...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.Phil 2:12b-13
Work out your own salvation does not mean by your own effort, as some have interpreted it. The apostle is saying, now that I am no longer present with you, you don't need to rely on my insights and counsel. Begin to walk without my assistance, for you have God in you, and that is all you need. In other words, stop leaning on me. Start applying these things yourselves. This is a necessary stage in Christian growth.
I recall teaching my oldest daughter how to drive. She had a learner's permit that required that I be with her in the front seat of the car. As we were driving she would sometimes give me a questioning look as a driver pulled out in the road or something developed ahead of us. Then I'd say do this or that. She was relying on me, but the time would come when I moved out of the front seat and in faith committed her to what she had learned. From then on she had to work out her own salvation with fear and trembling, even with me right there with her in the back seat!
Now salvation here does not mean settling our eternal destiny as we frequently find it used in the scriptures. A better translation would be the word
solution. Work out your own solution, because what Paul has in mind here is working through the problems and trials and difficulties presented in ordinary daily life. He is saying, use your mind and your will in solving your problems, in the confident expectation that in doing so God is also at work in you to conform it all both to his will and his good pleasure. That is a marvelous statement of the Christian's experience of being led by God.
But we are not automatons, robots simply responding to the pushing of buttons by the Spirit within. It's true we have another life within: God's life — Christ living within us. But our lives, hearts and wills are involved in this too. It is true that we will never be saved apart from him. But it is likewise true that he will never save us apart from ourselves. We do the living and the choosing and the acting, but we know a secret — that all along it is he who is living, acting and choosing through us.
That is what we see so beautifully outlined here in Paul's letter to the Philippians. Paul says you are now to do your own choosing and living, and as you do it God is at work in you both to will and to work. I think this is the most un-believed verse in the Bible. What we really say is something like this:
Lord, I know you want to work in me, but my own stubborn will is so set on my own ways that you cannot. I desire to have you express yourself through me, but my will prevents it and you can't. Now that is unbelief. God IS at work to will and to do. He knows how to do it. Now believe it! The very expression of your will is going to be properly directed by his so that what you will, he wills — unless you know it is wrong, which is also the work of the Holy Spirit in you.
Father, thank you for this glimpse of the glorious secret of the Christian life. I realize that I am a laborer together with you, and as I am changed and begin to manifest your work within me the world will see the crookedness of my life made straight.
'Christ in you' is a mystery which God reveals to His children. Alive in us he harmonizes our choices with both his will and his actions, for his good pleasure. Are we seeking by the tutelage of His Spirit to make choices that conform to God's good pleasure?