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Fear and Trembling in Philippians 2:12

. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.  Philippians 2:12-13

One of the most lamentable characteristics of many expressions of western, evangelical Christianity is the lack of awe, reverence and wonder that God’s transcendent and truly awesome nature warrants. The Bible is full of examples of people who met with God and who were terrified by his brilliance and power.[1] Yet many modern Christians treat God with flippant familiarity.

While it is impossible at this present time to have a truly accurate understanding and appreciation of our holy, majestic God, we need to be wary about being too casual and complacent in our relationship and conversation with him. We should also be wary about having a shallow, superficial view of salvation.

Yes, God is our closest friend who abides with us in a close spiritual union, who personally and lovingly guides us, and who graciously and generously assists us. But God is much more than that. Our God is also gloriously powerful, transcendent, and holy.

The creator of the universe is at work within us, using his tremendous power and benevolence to recreate us in the image of Christ. Our part is to cooperate with God in his transforming work and to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Holiness and reverence go together.

In Philippians 3:21 Paul reveals the future fulfilment of our salvation, the outcome of God’s continuing, transforming work within us.

. . . the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of his glory by the exertion of the power that he has even to subject all things unto himself! Philippians 3:21

How do you feel knowing that God is powerfully at work within you, working towards a wondrous, glorious goal? Does this knowledge elicit feelings of awe and reverence in you? (Phil. 2:12)[2]

This article is an excerpt from my Bible Study Notes on Philippians 2:12-18 here.


[1] Christians have no need to fear God’s wrath or punishment. By turning away from sin and turning to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are completely rescued from God’s righteous wrath and punishment. See Romans 5:9; Ephesians 2:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9-10; 1 John 4:17-18; cf. John 3:36!

[2] The idiomatic expression “fear and trembling” occurs four times in the New Testament, each time in one of Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:5; Phil. 2:12).

© Margaret Mowczko 2010

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