“Meaning of Bible verse: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
What does “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” mean? Many Christians will cite this verse to support the idea that we still have a lot of personal development to do to finish what Jesus started or to make ourselves worthy and acceptable to the Lord.
The idea is that we must do “works” to prove we are saved, and we must be afraid that if we do not do and live as God has commanded, we will be thrown into hell. If this were true, I can understand why believers would tremble in fear while striving to avoid hell.
Unfortunately for these types of believers who preach a performance-based gospel, this verse does not mean anything at all. To begin with, salvation is not something you must earn; it is a gift from God that is received through faith. It works for you, not for you to work for salvation.
Working Out salvation
Working out our salvation is not the same as working for our salvation. When Paul tells believers that they must work out their salvation, he points out that the beautiful gift they freely received from God is already within them. By faith, we bring out those lovely qualities and character traits. Faith is a source of comfort, but faith works, not us. So figuring out what’s on the inside of us is a matter of faith.
Walk-in faith and live by it
As a new believer learns how to live and walk by faith, this process can be frightening at first. When a person decides to trust God as their source of comfort and peace, some trepidation may exist at first. It was terrifying to abandon my natural abilities favoring God’s Word.
When Paul mentions “fear and trembling,” he refers to this. He isn’t referring to fear of God. Instead, he assures the new believer that walking by faith will be frightening at first. However, it is the only way to see our inner salvation manifest on the outside as a character.
Remember that many people Paul was writing to belonged to religions that opposed his preaching type of grace. Converting Jews to Christianity in the first century, for example, would have struggled to believe they were in perfect union with God.
Furthermore, the idea that God was now living within them seemed unreal, let alone the idea that He could love them unconditionally. They had left a religious system that taught them that God was so holy. If you broke His law or did something wrong in His presence, He would punish you.
Reset your perspective
Their perspectives needed to be completely reset. So it’s understandable that living this new life by faith would be frightening for them. Nobody understood it better than Paul, who was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, expecting to be harshly judged for killing and imprisoning God’s children.
Instead of the death penalty, which he expected, he was shown unfailing mercy and love, transforming him. He rose to become one of the Bible’s greatest apostles.
In 1 John 4:18, John addressed the idea that God can be frightening, saying, “He who fears hasn’t been made perfect in love because they don’t know God yet.” New believers who do not know God may be afraid of Him because they have incorrect information about who He is. Learning to trust in God’s love, goodness, and mercy may appear simple at first.
However, overcoming those strongholds may take some time if you have a distorted view of God. If you consistently base your righteousness on your performance, learning to live by faith and trusting in what Jesus did for you could be a difficult way to live.
Alter your personality and your way of life
When Paul told believers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, he knew what a new believer would face. Trusting Christ’s work to change your character and lifestyle without your efforts can be intimidating at first. It is difficult to believe that you can change without the assistance of a self-help or sin management programme. Paul emphasises this point in the very next verse.
“For it is God who works in you to will and to do according to his good pleasure.” 2 Corinthians 2:13
Trust in God
Paul had to learn to trust in God’s grace, goodness, and love for him when he sinned or failed. As a Pharisee, he used to rush to the temple to offer a sacrifice for his sins.
He needed to think that God had forgiven him once and for all and that the peace in his heart came not from what he did for God but from what Jesus did for him.
Over time, Paul saw God’s character, known as the “fruit of love,” being born in his heart and controlling his life. He was witnessing God’s salvation work its way from the inside to the outside for all to see.
This process was frightening because it was a new way of relating to God. Furthermore, for a Jew who knew that priests who messed up in the Holy of Holies died, the idea that his body could be the home for God’s presence was mind-boggling.
Now, Paul’s body and spirit had become the Holy of Holies, and he was the dwelling place of God’s precious Holy Spirit. It meant he no longer had to strive for righteousness because he was righteous in Christ. He didn’t have to try to be holy because he was made righteous as a new creation in Christ.
Fear and trepidation accompanied Paul’s acceptance and journey with God into this new way of life. He wasn’t scared of God; instead, he learned not to be. His fear stemmed from who he had become in Christ: a new creation, a son of God, holy and righteous as Jesus. For Paul, this was a revolutionary belief.
God is compassionate, loving, and merciful.
It is a long journey from a belief system that depicted God as angry, fault-finding and condemning to the truth that revealed He is kind, loving, and merciful. It will fill those who choose to walk this new path with dread and trepidation.
This priceless salvation we have received as a gift from God is within us. A lost and dying world, on the other hand, is waiting to see it manifest on the outside, so God’s life-changing love touches them through our lives and characters. It can be frightening to love and forgive as Jesus loved and forgave us; it can also be a source of anxiety.
Nonetheless, as you surrender to the salvation you have received, your fear and trepidation will fade. Keeping yourself in God’s love will become second nature to you.
“Remain in God’s love, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21).