Bible Question:

How do you interpret “work out your salvation which God is working within you”?

Bible Answer:

The phrase “Work out your salvation” is found in Philippians 2:12-13, which reads as follows:

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. (NASB) Philippians 2:12-13

Working Out Your Salvation

In these two verses the Holy Spirit gives us a wonderful spiritual truth about how we grow in the Christian life. This passage is not talking about earning our salvation by our own efforts. Many believe that God will determine our eternal destiny by what we have done in this life. But, unfortunately, God has another view of our ability to do good.


That is the sad truth. The wonderful news is that a new Christian can do good works for the first time in his/her life. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to do this. When our sins are forgiven, we are able to do good works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (NASB) Ephesians 2:8-9

At the moment God forgives all of our sins – past, present, and future – we are declared to be holy. Yet we are not holy. We are still sinners. This is known as “Our Position in Jesus” versus “Our Practice in Jesus.” Here are some examples.

Our Position In Jesus Our Practice
Completely forgiven (1 John 2:12)Confess your sins (1 John 1:9)
A new creature (2 Cor. 5:17)Walk as a new creature (Rom. 6:4)
Spiritually Alive (Eph. 2:1)Live the Life (Phil 1:21)
Spiritually Alive (Eph. 2:1)Live the Life (Phil 1:21)
Live the Life (Phil 1:21)Do not love the world (1 John 2:15)
Dead to sin (Col. 3:3)Give no place to sin (Rom. 6:1-2)

There are many more examples, but these will help us understand who we are in Jesus. It is like the son who will some day inherit a father’s wealth. He is the heir, but he is not there yet. He will grow and mature and some day he will become the heir. Christians are declared to be heirs of heaven – holy saints. We are holy but we are not always living as saints – yet! But some day we will become what God has already declared us to be. So even though we will go to heaven some day, God calls us to live like holy saints now.

The book of Philippians paints the picture of us.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (NASB) Philippians 1:6

Notice the three words “began,” “will” and “until.” After a person is forgiven of their sins, God “begins” or starts changing us. He “will” continue changing us “until” Jesus comes. In theology this is called “progressive sanctification.” We are saved, but God’s salvation is also something we experience now in this life. Imagine God’s forgiving us of our sins and then not caring how we live between now and heaven. The apostle Paul summarized this quickly when he said,

For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; (NASB) 2 Corinthians 2:15

The Greek word for “being saved” means just that. We are in the process, but our destiny is sure!

This is the idea of Philippians 2:12-13. We are already saved, but since we are in process God calls us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” – to live the Christian life.

God Is At Work

But God is also at work in us. For without Him we could never spiritually grow. Here are some verses that remind us that we need the Holy Spirit to help us grow – “to work out our salvation.”

Holy Spirit’s RolePassage
Helps us understand/study the Bible1 Cor. 2:14
Helps us prayRomans 8:26
Convicts us of sinJohn 16:8
Empowers usEphesians 5:17-18
Helps us have victory over sinGal. 5:16-23
Helps us serve othersRomans 12:7
Helps us teach the Word1 Cor. 12:28
Gives us victory over SatanEph. 6:11-18

The Holy Spirit called us to Jesus, placed us into the body of Jesus, and then started transforming us into holy saints. Some day we will reach heaven and then we will actually be perfectly holy. So God calls us to cooperate. He calls us to “work out our salvation” while He also works in us.


In order to live the Christian life, we must want to change. God calls us again and again throughout the scripture to live a holy life – to change. Most, not all of us, are trying or have tried to change by our own willpower. Philippians 2:12-13 explains that we must want to spiritually grow, we must try to grow and we must depend on God to change us.

A man went to a hardware store to buy a new saw. The salesman took a chain saw from the shelf and commented that it was the “newest model, with the latest in technology, guaranteed to cut ten cords of firewood a day.” The customer thought that very good, so he bought the saw and took it home.

The next day the customer returned, looking somewhat exhausted and disturbed, “Something must be wrong with this saw,” he moaned. “I worked as hard as I could and only managed to cut three cords of wood. I used to do four with my old-fashioned saw.” Looking confused, the salesman said, “Here, let me try it out back on some wood.” They went to the woodpile, the salesman pulled the cord and as the motor went Vvvrooommmm, the customer leaped back and asked, “What is that noise?” The customer did not know there was power in the saw and as a result, his efforts were exhausting.

The Holy Spirit is the power needed in the Christian life. He is the key to living the Christian life.

Suggested Links:

What is the correct translation of Philippians 2:12-13?
How To Be Filled With The Spirit
Saved Only Once
Be Filled With The Spirit, part 1
Be Filled With The Spirit, part 2
Be Filled With The Spirit, part 3