What Does It Mean to “Work Out Your Own Salvation?”

After teaching a group of Zoramites that Jesus Christ would atone for their sins and that they should exercise “faith unto repentance,” Amulek made the following plea:

I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye should work out your salvation with fear before God, and that ye should no more deny the coming of Christ (Alma 34:37).

A similar admonition appears much later in the Book of Mormon, this time directed to modern readers. After urging us to believe in Christ and pray to the Father, Moroni said:

Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him (Mormon 9:27).

This seems like an unusual admonition, particularly in the context. If we can only be saved by Jesus Christ, then why would we need work out our own salvation? Doesn’t that sound like a contradiction?

The apostle Paul gave the same admonition to the members of the church in Philippi:

My beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

We sometimes talk about God’s grace as something that acts upon us rather than as something that empowers us. We speak of the cleansing power of the Atonement freeing us from the effects of our sins so that we are not excluded from God’s presence. But God is trying to do more than restore us to our factory settings. He’s trying to help us become better than we’ve ever been before, capable of doing things that we could never do before. That doesn’t just happen to us. We have to work at it, but with humility and trust (“fear and trembling”), recognizing that His grace will flow into our lives as we act in faith, trying to do things which we can only do with his help.

Perhaps that’s why the Bible Dictionary describes the process of obtaining eternal life in decidedly active terms. After clarifying that God’s grace can empower us to do good works which are beyond our natural abilities, it says, “This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation.”

Today, I will strive to “work out [my] own salvation.” I will invite the Savior’s power into my life by doing what He wants me to do and by emulating character traits which I can only fully develop with His divine assistance.

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