Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
— Philippians 2:12–13
You don’t have to walk through the aisles of your local grocery store for long to realize that new sells. Those highly paid marketing executives who work in those big buildings on Madison Avenue have discovered the appeal of new. If you don’t believe me, then just take the challenge and browse through the merchandise the next time you go out shopping, or just go to your pantry right now. The words new and improved appear everywhere. Toothpaste, toilet paper, Windex, peanut butter, potato chips, and Kleenex all tout the new part of their products. Some of them aren’t even speaking of the new and improved product, but rather about new packaging.
Have you ever stopped to think about why this works? Have you ever wondered what these marketing gurus have figured out? I suspect that they know something about the human psyche. When you and I hear about something being new and improved, we are convinced that the company is working on it. They are readily admitting that they have yet to reach the perfection with their product, but they are committed to getting better continually. They are in the process of getting better, and we can’t help but respect that. We don’t know for sure that they have actually done anything to their product (Can you really improve toilet paper that substantially?), but just the effort seems to suffice.
I wonder if (and how often) God would be able to slap a new and improved sticker on my forehead. I wonder if I am really moving forward in spiritual maturity. Is he doing a new thing inside of me? I received everything that I need when I received Christ, but there is still a working out of his person in my life. Anyone can say that they are new and improved, but there should be evidence of that as I begin to look less like my old self and more like the new person I was conceived and birthed to be (See John 3:1–17).
This may be why today’s passage tells us to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Although conversion is instant, sanctification is a process. It is a daily process of becoming more like the Christ who lives in us, making us into something new. The most interesting part about this passage is that it tells us to “work out” while God actually “works in” us. You see, my newness is ultimately a reflection of the work that God is doing in me, conforming me into the image of the Son (see Romans 8:29). This means that he is constantly molding me into the image of Christ, making me a vessel that he can best use to accomplish his good purpose or plan. This is the new thing that God is doing in us.
So, salvation isn’t merely a one-time transaction. Yes, it is final, but none the less progressive. The good news is “He’s working on it!”