How Does Salvation “Work”?

In one Paul’s letters, he says something that is quite curious and strange.  He tells readers to “work out your salvation.” [Philippians 2:12]

Ugh?  Didn’t Paul also write that we are saved through faith and not by our “works” (that is, not of our own doing or striving)?  [Ephesians 2:8-9]

So, if we can’t earn our salvation, why do we need to work it out?  Is Paul confused?  Is he schizophrenic?  Is this a paradox?

Actually, I think it’s a matter of timing.

First, we need to follow Jesus — by faith.  We don’t need to do anything else to get God’s attention or earn his affection.  There is no working involved in being made right with God.  That means it’s a gift — we didn’t buy it and can’t earn it; it was given.

The second part is our response.  Out of sheer gratitude for the gift, we can opt to respond by behaving differently.  I think this is what it means to “work out our salvation,” that is, to cultivate it or complete it.

Consider what if I gave you a million dollars.  Would your attitude towards me change?  I think so.  You might want to find out more about me, learn why I did it, and maybe help me in my future philanthropic efforts.

In essence you might be working out my gift to you.  It’s still a gift, but one that evokes a grand response.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at