Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling

by Mike Ratliff

19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” Acts 5:19-20 (NKJV) 

6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NKJV) 

Learning, knowing, and then responding according to God’s will to His truth is NEVER done subjectively. No, we are told that those who are truly in Christ walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:6). To do this we must know God’s truth and respond by faith and this is not done through mysticism or feelings. No, in fact, when we encounter those who claim they are receiving direct input from God outside of His Word how should we respond? Shouldn’t we remain in our position of walking by faith and not by sight, going boldly to the throne of grace in prayer, seeking the truth in the Word of God? I submit that seeking truth outside those parameters will only lead to deception, not the truth. 

We are in a period of the Church in which we must keep our eyes fixed on Christ alone for if we look to men we are in danger of being deceived. To counter this, we must become focused where God wants us to be focused, doing as He desires us to be doing.

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. Philippians 2:12-13 (NKJV) 

When I was a much younger Christian Bible teacher, we would hit this verse and it never failed that I was asked to explain what Paul was talking about here. What does it mean to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”? The Greek word translated here as “work out” is κατεργαζεσθε, which means, in this context, “to continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion.” This cannot refer to the Christian’s salvation by works (cf. Romans 3:21-24; Ephesians 2:8,9), but it does refer to the believer’s responsibility for active pursuit of obedience in the process of sanctification (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 15:58; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 6:7-9; Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 3:1-17; Hebrews 6:10, 11; 12:1, 2; 2 Peter 1:5-11). What about the fear and trembling part? This is the believer’s correct attitude he or she should have as they pursue their sanctification. This means that we should have a healthy fear of offending God and righteous awe and respect for Him (cf. Proverbs 1L7; 9:10; Isaiah 66:1, 2).

Digest that my brethren then understand that we are to do this because it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. What does that mean? God energizes both our desires and actions to obey Him. The Greek word translated in v13 as “to will” is θελειν, indicates not only willing something, but also pressing on to action. God is working in believers with a studied intent to fulfill a planned purpose. Notice also that it is His intent that Christians do what is His “good pleasure,” or what satisfies Him, not the other way around.

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.
17 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:14-18 (NKJV) 

This passage describes what we must be about my brethren. Yes, there are some “Christian leaders” who profess the right theology, but who may also be apostatizing. Yes, apostasy may be creeping into churches all around us. These things are happening, but we must not allow this to stop us from praying and serving and doing what we are called to do. We can still be Christlike in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. In this we shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. Yes, we can do that in the power of the Holy Spirit as God works in us for His good pleasure.

I and many of my friends are called to write the truth even when many in positions in the visible church do not like it. To be honest, when this started, I never in my wildest imagination thought I would end up doing this sort of thing. I thought I would write Christian self-help books and do seminars in Churches all across the country, speaking at conferences, et cetera. Well, what I found was that the visible church has no appetite for books on walking in repentance and living the crucified life. That is, if said books contained no references to certain mystics. I digress. In any case, God had other plans. Instead of becoming a rich Southern Baptist writer/celebrity with my picture all over every Lifeway Book Store, I get nasty emails from people who think it is just darn mean to say anything against celebrity preachers or authors since, after all, “they said something 10 years ago that really blessed me.” However, now I have such a crystal clear picture of the developing Truth War. I have friends and friends of friends and through our network of discussion we feed each other information and it is amazing how interconnected some of these men and ministries are that become the focus of our research. It is as if there is one unseen hand behind it all.

My role and the role of my friends to be lights in the world, holding fast to the Word of life, is to pursue the truth, God’s truth for there is no other. We must make sure that God’s people know what it is and ferret out that which pretends to be the truth, but is not. We do this all for the glory of God and for the edification of the Saints. This, of course, means we will, for the most part, be “outsiders looking in” to the majoirty of the “visible church.” To God be the glory!

Soli Deo Gloria!

One thought on “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling

  1. Thank you for this message. Our Great God will strengthen us with His Truth as we find ourselves engaged in the Truth War battles. We have the Truth and so we can speak it to those who are new in the Christian Faith or are seeking and have been given blasphemous books like Jesus Calling. May we honor God and Jesus by doing all we can to rescue these folks from the cluches of these deceptions. I speak from experience of a recent encounter with someone reading that garbage.


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