Why does God tell us to work out our salvation with fear?

As a result of what Christ has done for us, Paul wants all believers to continue in the faith and carry out God’s purpose for each of our lives.

“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 according to his good purpose.”  (Philippians 2:12-13)

Paul was a powerful spiritual leader. As a result of his absence, Christians were beginning to stray in their commitment. Aware of this dilemma, Paul wants them to be even more concerned and alert about their spiritual well-being.

Like a father expressing concern when any of his children go off to college, he knows they will no longer be in his presence or under his charge. He knows the temptation will be to exercise their new freedom. Like Paul, a father will want to encourage his children to be concerned of their spiritual life in a new and challenging environment.

What does it mean to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”?

It’s hard to work on something that’s already been done. It’s like washing dishes after they have gone through the dishwasher or changing the oil after coming home from Jiffy-Lube. What’s the point? It’s already been done!

This verse does not tell us to work in order to earn our salvation, but to work out and get in shape. By doing so, we mature and develop spiritual muscles to overcome the challenges and temptations of life. When we consider the consequences of losing our faith, there is an element of “fear and trembling.”


The Apostle Paul urges us to train as if we are preparing to compete in the Olympics (1 Cor. 9:24-27).  Training takes time and self-discipline. We read in 2 Peter 1:5, “make every effort to add to your faith.”  Why?  Because this is the process or means the Lord has given us to persevere, grow, and mature in the faith.  This process keeps us “from being ineffective and unproductive” (2 Peter 1:8) in carrying out God’s purpose for our lives.

Remember, you have been chosen to be on God’s team. This is a privilege and an honor. Work, train, and prepare to play well.

What is God’s greatest purpose is for our lives?

To glorify Him. This is the reason why we were created. The problem is that we can’t glorify God on our own. By faith in Christ, we receive forgiveness of our sins and in turn, glorify God.

If God’s primary purpose for our lives is to glorify him and we can only accomplish that through faith, then what would be a primary goal in life?

To share the message of salvation with others so they, in turn, can glorify God. When we are working out our salvation “with fear and trembling” and carrying out God’s purpose in life, there becomes within us a sense of adventure and a greater meaning in our lives.

A commentator once wrote, “When the glorification of God becomes the highest human ambition, there you will find man at his best.”  Not only is God glorified because we are “salt” and “light”, but something happens within us that transforms us to becoming a new person and a fervent messenger of grace.

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