(Phil. 2:12) Does this mean that we earn our salvation?

CLAIM: Some interpreters claim that this passage teaches salvation by works. Paul writes, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Does this mean that Christians have to “work” for their salvation?

RESPONSE: We can’t work for our salvation, but we can work from it. We aren’t saved by our good works (Eph. 2:8-9), but we are saved for good works (Eph. 2:10). This is the sense in which Paul uses the term. Moreover, “salvation” is spoken of in multiple senses in the NT: justification, sanctification, and glorification.

Three Aspects of Salvation




Past Tense Present Tense

Future Tense

Penalty of Sin Power of Sin

Presence of Sin

(Rom. 5:1) Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ [Note the past tense].

(2 Thess. 2:13) God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification.

(1 Thess. 5:8) Put on the… hope of salvation.

(Rom. 13:11) Salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.

(Rom. 5:9-10) …We shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 …we shall be saved by His life [Note the future tense].


Here, in Philippians 2:12, Paul is describing the present sense of salvation (i.e. sanctification). Note, Paul’s use of the present tense (“work out your salvation”). Moreover, this imperative in verse 12 is based on the indicative of Christ’s finished work (v.5-11). Note, the word “Therefore…” (NIV) in verse 12. According to Paul, we “work out” our salvation, because it is God who promises to “work in you” (v.13).

Finally, we can also point out that the pronoun “you” is plural—not singular. This is a command for the entire church to pursue sanctification, because the church of Philippi was experiencing division and in-fighting (Phil. 2:3-4; 4:2-3). Often, Western Christians read the Bible to refer to me, when it actually refers to we. In this case, Paul’s command is to become sanctified in the Body of Christ—not as individual, maverick Christians.