Philippians 2:12 (NASB) 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;

Philippians 3:9 (NASB) and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith

Salvation is to be justified by faith not of any good works referencing the epistles Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:16, and Ephesians 2:8-9. ("His faith is credited as righteousness" Romans 4:5)

Does Philippians 2:12 contradict 3:9?

  • @Autodidact, I should have been more precise. I edited the question. Thank you for the note
    – R. Brown
    Aug 15, 2019 at 7:18
  • 1
    I hope that answers will search out clearly the underlying meaning of the Greek wording translated 'work out'.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 15, 2019 at 8:35
  • With whose power are we ultimately working out our salvation ? With our own power ? Or with divine help ?
    – Lucian
    Aug 18, 2019 at 9:55
  • "Salvation is to be justified by faith not of any good works" Not being saved BY those good works is not the same as not being justified with relation to your works or how you have worked. Being saved by your works would be Pelagian. Being justified by grace, through faith which worketh by charity, is the historical view. Apr 28, 2020 at 19:05

7 Answers 7


First of all there is no contradiction between Philippians 2:12 and Philippians 3:9 as someone posted. It's vitally important to "ALWAYS" read the context. Paul is stating at vs2 to be of the same mind intent on one purpose. I'M shortening my answer. vs3, Do nothing from selfishness and regard others more important than yourselves looking after the interest of others. Paul then uses Jesus as the supreme example of putting others first. Even though He always existed as God He did not cling to the prerogatives of His deity and became a bondservant/man. He DID NOT EMPTY HIMSELF OF HIS ATTRIBUTES AS GOD as some seem to think.

Jumping down to vs12 Paul says to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Keep in mind the Philippians are already believers and believers are saved by grace through faith etc. Paul is saying, "work out the solution of your problems or to put it another way, "work out the "deliverance" of your problems with fear and trembling. Why? Vs13, for (or because) it is God at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. In short, Paul is not messing around and he wants them to quit being selfish and quit "grumbling or disputing" (vs14) and put others first. Just like Jesus first loved us and died for us unselfishly. As Christians, our calling is other people. Hope this helps.

  • This is the most accurate answer based on exegetical analyses. Thank you.
    – R. Brown
    Apr 28, 2020 at 22:53
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    @RadzMatthewC.Brown Thank you! I should have added the comment that Philippians 2:12 is "NOT" teaching to work out your salvation to get saved or even to stay saved. Lots of people understand it that way but that is not the case.
    – Mr. Bond
    Apr 29, 2020 at 0:45
  • exactly. once read in context, it becomes impossible that it talks about salvation from hell. The word salvation (Gk. soteria) does not always mean salvation from hell. See Philippians 1:19!
    – R. Brown
    Apr 29, 2020 at 13:53

Have a look at the passage below from Mere Christianity from C.S. Lewis. It is not so much a hermeneutical study of the verse, but may still clarify its context.

Briefly, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul seems to acknowledge a complicated interplay between our works and God's works in salvation. He acknowledges this paradox in adjacent phrases, Philippians 2:12-13:

12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Is it God or ourselves working out our salvation? Is it our own works or our reliance on God's work in us (faith)?

These ideas are not contradicting, but the reality is still complicated:

'Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary. A serious moral effort is the only thing that will bring you to the point where you throw up the sponge. Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair at that point: and out of that Faith in Him good actions must inevitably come. There are two parodies of the truth which different sets of Christians have, in the past, been accused by other Christians of believing: perhaps they may make the truth clearer. One set were accused of saying, "Good actions are all that matters. The best good action is charity. The best kind of charity is giving money. The best thing to give money to is the Church. So hand us over $10,000 and we will see you through." The answer to that nonsense, of course, would be that good actions done for that motive, done with the idea that Heaven can be bought, would not be good actions at all, but only commercial speculations. The other set were accused of saying, "Faith is all that matters. Consequently, if you have faith, it doesn't matter what you do. Sin away, my lad, and have a good time and Christ will see that it makes no difference in the end." The answer to that nonsense is that, if what you call your "faith" in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all — not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.

The Bible really seems to clinch the matter when it puts the two things together into one amazing sentence. The first half is, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" — which looks as if everything depended on us and our good actions: but the second half goes on, "For it is God who worketh in you" — which looks as if God did everything and we nothing. I am afraid that is the sort of thing we come up against in Christianity. I am puzzled, but I am not surprised. You see, we are now trying to understand, and to separate into water-tight compartments, what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together. And, of course, we begin by thinking it is like two men working together, so that you could say, "He did this bit and I did that." But this way of thinking breaks down. God is not like that. He is inside you as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it. In the attempt to express it different Churches say different things. But you will find that even those who insist most strongly on the importance of good actions tell you you need Faith; and even those who insist most strongly on Faith tell you to do good actions. At any rate that is as far as I go.

I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one's eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people's eyes can see further than mine.'

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins 2001) 148-149.

  • This is a beautiful answer from a sociological analyses of the texts
    – R. Brown
    Aug 15, 2019 at 20:15

No. Philippians 2:12 teaches that a believer should work to complete his own salvation.

Philippians 3:9 teaches the same, as is indicated by what follows it:

Philippians 3:12 NASB Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Paul works, presses on. He beats his body, figuratively, meaning he consciously controls his selfish impulses (1 Corinthians 9:27).

The reason people think faith is only agreeing with God about a statement He makes is that the word is translated today as "believing" when, at the time it was written, it meant "being loyal". This article is based on the content of his book by Andrew J. Wallace, a lexicologist, with whom I have had discussions on another website:

The Meaning of Faith

Perhaps the single greatest issue of theology in the present day is our understanding of “faith”. I will argue here that “loyalty” is the best translation of it and that, as such, it is totally inseparable from works and essentially means the same thing.

Outside of the Bible, what is the Greek word for faith (pistis) used to mean? We're in luck... the first century Jewish historian Josephus uses it in his writings.

In his autobiography, Jospehus describes a time when he was the leader of a small army, and another group had tried to kill him. Josephus captures the enemy leader and says to him “repent and have faith in me hereafter” (Life 110). What Josephus clearly means by this is “become part of my army, and obey my commands.”

Later he speaks of a city that had turned against him, which after he has forced them into submission again, he rebukes them for revolting “from their faith in me” (Life 167). Again, he's speaking of their loyalty to him.

What exactly is the quality that Josephus is getting at? Think about his usage of the word in an army and the concept of soldiers following their leader. What is the relationship between a soldier and their commanding officer like? The solider is loyal and trusting, he follows his superiors' commands, when the captain leads the charge into battle the soldier is right there behind him following in his footsteps. The concept is one of “followingness”, obedience to orders, loyalty, faithfulness, allegiance etc. English is really missing a word to describe this quality of a soldier... the quality of “followingness”.

Another approach to finding the meaning of the word is to look for synonyms. Where in the Bible is a sentence used that could well have contained the word “faith”, but instead contains another word in place of it? If we look for synonyms, we find that the major synonyms used time and again are “obedience” and “follow”. Notably “belief” is never used as a synonym. Greek contains several words for intellectual beliefs and to the best of my knowledge not once are any of them used as synonyms for “faith”. Here are some of the uses of these synonyms:

Obedience: Lu 11:28 But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!" Ac 5:32 “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." Ro 2:8 “while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” 2Th 1:8 “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Heb 5:9 “and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” 1Pe 4:17 “For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Ro 6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? Ro 15:18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, Ro 16:19 For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. 2Co 7:15 And his heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear and trembling. 2Co 9:13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others,

Follow: Mt 4:19 And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Mt 10:38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Joh 10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. Joh 10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. Joh 12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. Ac 5:37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 1Ti 5:15 For some have already turned away to follow Satan. 1Pe 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 2Pe 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.

In short “faith” is following an example, command, or person. It is loyal allegiance and obedience.

Since the Reformation there has been a concerted attempt to separate faith from works because of a reading of Paul that misunderstood his condemnation of works of the law as being a condemnation of all human effort toward salvation, and so it was thought that Paul was contrasting mere belief in God (“faith”) against human attempts at righteousness through “works”. If we accept that this is a misreading of Paul, and accept that faith itself refers to obedience and loyalty, then it breaks the faith vs works dichotomy.

Can someone obey without doing any works? If they are "saved by obedience" is it their obedience that saves them or their works done in obedience? Clearly that is not a sensible question: To speak of obedience apart from works is absurd and it is equally reasonable both to speak of them being saved by their works and of them being saved by their obedience because the two are totally inseparable. If Christ leads the way through a forest, someone can hardly follow Christ without putting one foot in front of the other and walking in the footsteps of Christ. Their walking gets them out of the forest, and following Christ gets them out of the forest, it's merely two ways of describing one and the same thing. You can call it “works” or you can call it “faith”, and you're still talking about the same thing. If someone is prepared to follow Christ out the forest they are as good as out of the forest already, the rest is merely a matter of time: Their attitude is all that matters.


Philippians 2:12 (NASB) 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;

Philippians 3:9 (NASB) and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith

Works are the fruits of the Spirit and the only work we must do is to love peoples. When we do good works, it shows that God is enabling us from ‘within’ for the purpose of ‘working out’ our own salvation’ (Philippians 2:11–12).

Working out our own salvation does not mean we do good works to cause ‘our own righteousness’ (Philippians 3:9).Philippians 2:11–12 cannot contradict Philippians 3:9. Working out our own salvation means to exercise our salvation. Exercise is the act of practising anything. How do we practise our own salvation? We do it by living our lives as a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). Why is it so? Because Christ sacrificed himself for us first. Now we give thanks to what he has done for us by sacrificing ourselves to him.

So, make sure that every time you will do good works, your motive shouldn't be because you want to be saved but because you want to be humble before God and continually confess that he alone saved you. That you do good works only as a gratitude for what he has done on the cross. God gave you Christ as Saviour. Thank God through loving him. Loving God is cheerfully obeying him and also fearfully obeying him because he deserves reverence due to the fact that he alone did all things through Jesus just to save you.


So seeker, what are you going to do with Ephesians 2:8,9? For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; vs9, not of works, that no one should boast."

What your advocating is that one has to work in order to stay saved when the reality is the fact that works prove that one is saved. And what about Colossians 2:10? "and in Him you have been made COMPLETE, and He is the head over all rule and authority."

This is what you said, "No. Philippians 2:12 teaches that a believer should work to complete his own salvation." Your statement does not "jive" with the context of what the Apostle Paul is telling the Philippians believers at Philippians 2:1-13.

In other words, Paul says at vs2 to make his joy complete by them being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." What is that purpose? Vs3, Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceity, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more importan than himself; Vs4, do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others."

Paul is "NOT" telling them in order for you to make your salvation complete make sure you work to put others first and don't be selfish or conceited, this will insure your salvation. Now, let me reverse this and ask you that if one does not put others first and he is selfish and conceited will he loose his salvation?

Lastly, what is the time frame or how long does one have to work in order for their salvation to be complete? And as a side note, do you personally blieve that one has to be water baptized to be saved?


The God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thes 5:23 see also Gen 2:7.

...you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly portrayed crucified? This only I wish to learn from you, Did you receive the Spirit out of the works of law or out of the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?...Even as 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Know then that they who are of faith, these are sons of Abraham. Gal 3

These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name. Jn 20:31. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit 3:6 see also 1 Jn 3:2.

Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 1 Cor 15:50-52.

We're tripartite (spirit, soul, body) not as a curiosity, but by design by our Maker. Who breathed into inanimate clay, thus making our spirit correspond to His element, and making us living souls (which corresponds to His image, Gen 1:26). Justification by faith, to become born anew, transpire together and instantaneously. The transfiguration of the believers' bodies (in rapture in His Parousia, or later), is also in the twinkling of an eye, instantly.

It's the salvation of our 'middle part,' our soul, that takes longer...a lifetime, eg: "Receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls" 1 Pet 3:9. That's what Philip 2:12 and actually also 3:9 refer to. 3:9 describes the same experience one has as an unbeliever first receiving the Son of God, Christ. But is part of Paul's ongoing experience, as a mature believer (please see all of Philip 3). 3:11 & 21 refer to the salvation of Paul's body. Thus the ongoing, current, present, experiential salvation of believers by grace and faith is not by works of law or works out of our own energy. As Paul addresses in Galatians. Nor does the salvation of our soul have anything to do with a risk of perishing eternally. That was permanently addressed in the salvation of our spirit.

As therefore you have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, Col 2:6. Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun in you a good work will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus Philip 1:6. This is the subject of the bulk of the Bible, Old and New. Hence also He is able to save to the uttermost those who come forward to God through Him, since He lives always to intercede for them. Heb 7:25.


They would definitely seem inextricably contradictory like all those other instances wherever we find the necessity of works or righteousness to inherit life, when you have a dogma of faith-alone, not works or anti-works. If you could only forget your preconceived dogmas for a moment to interpret the passage, and read it with a fresh mind, it might help you.

Paul commands the Philippian church, as do the other apostles in their epistles, to obey God and work out their own salvation with fear of God.

Work out your own salvation

  • Holman Bible Dictionary on Fear:

The “God-fearers” The “God-fearers” were those who were faithful to God and obeyed His commandments (Job 1:1; Psalm 25:14; Psalm 33:18 ). Those who fear God are blessed (Psalm 112:1 ); they enjoy God's goodness (Psalm 34:9 ) and God's provision (Psalm 111:5 ). In the New Testament “God-fearers” became a technical term for uncircumcised Gentiles who worshiped in the Jewish synagogue.

Fear in the New Testament Some Christians tend to de-emphasize the fear of God in the New Testament by placing the love of God above the fear of God. There is indeed a greater emphasis on the love of God in the New Testament. However, the element of fear was part of the proclamation of the early church.

Paul admonished believers to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). The early church grew in number as they lived “in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31 ). The fear of God is related to the love of God. The revelation of God to people in the New Testament contains the element of God's mysterious otherness calling for reverent obedience. The New Testament church stands in awe and fear in the presence of a holy God, for fear is “the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Whoever is doing righteous works with Godly fear, is doing the works of God. In the Hebrew way of saying, God is working in them, or through them (v2.13); after all, the purpose of the elect is to be the workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them Eph 2:12. And that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him Acts 10:34-35. He who does the works of God is a child of God; and he who commits sin is of the devil. God is working in the righteous, and Satan is working in the unrighteous.

[1John 3:7-10 RV] My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous: he that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

Righteousness of my own, which is against the righteousness of God

[Rom 10:3-6 NHEB] For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, "The one who does them will live by them." But the righteousness which is of faith says this, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down);

The righteousness of my own in Phil 3:9 refers to obsolete law based righteousness, which is no longer valid, and hence, is not the righteousness criterion of God. The law is no longer (Gal 3:18, 25) the acceptable way of righteousness because it has been finished by Christ who gave a new superior covenant. Faith in Christ has replaced the whole law of Moses. Christ is the end of the law based righteousness, or Christ has ended the law. Now, after Christ, the acceptable way of righteousness according to God, is based on faith in Christ. If I refuse God's new covenant and still cling onto the old one, which has been nullified, then I am establishing my own righteousness which is against God's.

Conclusion: I don't find any contradiction, except the contradiction arising from your hermeneutics as you write:

Salvation is to be justified by faith not of any good works referencing the epistles Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:16, and Ephesians 2:8-9. ("His faith is credited as righteousness" Romans 4:5)

Nowhere does any passage indicate that justification by faith is contrasted with "good works". Eph 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5 only refers to the gracious sacrificial atonement of Christ, which is not given due to good works of any men, but freely out of the mercy of God. That is unrelated to the fact that the forgiveness from that atonement, still requires good works from men, see Matthew 25 to be saved. Galatians 2:16 states yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. The new way of righteousness, faith in Christ is contrasted with "works of the law" or the law, not with "good works". If you confuse between the law works with general moral works or any works of righteousness and obedience, then you will always have inextricable contradictions between your dogma and the whole Bible. The kinds of the hundreds of different questions we keep seeing on this topic. The error is in your fallacious association of works of the law, with good works, when Paul was unambiguous in all his epistles that he only debated against the dead works of the law, because the law covenant is no longer valid.

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