Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
In general, Lutherans have heard a phrase like “work out your own salvation…” as heretical. It is our commitment to God’s grace coming to us as a gift. There are no works involved in salvation. We simply receive it through the gift of God in Jesus Christ.
As a result, Lutherans are often viewed as spiritually a bit lazy. While our theology has a definite place for works as a response to grace, we have always known that they aren’t required in order to make God love us. We could skip them altogether and simply trust that God loves is in Christ and the gates of hell would not be waiting for our arrival. God is good and we are graced by receiving that goodness!
But Paul is clear, and so are Lutherans who go more than an inch deep in their faith, that we are to work and that it is serious business to do so. This is not because God won’t love us if we mess up. But it is because we are actually joining in with God who has claimed us. We are now dealing with the very presence and power of God, being transformed by grace and figuring out what it means to live lives now as an extension of God’s work.
So, Paul says that we should do this with “fear and trembling.” The gift of life has been given to us in Christ by the giver of life. God is not only deeply in love with us, God is also deeply at work within us as well. God’s desired outcome is that our lives would both want what God wants and work toward that end.
So, while many Protestant traditions are clear that works are not needed to earn God’s favor, scripture is also equally clear, once you know that you are loved by God, becoming who and what God intends for you to be in Christ is a calling that will shape and focus your whole life.