…Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. ~ Philippians 2:12b-13, NLT
What on earth does the apostle Paul mean in the above verses? Is he saying that our salvation can be lost? Is he telling us to live in a constant state of nervousness, worried that at any minute God will judge us unworthy to be His sons and daughters? Well, for some “religious” leaders, the answer to the last two questions is a resounding “yes.” However, a close examination of these verses proves that the apostle Paul is neither trying to instill fear into the Philippians’ hearts, nor is he warning them that they could lose their salvation.
In Philippians 2:12b, the apostle Paul uses the Greek word katergavzomai, which is transliterated as katergazomai. Now depending on which English translation many of us might be using, the Greek word katergavzomai often is translated in English as “work out,” “work hard,” or “carry out.”
What the Greek word katergavzomai actually means is this: To continually work at bringing something to completion or fruition. This is the definition used in Philippians 2:12b.
Therefore, based on the aforementioned definition of katergavzomai, it is clear that what the apostle Paul says to the Philippian believers also pertains to all believers. That which is applicable is this: Before the Philippians ever could demonstrate that the lifestyle they are living is the result of an unwavering and unshakable faith, they first had to focus their attention on and be profoundly concerned about working out of themselves God’s Perfect Will, which God has put inside of them.
According to the apostle Paul, the Philippian believers, and by virtue of being born again and saved, all believers in Christ, are working God’s Perfect Will out of them, when they are allowing the Holy Spirit (the Source of God’s Perfect Will or the Divine enablement in them; see Philippians 2:13) to complete for them His practical sanctification process. The Philippian believers, as well as all believers, also are working God’s Perfect Will out of them when they are obeying whatever the Holy Spirit prompts, leads, and teaches them about salvation’s ultimate goal: Christlikeness.
This understanding of believers having a Divine enablement (the Holy Spirit) inside them, who wills and is able to perform God’s Perfect Will in believers’ lives, not only is evident from what the apostle writes in Philippians 2:13, but also by chapter three of Philippians the apostle Paul obviously is referring to the Holy Spirit being that Source of God’s Perfect Will (that Divine enablement), which God Himself has put inside every believer. Paul writes:
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. ~ Philippians 3:13-14, NLT
There can be no doubt that by the time the apostle Paul writes the above verses he has come to the conclusion that the only way he truly will know Christ Jesus and the power of His resurrection is by focusing his attention on and being profoundly concerned about (submissive and obedient to) the Holy Spirit’s practical sanctification process. In fact, the apostle Paul is confirming that by focusing on the goal of Christlikeness, and obediently pressing and reaching for that goal, he has learned the meaning of the “fear” and “trembling” he speaks about in Philippians 2:12b (ASV, ESV, KJV, NIV, etc.).
This “fear” apostle Paul mentions is nothing more than believers being so devoted to and respectful of God that they consciously choose to be totally submissive and voluntarily obedient to His Perfect Will. Put differently, in Philippians 2:12b, the “fear” apostle Paul speaks about is believers’ confidence (faith) in and awe (deep reverence) for the God who both designed and implements the plan of salvation, with all of its gifts and blessings.
Additionally, this “trembling” apostle Paul mentions is nothing more than believers having a humble attitude. They are putting no trust or confidence in their own ability and power. This “trembling” also means that believers intentionally are being seriously cautious; they continually are looking out for every kind of temptation that so easily could ensnare them, while they are pursuing the goal of Christlikeness. In other words, with the help of the Holy Spirit, believers’ humble attitude plus their healthy reverence for and devotion to God (the “fear” that keeps them shying away from any and everything that might offend God or discredit His name, and Christ’s name) are the motivating forces behind them obediently and faithfully carrying out their salvation to its ultimate conclusion, which is Christlikeness.
As a matter of fact, the apostle makes several references to this kind of “fear” and “trembling”—this obedience and submission that leads to being faithful to God’s Perfect Will. Perhaps the best Scriptures that explain what the apostle’s “fear” and “trembling” mean are verses 1-2 of Romans 12. In these verses, the apostle Paul is saying that when believers truly respect and revere God, then that’s when they are fulfilling their “reasonable service,” which is to be obedient and submissive to God’s Perfect Will. This “reasonable service” (being obedient and submissive to God’s Perfect Will) not only means that believers are being changed from the inside out, desiring only to do what God wants, but also means that believers are agreeing with God that what He wants is moral, pleasing, and achievable.
For the record, the original Source of believers’ salvation is Father God, and He has seen fit to place His Perfect Will inside each one of His sons and daughters by giving each one His Holy Spirit—the Source of the spiritual power, spiritual gifts, and practical sanctification in every believer. In other words, the Source of every believer’s will (desire or determination) is Almighty God, and He brings every believer’s will into harmonious agreement with His Perfect Will by allowing His Holy Spirit to work in each believer “…the desire and the power to do what pleases…” Almighty God (Philippians 2:13b, NLT).
For God’s Perfect Will to become every believer’s will (every believer’s conscious and natural choice), each believer must work out his or her own salvation. This working out of the Source God has put into every believer is accomplished when each believer repeatedly goes to that Source (the Holy Spirit)—when every believer continuously relies on the Holy Spirit’s power, authority, promptings, leadings, teachings, and so forth.
It is the Holy Spirit’s daily supernatural job to bring back to every child of God’s remembrance the Word of God he or she has been feeding on throughout his or her Christian life. It also is the Holy Spirit’s daily supernatural job to renew every child of God’s heart and soul so that he or she can come into Father God’s presence and worship Him in the “spirit” of awe and reverence—worship Him in Spirit and in Truth!
The Holy Spirit only can achieve His jobs when each believer has focused his or her attention on and has become profoundly concerned about working out of himself/herself God’s Perfect Will for his or her life. When what is inside a believer can be seen outside of him or her, that would mean this believer is doing the Perfect Will of God—demonstrating to others that the lifestyle he or she is living is the genuine result of an unwavering and unshakable faith. In essence, the believer would be demonstrating to others how much like Christ he or she has become!
The bottom line is this: Contrary to popular opinion, the ultimate goal of every believer is not to make it into Heaven. The ultimate goal of God’s salvation plan is to have every single one of His sons and daughters achieve Christlikeness. Once again, the only way to achieve this goal is through the work of the Divine enablement (the Holy Spirit and His practical sanctification process), which changes believers from the inside out.
With the aid of the Holy Spirit, believers are able to work out of them God’s Perfect Will for them—they are able to work out of them everything God has worked into their human spirits/hearts so that others will see the evidence (manifestation) of God’s saving Grace and His Holy Spirit’s sanctified work that are going on inside believers. More important, believers will know that their labor, the working of God’s Perfect Will out of them, will not be in vain, for they are promised that “…God, who began the good work within [them], will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, NLT; the bracketed word is this blogger’s emphasis).