Work out your salvation with fear and trembling!

Philippians 2:12-13 (NKJV)

12 Therefore, my beloved, 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; 13 FOR IT IS GOD who WORKS IN YOU both TO WILL and TO DO for His good pleasure.


Time and time again, many have tried to use this verse to oppose the doctrine of eternal salvation. They say things like “but Paul tells believers to work out their salvation.” In this study, we’ would attempt to interpret that portion of Scripture properly considering the surrounding text, that is antecedent and succedent texts and paying detailed attention. Now, when reading the Epistles (especially the letters of Paul), we must pay attention to details. We can’t think for the writer. We receive his thoughts. Follow closely.

The antecedent text (what came before):

Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)

3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Paul is speaking about conduct. He is telling the Philippian Church how they ought to behave amongst one another.

The same flow of thoughts continue down to verse 12.

Philippians 2:12 (NKJV)

12 Therefore, my beloved, 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;

So what could Paul be saying?

Looking closely, we see that this is NOT a salvation verse. The context is clear; It is a CONDUCT verse. Paul is not stating the requirements to be saved. He is stating how believers, who are ALREADY saved, should behave. He says to the Philippian Church, “you’ve obeyed in my presence, much more in my absence, WORK OUT your salvation,” that is, keep on living in obedience. Let the FRUITS of your salvation be evident to all. Notice that you CANNOT work out what GOD has not FIRST  WORKED IN.

Philippians 2:13 (NKJV)

13 for IT IS GOD who WORKS IN YOU both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

The word “works” as used here is the Greek word “energeó” which means “operative, be at work in, display activity.” HELPS Word-studies is more literal. It defines the word as “to energize, working in a situation which brings it from one stage (point) to the next, like an electrical current energizing a wire, bringing it to a shining light bulb.” This is beautiful. God, by His Spirit which is resident within, is operative in us. It is God who is working in the desire to do His will within us, we are to simply work it out. He energizes us by His Spirit and we simply use that energy to conduct our lives as we ought. In fact, conduct is a product of His working, not ours! He works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure.

The word “works” in the Greek is in the  present active participle, meaning, God is CONSTANTLY enabling us to do His good will. Beautiful. We derive the strength to do His will from HIM and not from ourselves. This is effortless on our part; just like a light bulb, the current energizes the wire and the bulb simply shines. No effort on its part.

The working in of the will and doing of His good pleasure is done by God, we simply work it out! Paul is teaching conduct, not salvation.

Conduct plays NO part in salvation, only what Christ has done.

Rom. 3:20 (NKJV)

20 Therefore by the DEEDS of the law NO FLESH will be JUSTIFIED in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Rom. 4:5-8 (NKJV)

5 But to him WHO DOES NOT WORK but BELIEVES on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is ACCOUNTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness APART FROM WORKS:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

And whose sins are covered;

8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”

Romans 11:6 (NKJV)

6 And if by grace, THEN IT IS NO LONGER OF WORKS; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that NOT OF YOURSELVES; it is the gift of God, 9 NOT OF WORKS, lest anyone should boast.

2 Timothy 1:9 (NKJV)

9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, NOT ACCORDING TO OUR WORKS, but according to His own purpose and GRACE which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.

Titus 3:4-5 (NKJV)

4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 NOT BY WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS which we have done, but according to HIS MERCY He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.

The only “condition” for salvation is this:

Romans 10:9 (NKJV)

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED.

Faith in the Lord Jesus!

In the SAME Epistle to the Philippians, Paul says:

Philippians 3:20 (NKJV)

20 For our CITIZENSHIP IS (not will be) in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We (believers) are ALREADY citizens of Heaven. We are not going there. Our citizenship is ALREADY there. Hence, Philippians 2:12-13 CANNOT be talking about salvation. Paul was speaking of conduct.

Concerning “fear and trembling,” it is good to let the Bible interpret the Bible. The Bible is its own best commentary. Is this phrase used anywhere else in the Bible? Yes, it is. In the story of the woman with the issue of blood.

Mark 5:33 (NKJV)

33 But the woman, FEARING AND TREMBLING, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.

Also in Jeremiah 33:9 (NKJV)

9 Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the GOOD that I do to them; they shall FEAR AND TREMBLE for all the GOODNESS and all the PROSPERITY that I PROVIDE for it.’

This phrase (“fear and trembling”) is Hebraism. It is a form of figure of speech used by the Hebrews; it is an Hebraic idiom or expression. The usage of Hebraism is littered throughout the Old Testament and is used quite frequently by the New Testament writers. They must NEVER be taken literally. For example:

• Exodus 33:5 (NKJV)

5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.’”

This doesn’t mean the children of Israel literally had stiff necks. The phrase is Hebraism. It means “stubborn and arrogant”

• Exodus 3:17 (NKJV)

17 and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land FLOWING WITH MILK AND HONEY.”’

Again, we see the use of Hebraism here. It should not be taken literally. Milk didn’t rain in the land neither does honey run in the rivers. It is a figure of speech. It simply means “abundance.” God is promising the children of Israel a land filled with abundance.

So, what then does “fear and trembling” mean? It means “acknowledgement of something wonderful” It doesn’t mean FEAR. It means awe!

So, acknowledging ALL the wonderful things God has done IN us via Redemption, let us be in awe (“fear and tremble”) and WORK IT OUT. Observe Paul does not say “work FOR your salvation,” but “work OUT your salvation.” That is, make it evident in your lifestyle/conduct (i.e. act like a saved man!). Just a word makes the difference! Remember, when studying the Bible, pay attention to details. This interpretation is consistent with the succedent text (what came after).

Philippians 2:14-16 (NKJV)

14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Again, still referring to conduct!

The man who puts his trust on Jesus is eternally saved. He is instructed to conduct his life in accordance to the will of God but his conduct does not affect his salvation. His salvation remains INDEPENDENT of his conduct. He is simply to work it out. Our conduct must be credited to our salvation and not our salvation credited to our conduct. I hope this blessed you. Let me know. Share with a friend too.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 22 Dec, 2016.


1 Comment

  1. Glory

    Yes, it did! Blessed.
    Thank You, Pastor.

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