The Bible says, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.’ This Scripture almost sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But instead, it is a paradox. And GK Chesterton described a paradox as ‘truth standing on its head to get attention.’
The key to understanding this particular paradox lies in the little word out. Notice that the Bible doesn’t say, ‘Work for your salvation.’ To work for something means to earn it, deserve it, merit it. And the Bible plainly teaches that salvation isn’t something we have to work for or earn. It’s a free gift of God’s grace (see Ephesians 2:8–9). When Paul says, ‘Work out your salvation,’ he is talking about a ‘spiritual workout’.
What do you do during a physical workout? You develop and tone the muscles God has already provided you. To ‘work out’ means to grow and make the most of what you have been given. What Paul is saying here is this: develop your spiritual life! God has a part in our spiritual growth, and we, too, have a part. He provides the power, but we must access it, flip the switch, and let it flow through our lives to fulfill His will for us. Practically speaking, how do we do that? By spending time praying and reading God’s Word each day. By sharpening and strengthening one another through fellowship. By exercising the gifts God has given us. The fact is, He has already done His part; now it’s up to you to do yours.