· Since the Reformation, when the essence of Paul’s gospel was captured in the joyful proclamation “sola gratia, sola fide” (“by grace alone, by faith alone”), anything which even hints at “works righteousness” or “salvation by works” is suspect. Then why does Paul say the salvation of a person needs to be worked out?
· Paul calls his readers to unity in their common life, to be achieved through humble other‑directness and looking to the interests of others (Php 2:1-4), motivated by the example of Christ’s humiliation and utter self-giving (2:5-11). It is this work of Christ which for Paul is the basis (“therefore”) of the imperative “now work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12).
· A careful look at Paul’s teaching on God’s redemptive work in Christ reveals that salvation is not based on the accumulated merits of our piety and good deeds. No, salvation is God’s business from beginning to end. It is inaugurated, maintained and completed by Him. Yet we human beings are not robots manipulated by the divine button-pusher. We are creatures created in God’s image, called to respond in faith and love to the Creator and to give ourselves in active participation to God’s purposes. It is this dual perspective of divine action and human response and participation which is in view in this text.
· In his letters, Paul often makes it clear that salvation always result in good works.
· Eph 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” The meaning is without ambiguity; there are no conditions imposed. We neither deserve it nor earn it, and therefore we cannot take credit for it. The verb “you have been saved” is in the perfect tense and the passive voice, which means that (1) the action comes from outside ourselves and (2) it is something which is both an accomplished act and a reality which continues in its effectiveness through the present and into the future.Now, this strong affirmation is immediately followed in 2:10 by: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works....”
· In Ro 6, believers are defined as those who have been baptized into Christ so that we “might walk in newness of life” (6:3-4). Here the transaction of being saved is pictured as accomplished fact; the “walking in newness of life”, as a possibility yet to be realized. This is followed by: “Do not let sin therefore reign.... Do not offer [yourselves] to sin as instruments of wickedness...but rather to God...as instruments of righteousness” (6:12-13).
· In Gal 2:16, “a man is not justified by observing the law but by faith in Jesus Christ”. But Paul also stresses “faith expressing itself through love” (5:6). Therefore, “serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).
· Paul’s use of the word “salvation” is somewhat flexible. It can mean:
· (1) the process of justification, e.g. Eph 2:8-9;
· (2) the final stage in the redemptive activity of God, e.g. Ro 13:11 (“salvation is nearer now than when we first believed”) and 1Th 5:8 (“the hope of salvation” as one piece of the Christian armour against the darkness);
· (3) the entire process of salvation which includes justification, sanctification, and the final salvation of our bodies, e.g. 2Th 2:13 (“saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit”) and Php 2:12-13 (the text studied here).
· When we take all these aspects together, we see that Paul thought of salvation as the totality of God’s redemptive work; yet he freely used the term also to denote various parts of the whole. The best illustration of Paul’s understanding of salvation in its totality, described in terms of its various stages, is found in Romans 5. We “have been justified through faith” and have “peace with God” (5:1). The final stage of the process is sharing “the glory of God” (5:2). Between these two poles, Christian life is characterized by joy in the midst of adversity, hope in the midst of suffering (5:3-5).
· The context in Php 2:12-13 consists of 3 elements: (1) the duality of “already” and “not yet”; (2) the actuality of restored relation with God and the necessity of living in newness of life; (3) salvation as the comprehensive work of God.
· The motivation for this “outworking” is “fear and trembling”, not in the sense of “being afraid of”, but rather in the sense of “awe”, namely, the “awe” which comes when we contemplate God’s work of “amazing grace” in Christ.
· Some say that “work out your own salvation” is an antiquate expression meaning “express you salvation in spiritual growth and maturation”.
· The verses talk about “to will and to act”. Action comes from the will. To be like Christ, we must train ourselves to think like Christ. To change our desires to be more like Christ’s, we need the power of the indwelling Spirit (1:19), the influence of faithful Christians, obedience to God’s Word (not just exposure to it), and sacrificial service. It is often in doing God’s will that we gain the desire to do it. First do what God wants and then trust Him to change our desires.