What is ‘salvation’?
Jesus, the Saviour, came to earth as a little babe (Luke 2:7) to bring us peace with God. Basically, ever since the fall of Adam, all people have been tainted with his sin. Essentially, sin is disobedience to God. We all start life as rebellious sinners who disregard God (Romans 1:18, 19). Some, however, hear the call of God to ‘repent and believe’ (Mark 1:14, 15.) This is a command, not an offer. God doesn’t offer His free grace to everyone. As we know, it is by grace people are saved through faith: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.’ (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
For there to be a pardon for sin, a price has to be paid, and Jesus paid the price in full for all who are saved from everlasting torment (Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 20:13-15). Every single elect person is given a free pardon for their sin (John 3:16) and they are enlivened by the Holy Spirit (John 6:63) so as to be able to obey God’s command to ‘repent and believe.’ Jesus died to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) for them to inherit a lot (John 14:2) in the new earth (Revelation 21:1), and to live with Him eternally. (Revelation 22:1-5)
There’s a certain passage in Philippians 2 which uses the words, ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’; they are verses 12 and 13 which go like this: ‘Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out you own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.’
This could seem to pose a problem, because as the Ephesian verse says, salvation ‘is the gift of God.’ If it is a gift it cannot possibly be by ‘works’. So what is Paul, the author of Philippians saying? Furthermore, he tells the Philippians to do it with ‘fear and trembling’. You ask the question, “Why should they or I be fearful of God?” After all, He gives us His gift of faith, but more so, He gives us His Son.‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.’ (2 Corinthians 9:15) This is Jesus.
Well, we must try to have an understanding as to WHO God is to see why we should be fearful of Him. Just think about it. God created the universe; He created all things on this earth. (John 1:-1-4) He is an all powerful, all knowing and omnipotent being. There is nothing He does not know about what He has created, and because He is Sovereign He reigns over all. In fact, He sustains all things and has predestined all that will happen (Ephesians 1:5, 11). Shouldn’t we be fearful of such a God of righteousness? (Romans 1:17) He is all good. There is nothing bad about Him. He is just and right in all that He does. By comparison we are nothing but worms, and hardly that. God is eternal. He has always existed and always will exist: past, present and future. He is beyond time.
So what is Paul getting at? Before such a holy and righteous God should we not be in awe of Him? It’s this ‘awesome’ understanding of God that puts things into perspective. Paul isn’t saying we have to work for our salvation, for that is a gift. What he is saying is that Christians are accountable for all they do, think and say. They live lives to God’s glory, and therefore their lives should be as perfect as is possible to glorify Him. (Matthew 5:48)
Christians are justified by the blood of Jesus (Romans 8:30), but they are to work at their sanctification. Having been justified, they are saints, but they are still required to live saintly lives for pleasing and obeying God. They obey ‘the law of Christ’. (Galatians 6:2)
Paul sums it up with these words, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
Paul then goes on to say, “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we already have attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.” (vs 15, 16)
In this way, Paul qualifies what he means by, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”