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What Does it Mean to Work Out Our Own Salvation?

Writing to the believers in Philippi, the apostle Paul said, “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” (Phil. 2:12). This verse has been of much concern to believers throughout the years. The key to understanding this verse is the word “salvation” and what the apostle Paul meant by it.

We know from many verses in the New Testament that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works (Eph. 2:8-9) and that God chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5) before we had done anything good or bad (Rom. 9:11, 15-16). It is clear that a person is justified before God by faith and not through the works of the flesh (Rom. 3:28). Then what could Paul have meant when he said that we must work out our own salvation? A key verse to help us understand this matter is Romans 5:10 where Paul says: “For if we, being enemies, were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more we will be saved in His life, having been reconciled” [emphasis added].

A key verse to help us understand this matter is Romans 5:10

From the teaching of the Bible we can see that when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior by calling on the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13), we are “born anew” (John 3:7) and receive salvation by being regenerated in our spirit (John 3:6). We receive the eternal life of God which is the free “gift of God” (Rom. 6:23) simply through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith we also obtain our eternal status as God’s children (John 1:12; Rom. 8:16). This is our initial salvation, which is once for all and which we can never lose. We often speak of this as being “saved,” and this is correct, at least in its initial stage. However, when Paul said that we must work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12) and that having been “reconciled” (past tense) we “will be saved” (future tense) in His life, no doubt he was speaking of something more than salvation in its initial sense.

Although we have received God’s forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, and regeneration as a free gift, we still need to “grow” in Christ (Eph. 4:15), to “mature” in Christ (Col. 1:28, Heb. 6:1) and to allow Christ to “make home in our hearts” (Eph. 3:17). These are all biblical words or phrases that describe the ongoing process of being “saved in His life.” For this growth and maturity to take place in our hearts, we need to cooperate with the Lord within us. As we cooperate with Him, the life of Christ actually spreads, grows, and moves out into our soul (our mind, emotion and will—our personality) and Christ is formed in us (Gal. 4:19). For this to happen, God needs our cooperation with His grace, thus we need to “work out our own salvation.” We do this by reading the Bible, praying, loving the Lord, following the Lord’s speaking within us, giving Christ the first place in our lives, denying our self, and fellowshipping with other believers. We should not be confused by the word “salvation” but realize that this one word actually has at least several different connotations and uses in the Scriptures.

For further reading on this subject, please see The Organic Aspect of God’s Salvation; Life-study of Philippians, messages 12, 43, 47-49; and the footnotes to Philippians 2:12 and Romans 5:10 in the New Testament Recovery Version, published by Living Stream Ministry.

From Issue No. 29, September 2000

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