It is clear from Ephesians 2:8-9 that salvation is by grace received through faith alone and not one's doing, not a result of works but Philippians 2:12 seems to be saying otherwise.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

Philippians 2:12 (ESV)

How, then, can one reconcile Ephesians 2:8-9 with Philippians 2:12?


4 Answers 4


A difference may be seen from the words used:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  not of works (ἔργον), lest anyone should boast, (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out (κατεργάζομαι) your own salvation with fear and trembling; (Philippians 2:12 NKJV)

Ephesians states salvation is not by works, ἔργον; it is a gift from God. Philippians states one who received the gift of salvation should work it out, Κατεργάζομαι:

...Christians are urged to "work out" their "own salvation." It is after all their "own." Their effort must not depend on him, and its issue chiefly concerns themselves. Paul does not say they are to "work for" their own salvation, as though it were something to be received as a reward of merit or even as a result of effort. They are to work it "out," as something already enjoyed, possessed in principle or in part.1

The passage in Ephesians is about unity in the church. Paul reminds the Ephesians salvation is a gift: everyone is equal and no one should boast. The passage in Philippians is about individual behavior. Paul encourages the Philippians to keep on doing what they did when he was with them.

1. Charles R. Erdman, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, The Westminster Press, 1932, p. 78

  • 1
    "Since different words are used different meanings are intended" This is certainly not always true, and is not true here. Also, these are from the same root, not two different roots. Where does the text indicate, especially in context, that katergazomai means 'show' your salvation to others? Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 14:45

1. Restatement:

How can one reconcile Ephesians 2:8-9 with Philippians 2:12? It is clear from Ephesians 2:8-9 that salvation is by grace received through faith alone and not one's doing, not a result of works but Philippians 2:12 seems to be saying otherwise.

2. Answer - Both Passages Reaffirm a Necessity to Trust in God:

The contradiction is only because these two different verses are taken out of their contexts - all the time.

"Trusting God" is the point of both Ephesians and Philippians; that, without this trust there is no grace, and therefore no salvation.

Christians are not saved by "Grace" - alone:

Ephesians is perfectly clear, Grace is given because of Trust [faith]; In fact, Grace is "earned" many ways: through humility, kindness, truth, etc.

NASB, Proverbs 3:3-4 - Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 So you will find favor [grace] and good repute In the sight of God and man.

NASB, James 4:6 - But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Philippians 2 is wrongfully quoted without the second half of the sentence:

NASB, Philippians 2:12 - So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 [BECAUSE] it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Paul is saying:

God is performing an inward work, a work which you must express outwardly - because ... it is God, and you should trust that work.

Further, since the commandments of Jesus are all demonstrations of mercy towards others - and oneself, then these "good works of mercy" are evidence of a trust in the unconditional mercy and desperate love of God.

NASB, James 2:18 - But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

  • very nicely put.
    – ACME
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 23:43

Ephesians 2:8-10

τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν Θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων,* ἵνα μή τις καυχήσηται αὐτοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν ποίημα κτισθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἐπὶ ἔργοις* ἀγαθοῖς οἷς προητοίμασεν ὁ Θεὸς ἵνα ἐν αὐτοῖς περιπατήσωμεν.

For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith, and [this is] not of yourselves—[it is] the gift of God, not [the result] of works*: that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works*, which God had prepared [for us] beforehand, that we should walk in them.

* the same word for 'work'—ἔργον ergon— differing only in grammatical function within the sentence.

From this it is clear that God does the saving. God's grace and mercy is the only reason anyone is saved. Good works cannot save anyone by themselves. No amount of other contexts may overwrite what is being claimed here: God saves man, man is powerless to save Himself. How God's grace saves man is not mentioned—the economy of God's saving is not detailed here. What is detailed is that God's grace necessarily causes good works in the believer:

We may draw a simple syllogism:

1) People who are ultimately saved, objectively, says Scripture, are created to do good works.

2) This means that good works and salvation are mutually entangled and therefore necessary.

3) Ergo (no pun intended), good works—working within the justified state—are necessary for salvation, not that they themselves cause it.

The meaning of the word here for 'work'—ἔργον ergon—can be clearly seen in its various translations (NASB): action (1), behavior (1), deed (13), deeds (52), doing (1), effectual (1), labor (1), result (1), task (1), what...done (1), work (34), works (62).

So anything less than 'good works' as an interpretation here should make one suspect theological bias. This is what the word means: doing good things.

This cannot be weakened by context, only who works, how/by what means or for what reason/toward what they work.

Philippians 2:12-15

Ὥστε, ἀγαπητοί μου, καθὼς πάντοτε ὑπηκούσατε μὴ ὡς ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ μου μόνον ἀλλὰ νῦν πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἐν τῇ ἀπουσίᾳ μου μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε* Θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας πάντα ποιεῖτε χωρὶς γογγυσμῶν καὶ διαλογισμῶν ἵνα γένησθε ἄμεμπτοι καὶ ἀκέραιοι τέκνα Θεοῦ ἄμωμα μέσον γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμένης ἐν οἷς φαίνεσθε ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ

Therefore, my dearly beloved, just as you have been obeying, not only in my presence, but now all the more in my absence, continue to work for* your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God working in you both to do and to will according to His good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent children of God; unblemished in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, wherein you shine as lights in the world.

* κατεργάζεσθε katergazomaibring about, work-towards: work to the end of

St. Paul makes clear that works don't save. But He makes equally clear our works are God's works—for the Redeemed believer. God working in us. It is not of ourselves. Grace is the fuel, God guides our hand by His Spirit.

Hence St. Paul's imagery of running a race,fighting and keeping the faith (2 Tim 4:7) is not meaningless, and there is something to strive for: salvation. Salvation is completed in that it has already been merited, but we are not strictly 'saved' until we are out of the pit of this sinful world, and in heaven. BUt we are still constantly in the process of "being saved" (1 Cor 1:18) by God.

Works and good deeds and a strong faith are the works of God, not man. Man merely co-operates with the grace, the gift of the power, to do good toward His salvation. His crown, which he must fight for (James 1:12; Jn 14:23; Rev 3:11; Lam 5:16; cf. Rev 3:11; 1 Tim 4:16).

St. Paul says we must compete for the crown of salvation: 1 Corinthians 9:25. And even that unless you keep to the rules, you cannot recieve your crown: 2 Timothy 2:5 cf. 1 John 2:4

St. John writes that we must work for it: 2 John 1:8. cf. Rom 2:7. And that ceasing to remain faithful to the commandments of Christ means we lose God (2 John 1:8).

It's simply that all working, doing, believing is by the grace of God, so that no one may boast that he accomplished anything not accomplished by God in truth.


God's grace and works are by no means mutually exclusive: God works in us to achieve our salvation. He affects a real change, not a ficticious one. His grace both allows and empowers us to achieve the end of salvation.

Grace vs. works or faith vs. works are false, unscriptural dichotomies. In fact, it is one taught against by St. James:

James 2:14-26

Τί τὸ ὄφελος ἀδελφοί μου ἐὰν πίστιν λέγῃ τις ἔχειν ἔργα δὲ μὴ ἔχῃ μὴ δύναται ἡ πίστις σῶσαι αὐτόν ἐὰν ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἀδελφὴ γυμνοὶ ὑπάρχωσιν καὶ λειπόμενοι τῆς ἐφημέρου τροφῆς εἴπῃ δέ τις αὐτοῖς ἐξ ὑμῶν Ὑπάγετε ἐν εἰρήνῃ θερμαίνεσθε καὶ χορτάζεσθε μὴ δῶτε δὲ αὐτοῖς τὰ ἐπιτήδεια τοῦ σώματος τί τὸ ὄφελος οὕτως καὶ ἡ πίστις ἐὰν μὴ ἔχῃ ἔργα νεκρά ἐστιν καθ’ ἑαυτήν Ἀλλ’ ἐρεῖ τις Σὺ πίστιν ἔχεις κἀγὼ ἔργα ἔχω* δεῖξόν μοι τὴν πίστιν σου χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων κἀγώ σοι δείξω ἐκ τῶν ἔργων μου τὴν πίστιν σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ Θεός καλῶς ποιεῖς καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν Θέλεις δὲ γνῶναι ὦ ἄνθρωπε κενέ ὅτι ἡ πίστις χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων ἀργή ἐστιν Ἀβραὰμ ὁ πατὴρ ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη ἀνενέγκας Ἰσαὰκ τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον βλέπεις ὅτι ἡ πίστις συνήργει τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἔργων ἡ πίστις ἐτελειώθη καὶ ἐπληρώθη ἡ γραφὴ ἡ λέγουσα Ἐπίστευσεν δὲ Ἀβραὰμ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην καὶ φίλος Θεοῦ ἐκλήθη ὁρᾶτε ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως μόνον Ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Ῥαὰβ ἡ πόρνη οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη ὑποδεξαμένη τοὺς ἀγγέλους καὶ ἑτέρᾳ ὁδῷ ἐκβαλοῦσα ὥσπερ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα χωρὶς πνεύματος νεκρόν ἐστιν οὕτως καὶ ἡ πίστις χωρὶς ἔργων νεκρά ἐστιν

What does it profit, my brethren, if any say he has faith, but no works? Can such faith save him? Now if a brother or sister is without clothes, and lacking daily food, and any of you says to them, Go in peace; be warm and well fed! but give not that which they have need of for the body, what would it profit? So also faith, by itself, without works, is dead. But someone may say, You have faith and I have works.* Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

You believe that God is one: you do well! The demons believe also, and shudder! O foolish man, [must I show you] that faith without works is worthless? Was not our father Abraham justified by works, when he offered his son Isaacon the altar? You see that faith was working together with works, and his faith was perfected by the works; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God and it was counted for him as righteousness. And he was called the friend of God. [From this we see] that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she welcomed the messengeres adn sent them off another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so is faith without works dead.

* the false dichotomy

  • +1 .But, how does one ''co-operate'' w/ the saving ''work of God''? Based on your answer, it should be that God alone operates our salvation. God alone ''works in us'' (Phil 2:12-13). You are ''to finish your salvation by doing works'' (σωτηρίαν κατεργάζομαι) which 'God had ''started in us''. God alone operates in us for God alone saves by grace alone. Phil 1:6 says that what God started in us (i.e. good work in us) , He (God) will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Thus, when we do good works, we reveal what is happening ''inside us'' which is the ''good works of God himself''.
    – R. Brown
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 17:30
  • 1
    Grace in the New Testament refers to the unearned favor of God. When St. Paul says salvation is not "of works" (or "arising from works:" εξ εργων) he means that we didn't get salvation by taking initiative and being good without God, but that His mercy on us (to even suffer us to live) is the grace whereby we are saved and do anything toward our salvation, whether it is to believe, or to be found faithful as Abraham was in trial. Salvation being by the grace of God does not imply or mean that man plays no active role, and how anyone gets that impression from the New Testament is beyond me. Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 20:47
  • 1
    Even man's role in his own salvation (as distinct from the work of Christ on the cross, for example), is enabled by God, made possible by the cross. He helps man do what it is he needs for his salvation: believe first, and also to persevere unto the end (where help means instill right desire, and bring the same to good effect). But as Scripture shows, man can choose to deviate from that good path laid out for him, hence the warning not to depart from the path of grace. Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 20:50

The answer is right there in the second reference quoted: "...work out your own salvation..." (Phil 2:12). Faith is worked out but Paul`s point is that it is not worked in (i.e. acheived through our own efforts) but is the gift of God (Eph 2:8). James expands on this when he tells us that "faith without works is dead" (Jam 2:17).

So then, we can conclude that works accompany genuine Christian faith, but works do not produce faith. Faith itself (which produces its own works, as we allow the Sprit to lead us) remains the free gift of God.

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