Working Out Our Salvation
"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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." — Philippians 2:12-13.
That verse has always been a curiosity to me. It's an interesting turn of phrase, and it is also a verse that is prone to misinterpretation. One of the most challenging places I've seen it is at the end of the film "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." In the film, Emily Rose is supposedly possessed by a demon as a means of sharing faith with the world. On her tombstone, Father Moore, the priest that tried, unsuccessfully, to exorcise the demons placed that verse. I thought it was a curious choice, reflective of the curios statement being made by the filmmakers.
Some look at that verse and feel like it's an example of an exhortation that we have to work to earn our salvation. But that's not what the passage is talking about. I like how my study Bible clarifies this point.
It says the passage is not "a reference to the attempt to earn one's salvation by works, but to the expression of one's salvation in spiritual growth and development. Salvation is not merely a gift received once for all; it expresses itself in an ongoing process in which the believer is strenuously involved."
In other words, Paul is exhorting us to work on our spiritual growth. Some people think once they're saved, that's the end. But that's just the beginning of the Christian journey. That is what the Alpha Course is all about. It's a process, a lifelong process, of learning, studying, and growing in our faith.
The "fear and trembling," or better described a sense of awe, comes from the more we realize how great God is, and how small we are in the grand scheme of things. That's a pretty incredible thought and part of the way God continues to work in our lives.