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.
During the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, people came to California from all around the world because they had heard there was “gold in them thar hills.” Apparently some people imagined they would arrive and find chunks of gold just lying around in the streets. Well, there was a lot of gold in California back then, but people quickly discovered that the gold wasn’t as plentiful as they’d hoped. Yes, a lot of gold was in the mines, but it was necessary to work hard and stay with it in order to find that mother lode.
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This is the idea the apostle Paul was conveying to the saints in Philippi when he wrote, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We need to work out what God has worked in. We need to discover what God has done for us.
However, we don’t work for our salvation; we work it out. Salvation is a gift from God. We are told in Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” So we don’t work for it; we work it out.
Remember, Paul was directing this statement to believers. The idea of working out one’s salvation is referring to living out one’s faith—carrying it out correctly. In fact, the term work out carries the meaning of working to full completion. So we need to carry it to the goal.
As believers, the work of God is in our hearts, but we need to live it out. Like the gold seekers in California’s early days, we need to mine it. That means carrying to the goal and fully completing our own salvation with fear and trembling.