Back in 2005 I wrote a blog on "The Excorcism of Emily Rose" and in doing so, solicited a comment. The commentator had asked me to expound on the scripture that says, "...work out your salvation with fear and trembling". It's long overdue. Here goes. Philipians Chapter 2.
At first glance it would seem like the Bible is saying that we can make up our own rules, our own parameters and guidlines for living the Christian life, so long as we do this in a careful manner. In the pluralistic culture we live in, it is more palatable to tell people to live how they think would be right but to do so carefully and thoughtfully. If we were to simply take the words "work out your salvation with fear and trembling..." it would seem that way. Therein is the great danger. We must allow scripture to tell us what it means, not insert our own assumptions and interpretations.
When the Bible tells us to work out YOUR salvation with fear and trembling, we can't interpret YOUR salvation as uniquely yours with no bearing on anyone else.
I have heard pastors allude to the dangerous and erroneous teaching that in life there are so many gray areas and Christianity has them too. So, instead of offering loving correction and right teaching, people are simply told to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. There are a few things that raise the proverbial "red flag" for me and I think should be addressed.
1. In Philipians 2, the Church is being addressed collectively by Paul. The letter was not addressed to individuals, nor was it appealing to anyone's individuality or personal experience. It was a "one size fits all" type of letter and it had several purposes. It was written for an intended audience of more than one person.
2. In the first eleven verses of Philipians 2, Paul basically told the Church to take themselves down a few notches. Be careful not to be too arogant. Be humble. Remember Jesus' attitude and how he humbled himself. He also said to not be selfish, put other people first and also, to be concerned with other people's things and not just their own.
3. In verses 25 to 30, Paul is telling the Philipian believers that he is sending them a person to help them in their discipleship process. This work of the gospel was being done by Paul and he felt very passionate about it. He wanted disciples to get it right. He was so bent on this that he wanted to make sure that there was a person in Philipi to help the believers in receiving right teaching.
So to correctly interpret "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" doesn't mean one has the license to simply make up what he wants to believe about Christianity and apply it in a compartmentalized environment of one (self). Let's not forget what the rest of that very verse tells us. It says, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
In a nutshell, working out our own salvation is just as much connected to living and being connected to the believers around us as well as the will and the purpose of God. The will and the purpose of God is clear. He is not willing that any should perish but that all would have everlasting life. The purpose of God is the redemptive plan he has for mankind. If what we perceive to be the elements of the Christian life are not related to being concerned with others around us, humility and the the redemptive purposes of God, then I don't think we've worked it out yet.