“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.“ Philippians 2.12-13
What does it mean to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Some people might read this as having a works based righteousness. Meaning that we must earn our way into favor with God? That it’s only what I do that wins my salvation and in order to be accepted by God, I have to personally become holy if I am going to receive His Kingdom.
I believe what Paul means isn’t what I mentioned. We don’t work out way to heaven or earn God’s favor based on our good works. Jesus paid it all and it was only our acceptance of his sacrifice which makes us approved before God. Working out our salvation with fear and trembling means we figure it out. We learn how to submit to God, how to listen to the Spirit in our hearts, and how to join with others in helping bring about God’s Kingdom. The only thing we bring to the table of the Lord is saying “yes” to what he’s already done.
And the fear and trembling? Fear also means ”awe” and trembling, could mean different things to different people. The Expositors Bible Commentary says, ”With fear and trembling” does not contradict the joyful spirit permeating this letter. Christian joy is the experience of every believer in God’s will, but holy fear of God that trembles at the thought of sin is also the attitude of the careful Christian (Jas 4:8-10).” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2&version=NIV)
We approach the throne of grace reliant upon what God has done. We do so with a holy awe that he is God and we are not. We tremble at the thought of continuing in sin and not submitting to the ways of Christ. Even v. 13 affirms that it is ”God working in us to will and to act according to his purpose.” Our efforts of faith are combined with God’s efforts of grace which conclude in continued and beautiful communion with God.
Paul calls the early church to obedience, v. 11, and then to do the necessary actions (better for me to hear this word then ”work”) that enable me to remain faithful to the Lord. Which involves striving to be obedient, loving, caring, faithful, honest, pure, etc. God has put within each of us a desire to love and live for him. If I remain faithful to this call then I will surely be ”working out my salvation with fear and trembling.”
“O Lord God, I am your humble servant. I know that without you I am nothing, broken, a sinner without direction. But with you filling me up, guiding my steps, leading my way, I am able to be the person of God you have called me to be. Thank you for the desire to know you and to be known by you. Come now, Holy Spirit, fill me with your presence and your love. Bless my family and put a holy hedge of protection around us. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen