All theology is public. Privatized theology is for pagans. Pagans like to do theology in the dark. Christians do theology in the light. We are all light theologians. The principle of working out your salvation with fear and trembling is the principle of living out your salvation before the face of God. God is always present. His Spirit is the One who guides us into truthful living in this world. He is always with us shaping, re-shaping His new creation. The Christian faith is a call to consistency; consistency in repentance; consistency in reconciliation; consistency in living the life of faith.
In this sense, there are two temptations we face: the temptation for self-justification and the temptation to isolation.
The temptation for self-justification is a common one in our day. Those who seek self-justification are always seeking for ways to earn God’s salvation. Now, please understand: these people have tasted of the goodness of God in baptism, Eucharist, communion, and worship. But the problem is that is never enough. They are always trying to justify themselves before God. They never think they have done enough. They believe they are in Christ, but they can never wrap themselves around their Christ-likeness. And so they despair. They doubt. And they find some security in doing one more thing for Jesus, but when it is over they begin to ask again: “Have I done enough?” They are always very introspective. They are always looking within and never finding assurance and pleasure in life. If you fall under that description I say “Rest!” Christ has already redeemed you. Work out your own salvation in the fear of God; and by fear Paul means in the presence of God; knowing that God is everywhere. And also tremble in His presence because He is everywhere. You cannot hide from the Creator of secret places.
The other danger is that of isolation. “I can work out my own salvation as long as I am alone.” “Don’t call me. Don’t counsel me. I am ok and I will continue to be ok if I am left alone.” Have you ever met someone like that? This is the exact opposite of how Paul wanted us to work out our own salvation. Paul envisioned a community working together; striving after holiness as one. Lone ranger Christianity was never an implication of the Gospel.
One of the great problems with the modern evangelical church is that we have created a culture of secrecy; a culture that wants to portray only the good, but never the bad or the ugly. The Church is here for confession. She is here for grief. Work out your own salvation with repentance and with godly sorrow. God is asking you to look to the future with confidence, because in whatever conceivable scenario you may imagine He is there.
But here you must also remember that God is not watching you because He longs to catch you. He is not watching you because He longs to punish you. No. This is not the God we worship. God watches over you, so He can guide you into green pastures. He is not a cosmic kill-joy, He is a cosmic joy-giver. He will work in you perfecting you to become the image-bearer you were called to be. And He does this for His pleasure.