In Philippians 2:5-11, the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes one of the clearest theological expressions in the New Testament when he says,
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Immediately after writing this he states,
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2: 12, 13)
What does this follower of Jesus mean when he says “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? Further reflection will show us two clues within this chapter. First, he states that it is “God who works in you [and us] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” We will work out our own salvation as we submit our will to God’s will. My will leads to my good pleasure; but if I allow God to work in me to seek his will, I will accomplish his good purpose.
The second clue to the meaning of “working out our own salvation . . .” is found in verses two through four of this chapter: “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” The Apostle tells us what poets, philosophers, screen-writers, and theologians have reiterated for centuries since Paul’s words were written: have love. That is, let love be your motivation. He reminds us that love is not selfish or vain but rather humble, values others above ourselves (a tall order, I know), and genuinely cares about the interests and concerns of others.
Suddenly, working out my own salvation is not about digging deeper into theological books to find the latest explanations on salvation (remember, you will need to look under soteriology in the larger of those books); nor is it about doing what I think makes the most sense and how I would like to be saved. “Working out my own salvation with fear and trembling” starts with awe and respect for the Lord of the universe who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” and continues with asking this same God to be at work in making my will, his will; and further continues with love, that verb which speaks of putting the needs of others ahead of the wants (and yes, needs) of my life.
Today, I have a whole new year ahead of myself to “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.” I think I will get at it by going to the kitchen and doing the dishes.