Many who love to ride choose pedal-assist bicycles. These electric bikes are powered by a motor that makes it easier for the rider to pedal. The rider still exerts force, but the energy that produces motion comes from the motor.
This is a bit like what Paul means when he tells the Philippians to “work out their salvation.” His meaning is probably easier to understand if we begin with what he does not mean. Paul does not mean believers must earn their salvation. Elsewhere the apostle explains that our own efforts do not save us: “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” (Eph. 2:8–9).
To “work out” does not even mean to “work at” being saved. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end. It is not something we do for ourselves or perfect once we have it. Instead, we cooperate with God, who is at work bringing the reality of a salvation that is already ours into daily experience. This is why Scripture speaks of it in past, present, and future tenses (Titus 3:4–7; 1 Cor. 1:18; Rom. 5:9–10).
Why does Paul mention “fear and trembling” in verse 12? If God works in us “to will and to act to fulfill his good purpose” (v. 13), why should we be afraid? Our salvation is sure! But this fear does not spring from anxiety or uncertainty. Instead, we have a reverent awareness that it is God at work within us. We make an effort, but the power comes from God. Our obedience is evidence of God’s saving work in our lives.
>> Keep pedaling but know that God is your source of power! Just as you depended on Christ at the beginning of your salvation, you need to depend upon Him as you “work out” the reality of your salvation today.
Even for mature believers, it is difficult to grasp our utter dependence on You for salvation and sanctification. Increase our reliance on You and help us understand the part we are meant to play.