Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
At the moment in time a person becomes a believer he is saved. He has salvation from the penalty of his sins. He is going to heaven to spend eternity. Salvation is a gift from God [Ephesians 2:8-9]. God does all the work. Just like a drowning person is helpless to rescue himself and needs someone to save them, no one can save themselves from the penalty of their sin, which is hell.
However, once a person is saved and is adopted into God’s eternal family, he is commanded to grow in holiness [1 Peter 1:15, Hebrews 12:14]. Many Christians think that once they are saved there is nothing more to do. They think they can sit back and enjoy life because their eternal destiny is secure. Certainly their destiny is secure, but being saved is just the beginning. From that moment forward until the day we die, God expects us to actively participate (“work out”) in our spiritual growth.
Notice that this verse does not say “work for your own salvation”. We cannot work for salvation. This is crystal clear in Scripture [Ephesians 2:8-9, John 3:3, John 3:16, John 3:36, et. al]. Some who teach that we are saved by works often misinterpret this verse to say that we can earn our salvation. But that is not what this verse is saying at all.
The Greek word for “work out” means “to bring about results”. Just like we work out in the gym to bring out the positive transformation of our bodies, we are to work out the health of our spirit.
The “exercises” we can perform to grow our spirit include prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers. The more we do this the stronger our relationship with God will be. But if we slack off for a time, we will regress. Just like we need to continue to exercise our bodies to keep them in shape, exercising our spirit is a continuous, life-long process.
Notice that Paul tells us to work out our “own” salvation. Our spiritual health is our own responsibility. Often times we are focused on the spiritual health of others, which is fine. But first we must take care of ourselves. Someone who is not spiritually strong cannot help someone else grow spiritually.
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