Every so often, it is good to look back at passages we think we know and place them into the context in which they were originally written. The verse that says “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” is one such passage; I think we have absorbed some Protestant fear of losing grace and applied it to this passage.

Paul was not asking the Philippian church to earn their salvation by their own power, and the very next verse reveals that:

So then, my beloved, just as you 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 who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining or arguments; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding firmly the word of life, so that on the day of Christ I can take pride because I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.

Philippians 2:12-16

You see, the fear and trembling does not come from the shrinking back and hiding away from God. It is our own weakness that we are shoring up and supporting through the continual working out, not a deficiency in the power that is supplied by God.

Further, that fear and trembling is not an outward display of piety and self-hating that we present to others. Rather, to others we appear as lights in the world! The fear and trembling is a description of the inward humility we experience knowing the gift of grace we have received.

That appearance of light is a product of the private work we do on our self-improvement and the public work of God that we display. Just as the star in the East was a sign that led the foreign wise men to the young Jesus, we shine out the Grace within us to lead others to the Savior Jesus

Ethan Kirl

Originally Published December 31, 2020