This post was first shared as issue 6 of These Sacred Words
Early on in my faith, my mind would often be plagued with thoughts like, “am I doing this whole faith thing right?” “am I seeking Jesus hard enough?” “is God pleased with my obedience?” “am I actually saved?!?!”
My journal was littered with declarations of my love for God and doubts of my often-fickle faith. My faith felt small and I wondered if it was enough.
A few years into my faith journey, I stumbled upon this verse in Philippians and read it in a new light. It served to bring comfort to me as I struggled with the contradiction between striving to be more like Christ and trusting God to sanctify and work through me.
If you, like me, tend to wrestle with this tension between trying too hard in your faith and understanding how to surrender to God, I hope these words bring comfort to you.
“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
The juxtaposition Paul presents seems almost impossible.
How are we supposed to work out our own salvation if it is God who is working in us?
I did a deeper dive into these verses, and I found that the Greek word for trembling [ tromos ] is used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but religiously does his utmost to fulfill his duty.
This phrase intrigued me. One who knows he can’t do it on his own, but works hard anyway. So, essentially we are called to work out our salvation with the full knowledge that all of our striving and working can accomplish nothing.
In our day of “do it yourself” and “you be you” and “hustle hustle hustle” this seems like an impossible call. To work hard at pursuing Christ, while also positioning ourselves in a way where we humbly declare we can do nothing apart from God.
But the truth is that our salvation and sanctification is achieved only by God’s sustaining power. This “working out of our salvation” that we are commanded to do is the act of submissively surrendering all control to God to work in us. We must work at letting go of ourselves, our self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. We must work at relying on God to work in us – to effect our salvation and enable our sanctification.
What a beautiful balance between striving and submission.
Between sanctification and surrender.
A high and worthy call to work hard to let go.
Because ultimately all things are from him, through him, and to him. All working in us is accomplished by the Holy Spirit for God’s ultimate purpose – his glory.
We must continually pray to the Lord to help us to submit to him. To help us to be more like him. To help us to trust him more. To work in us so that we are slower to doubt and quicker to know and trust who he is. We can’t make any of these things happen on our own (but isn’t that the sweetest relief?). We can’t accomplish anything in ourselves. He alone is able to mold and change and refine us.
Let’s trust him to do that.