Work Out Your Own Salvation

I remember seeing a couple walking to the shore of Lake Ontario with ice skates, eager to enjoy some skating. I was surprised at the sight because I didn’t think there had been enough freezing weather for the ice to be thick enough to skate on. Confidence in the strength of the ice is vital for a skater! Likewise, to progress in the life of discipleship you need to be assured of your personal salvation, which is based upon the strength of God’s promises.

The apostle Paul wrote,

… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure ” (Phil. 2:12,13).

At first glance this passage seems to jeopardize our assurance (like a “crack” under your ice skates!). What does it mean to “work out your salvation”?

What the verse doesn’t mean

Philippians 2:12 does not teach that salvation from sin’s penalty is a life-long process. Consider Jesus’ promise, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life”(John 5:24). Notice the past tense–“has passed“. Conversion to Christ places one into God’s family by grace through faith.

Jesus referred to this step of commitment as “the new birth.” As He said to the religious leader Nicodemus,”Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The Christian life is a process of maturing in the faith after the new birth, not a continual attempt to achieve a right standing with God (1 Pet. 1:22-2:2).

Also, Paul is not implying that our works have a part in meriting our salvation. In the following chapter in Philippians he strongly emphasizes that “we have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). After listing his credentials of self-righteousness, Paul testified that he reckoned them worthless in gaining eternal life (Phil. 3:8). Instead, he trusted fully in Christ’s redemption: “and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9).

What the verse does mean

We are exhorted to verify our personal faith in Christ. As Paul warned the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? –unless indeed you are disqualified”(2 Cor, 13:5). How do we “test ourselves”?

*Be certain that you have repented and fully trusted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:9,10; John 1:12).

*Grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).

All living things grow! As the apostle Peter counseled,”Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble” (2 Pet. 1:10). Like a butterfly, you’re a new creation at the spiritual level, but you’re also in a process of personal development.

Devotional writer Oswald Chambers commented on Philippians 2:12:

“You have to work out with concentration and care what God works in; not work your own salvation, but work it out, while you base resolutely in unshaken faith on the complete and perfect redemption of our Lord.”[1]

The unfailing promises of God provide our objective assurance. “In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Titus 1:2). “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

As we demonstrate the reality of our faith by love and good works we gain subjective assurance.[2]

This benediction from Hebrews addresses your outer development and also your inner enablement.

“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will [outer development], working in you [inner enablement] what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20,21, bracketed words added).

As you confirm your commitment to Christ be assured that “God works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

.Father, use these Scriptures to encourage us to confirm that our faith is personal and genuine. May we gain assurance by resting on the precious promises of Your Word. In Jesus’ gracious name, amen.

[1] My Utmost For His Highest, June 6.

[2] The objective aspect of assurance refers to propositional truth. The subjective aspect of assurance refers to our personal experience (James 2:14-26; 1 John 2:3). Both aspects are vital (John 8:32).

For more on the assurance of salvation, see the author’s book, Blessed Reassurance: Finding Security in Christ. It’s available through Grace Fellowship International.

Copyright 1999 by John Woodward. 2nd edition. Permission is granted to reprint this article for noncommercial, ministry use if credit is given to the author and Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Copyright by Thomas Nelson).

Honorable Mention

Ultimate Purpose: The Glorious Life God Intends for His Children is a video discipleship series for personal and small group use. The 13 sessions are taught by the Executive Director of Dynamic Churches International, Al Middleton. See the free access page for this series at

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