Philippians 2:12 -13 – Work Out Your Own Salvation

Paul’s command to “work out our salvation” might come as a surprise (v. 12). Paul is so adamant elsewhere that we are not saved by works, but rather grace through faith. In fact, this verse has been the source of a great deal of post-Reformation theological discussion. But Paul does is not talking about working for your salvation, or working to keep your salvation, but rather to continue obeying God, as the members of the church at Philippi are already doing. Paul assumes the church is already obedient to God’s commands and they are already following the model for obedience is Jesus (vv. 5-11) and Paul (v. 17).

God At WorkTo “work out” (κατεργάζομαι) often refers to producing something agriculturally, perhaps “cultivate” fruit is a possible source for this metaphor (LXX Deut 28:39, Ezek 34:3, 36:9, Odes 1:17). That is the point of the word in Romans 7:17-18, sin is like a seed that produces an evil behavior. People talk about “cultivating a relationship” in business. This means making contacts and doing little things that will eventually result in a sale. The goal is a sale, but there are dozens of smaller contacts along the way that build up to closing the deal.

Salvation is a completed fact when someone accepts Christ as their savior, they are “justified” before God, but (obviously) they are not yet sinless nor have they arrived in Heaven yet. “Working out one’s salvation” can be understood as cultivating what God has already done so that it yields fruit at the appoint time.

The believer is to cultivate their salvation with “fear and trembling.” Paul used this phrase in Ephesians 6:5 (“slaves, obey your masters with fear and trembling”) and 2 Cor 7:15, referring to how that church received Titus. In both cases there is a real fear of punishment for wrongdoing. The Old Testament occasionally describes salvation and service of the Lord in terms of fear (Psalm 2:11, for example). There are a number of examples, however, of dread falling in the nations when they encounter God (Exod 15:16, Isa 19:16).

Paul has already mentioned the church’s fear of oppression from the culture in 1:28, it is possible this fear and trembling refers to the dread the members of the church have as they face ridicule and pressure to conform to Roman culture.

Even though Paul says we are to “work out” our salvation, it is God who is doing the work in the life of the believer (v. 13). The believer is not left to their own to cultivate their salvation, it is in fact God who “wills and works” in us. God is the one who is at work in the life of the believer, enabling the believer to grow spiritually. While he does not mention the Holy Spirit in this verse, this is exactly the same sort of thing we read in Galatians or Romans, that one is enabled by the Holy Spirit to do the will of God (Rom 12:1-2, for example).

Remember the junior high science fair? I know a Middle School principal who called the Science Fair “parent’s projects” since most of the winning projects were largely the result of dads with power tools and too much time on their hands. A parent could do all the work, but they should not be proud of the child for winning the award, and the child will not develop the maturity and skills needed to succeed in life. But if a parent helps the child and provide them what they need to succeed, then the parent can be legitimately proud when their child wins the award and the child will grow from the experience (even if they lose to the kid whose parents cheated).

In a very similar way, God provides the believer with all they need to succeed in their spiritual life, to “cultivate their salvation” and produce real fruit that will make God proud when he judges our works at the resurrection. We are more mature for the struggles we endured during that cultivation.


13 thoughts on “Philippians 2:12 -13 – Work Out Your Own Salvation

  1. Simply rembering that we are not saved by works but rather grace through faith. Paul wants to make sure that you remember that you always should be obedient to God. That you should always obey him and they know that this should be done in the church house but also outside of it as well. Let God help you along the way when you are in your process of salvation. Try not to do it all by yourself. Even though Paul mentions that we should work out our Salvation, God is alwasy there to help. God is the one who is and will be doing the work inside of the believer. God is the one who ” wills and works” us. He allows the believer to grow spiritually in life and that is what God wants most from all of his people.
    Letting a human do things upon themselves is okay as well. The article stated a good example that if the parent helped the child throught the whole presentation that they would do very well. But if them helped them to where they also do things for themselves that gives them a chance to make mistakes and learn from them for the future. God provides you with all you need to know about the spiritual life. But will be there as well if you make a mistake.

  2. This blog post made me think of the process of Sanctification. The process of being set apart or becoming holy. like mentioned above, Paul makes it very clear that we, as believers, cannot achieve our own Salvation, but that it is through the work of God and through faith in HIm. Paul also mentions this in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 where he writes about how the church is the firstfruits and we are ‘saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.’ This thought of sanctification is the thought of working towards a holy life, worthy of the Gospel. We cannot achieve full sanctification here on earth and we cannot go through the process alone. It is a close relationship with God, ever working to please him and mature in the faith. I really like the sentence about working out Salvation can also be seen as cultivating what God has already done. Jesus has already made the way for us to be saved, it is now our job to accept his amazing gift and to live accordingly in order to share that gift with others. I also like how P. Long added “at the appointed time” to the end of that sentence because that is a very important aspect to remember. God has perfect timing, and it may not always match up to what our ideal plans are. But God knows what is best for us so we need to trust him and be patient in the process because everything we encounter or endure is shaping us into who God created us to be.

  3. The first passage that comes to mind for me concerning this topic is Ephesians 2:8-10. Here, Paul lays out the formula for salvation as: faith + grace = salvation + works. We are not saved by our works, but at the same time, we are not supposed to just coast after being saved either (Jam. 2:17). Here Paul explains how God has prepared good works for us to do once we are saved which would also act as a way of cultivating our salvation.

    I like how Paul’s command for the Philippian believers to live out their salvation comes directly following the great description of Christ’s humility in verses 5-11. Cultivating or working out our salvation is certainly not always going to be comfortable or easy. However, if we are struggling, we can always look back to Christ’s example of how He was willing to give up the grandeur of His status, power, glory, and comfort by coming to this dismal chunk of rock to die in a most humiliating and excruciating way for us. If Christ can do that, can we at least refrain from trying to hinder the work that God is doing in us (v. 13)?

  4. Throughout reading this blog what comes to mind are the seasons of life that seem like they are never ending and so difficult to get through. Personally, I have been in a season of change and it has been draining, but I know that God sees me, and He has a mighty plan instore. God gives us these seasons because He wants us to lean on Him. He equips us enough to get through them. Whether that be through praying, reading scripture or others pouring into us. The amount of growth and maturity that takes place in these seasons honestly shows after we have persevered through it. There is a reason we do not see all because God knows we would try to change some detail about our lives. God does reveal pieces to us of our lives, but in that moment, we may not realize that that is what He is doing, but it seems to make sense.
    Philippians 2:12-13 is a perfect representation of persevering. God is always with us and He sees what we need. He will always provide, but He does put us through specific seasons because we need the growth and it will benefit us. I recently read through Psalm 40 and it talks about being helped ad delivered by the Lord. It reminded me that God does see us, and He certainly sees us when we think He does not. God is present through all that we are faced with and He will lift us up. (Ps. 40:2). God is our stronghold and we can trust in Him.
    To work out our own salvation is to allow God to give us the tools, but we have to pray and ask for the continued strength. It was such as good example in the blog post that a parent could do all the work for a project, but also if they allow their child to help build the project, it will feel like a better accomplishment when they win or lose. When we do things on our own but with the help of God, we are allowed to learn more whether the situation results in a good or bad outcome.

  5. The scripture that comes to mind when I think about how God provides for us in our spiritual journey is 2 Peter 1:3. This embodies the subject related to this blog. It says how God gives us everything we need in order to establish a godly life during our time here on this earth. The amazing thing is that He left us with a gift of His words and instructions that helps us whenever we may stray. The Bible is our biggest tool in our walk to grow closer to the Father in all aspects of our lives. We are meant to strive and continue every day to become better versions of ourselves. Because, of everything that God has done for us and continues to do for us there is no reason why we cannot reinvent ourselves according to His will. Each day that we wake up is another day we get to prove to God that we have not taken for granted the blessings He has bestowed upon us. Yes, it can be hard to do this because the enemy will do everything in his power to distract us. However, God is more powerful and more present in our lives than that. He sent His only son, Jesus, to die on the cross for all of our sins. That means any battle we have yet to face or currently facing has already been won in His name. Jesus came and did this selfless act for us so that we may have life and that abundantly according to John 10. This does not mean to waste the opportunities and open doors He gave us. What it means is that we need to do everything in our power to take advantage of the chance to grow closer to God so that we may be with Him for eternity. Our spiritual growth is vital in our journey to be with God again.

  6. Throughout time, there have been many people who have tried, (and failed) to earn their salvation through works. Whether it has been other religions, those within Judaism, or Christians themselves, many people believe that they are able to lose their salvation if they do not do enough in this lifetime. While Paul does describe how we are called to “work out” our salvation, this is not what he was intending. As Dr. Long describes in his post, it was used in an agricultural context, as though it was growing or producing something. He also points out that in Romans, a bad seed will produce evil fruit, and in the same way, we as Christians, should be doing works in order to produce or “work out” our faith and display all the good that we are given because of it. Longenecker also describes how by doing good works, they can be an example to others, just as he had given examples of good behavior in Timothy, Epaphroditus, and himself (Longenecker & Still, 2014). By describing it this way, not only are they able to better lead the churches, but they are able to witness to them by their good works. This idea can also be demonstrated in Luke chapter 6 when Jesus talks about treating those commit sin against you with kindness and love. In this way, we can share the gospel by being kind to those who are not to us. While doing this, we are not by any means earning our salvation; but rather are demonstrating and attempting to emulate the actions and heart of Jesus Christ. In the end, we were never intended to earn our salvation, it’s impossible. We are called to love others, which reminds me of a song… “and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love” (Lorenz Publishing Company, 1966).

  7. “Working out” our salvation is an act of faith that occurs after salvation. It is not an act that one desperately tries to “please god” with, by doing “good works”, “good deeds”, or so forth. In Isaiah 64:6, we are told that we are not only unclean, but our “righteous” acts are as “filthy rags” to God. The point of this passage is not to discourage us from doing good for God, but to make us understand that we cannot be saved by acts, but only through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8). However, because we are saved, true beleivers of Jesus Christ will have a desire and want to do good works for God, just as we are commanded to. Romans 12:10-11: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

  8. It can be easy to do something for approval of someone, such as in front of Paul. When that person is gone it can feel purposeless to do the right thing. Paul in verse 12 reminds the Church of Philipi that the Holy Spirit is in them to help them work for God’s pleasure. With having the Holy Spirit they should no longer need Paul, so that they can feel like they can workout their salvation with out him and through the the Lord. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, for you saved by faith and not through by works. It is by being an already believer and letting the Spirit of God work in you and cultivate good bearing fruit.

  9. This statement that Paul makes can be taken several different ways. To me the first time I hear working out your salvation makes me think about figuring out for myself how to get to heaven. It doesn’t mean that obviously because Paul believes with his whole heart that we are saved by God through Faith. What it does mean however is that we are always pursuing God, we are always striving to please him and obey him. Paul is saying this to people that are already saved and have a realtionship with God. Paul is telling us now that we are followers of Christ we are to work out our salvation in the regards of obeying Jesus. This is how we learn to grow with Christ, we give him our time and energy. We have obstacles, and challenges to overcome to grow our relationship with him.

  10. Living out your faith can be hard sometimes, when we are asked in certain situations to be obedient when we don’t want to be. Or stepping outside our comfort zones to do the right thing when it would just be easier to not say or do anything but to move on. These are all times that cause someone to question their faith. When we surrender our life to Jesus we had to count the cost of what this life would cost us. A lot of times it costs us moments of feelings that we don’t like, but in return rewards us with treasure in heaven. I think it’s hard sometimes because when we do something we want to have a reward or feel the gain from it. A lot of times when we do the right thing or are obedient to God we don’t see that instant reward or gratification. That means that we aren’t as likely to do it. With a kingdom mindset though trusting the work of God we can look at situations, and say that God had me do that for a reason, and he will use that to help me and the person or people in the situation.

  11. As Christians, it is very important to keep doing good works for God. This includes obeying God and avoiding sin. Paul explains to the Philippi that remaining faithful to God is his command. So what does it mean to “work out” our salvation? In Professor Long’s article, he states “To “work out” (κατεργάζομαι) often refers to producing something agriculturally, perhaps “cultivate” fruit is a possible source for this metaphor” (Long, 2019). As also explained, sin is our seed that plants into us and causes unfaithful actions. We then have to go to God and ask for forgiveness which is like cultivating evil. We perform good works and work out our salvation to keep cultivating the sin in our lives. This will lead to the “fruit” or the kingdom of God in the end. As we can do all of these things, ultimately, it is God who has control over all things. It is God who is allowing us to cultivate our faith and walk with him. Things do not just get handed to you and a prime example of that is faith. You have to work towards it and put all trust in the Lord. Just because you accept Christ does not mean that you will become sinless. In Thinking Through Paul, Longenecker writes “Even as the Colossians’ life together was to be grounded in forgiveness and bonded in love, the peace of Christ was to rule and the message of Christ to dwell in their midst” (Longenecker, 231) Just like the Colossians, we are to be obedient to God and his rule is over all of us. All things take time and work. It is important to be proud of who you are and the relationship you have with the Lord. God provides us with the path leading to him, it is just what we do with it that forms us into the person that we are. We are not saved by the things that we do but by grace through faith. Whatever you do should be pleasing to God.

  12. Salvation is for everyone in the world, but everyone must confess and accept Jesus as their Lord. To Jesus, all knees shall bow, and tongues shall take an oath and confess that Jesus is almighty God. If we do this, then it proves that we submit to Jesus, and all our words and actions are required. Paul clearly explained that after the final judgment, all creatures in heaven and hell are required to bow their knees and make the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus went back to heaven with more than he had when he left heaven. As Jesus followers, we must obey God through our words and actions. Paul told the Philippians to work out their salvation, and I do not think God accepts our words. We are saved through a living faith in Jesus, our Lord. So I believe Paul intended to challenge the Philippians to live honestly as Christians, but not to work out their salvation in the sense of finishing it. Rather, it is to work out their salvation and see it in every aspect of their lives. Jesus has done a complete job for everyone, and Jesus had to work out what God, in his grace, has worked on. In Christians, Jesus works in us, and we must work out by living honestly, justly, lovingly, caringly, and obeying God. I also believe that Paul wanted Christians to be fruitful and mature spiritually. He wanted Christians to live with a fear of failing to work out their own salvation because God is working in us. We should not be wicked and lazy, but walk and serve with God. When we walk with God, we will never be alone because the living God is always with us.

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