Let’s start over: verse 12…
Notice how Paul’s tone is one of encouragement; “…as you have always obeyed”, keep it up! Continue “to work out your salvation” yes, you’ve been doing fine, keep it up! Also, let’s not forget that he isn’t talking about earning salvation, for salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, even more remember that salvation isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning. Nobody is talking about going to hell here; Paul is encouraging the people to live lives “worthy of the Gospel”, “or it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
“Fear and trembling” is another way of saying “reverent awe” and in this context, the reverent awe isn’t about God’s wrath, and it is referring to God working out His purpose through you and me. Think about that for a moment, let’s slow down; The God of all creation has a purpose. He is working at accomplishing this great purpose day and night, and He wants you to be involved so that He can work His purpose through you. What is His purpose? It’s redemption, for His love for all people is so great that He wants to redeem them to Himself, and He wants you and I to be agents of His love. No sir, these verses are not scary threats, they are wonderful encouragement! That encouragement will continue in the verses that follow.
How very sad it is that so many have taken a phrase out of context to scare people!