A single word can make a big difference. After recounting the humility displayed by Christ in the incarnation, Paul exhorts the Philippians to “work out” their salvation with appropriate awe and reverence for what God has done (Php 2:12). Unfortunately, many of us read this verse as if it says “work for” our salvation. We confuse which aspect of our salvation Paul is talking about.
The New Testament reveals three realities about our salvation. We have been saved (justification). We are being saved (sanctification). We will be saved (glorification). Paul is talking about the “are being” phase. That’s why he says “work out” not “work for.” Sanctification is a natural response to and evidence of justification. It’s the progressive work of the Spirit in our lives and the assurance that we will one day experience glorification. When we confuse the three aspects of salvation, we get sideways in our faith. We either assume we are the means of salvation and pursue works based righteousness or we assume that justification negates the need to pursue a life of holiness. What we need instead is to work out our salvation in humility recognizing that God alone enables and empowers us.