because it leaves God out of the equation.
The believer eventually becomes spiritually dry, thinking that God isn’t with him or perhaps believes the life of Christ in him is a religious one.
This is why believers must learn how to work out their salvation in godly fear and trembling.
What Is The Purpose Of Fear And Trembling?
While many people mistake the “fear” mentioned in this verse and other parts of the new testament for being afraid of God’s punishment, it means reverence, and awe of God. It is not daring to touch things that do not belong or are related to God because the believer now understands he has been bought with a price. It is learning to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). This is a healthy fear.
God’s love is perfect. This love doesn’t come with fear because fear has torment. His love draws us closer to Him so that our inner being can be permeated by His in us.
1 John 4:18 says there is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear because fear has punishment, and he who fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:19. We love because He first loved us.
How Do You Work Out Your Salvation In Fear And Trembling?
The first way to work out your salvation in fear and to tremble is to acknowledge and present your body as a living sacrifice, holy, and well-pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service. Romans (12:1-2) The body of a believer has become the temple of God, which is a body where God now dwells. For this reason, using the same body must be in honor of God and not please oneself. Romans 12:1 calls this the reasonable service of the believer to God.
The second part of the scriptures, Romans 12:2, is renewing the mind to know God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will. The believer can’t work out his salvation in fear if he does not know how to give reverence to God. Therefore, we must learn what is good to God and not our good, what is acceptable to Him and not what we feel He will accept, and what is perfect to Him and not our perfection.
Renewal of the mind leads to the continuous transformation of the soul, mind, will, and emotion, where it starts to conform to Christ.