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  • Chad Werkhoven

Philippians 2:12-13 - Fear & Trembling

You're not all that different from a Blue Angels pilot. Seriously.


Philippians 2:12–13 (NIV)

CONTEXT: This passage immediately follows the famous passage about Christ that begins with "Who, being in the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage..." and ends with "every knee shall bow... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father."

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 14: The Creation and Fall of Man

Man subjected himself willingly to sin,

becoming wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways.

Therefore we reject everything taught to the contrary

concerning man’s free will,

since man is nothing but the slave of sin

and cannot do a thing

unless it is “given him from heaven.”

For who can boast of being able

to do anything good by himself,

since Christ says,

“No one can come to me

unless my Father who sent me

draws him”?

Who can glory in his own will

when he understands that “the mind of the flesh

is enmity against God”?

Who can speak of his own knowledge

in view of the fact that “the natural man

does not understand the things of the Spirit of God”?

In short,

who can produce a single thought,

since he knows that we are “not able to think a thing”

about ourselves,

by ourselves,

but that “our ability is from God”?

And therefore,

what the apostle says

ought rightly to stand fixed and firm:

“God works within us both to will and to do

according to his good pleasure.”

For there is no understanding nor will

conforming to God’s understanding and will

apart from Christ’s involvement,

as he teaches us when he says,

“Without me you can do nothing.”



Thank God for that comma.

We don't pay enough attention to punctuation in our day and age, but this little mark in the lower right corner of the word 'trembling' at the end of v12 is massively important. For if it was rounder - just a tiny little speck that indicated the end of a sentence rather than the end of a clause - it would deliver really bad news: "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" on your own. Period.

Such a statement, especially if it ended the paragraph, would mean that your eternal salvation is fully dependent upon your efforts to bring it to completion. That certainly would be a good reason for fear and trembling.

So be very grateful for the little tail added to the period that transforms it into a comma, because it means there's more to the sentence. It means there's more you need to know about how your salvation is worked out. And it's in that second half that the good news comes: you're not dependent upon yourself to fuel your efforts! It's "God who is working in you to fulfill his good purpose" of saving you!

This idea of God working in you (not with you!) is not a unique idea presented only in this one passage. The NIV footnote in v13 points to five other examples of the same idea (Ezr 1:5; 1 Co 12:6; 15:10; Gal 2:8; Heb 13:21).

Dig Deeper

Certainly the Bible is not telling you here to live a life marked by terror and dread when it calls you to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Such a thought flies in the face of the dozens passages conveying peace and reassurance to frightened believers.

I once got to talk to a Navy Blue Angels pilot at an air show. I had assumed that one is a Blue Angels pilot for years in order to master the intricate aerial maneuvers that must be carried out with perfect timing and form. But he told me that the pilots rotate in and out of the group annually so that they never grow complacent while flying. In other words, the Navy expects these pilots to fly with "fear and trembling" every time. It doesn't mean they're afraid; it simply means every part of them is dialed in every time they take off.

This is what you're called to as a Christian. God is "working in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose," but you are not just a passive passenger along for the ride. Each day, dial yourself in with fear and trembling to utilize the power, ability and insights God has given you to bring your salvation to completion.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who works in you;

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for the work He's doing in you, and pray for an attitude of fear and trembling as you fly through life under His command;



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Matthew 16


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