With Fear and Trembling

Philippians 2:12 NASB

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

How many of you are working out your salvation with fear and trembling like I am, and what exactly, does that mean?

In the latter part of verse 12 as quoted above, we read “; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

We are told, time and time again, that our source is Jesus. He is the way, He is the truth and He is the life. Jesus tells us that without Him we can do nothing. Jesus tells us that we can see God our heavenly Father by looking at Him (Jesus).

The Apostle Paul, who obviously knew what he was talking about, clarifies what the working out of our salvation entails, with fear and trembling.

But why the fear and trembling? I sense we are not talking about fear as a fearful emotion, because we know that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). I sense Paul is saying to consider the seriousness of what we are embarked upon and Whom we are dealing with. So this fear speaks of a Holy respect for Whom we are dealing with and the trembling speaks of the seriousness of what is taking place. The trembling speaks to me of taking very seriously, the whole of God’s counsel or God’s Word. And the learning, always the learning and the accompanying mistakes.

The narrow path we are instructed to walk in, is not an easy path because it does indeed take some “working out”. This “working out” happens to all of us who place our hope and trust in Jesus. There are so many things to understand, so many things to balance, so many things to make judgements on. And, ultimately it all boils down to two things, our standing (us) with our Holy God (God). That would be you and I and God. This is not a frivolous subject, this is about as serious as it gets. And God, our Heavenly Father, did not leave us grasping at how to accomplish this need to connect and commune with Him. God in His wisdom, sent us His Son, so that we who see Jesus can learn to see, love and appreciate Him.

Holiness is not optional for Christians, we are to be Holy as God, our Father is Holy. And the only way in which we can do this is through our Saviour, Jesus the Christ. By having Jesus pay the price that our sins deserved and now live in us, through the seal of His Holy Spirit. As we walk this narrow path, we progressively die to self and Jesus lives in us through His Holy Spirit.

And this is the part that gives me my hope and joy because Paul tells us categorically that:
for it is God who is at work in you“. That’s God’s Holy Spirit actively working within us. That’s the “working out” part. Changing us, changing our hearts, changing our minds, filling our spirit with His Spirit, changing our worldview and lifestyle.

Hebrews 10:14 NIV

“For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

And there are stages, we start as babies in Christ, we are fed milk, then solids, and we progressively mature. That’s where the one on one with Jesus and God’s Word becomes critical. If there is no one on one, there is no growth. It’s not rocket science. And do we all mature at the same time, do we all come to the same understanding about all that we are to comprehend? I personally don’t see that. I see many Christians at many different levels, including myself. There are some who are more mature than me and some who are less, the thing is, we are all growing. What I may lack, others may excel at, and vice versa, the thing is we all grow collectively, if we are in truth, part of the body of Christ, His Church.

And then there is the last part of this verse which reads: “both to will and to work His good pleasure”,

That is where God’s will becomes our will. That is where God does His work through us in the power of His Holy Spirit, with leading, guidance and sometimes He just out and out does it through us, where we are merely the vessel, all of which is to His glory and for His good pleasure. Why so? Because that is just the way that it is. With God, all things are possible and He has determined that through faith in the accomplished work of His Son Jesus, we are granted eternal life in Him. In short, it is a gift from God to us.

I could fill this page with reference after reference where God’s Word tells us NOT to be so critical with one another, to accommodate the weak if we are strong, to remember that it is God that will bring to completion, that which He has started in each one of us.

This “working out” is a reality in each one of us. None of us are exempt, none. And just for the record, I am not advocating white washing sin nor am I advocating a watered down Gospel. What I am advocating is tolerance and accommodation where feasible. For some the feasibility line will differ from others. I can’t speak for others, only myself, but I strongly suspect that this is one place where our Christian maturity comes into play.

What I do know is this. God’s love for us surpasses anything we can imagine. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts and this “working out” takes time. But God already knows this and He knows our end from our beginning and He has us covered, all the way through, through His Son, Jesus Christ, who He is forming in each one of us who truly believes.

1 Corinthians 13:9-12 NASB

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

The perfect for us has not come yet, we do not in this life see God face to face, but we will. Because I live you will also live. This is Jesus’ promise to us who believe.

So be thankful for the opportunity to work out our salvation, with fear and trembling, because it is God at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure.

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!

12 comments

  1. Thanks, Bruce, excellent. A couple of personal thoughts; sometimes I think it’s “work out” DESPITE fear and trembling. The word for “with” here can be translated among, and some believers today find themselves among fear and trembling on many sides, including fellow believers, who are under attack. Romans 12:18 says “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (NIV) Unfortunately in many places it doesn’t depend on believers; some people won’t allow Christians to live at peace. Blessings, Bette

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    • Hi Bette, thanks for the info, wasn’t aware of the translation variance but I can see how it would apply with the alternate rendering. We could definitely be moving in that direction. Blessings!

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  2. There are NO days off in the Christian faith. Either we are growing closer to in working out our salvation in fear and trembling as you state or we are backsliding. There is no third option. Our growth in Christ and our pursuit of holiness may be slower and less fruitful than other times but we are still growing. As you say, holiness is NOT an option. Holy is a noun and an adjective when it comes to God. I am obsessed with God’s holiness. The more we focus on God and His Holiness the more we decrease in exalting and thinking about ourselves. Thanks for this post, Papa Bruce!

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    • Had some interesting insight this morning on the way to work. When a man and a woman are married they become one and there is a desire to maintain that oneness for a happy marriage. Conversely, there is a oneness in our relationship with God and there is a desire to maintain that oneness also. I strongly dislike when there is strife between my wife and I (rare) and I also strongly dislike when the sense of communion seems to be lacking in my relationship with God. Sin or avoidance of God’s guidance can cause that sense of diminishment between God and myself and I sense a need to restore. Example: Feel distant from God? Who moved? I need that oneness to be there to move forward or be at peace with myself (my wife or God). I’m grateful for that awareness. Blessings!

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      • Papa Bruce, this is my thinking as well! I do NOT like strife in relationships! I VERY much appreciate your ability to self reflect, I think this is a value we are losing as a society! I also think we should be way more charitable to each other (whether spouse or other believers) than we as a body are. For what it’s worth, in Mandyland, balance is a myth/lie from the pit of hell! Life is FULL of tension!!! There is tension when and how one speaks the truth in love. We are called to hold believers accountable (judging behavior) how we confront and speak to someone is a tension. There is also tension in what to confront as well. I take Paul seriously when he says do all you can to live peaceably with others. This is becoming increasingly more difficult! I am a VERY passionate, enthusiastic, excited, motivated, encouraging and driven woman. I have to fight the tension of not becoming overbearing and/or annoyed with God, Nathan, family, other believers, people in general. My Bible reading today was Romans 15 which talks exactly what you were saying about those who are stronger in the faith bearing burdens for those who are weaker. I am thankful that in areas I am weak the body is strong and vice versa. How was work today?!

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      • Mandyland! Shows to go you, I didn’t even know there was such a place! I thought that was really cute. For some reason I always think of you as a sunbeam person so you’re shattering my illusion! Just teasing. I hear you about the tension, just so you know, that dissipates as you get older and becomes much more manageable (most of the time). Work is fine, hardly qualifies as being called work, more like being able to use my IPad and getting paid for it. God is good! Tell Nathan I said Hi and to give you a hug for me. I STILL think you’re a sunbeam! God’s grace, peace and blessings to you and yours.

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      • You’ll appreciate this (I think)! I am VERY cheery and excited (I have been told by people all over the world I talk WAY too fast!). Lots of people say I glow which in my mind is the same as sunbeam! There is a VERY small part of me that is a live wire. I HATE injustice! I HATE seeing people hurt. I am VERY loyal and so when people do things to people I care about I do not respond in righteous anger. God has definitely defused my live wire capabilities but I need to hand more over to Him. I am thankful that your work isn’t demanding, that makes me smile! I will most certainly tell Nathan you said hi!! Love and blessings to you and Peggy!

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  3. The last few days there has been a couple people on this sort of subject. I happen to be reading Romans. And as you know I read it a few times over.
    What captured my attention was Romans 9: 30-31.
    Its worth reading that before reading Romans because it changes the whole definition of what salvation is.

    People can establish their own perfect lives, their own righteousness and not even know God. (salvation by the works of the law) but what they don’t end up doing is submitting to God. There is this stand off or contempt and what God is saying through Paul is, that Salvation by faith (faith being a broken word.) is a faith meaning a trust and submission to God.

    I have a best friend since grade 6. We have a loyalty that transcends others. If someone were to break up our friendship we would look at them as an outsider. This is the sort of Faith and Loyalty, and Obedience to the faith, Or a confidence that drops contempt.

    It reminds me of a song. There is never any distance between my lord and I, he’s as close as the mention of his name…

    When someone “works out his salvation in fear and trembling” it has nothing to do with salvation. Salvation is had by this heart change, this returning to God, this repenting of this wayward way.
    Then we serve God because as Romans says, there is nothing wrong with the law, and while we are free from the law we are loyal to God. So its summed up with loving God and Loving others. And this is working out your salvation meaning the spirit is what is behind all of it. But someone without the spirit will not work out their salvation, will not do the things that the Law requires. The gentiles as Romans says do what the law requires because there is the law in their hearts.

    While we know the Old covenant is over, the Idea that we don’t have to please God is Anathema. It is a foreign language, a perversion. A freedom to sin is outrageous and doesn’t grasp that we were brought back to the Holy God and he is still Holy and that never changed. As God said, be ye Holy for I am holy.

    So, working out salvation suggests first you are already saved. Not working to become saved. Grace through faith is the cross and its benefits by you restoring your faith in God repenting from that wayward attitude. Not really about works but about restoring that closer than a brother friendship. Sin is a betrayal of that. Jesus wants us to separate ourselves. Knowing if you should eat meat or if you can go to movies or what you should watch on TV or what charity you should participate in, is working out your life in consideration as to what God wants you to do. That is working out your salvation.

    Best Regards.

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      • Morning to you as well. With all the politics these days, its a great time for me to be in the secular blogs. And when they see my moniker “evolution is a Hoax” a few target me, which I want. And then I explain why evolution is a hoax and even paleontologists get overwhelmed with how they never saw it before that all our modern species are in the fossil record but a trillion intermediate species are missing, missing eyes not forming, missing ears not shaping, missing giraffes necks getting longer and longer. The trillions of changes, ever captured but accidentally so called snap shots in time capture all our modern day species and a few extinct things like Dinosaurs fully formed. It blows their mind.
        Then the next post is did you know that the same rock layers found in the grand canyon with some variation is found on every continent that they extend across America too? And if all these layers are ocean layers, then how could a land animal exist. Even a Giraffe would have trouble over hundreds of millions of years living in hundreds of feet of water that would lay down those layers.

        All of a sudden they realize the pretty layer by layer evolutionary model faked by evolutionists is a hoax.

        So, When people get busy online, its a busy time for me. And then there is of course sharing the gospel story. Getting into Romans 9 to point to a salvation by faith not being a salvation by belief but a salvation by Loyalty and delivered by the permission of the cross is generally something I share with christians already and mostly with those who are contemplating salvation by grace or by works. I believe its neither. the grace is supplied but I believe its a lie to say God supplies the faith as well, which is some baptist theology wanting to make sure that election stands.
        I believe election stands for all, that whosoever will may come. But that desire to come given by God can only result in salvation if someone withdraws their contempt for God and offers themselves. Buried in baptism, bought with a price, sure, that is the power of God permitting salvation, but he work if there is work is the opposite of grumbling, the Opposite of living ones own life, the Opposite of ignoring God. Its a kinship a surrender, a repentance, a Marriage, a Abiding in the vine, a presenting oneself to God with joy.

        We should examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. 2 Corinthians 13.

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