Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13
The verse above seems to be a contradiction to Ephesians 2:8-9 that says “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Is salvation by work or by grace? Which one is it?
In Philippians, Paul did not write to people who have not been saved, telling them to work in order to obtain salvation. He was speaking to a group of believers to work out the practical implications of the salvation they already possessed.
Salvation cannot be attained by any human work, but only by putting one’s faith in Christ who has already paid the penalty of sin and won over death. Lost people do not even have the will to choose God. Jesus stated: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Not only God wills our salvation, He works it by giving believers the Holy Spirit.
Although salvation is God’s work, it requires a response on our part. 1How can you exhort someone to be saved when he can’t be saved by his own will or effort? Perhaps an illustration from the ministry of Jesus will help. On one occasion, Jesus encountered a man in the synagogue who had a withered hand. Apparently, he had nerve damage which made it impossible for him to move his hand. Jesus commanded the man to stretch forth his hand (Matt. 12:13). Humanly, that was an impossible command. But Jesus told him to do it and when the man obeyed, his hand was restored. On another occasion, Jesus told a man who had not been able to walk for 38 years to get up, take up his pallet, and walk (John 5:8). The man did it! Both men responded to Jesus, even though the Lord did the work.
In both cases, the Lord calls them do something that they are unable to do by themselves. He gave them the supernatural power to do it, but they still had to follow Jesus’ instructions. If they had said “I can’t do it,” they would not have been healed. Salvation, from start to finish, is God’s work.
Living the Christian life involves being dependent on the will and the work of God. Apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). If we are truly saved by God’s work in us, then we must be diligent to not work for, but to work out (apply) the practical implications of that salvation in our relationships with one another in obedience to God. We cannot live the Christian life by our own strength but must walk each day in the power of the Holy Spirit..