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.