February 10, 2011
Lately, there have been many people posting various thoughts based on a portion of Philippians 2:12. That portion reads, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Some have claimed that you can literally “work out” or resolve your own salvation while others have lifted this verse as a proof text indicating that you can change principles of the Word of God to suit whatever personal preference you may have. Could there possibly be a verse which indicates salvation is a result of something we work out? Could God have possibly indicated that we should look at clear principles in the Word of God and work their meaning out on our own? NO! This is a neo-evangelical position based in the idea of the Bible becomes the Word of God as you personally apply it to your life. Under this principle, two people can take two completely different, contradictory thoughts from the same passage. Of course, these ideas are completely false. 2 Peter 1:20 tells us, “…no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” We simply cannot lift a passage of Scripture and apply it as we see fit. The Word of God is God’s Word to us. It is what God wanted us to know about Him, about history, about salvation and about the application of His law in our lives. To claim that the Word of God could mean different things to different people is no different than claiming that this article could mean different things to different people. As the writer, I know what thoughts I want to convey. This article means exactly what I want it to mean, nothing else. Likewise, God’s letter to us means exactly what God wanted it to mean. If we apply an interpretation to the Word of God which contradicts any other principle of the Word of God or which violates the meaning God intended for us, our private interpretation is completely wrong. Those who make an application of Phil 2:12 claiming that we can work out our own salvation or work out our own application of other Scriptural principles are wrong and are looking for excuses to compromise the Word of God and mold it to fit their own personal preference.

So, what is this passage telling us? First, we must always consider a verse in its context.
Philippians 2:5-13 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: (6) Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: (7) But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: (8) And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (9) Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: (10) That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; (11) And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (12) Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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 which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
First, we need to remember to think like God. We can never apply our own personal interpretation to Scriptures. We must look for the application God intended for each passage. When we examine a passage of Scripture, we must look at its immediate context. What do the verses around the passage we are examining have to say? What is the general theme of the entire passage? We must also look at the target of the passage. The Bible is written and must be studied in the light of the various dispensations. Passages written to the children of Israel are truth and do contain lessons for us, but we cannot apply the Mosiac Law to our lives. Likewise, events recorded in the book of Acts are historical. We must be extremely careful when we look to the actions of the early church for today’s doctrine. Third, we must look at the people to whom a given passage is written. Some books are prophecy which were written for all generations. Other books are history, recounting what God has done. Still other books were given to the church. In each case we must be very careful in how we apply each book to our lives and to the doctrine and practices of the church.

Next, we see that Jesus was both in the form of God and completely equal with God. This idea shoots down those who believe Jesus was merely a prophet or a “good man.” The Bible is very clear that Jesus is the son of God and yet also God in the flesh. No reasonable person would ever deny this. The Bible shows this, Jesus makes the claim and God acknowledges it. There is little more to discuss regarding the subject.

Third, we see that Jesus, even though He was God, made Himself of no reputation and made Himself a servant. After taking on the role of a servant and the form of a man, Jesus was obedient unto death on the cross. Jesus did all of this for one reason: to purchase salvation for all of mankind.  From the moment man sinned in the Garden of Eden, a price was required. The price required for sin is death. A sacrifice had to be offered. However, any sacrifice we could offer in our own flesh would be nothing but a sin-filled offering. We could never pay for sin with sin. The only offering which could ever be sufficient is a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was that perfect sacrifice. When Jesus made that sacrifice for us, He worked out our salvation for us. Because God, in the form of a man – Jesus, humbled Himself and purchased salvation for all mankind, Jesus is to be exalted above all others.

This brings us to verse twelve. Are we then to work out our own salvation? No. Our salvation has already been worked out by Jesus. So, what does this mean? Again, we cannot lift the verse or a part of the verse out of its context. By doing so, we are perverting the meaning of the Word of God. I must admit, it was hard to grasp the meaning of this verse until I began examining what others had to say about it and even how the verse is translated in other languages. Remember – the King James Bible is not the inspired text, it is the faithfully, perfectly translated text for the English-speaking people. However, even a perfect translation loses something when translated to an imperfect language such as English. The truth I am about to share with you is there in our English KJV Bible. But in this rare case, the truth is more evident in another language. In his commentary, Gill cites the Syriac version, the passage is rendered as “do the work” of salvation. In other words, the fruit of our salvation should work through our lives. When we are saved, that salvation should be evident, working in us and through us.