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What a good question!  Let’s begin by reading the portion you are referring to.  Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”  As Paul is writing to the Philippian saints, he commends them for their obedience to the Lord’s Word.  Now, he exhorts them, in his absence, to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.  Before we look at what the apostle means here, let’s take a minute or two and look at what he DOES NOT mean in his words.  While some have thought that Paul is teaching these people to work to earn their salvation, that would be in contrast to the words of Paul in other places.  In Ephesians 2:8-9Paul wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  In his letter to Titus, Paul wrote in Titus 3:5-6, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”  These verses, along with many others, teach us clearly that salvation cannot be attained by our good works.  It is only through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross that we can be saved.  Notice that Paul did not tell us to work FOR our salvation, but to WORK OUT our salvation.

What then, does the apostle mean by his words that we are to work out our own salvation?  First of all, we notice that the Apostle Paul is writing to people who are already saved.  He begins this epistle by writing in Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”  Paul is writing to the saints, the bishops and deacons who were living in Philippi.  He wrote in Philippians 3:3, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”  These are words that could only be written to true believers on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Realizing that the apostle was writing to believers, what was he trying to say to them…and to us?  Let’s go back and read Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Then from verse 6 through verse 11, we read of how the Lord Jesus humbled Himself from being in the very form of God, all the way to dying the horrible death of Calvary.  This is the mind that the Lord wants us to emulate; the humble mind of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It was through His humility that the Lord died a death that was for our salvation.  He humbled Himself so greatly that He would die the death of a convicted criminal.  Christ endured that horrible death and curse for our sakes.  Galatians 3:13tells us, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”  He died that cursed death to redeem us from the curse of the law of sin and death. 

Considering how Christ humbled Himself so greatly; the Lord now tells us to follow His example and “…work out your own salvation.”  Salvation is to be practically displayed in our lives by glorifying Christ in all we do. We are to work out our salvation after the blessed example of Christ, “with fear and trembling.”  This is not the fear of being lost, but the fear of failure.  We need to keep ourselves in constant check to make sure we are walking in lowliness of mind, in true humility and in obedience. This will ever be the chiefest concern of the believer who walks in the Spirit.  My fellow believer, may we all take this serious.  We have the privilege and responsibility to represent Christ IN the world and TO this world.  May we all seek to follow the humble example of Christ, so that we might manifest Him to a world that desperately needs Him.  (134.6)