When considering God’s gift of salvation, He made it clear in Scripture that salvation is not something that you can earn or work to attain (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). Yet, many people will point to certain verses in the Bible and use them to suggest that works are part of salvation. One such verse is Philippians 2:12, which includes a phrase that many believe teaches that salvation is something that we must work to attain. In that verse it says the words, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” What does it mean to work out your own salvation? God’s Word gives us the answer.
What is the context of Philippians 2:12?
When you examine the context of Philippians  2:12, you find that the chapter starts out by making a statement that “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels of mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2). Since the verse starts out with the phrase, “If there be therefore…” it assumes by the word therefore that there was a thought that preceded that we must take into consideration. This thought is the theme of the first chapter.
When looking at the first chapter of Philippians, we find that the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Philippi. He mentions that he joyfully prays for them for their fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 2:1-5). It is this fellowship that he describes in verse six as being something that God began in them and will continue to work in them until the day they see Christ. This theme of fellowship, based on love, is continued throughout the rest of the chapter.
Of particular note is that Paul describes some of the troubles he has had, but says that they resulted in the furtherance of the gospel and inspired others to do the same (Philippians 2:12-17). He goes on to describe how no matter what happens, he knows that his work is not in vain and that although he desires to go and be with Christ, there is much work to be done. However, to accomplish this work, they must strive together for the faith of the gospel and not be afraid of their enemies. He concludes the chapter by stating that because of their salvation, they are not just to believe on Christ, but to also suffer for Him as he has.
It is this context that sets up Philippians 2 in that they need to put certain principles in place so that they may work together on behalf of the Lord. He tells them they must be of one mind and purpose and humble themselves for the sake of one another (Philippians 2:1-4). He also tells them to let the mind of Christ be in them in that they should become servants, giving their lives as Christ did for the gospel (Philippians 2:5-11).
What then does it mean to “work out your own salvation?
With this context in mind, Paul then says in Philippians 2:12 that because of what Christ did they should always obey the calling of the Lord to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” He further explains that it is God that works in them both to create in them the desire and the strength to do it because it pleases God. After this, Paul explains that they should do the work together without arguing and disputes so that the people of the world around them will not have anything bad to say about them, instead, the people around them would see them as lights in a crooked and perverse nation.
Simply stated, Philippians 2:12 is not about doing good works to work for our salvation. No, Philippians 2:12 is about working out the desire and power we have because of our salvation to do good works. In other words, God is telling us to “work out” or exercise our salvation. He is saying, don’t just sit there being saved and do nothing to help others. No, exercise the desire and power that God has given you like someone knowing that those whom you esteem better than yourself do not suffer the fate that you would have suffered had it not been for the grace of God to save you through your faith. 
It is interesting that after this, Paul mentions Timothy, whom he is sending to them to assist in this manner and to serve as an example to them. He also mentions that he is also sending Epaphroditus, who served as a faithful minister despite being deathly ill from all of his hard work for the Lord on their behalf (Philippians 2:19-30). It is with this mentioning of Timothy and Epaphroditus that Paul provides an example that explains what he meant about working out their own salvation.
What does working out our own salvation look like?
The answer to this can be found in what Paul told Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 4:2 as follows:
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
Just like Paul charged Timothy to do these things, we too can work out or exercise our own salvation by preaching the Word in situations where it applies to the issues of life and in everyday opportunities to share the gospel. We should also work out our own salvation by using God’s word to show what we should be doing and explain what we should not be doing. Finally, we should work out our own salvation by striving to be patient and doctrinally correct. It is then that like someone who exercise faithfully, we become stronger and able to accomplish harder work on behalf of the Lord because of our loved for Him.
When considering God’s gift of salvation, He made it clear in Scripture that salvation is not something that you can earn or work to attain. Yet, many people will point to certain verses in the Bible and use them to suggest that works are part of salvation. One such verse is Philippians 2:12. However, it is clear from the context of the first two chapters of Philippians, that working out our own salvation has nothing to do with working to be saved. Instead it has everything to do with working for the Lord and others because we are saved.
Take a look a this related article: Why Can’t I Get to Heaven Through Good Works? 
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. Photo rendered from Logos Bible Software 6.0 Visual Copy.