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.


  1. Why do Evangelicals teach a Doctrine of Works Righteousness?

    Did I mean to say "Roman Catholics"? No. It is true that Roman Catholics do incorporate Works Righteousness into their theology but in a very different manner than Evangelicals. It is my opinion that the Evangelical Doctrine of Salvation relies more heavily on Works Righteousness than even that of the Roman Catholics! Let me explain:

    Roman Catholics teach that Jesus alone saves you, but then the believer, the Christian, must do good works to complete or assist in his salvation. However, salvation itself was initially given without any merit of the sinner.
    In the Roman Catholic Church, any infant (who is a sinner by way of Original Sin) brought to them with the consent of the parents or guardians, will be baptized and receive God's gift of salvation, even if the parents themselves are not believers. So what did this child do to merit salvation? Answer: he was breathing and present at the time and location that God chose to save him. That's it.

    In Evangelical theology, the sinner must choose or decide that he wants to be saved. Now some evangelicals may nuance this position and state that this decision is only possible due to the work of the Holy Spirit creating faith in his heart, but bottom line, most evangelicals believe that the sinner must choose to believe. "We are not automatons or robots in the act of salvation: we have to choose to be saved!" they will say.

    So who did more work to be saved in these two theologies: the Catholic baby at the baptismal font or the evangelical adult or older child who used his maturity, his intellect, and his decision-making capabilities to make a decision as a prerequisite for God to save him?


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