Working Out Salvation

Brian Kuehmichel

“Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Kingdom principles

The template of a life lived out in respect for the ways of God was given in the New Testament. This was spoken about and exemplified in the life of Christ and then copied by his apostles and disciples. We in turn with great appreciation for salvation also desire to go and do likewise.

First of all Christ Jesus had shown himself to be the Messiah by teaching about God, preaching the good news, healing many from their diseases and incapacities and freeing them from satanic oppressions.

"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan." (Matthew 4:23-25)

Then Jesus took those who sought to follow him up into a mountain to teach them the principles of his kingdom, the manner of service required of them and the amount of humility and self-sacrifice necessary to remain in that kingdom.

"And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them." (Matt 5:1-2)

In his own way he rejected the conduct of those who were arrogant, frivolous, self-important, ignoble, merciless, carnal, warmongers and oppressors. Jesus commended those who suffered for doing right even when falsely accused or when put to death for doing so. He affirmed that those who practice the behavior of the coming kingdom of God “are the light of the world.” So valuable are they that he described them as a “city that is set on an hill [that] cannot be hid.” (Matt 5:14)

These disciples were to live their lives so openly different that it should be noticed and never hid.

“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 5:15-16)

Then Jesus spoke about issues of the heart, for everything we do comes out from the core of our being manifesting the condition of our heart. He spoke of holding back any anger moved to hatred, or dishonoring a person by speaking about or to them in crude dehumanizing terms.

“That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matt 5:22)

And when coming to God’s altar to come with a clean heart with restored human relationships.

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against thee; Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison.” (Matt 5:23-25)

Jesus addressed the silent thoughts of the heart, of envy, covetousness and lust.

“You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell. And if your right hand offend you, cut it off, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell.” (Matt 5:27-30)

Then Jesus spoke about a deceitful heart. He rejected breaking any covenant made before God and man.

“It has been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.” (Matt 5:31-32)

This new behavior also included keeping spoken promises and pledges to others.

“Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, You shall not falsely pledge to do without, but shall perform unto the Lord your oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall you swear by your head, because you can not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these comes of evil.” (Matt 5:33-37)

And of course it covered the unchecked desires of our hearts. Jesus refused to permit punishing others for perceived injustices according to our own personal perspective on fairness. He rejected seeking to get even with others through any affliction that might be given.

“You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him twain.” (Matt 5:38-41)

Jesus directly rejected selfishness on our part. He spoke of this by commanding generosity when we are asked for aid or help.

“Give to him that asks of you, and from him that would borrow from you turn not you away.” (Matt 5:42)

And then he summarized all of this and expressed that we should exceed in living out these things.

“You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:43)

Then Jesus addressed the fallen human desire of seeking to be noticed for doing something good and right.

“Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you shall have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when you give your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their [immediate] reward. But when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does: That your alms may be [given] in secret: and your Father who sees in secret himself shall reward you openly [in due time].” (Matt 6:1-4)

Jesus encouraged prayer by describing a heart attitude of humility, repentance, seeking God’s help in God’s way and of reliance upon Him.

“And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you hast shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly. But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask him.” (Matt 6:5-8)

And then he laid out a template of noble prayer for our benefit that we might use it to pray always, in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to make our requests known to God.

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who dwells in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matt 6:9-13)

And if we are interested in God’s mercy and forgiveness toward us then why cannot we exercise the same gracious disposition toward others who also may seek to return unto God.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6:14-15)

And if in any of these things you struggle and seek through periods of fasting, prayer and self-denial to overcome past behaviors do not make it a public spectacle.

“Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their [empty] reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; That you appear not unto men to fast [but cheerful, encouraged and expecting God’s help], but [plead] unto your Father who is in secret: and your Father, who sees in [to your heart in your] secret [prayer chamber], shall reward you openly.” (Matt 6:16-18)

Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this present, fallen world beware what your heart seeks and where you should receive your reward. Tangible things may be taken away but the qualities of a loving, virtuous, noble, godly heart cannot be diminished or removed by any thief. These things will survive death and resurrection and endure throughout all ages to come.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt 6:19-21)

So Jesus summarized these things by describing light within a person welling up and over flowing reflecting the character, conduct and message of the Lord himself. That conduct has no darkness and no longer has attachment to or affinity for the rebellion of Adam and Eve and desires continuous wholesome peace, a shalom with God and men.

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!‘ (Matt 6:22-23)

To attain these things a single mindedness is necessary, a solitary focus is required and such steadfastness is rewarded.

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6:24)

Now trust God through living out all of these principles of the kingdom of God. Let go of anxiety concerning how long you shall live, sufficient food to eat, adequate clothes to wear, necessary shelter from weather because God has loved you, invited you and will safely bring you home.

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.” (Matt 6:25-32)

Jesus then commanded them again to maintain a solitary focus to seek and do God’s will.

“But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt 6:33-34)

Then Christ Jesus gave very practical information about living among broken people. He directed his disciples to use restraint so as not to make false and hasty judgment, for whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. Later Jesus spoke in vs 15-20 about discerning the effects of an individual’s behavior, choices and words by examining their fruit, which can only be revealed after some time has passed.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matt 7:1-2)

Jesus proceeded to direct them to repair their own faults before pointing out faults in another.

“And why behold the mote that is in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the mote out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye.” (Matt 7:3-5)

He told them to use discernment to offer God’s truth and the gospel message to those who were receptive.

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matt 7:6)

Then Jesus encouraged them to freely ask for help from God in these things.

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt 7:7-11)

Again Jesus summarized with a simple phrase about how to discern what to do in varied circumstances to live out the noble, good and true. This was another form of the golden rule.

“Therefore all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt 7:12)

This was followed by another expression directing them to single minded purpose in living out the kingdom principles and obtaining their full reward.

“Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt 7:13-14)

Then Jesus began to give them warnings: both about false leaders and teachers and about discerning the fruit of a person’s life.

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.” (Matt 7:15-20)

Jesus also warned them about self-deception. This was also addressed later in the parable of the tares in Matthew 13.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Matt 7:21-23)

Finally Jesus described the outcome of those individuals who heard and obeyed and those who heard in part and did not obey.

“Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matt 7:24-27)

The command to love

In intimate settings Jesus directed his disciples to exercise the discipline to diminish self-seeking and magnify the well-being of others. He expressed it this way.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

“This is my commandment, That you love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

“These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:17)

Apostle Paul wrote about the work of the Spirit in us teaching each disciple of Jesus to love one another even as He has loved us. And then Paul encouraged and directed believers to grow in love by various expressions.

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” (Rom 12:10)

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Rom 13:8)

“For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Gal 5:13)

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3)

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you.” (1Th 3:12)

“But as touching brotherly love you need not that I write unto you: for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another.” (1Th 4:9)

“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.” (Heb 10:24-25)

Apostles Peter and John affirm the same.

“Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1Pet 1:22)

“Finally, be you all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1Pet 3:8)

“For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (1Jn 3:11)

“And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” (1Jn 3:23)

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is begotten of God, and knows God.” (1Jn 4:7)

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1Jn 4:11-12)

“And now I beseech you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto you, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.” (2Jn 1:5)

“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

Working out the fruit of salvation

What then does this expression from Philippians 2:12 mean, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?” It is best understood when connected to Galatians 5:13 where it said “For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” This working out of our salvation is not to do the work to obtain salvation for Christ Jesus did that for us. It is not to add to the salvation provided through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus on our behalf. But it can and does mean that we are to manifest that salvation with self-conscious concern to do well, “fear.” It also means that with sober, steadfast earnestness we are to guard against neglectful conduct, “trembling.”

We are to live out to the best of our ability all of the kingdom principles detailed in Jesus’ sermon on the mountain given in Matthew chapters 5-7. We, as disciples of Christ Jesus, have been given liberty to live a new life in a new way reflecting our allegiance to a new king and His kingdom. For we now work “for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb 11:10) As ambassadors of this kingdom we are to be wholly untethered by rebellion, greed, covetousness, hatred, refusing forgiveness, jealousy, envy, self-centeredness, and any form of evil conduct while living out its everlasting principles. These actions are to be done in a myriad of ways through innumerable circumstances in our blessing and kindness toward fellow believers and mankind.

This process of living the kingdom principles was described in their Epistles by Apostles Paul and Peter. They expressed it in two steps, putting off the former sinful conduct and then putting on the behavior of righteousness. They also exhorted us to manifest this transformation by living out our daily lives through a new perspective, a changed and redirected mind led by the Spirit of God.

“And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom 12:2)

“As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be holy in all manner of conduct.” (1Pet 1:14-15)

“But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” (Col 3:8-10)

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (Rom 6:12-13)

“For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit you do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.” (Rom 8:13)

“If it is true that you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: Then put off concerning the former conduct the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph 4:21-24)

“When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which you also walked some time, when you lived in them.” (Col 3:4-7)

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” (Col 3:12-14)

This is how we can best obey Apostle Paul’s admonition, and fulfill Apostle Peter’s prompting.

“Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Php 2:12)

“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2Pet 1:10-11)