There tends to be a debate among Christians concerning works and faith. I talked about that in a previous post. But there are other questions about how holiness actually happens in our character and deeds.
Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Sanctification is the process Paul refers to. It’s a big theological word that means “the process of becoming holy.” But doesn’t working out salvation seem contradictory?
This usually enters into the debate about faith versus works. But I’m going a different route. The other debate I have heard concerning this verse in Philippians is that salvation cannot be worked out because it is given by God.
Paul is not dealing with faith versus works. He is talking about the process of sanctification in our lives. Sanctification has two phases. The first is when we become saved and follow Jesus. At the moment we declare our obedience and allegiance to Jesus, he declares us sanctified.
This declaration includes his righteousness passed on to us, his holiness finished in our character, faithfulness and all of his other attributes in their final form in us. But this declaration is just the first step. Following salvation is the process of becoming what Jesus has already declared over us.
Paul is speaking of that earthly process in which we walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit and take on these attributes of God in us. We will make mistakes and stumble along the way. At times we may look completely the opposite of the final product the Holy Spirit works in our hearts.
But that is why it’s important when we stumble to get up and walk in the way of Jesus immediately again. If the Holy Spirit prompts and requires us to ask for forgiveness, to confess our sins, or whatever he tells us to do, we do it in obedience to grow into the person Jesus wants us to be. This is the person that pleases God in all things.
So working out our salvation requires obedience and a reckless abandon to do whatever the Holy Spirit requires. The joint venture is that the Holy Spirit directs us into holiness. But we must actively obey whatever the Holy Spirit tells us.
That is working out our salvation. The fear and trembling Paul refers to is the fear of the Lord and the trembling in his presence. We lay ourselves there before him on his holy altar. His searchlight is welcome to search us.
As David once prayed, we ask God to see if there’s any wicked way in us. We ask him to lead us into his ways (Psalm 139:23-24). Because the ultimate goal of godliness is to live in God’s presence, we must be completely his, wholly surrendered to his will and way.
The fear Paul speaks of is the fear of the Lord. This is a reverence for God. We honor him and hold him in the highest esteem as he guides us into his character. We want to please the Lord in all things. What he thinks of us matters more than anything else.
This is the full understanding of Paul’s phrase concerning working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Obedience is not easy. Learning how to share the heartbeat of God takes a lifetime. Learning to see other people as Jesus sees them takes a lifetime as well.
Between obedience to the Holy Spirit and doing what he says, we are becoming like Christ. His imprint is on us when we are successful in obeying the Holy Spirit and doing as he directs. So it is a joint venture between us and the Holy Spirit.
We must do the work he calls us to do. Sanctification is the work of God in our hearts. We cannot cultivate the fruit of the Spirit on our own. But he will not force us to change our character according to his guidance. It requires God’s patience and guidance along with our obedience and submission.
What do you think about this verse Paul gives us? Leave a comment and tell me your interpretation of Paul’s thoughts here.