"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (2: 12-13)
A. T. Robertson, in Word Pictures, says this about Paul's exhortation to work out one's own salvation in Philippians 2: 12.
"Work out (κατεργαζεστε — katergazesthe). Perfective use of κατα — kata (down) in composition, work on to the finish. This exhortation assumes human free agency in the carrying on the work of one‘s salvation...He exhorts as if he were an Arminian in addressing men. He prays as if he were a Calvinist in addressing God and feels no inconsistency in the two attitudes. Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both."
Robertson alludes to what is well known among theologians. These Pauline verses have been a battleground in discussions about "human free agency in the carrying on the work of one's salvation," and about Arminianism and Calvinism, and about reconciling divine sovereignty and human free agency.
Problem #1 - The Hardshell Error
Because the Hardshells bring to this verse their false premises and propositions, which are not supported by Scripture, they will not believe that the "salvation" labored for has anything to do with eternal salvation, and will insist that the salvation must be temporal. Thus, one of the objectives of this strange interpretation is to say to people - "oh, don't worry about failing in this matter! People are saved eternally whether they work out their own salvation or not."
Obviously the Hardshells think that the Apostle spoke carelessly in these words and in his other epistles. A careful Hardshell apologist would always let his audience know when he was talking about eternal salvation and when he was not. Had Paul been in the custom, as Hardshells think, of talking about "time salvation" in one breath, and then about "eternal salvation" in the next, he certainly would have been more careful to let his audience know by the use of the correct adjectives.
Further, when the Apostle, like the other biblical writers, spoke of salvation relative to time, they did so mainly by the use of tenses of verbs and participles. No theologian denies that past, present, and future tenses are used in Scripture in relation to salvation. We have been saved, in some sense. We are now presently being saved, in some sense. We are yet to be saved in the future in some sense. However, present tense salvation in Scripture is not the same as the Hardshell "time salvation" concept.
Further "work out" is in the middle voice and denotes not only that the person is doing the working out but is also doing it for himself. About the middle voice Robertson elsewhere wrote:
"The middle calls special attention to the subject...the subject is acting in relation to himself somehow."
Saying all this does not exclude God and his working, as the next verse shows in the words "for it is God who works in you." Both God and the Christian are continuously active in this work. Sometimes the Christian is passive in relation to God's effectual working. To say that the Christian after regeneration is only active (as most of today's Conditionalist Hardshells do) is a falsehood and is against the plain teaching of Scripture, as we saw in the previous posting ("we are being renewed and transformed each day" - an experience in which we are passive). To say that the Christian after regeneration is only passive (as the Absoluter Hardshells do) is also a falsehood.
Problem #2 - Working Out & Working In
Wuest, in his commentary on Philippians, wrote:
"Let us be clear first of all as to what this exhortation does not mean. It does not mean to work for one’s salvation, and for two reasons; first, Paul was writing to those who were already saved, and second, salvation is not a work of man for God, but a work of God for man, a work that was accomplished at the Cross. Neither does it mean to work out an inworked salvation. The idea of working out an inworked salvation is merely a play upon the English words “work out,” and has no support from the Greek."
Nearly every Hardshell I ever heard comment on this verse made a big play on the English words "work out" and "work in" as though Paul was exhorting the people simply to manifest in their lives what God has put in their hearts. This error is due in part to their elders and apologists, with few exceptions, not knowing Greek.
Many of today's Hardshells have enhanced their cult status by becoming believers in "King James Onlyism." These deny that preachers need to study Greek and Hebrew, or need seminary instruction, to properly interpret Scripture and to teach others. The reasons given are two: first, because God personally teaches his ministers, and second, because the English KJV fully and accurately translates the Hebrew and Greek. Of course, both of these reasons are not according to truth.
A person who is teaching from the simple English of the KJV translation is easily misled in discovering the true meaning of what it means to "work out," i.e., what Paul meant when he penned the Greek word that is translated into "work out."
In English the words "work out" are use in various ways, sometimes as a noun and sometimes as a verb. "Work out" often refers to physical exercise. Is Paul exhorting the Philippians to "exercise" their salvation? From the mere English words it cannot be positively known. "Work out" sometimes refers to exhausting labor. Sometimes "work out" means to solve, as to "work out" a problem in math. But, Paul is not saying "solve your own salvation." So, let us hear Wuest on how to better translate the word in question. He wrote:
"The words “work out” are the translation of a Greek word which means “to carry out to the goal, to carry to its ultimate conclusion.” We say, “The student worked out a problem in arithmetic.” That is, he carried the problem to its ultimate conclusion. This is the way it is used here. The Philippians are exhorted to carry their salvation to its ultimate conclusion, namely, Christlikeness. The salvation spoken of here is not justification, but sanctification, victory over sin and the living of a life pleasing to the Lord Jesus." (see here)
Thus, Paul is saying - "continue to carry out your salvation to its ultimate conclusion." What salvation is this? What does the context say about this question? First, the context of Scripture, then the context of Paul's epistles, and third the general context of Philippian epistle, and finally to the context of 2: 12? Each of these contexts show that it is not a mere temporal deliverance as the Hardshells deceive themselves into believing.
Wuest also correctly says that the ultimate conclusion or goal of our salvation is perfect likeness to Christ. This is the end, according to Paul, for God having foreknown and predestined people.
Problem #3 - Striving for Complete Salvation
"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son..." (Rom. 8: 29)
How and when is one conformed to the image of Christ the Son of God? Is such a change into the image of Christ completed all at once when one is "regenerated"? Most neo Hardshells would say yes, at least as it relates to the soul. My father, for instance, a Hardshell preacher for fifty years, would say that he is no more like Christ today than when he was regenerated over sixty years ago. He must say this because he does not believe that God does any of the work of making one into the image of Christ after regeneration. He does not believe that his increase in faithfulness and holiness, his spiritual growth and maturity, is a result of God working to make him more into the image of Christ. But, from our last posting it was shown how Paul said that we are now, after regeneration, still "being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory" (II Cor. 3: 18) and that the Christian "is continuously being renewed," (Col. 3: 10) and that "day by day." (II Cor. 4: 16)
Alford similarly wrote:
"carry out (bring to an accomplishment) your own (emphasis on your own, perhaps as directing attention to the example of Christ which has preceded -- as He obeyed and won His exaltation, so do you obey and carry our your own salvation) salvation (which is begun with justification by faith, but must be carried out, brought to an issue, by sanctification of the Spirit--a life of holy obedience and advance to Christian perfection. (The New Testament for English Readers)"
If Paul has already said, in regard to God's work of salvation in the believer, that God is the one who does the work, starting it, and carrying it on to completion, then why is he now exhorting the believer to complete his own salvation? To the Hardshell, such a seeming contradiction is enough to warrant his asserting that the salvation of 1: 6 is not the same as the salvation of 2: 12. But, as we shall see, his solution to the seeming difficulty is no solution at all, but creates more difficulties.
Every workman and creator has a purpose in mind when he begins his work. He has a picture in his mind of the finished product. Every runner in a race has a goal. What is the goal of the Lord in regard to his work? What is the goal of the Christian in regard to his work? Are these mutually exclusive? If my complete transformation into the image of Christ is God's purpose behind his work, does this exclude such also being my purpose behind my work? The Hardshells would say yes. Paul, and the other biblical writers, however, would say no. Notice these words from a little later place in the Philippians epistle.
"Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but (having) that (righteousness) which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded..." (3: 8-15)
The Hardshell who says that to "win Christ" has nothing to do with final salvation truly stretches credulity. The Hardshell who says that to "be found in him" has nothing to do with eternal salvation cannot be taken seriously. The Hardshell who says that "having the righteousness of Christ" is only for a time salvation is a gross heretic. The Hardshell who says that to "attain unto the resurrection out from among the dead" (resurrection of the righteous) ought not to be our goal, is perverting Scripture and endangering souls. The Hardshell who says that coming to fully know and apprehend Christ only brings temporal salvation is guilty of no mean sin. The Hardshell who says that to "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" is to press only towards a temporal salvation is being rebellious towards Scripture. The Hardshell who says that reaching perfection, or completion of work into the image of Christ, is not a purpose behind the labor of the Christian for Christ is flatly contradicting the plain teachings of the apostle. It seems to me that these words of Paul in 3: 8-15 fully explain what he said in 2: 12. In 2: 12 he exhorts believers to bring their salvation to its contemplated end, to reach this goal and conclusion, and in 3: 8-15 he clearly defines what is this end and goal.
Problem #4 - Eternal Salvation, not Time Salvation
Hardshells have historically viewed verse 13 as dealing with regeneration, or eternal salvation. The first Hardshells, however, unlike their modern descendants, also saw the verse as applicable to the work of God in continuously sanctifying his people, or making them more holy and more like Christ, and making them to persevere in the faith, while today's Hardshells do not. But, in either case, verse 13 is said to be talking about what relates to eternal salvation, for it is what God is doing in us effectually and without fail.
Even assuming the traditional Hardshell interpretation that "work out" means to "manifest" or "bring to light" what God has placed secretly within, the Hardshell cannot say that it is not eternal salvation that God has "worked in." If we are to work out what God has worked within, then we are to work out eternal salvation, don't you see?
Further, as we have seen, the goal of God in his work (1:6) is to complete the work of making sinners into the perfect likeness of Christ. Also, the goal of Paul's work was towards being made more and more into the likeness of Christ. Obviously Paul was no Hardshell, for he saw no contradiction between God and the Christian having the same goal.
Problem #5 - Work Hard for the Goal
Another commentator at preceptaustin wrote:
"Work out (2716) (katergazomai from katá = intensifies meaning of verb + ergazomai = labor, work or engage in an activity involving considerable expenditure of effort) means to work out fully and thoroughly, to accomplish or achieve an end (implying thoroughness), to finish or carry something to its conclusion. To work so as to bring something to fulfillment or successful completion and implies doing something with thoroughness. It means to do that from which something results. This verb always means to complete the effort and the work begun."
Did not Paul say that he counted all loss so that he might finally win Christ and be found in him before the judgment bar? Paul regularly taught this principle: "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (I Tim. 4: 8) Paul believed that "godliness" (which is essentially Christ likeness) was "profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Ironically, this principle is one the Hardshells vigorously denounce. They do not believe that "godliness" or "godly living" have any profit in the life to come, that all its profit is in "the life that now is." Further, the fact that salvation is by grace and the sure work of God does not exclude the Christian repenting, confessing, believing, obeying, being active in service to the Lord, persevering in faith and holiness, etc., as the Hardshells assert. We have already seen how Paul, who taught that salvation was of the Lord and by his grace, nevertheless taught that we must press toward the mark and run for the prize. In Hebrews 4: 11 he said "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest." (Heb. 4: 11) To Timothy he said "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." (I Tim. 4: 16) He also wrote to Timothy these words in his second epistle:
"If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work." (II Tim. 2: 21)
Notice that a man does something. He purges himself of his sins. What is the result of this doing? "He shall be a vessel unto honour." In Romans 9: 21 it is God who makes "vessels unto honour" from the clay. Paul is God's "chosen vessel." (Acts 9: 15) The Hardshells, because of their false presuppositions, will not allow that Paul, in II Tim. 2: 21, is dealing with eternal salvation though the language is the same as Romans 9: 21 and Acts 9: 15.
Problem #6 - A Christian's Work is God's Work
It is one of the propositional errors of the Hardshells to affirm that a work cannot both be the work of God and the work of another. In Hardshell thinking, if something is said to be the work of God, then this necessarily excludes not only creaturely means and instrumentalities, but also all work and activity of people. Likewise, when something is said to be the work of a creature, then this necessarily excludes the work and activity of God. It is an amazing and simple truth at which they thus stumble. The Scriptures are filled with a great many examples that demonstrate the falsity of their self produced presupposition.
"Lord...thou also hast wrought all our works in us." (Isa. 26: 12)
That is enough evidence to demolish the Hardshell reasoning.
Wuest translates the verses 12-13 as follows:
"Wherefore, my beloved ones, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, carry to its ultimate conclusion your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is the One who is constantly putting forth His power in you, both in the form of the constant activity of (your) being desirous of and the constant activity of (your) putting into operation His good pleasure."
Problems for Antinomians & Hyper Calvinists
Question - if God is the one who must begin his work (or "workmanship" - Eph. 2: 10), then where is the need to persuade lost souls to call upon God to begin a good work in them?
Question - If God is the one who must complete the work of individual salvation, then where is the need to exhort saints about their responsibility towards the progress and completion of salvation?
These were not problems, however, for Paul and the new testament writers. They were not problems with our Baptist forefathers who put forth the 1689 London Confession.