Philippians 2:12–13 (NRSV): 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Without any context one might think Paul is saying we are to earn our own salvation, but we know that’s not true. Paul himself teaches us repeatedly that salvation is a gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, not works. When Paul writes “work out your own salvation” I think he is referring to the process by which we live into our new Christian identity – individually and communally. We are claimed by the Lord in a moment, but it takes a lifetime to grow more and more into the likeness of Christ. And even then, it’s a goal we never fully realize this side of Jesus’ return. Sin always gets in the way, which sucks but it’s true. Then Paul throws us a lifeline in v.13,
“For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Paul here reminds us that we can ever make meaningful progress toward the goal of new life without the power of God through Jesus. Can’t be done. But in recognizing our lack of power we take hold of God’s power – manifest in our weakness. It’s another dimension of the reality of the Kingdom of God. As Paul writes over and over, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Thanks be to God!