Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (v. 12). How this verse has followed me since my teenage years! After spending the first 20 years of my life in one church, I didn’t know any other way to be a Christian than how that particular community in that particular denomination did it. Inevitably—since every church is made up of hurting humans who make mistakes—this community eventually fell off the pedestal I’d built for it. This crisis sparked grief and anger in me, and I left.
I entered a period of years in which I searched for the real meaning of my Christian faith, desperately wrestling with God in hopes that I’d be blessed to find some kind of truth to anchor me.
The contemporary word for such an experience is “deconstruction,” and there are rich online communities that work at deconstructing together. But years ago, I did not have a word for this journey I was taking, or much company along the way. It was the closest I have come to working out my own salvation with fear and trembling.
And though I can look back on those years with minimal regret and abundant gratitude, my greatest sorrow is that I felt I had to leave the church to find my way. Maybe I did, but I hope that will not be the case for everyone in the future. I hope instead that our faith communities may live up to the ideal Paul describes: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves (vv. 2-3).
May it be so.
When have you “worked out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? How could your faith community be a more welcoming, safe place for people who are wrestling through this phase of their faith?
Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, relentlessly teach me to love people the way you do—just as they are, with their doubts, pain, fear, anger, and everything else. May I learn from your example. Amen.