"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12b-13) We never say, work out your salvation with fear and trembling so that God will work in you What we say is, work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you We must be very careful to get the order right.
It might sound nit-picky because in both instances works matter. But we have to know why works matter. One way of thinking it through is a different gospel and as Galatians 1:8 needs to be condemned. And one is the gospel, or an outworking of the gospel or the gospel working in us, however, you want to say it.
Simply put, we do not do stuff in order to get God to respond to us. We must start with receiving what God has done for us in Christ and then the promise goes on from there. God doesn’t just declare us righteous and forgiven on account of Christ substitutionary work for us and then leave us to our own devices, saying good luck to stay on the path and grow in actual holiness.
No God doesn’t leave us to ourselves after he pardons and receives us on account of Christ, he goes on from there, and actually indwells us, and fills us with his Holy Spirit. Part of God’s great rescue of us from sin is also him working in us so we will also grow in godliness.
But we have to get the order right. We do not grow in godliness in order to be accepted by God. We are accepted by God because of Christ and through faith in Christ. We grow in godliness after we have been accepted by God and placed into the family of God.
For a number of reasons growing in godliness in order to earn salvation does not make sense. Number one is that you cannot grow in something that you are not. An apple tree cannot grow into being a bigger apple tree if it is not already an apple tree. A Christian cannot grow in his Christianity if he is not already a Christian.
Simply put, you cannot grow in Christlikeness if you are not in Christ. You must first come to or receive Christ by faith in order to grow in or add to your faith. You have to start with being in Christ in order to grow in Christlikeness. Working out your salvation in order to get Christ makes no sense. Friends, we work out what’s working in us in order to become more and more of what we already are in Christ. An apple tree grows into a more full and filled out apple tree that eventually produces fruit. A Christian grows into a more full and filled out Christian that produces Christian fruit.