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)
QUESTION: Once we put saving faith in Christ, do we stop working?
The Bible clearly teaches that we are not saved by our works of righteousness. We are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot earn our salvation. We can’t add to it, can’t be any more justified, can’t be any more righteous in God’s sight. Salvation is a wonderfully free gift from God.
But, the Bible is also clear that we must continue working, even after we are justified. As Paul says, we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. Now what does this mean? How is possible that we are saved by faith, yet must work out our salvation? Is this some sort of brain twister, like, “If one train leaves from Chicago at 9:20 PM, and is going 100 MPH…”?
Here’s what it means: we must work to become what we already are. When we place our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous by God. It is a legal declaration that has nothing to do with our actual character. If an angry alcoholic and a pre-school teacher place faith in Christ at the same time, they are both equally righteous in God’s sight, because God declares them to be righteous.
But, both the alcoholic and the pre-school teacher must work to become what God has already declared them to be. They must strive to live righteous lives, to “work out” the salvation that they already have. The alcoholic must actively put off anger and put on gentleness. The pre-school teacher must actively put off pride and actively put on humility. I must actively put off impatience and put on patience.
God really does care about holiness, and holiness really does involve effort. When we become Christians, we DO stop working to earn salvation. But we don’t stop working. We must work toward becoming what God has already declared us to be. I must work toward being more righteous in my conduct.
Some Christians have the idea that once we become Christians, we no longer need to work. That’s not what the Bible says. We must rest fully in what Christ has already achieved in our place. But we must also work hard to become more and more like Christ. And the wonderful thing is, we can know that God himself is working in us, giving us the power to obey.
So my fellow Christians, when it comes to earning, let’s stop working. When it comes to being like Christ, let’s work hard!