"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."
(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
This is a passage that some people feel has to be “explained away” or at least that it is a strange thought coming from Paul. Isn’t he all about salvation being a gift through faith and not based on works?
The truth is that generations of believers have been guilty of simplifying the Gospel and making it completely about something that is really only one aspect of the whole. The mechanism of salvation is indeed God’s grace, given freely and not based upon anything that the individual does or merits. However, the way someone is made right with God does not change the effects of that justification. True salvation leads inevitably to change. That change involves a new behavior—what people often refer to as works.
Whether you are saved by faith and not works but it leads to works or you are saved by the works themselves is a huge difference, but in outward appearance it does not look very different.
People who feel like they have to earn their salvation live out of a misguided motivation; however, the other end of that error is uglier. People who buy into the lie that salvation is a gift that is wholly separate from a way of life behave in a licentious, privileged manner that closely resembles the excesses of the Jews that God railed against in the prophetic books of the Old Testament.
So, understand that justification is not something you earn, but don’t stop there. Sanctification may be a work of God as well, but you need to cooperate with it every step of the way.
“Work out your salvation!”