My New Testament Bible reading this morning was Philippians 2. This is a chapter I’ve studied many times, but as I was reading it this morning, verses 12-13 stood out to me. What exactly does it mean to “work out your own salvation?” So I did some studying to make sure I understood the true meaning of these verses.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Philippians 2:12-13 ESV
First, I looked up the Greek word for “work out” using the Blue Letter Bible, and I learned it means “to do that from which something results.” Further research gave me this meaning: “to carry out to its full perfection.” This obviously does not refer to earning our salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that we were saved by grace through faith, no works on our part are involved.
So what exactly does it mean work out your own salvation? To answer this question, we need to look at the tenses of salvation. Salvation has three tenses: past, present, and future.
PAST SALVATION is also known as JUSTIFICATION. If you are a Christians, this means that all of your sins have been forgiven by faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This past tense of salvation applies to everyone who has come to Jesus for forgiveness of sins and is “by grace through faith“. No matter how many good works we do, we cannot earn this stage of salvation. It is a free gift of grace. We have been delivered from both slavery to sin and its PENALTY.
PRESENT SALVATION is the tense of salvation described in Philippians 2:12-13. Basically, it is DELIVERANCE from the POWER of sin, in which we have a part. This stage is also known as SANCTIFICATION. I’ll go into more detail about this in a minute.
FUTURE SALVATION is also known as GLORIFICATION. It happens when we see Jesus face-to-face, and we receive our new bodies that will be FREE FROM ALL OF SIN’S CORRUPTION. In Romans 8:23 Paul calls this the “redemption of the body.”
Philippians 2:12-13 is about the stage of salvation in which you are currently living, if you are a genuine Christian. And these verses give us an essential key to how we are changed into the image of Christ. PRESENT SALVATION or SANCTIFICATION includes more than a mere moral change of character, brought about by learning the truth of God’s Word. The words “work out” are important. We can only “work out” what Christ has already put within. We have a part in this second stage of salvation, but Scripture says it is primarily a work of the Holy Spirit.
“And such were some of you (referring to the unrighteous, see verses 10-11). But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV
SANCTIFICATION is the stage of salvation in which we have HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY, combined with DIVINE RESOURCES. The Holy Spirit Who lives within us works in our will, to bring each of us to a place of surrender to the will of God. Then He gives us the capability to do what He has called us to do; i.e., to “work out” what He has “worked in.”
There was two main areas included in this stage of salvation: (1) Being conformed to the image of Christ (see Romans 8:29), and (2) Completing the good work that God planned for us even before we were born (see Ephesians 2:10).
I want to close with a unique illustration on which makes it clear that this process of sanctification is Spirit-empowered and also requires our obedience to the teaching and leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is from one of my favorite resources for quotes or in-depth study of Scripture verses or passages, https://www.preceptaustin.org/observation
“There are some Christians whose lives are like a parked (or stalled) car – if God wants them to move down the road of life, He will have to push them Himself.
“Others live the Christian life by keeping their car washed and polished—looking good on the outside—but they fail to give proper attention to the engine that supplies the power.
“Still others live the Christian life by holding the steering wheel and patiently waiting for instructions on where and when to go. Their car has been gassed up by the presence of the Holy Spirit (Php 2:13) Who freely gives His power and counsel for the journey ahead: a lifetime of adventure in the Spirit!
“Are you like that parked car? Are you stalled on the highway to holiness? Are you waiting for a push (a “Let go and let God” mindset)? Even worse, are you trying to push your car down the road of life in your own natural energy?
“Or is your life one that looks good on the outside but lacks the Spirit’s power on the inside? Your most successful life journey will be to begin to sit prayerfully in the presence of His Word and to daily learn to use His Spirit’s energizing supernatural power and counsel to work out your salvation.
“The only thing the Lord will not provide is the decision to sit behind the wheel, turn on the ignition and drive. This is a choice of the will that each one of us must make, but God even gives us that desire. But we still have the choice to act on His desire or to act on our won desire. The choice is yours.”