Philippians 2:12 - 13 (ESV)
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.
A verse that we have often read and heard is Philippians 2:12 where we are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Some have misunderstood this verse, thinking that we need to work to earn our salvation. However, this command calls us, not to work for our salvation, but to live out the saved life. We all know salvation is something not earned but given us by God out of His grace, a gift given to undeserving people like myself. We know also that genuine saving faith must be seen in how we live out our Christian witness through word and works, for faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Faith and works are not mutually exclusive, each falling on the opposite side of the spectrum, but rather, interconnected. While it is faith in Christ alone that brings about salvation, the life of godliness should be the outflow of that salvation.
The problem when we take this command out of its context is that we may end up thinking that living the Christ-like life is all up to us. Salvation has been given us by grace, but living the life of sanctification is now totally dependent on my own strength and will. This will result to us becoming driven to perform and leading to despair because, if we are honest, we know we are unable to fulfill the command. On my own, it is impossible for me to walk with the Lord every day in fellowship, to love others sincerely and sacrificially, and to shine His light in the dark places of this world. Attempting to live the Christian life on my own strength has led to seasons of frustration and weariness. It is because I would end up doing things according to my own understanding and my own way, my "default setting", so to speak.
Thankfully, we are not left to our own device when it comes to living out our salvation. Paul, in Philippians 2:13, tells us that it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Sanctification, just like our salvation, is all a matter of the grace of God. Just as God makes us positionally righteous because of the work of Christ, He also enables us to live righteously through the enabling of His Holy Spirit. It is no wonder Paul would confidently write near the end of this epistle, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)". He knew that the key to effectively working out one's salvation lies not within himself but in God. Yes, he still needed to do his part by obeying the Lord's commands, but he was confident that God will give him the grace needed to live the sanctified life. Instead of settling for our "default setting", we are to use our new "custom setting", to live the Christ-like life by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, by allowing Him to have His way in us, to lead us. We are to cooperate with God if we want to be able to live out our salvation.
To help illustrate this truth, think of how a baby grows. For a baby to grow, the parents must feed him or her with nutritious food. However, it is equally true that for the baby to grow, he or she must eat the food offered by the parents. God has given us grace to help us mature in our walk with Him; we must do our part by accepting that grace and doing what he would want for us to do.
I like how Pam Mark Hall described the need for God's provision in her song, "Love Supply What Love Demands". In the song, she confessed that she needed God's love in order for her to be able to love others. She also established the fact that she needed God to provide what He requires and that God graciously gives this help to us. There is also a song by Scott Wesley Brown entitled "Grace Alone" where everything we do for the Lord that brings blessing to others is possible only by the grace of God, thus we must go forth, meaning we must walk the path of holiness, in grace alone.
God wants us to live out our salvation with fear and trembling; He makes sure to provide us with the enabling to do so. This is how we should walk the path of sanctification. Anything less than the enabling of the Lord will surely lead to us falling short in our effort to be holy and to be like our Lord Jesus. We all need to make the conscious decision to let God empower us as we do our part diligently.