Work Out Your Salvation
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, 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, holding fast the word of life. (Philippians 2:12-16 NKJV)
I recently heard a presenter explain that the first part of this passage can be translated more clearly this way:
Even in times when you experience fear and trembling, because it is God working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure, you can work out your salvation.
Examining this more closely myself I discovered additional thoughts about potential translation corrections. To 'work out' also means to finish and 'salvation' also means rescue. This makes sense in the context of realizing that God is rescuing us from a kidnapper who has held us hostage all our lives, brainwashing us with lies about God that keep us afraid of Him.
Jesus entered both our world and our condition of fallen humanity for the purpose of getting to the very heart of our darkness and fear to infuse hope, life and power in order to rescue us from the power of the devil – fear of death – which is what has locked us under his tyranny. The devil's power is only effective as long as we believe his lies about God and about ourselves. As soon as we begin embracing the truth that Jesus has brought to light about both of these things, the power of the enemy melts and loses its effectiveness to keep us afraid. Only through fear can Satan continue to maintain his domination in our lives and keep us in bondage to fear and sin.
Through His life and death and resurrection, Jesus forged open the way for us to be completely freed from bondage to fear and the manipulation of Satan. But because He also respects our freedom (for without freedom to choose for ourselves we cannot enjoy a love relationship with anyone), He will not force us to leave our unhealthy hostage situation. He opens the cell door to freedom but leaves us free to choose whether we will follow Him out of our prison of lies and fear to wholeness, life and joy or whether we will choose to remain in Satan's kingdom of lies.
With this perspective I can see this passage as even more significant and instructive. Paul is saying that even though God has placed every single human being in Christ, we are still free to choose whether or not we will allow the Spirit of Christ to dwell in us and to empower us to finish the rescue operation through our voluntarily leaving Satan's domain to embrace the kingdom of heaven. Jesus only invites us to follow Him which means to obey His instructions.
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
Paul is saying that the power working within us all comes from God, for even impulses to change our mind and heart about Him are implanted by Him. The pivotal point requiring our participation in order to finish His rescue operation for us is to exercise our will by making choices in agreement with Him. When we choose He supplies power to implement that choice, for our choices are permissions for supernatural forces to implement our decisions to the fullest extent possible.
I also see the next few verses directly relating to the first part of this passage. If one looks up this passage they will notice I left out some words both at the beginning and the end of this section. That is intentional, for the construction given by translators does not always reflect the original intent of the original Bible writers, so I believe we need to be cognizant of translator bias in order to at times uncover fresh insights from the Word of God. (I also believe that often there are multiple 'right' ways to view a passage as well as many wrong ways to interpret them.)
It is no accident that the very next thing Paul writes is, Do all things without complaining and disputing. I see this as directly connected with our part in cooperating with our rescue from kidnapped status into enjoying the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. It is through using our capacity to choose for ourselves that we move forward God's rescue plan. Complaining and arguing reintroduces the spirit of the enemy that then gives permission for reentrance of the same evil spirits and even more that have kidnapped our mind and imaginations already. It opens the door for them to reenter and regain an even stronger hold in us. Paul warns us here that part of escaping Satan's kingdom of darkness to move into the kingdom of love includes making new choices about the way we think, talk and relate to others around us. Yes, it is God who is at work inside of us, but He will not make our choices for us. Our will is the most sacred part of our design, and God fiercely preserves and respects it, for only in this way does He preserve our ability to be restored to complete trust and love in Him.
Complaining and disputing and arguing are reflective of attitudes infused with selfishness, discontent and suspicion. These attitudes are foreign to the kingdom of love, but it is us who must choose to disassociate ourselves from indulging these spirits. God has put all of us into Christ and provides the power to carry our our choices as we cooperate with our rescue, He alerts us to areas of our lives where old habits of thinking and talking puts us in danger of being drawn back into a deceived mindset that has already caused so much damage in our lives.
that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation
Choosing to reject and resist allowing any spirit of discontent, complaining or contention to infect our thinking or speaking sets us on the path to begin living as real children of God. Obedient children of God live as reflectors of what God is like and do not indulge in complaining, arguing or blaming. This passage is one of many in Scripture that highlight the process of healing and deliverance that God has forged for us to escape the control of sin in our lives. Following Jesus and obeying His instructions in this regard reveals in us the same life that was seen in Jesus when He lived among us as a human here on earth. He was holy, blameless, harmless and totally loving in every relationship and encounter He had with others. Following Him then, means to follow His example of complete dependence on God who was at work within Jesus and who never depended on Himself to do or say anything.
Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise." (John 5:19)
I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 5:30)
So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. (John 8:28)
The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak." (John 12:48-49)
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (John 14:10)
On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)
The example of Jesus we are called to follow is the very salvation Paul calls us to work out in our lives. It is in following the example of Jesus in the way He totally relied on His Father dwelling in Him through the Spirit, guiding Him how to think, how to talk and how to respond in every situation. Jesus modeled not only the real truth about the nature and character of His Father (and our Father) in heaven, but He also demonstrated what a normal human being made in the image/reflection of God (Genesis 1:26-27) looks and acts like at all times.
The last phrase, holding fast the word of life, is what was just discussed. The Word of Life is Jesus Himself who was made flesh to live not only among us but in us. (John 1:14). It is not enough for God to put us into Christ and provide everything needed for our salvation rescue plan. If we refuse to cooperate, God will not force us to be saved and live in His presence of intense love for eternity, for that would only turn out to be eternal torture for anyone out of harmony with love. To live in a relationship of love with anyone requires participation from both sides. No matter how much one person may desire that mutual relationship and have love in their own heart, without the free choice of the other to reciprocate and return that love it will be impossible to consummate a unified partnership.
By taking hold of the great love God has shown to us in Christ and how He demonstrated unflinching love and forgiveness for us under the most extreme abuse, we accept His offer of intimacy and allow His Spirit to transform us in preparation for full participation in His plans to integrate us into full fellowship with the godhead. But without our willingness to cooperate it would be impossible to enjoy a mutual relationship of respect and love the way we are designed to enjoy. This is why not all can be saved, not because God chooses for any to be lost but because without their willing participation in His salvation they reject His power that would transform them into His likeness and restore their capacity for reintegration into the family of heaven.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NIV)