Geneva Chinnock

For DrWalterBramson.com

Recently at Threshing Floor Christian Fellowship, Dr. Bramson discussed the free gift of salvation. Afterwards, a woman raised her hand and asked, “What about where it says to ‘work out your salvation’?” The implication of her question was “Don’t we have to work for our salvation?”

The passage she was referring to is from Philippians:

“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... “(Philippians 2:12-13, NIV, emphasis added)

Does this mean that we have to work for our salvation? This is an important question. Many cults have used the idea of  “works” to try to show why they are the “true” church. By promoting a gospel of “Jesus plus works,” many people have been led astray from the simple gospel of Jesus.  So, what exactly did Paul mean by “work out your salvation?”

One of the foundational principles of hermeneutics is to examine the context of the verse in question. In this passage, Paul was writing to the Philippian church, a group of believers who were already saved. In what might be called a thesis statement, Paul’s prayer for this group of believers is stated in Philippians 1:9-10.

“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:9-10, emphasis added)

These believers, now saved through the grace of Jesus, were to follow Jesus’ command to “love one another.” (John 13:34) Loving requires knowledge and insight. Anyone who has been a parent knows that loving their child requires wisdom and discernment to apply that love in the proper way and time. Paul is expanding on what love looks like when fleshed out in the church. For example, in Philippians 1:27 Paul says, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” In chapter 2, Paul encourages the believers to

“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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:2-5 emphasis added)

The focus of this entire passage has been on relationships, not on salvation. So it is after this discussion on relationships that Paul says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul is referring to how saved Christians should behave. For example, what does it look like to love like Jesus and to suffer like Jesus? Should I be rude or have humility? Should I lord myself over others or walk humbly? What does our behavior look like as we are conformed to Jesus’ image? These are the questions that Paul is addressing.

A second principle of proper hermeneutics is that a doctrine should never be built on just one verse. If Philippians 2:12 was teaching salvation by works, it would stand alone against a vast amount of Scriptures which teach the opposite:

Then they [the disciples] asked him [Jesus], “What must we do to do the works that God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”…”For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life..”  (John 6:28, 29, 40)

‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:21)

Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:10-11, emphasis added)

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied,Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31, emphasis added)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24, emphasis added)

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:27-28, emphasis added)

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:8-10, emphasis added)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10, emphasis added)

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, emphasis added)

It is clear from these passages that salvation is a free gift. Gifts are to be received. If work was required, it wouldn’t be a gift; it would be called wages. Salvation, however, is called a “gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8)

The final reason we know that the verse in question does not teach salvation by works is based on the verse that follows it:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed…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.” (Philippian 2:12-13, emphasis added)

Read that again: “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…” It is God who works, not me. What a relief! What good news!

Paul restates this same idea elsewhere:

He [God] has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. (2 Tim 1:8, emphasis added)

Again the message is clear: God saved us “not because of anything we have done.”

In conclusion, are works required for salvation? The biblical evidence is clear: we do not work for our salvation. We do, however, have to work out our salvation, that is, to live a holy life. How do we do this? By staying connected to the vine and allowing Jesus to live His life through us:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing….As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love (John 15:4-5, 9, emphasis added)

 

For more on the topic of God’s free gift of salvation, see Dr. Bramson’s teachings here