God Will Finish the Process
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 1:6
Read vv. 3–8
Two weeks ago when I was studying Philippians 1:3–8, I really went back and forth about whether to preach it in one sermon or 2. I ended up deciding to press through and do it in one shot, but then I was running out of time last week, so I decided to slow down and keep v. 6 for today.
Now, I know that some of you wonder at times how in the world I can talk for 45 minutes about a single, relatively short verse. That’s fair, but I believe it’s worth our time to park on this verse, because it gives a powerful and important promise that should serve as a powerful anchor of the soul. As well, there is a lot of very important gospel theology that stands behind this promise.
Whether you know this theology well or it’s relatively new, it’s important that we occasionally review some of our most foundational and practical beliefs, for the good of our own soul and for our ministry to others. So I’m hopeful that you’ll learn something today, and that we will all leave encouraged by the character and promises of God. But before we get into the theology of this verse, we need to begin by setting it in context, so that we are sure we really understand what God intended to say.
I. The Context
Remember from last Sunday that v. 6 is in the context of Paul’s thanksgiving for the Philippians. And v. 5 states Paul’s primary reason for thanksgiving. The idea really is, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Therefore, we talked extensively about how the Philippians fellowshipped with Paul in the gospel through their financial support and through their own gospel ministry in Philippi.
And notice that v. 5 focuses on the Philippians’ past and present. They partnered with Paul, “from the first day until now.” But with v. 6 Paul turns to the future and gives a second reason for thanksgiving. To summarize vv. 3–6, Paul says, “(v. 3) I thank God… (v. 5) for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” And then with v. 6 Paul adds, “I also thank God, because I know that fellowship will continue, ‘Being confident…’”
In light of the context, it’s important to clarify what “good work” Paul has in mind. After reading 5, we might think that the “good work” is the Philippians’ continued fellowship in gospel ministry. If that’s the case, Paul is simply saying that he’s confident that they’ll keep supporting his ministry and keep sharing Christ in Philippi. However, I’m confident that v. 6 transitions to a broader idea.
I say that because the Philippians were clearly not going to keep giving to Paul’s ministry and sharing the gospel “until the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul and the Philippians will both be long gone by the time Jesus returns.
Rather, the only good work that will continue and ultimately be completed in the day of Christ is God’s work to make us into the image of Christ. Therefore, v. 6 declares God’s promise to finish his work of salvation in the Philippians and in all true believers. As such, this verse states an important promise of God, and it provides a good opportunity to review what salvation actually is and how it occurs.
II. 2 Broad Views of Salvation
To fully appreciate what the Bible teaches, I think it’s helpful to set it in contrast to Satan’s common lies. So let’s talk about…
Legalistic Salvation (Slide): I’m talking here about any religion that teaches that we will be in heaven someday based on our good works. It’s interesting that pretty much every religion teaches we are saved by works other than gospel Christianity. This includes broadly Christian groups, like Catholics and liberal Protestants. As well Mormons, JWs, and other cults are legalistic. The same goes for Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and most other religions. They believe that salvation is determined by what I do.
Obviously, there is a lot of variety in among their practices, but this chart illustrates the same basic pattern in all of them. God, or the gods are superior to us. However, it’s worth emphasizing that no legalistic religion can really deal with the infinite distance between a holy God and sinners like us. Either they believe in a god who is less than holy, or they pretend that people are not as sinful as they actually are.
Regardless, the goal of life is to become a better person and earn favor with God. I practice my faith in hope that someday I will be worthy of a place with God in heaven. Again, Satan has repackaged this lie in many different forms, but the basic hope and the basic method are the same. He does this to keep people from the true gospel, which I’m going to call…
Grace-Centered View (Slide): The big difference between Satan’s lie, and the gospel is the fact that there is an infinite gap between rebellious, wicked sinners and a holy God. We can never bridge that gap on our own. Therefore, God has to bring us to himself by his grace.
And the Bible teaches that God does this through 2 works of grace that both begin at conversion. It’s very important—the gospel depends on the fact—that we grasp both works and see the distinction between them. If we miss this distinction, we will completely mishandle Philippians 1:6.
In particular, the Bible says that salvation begins with an instantaneous work of grace. We believe the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection, and we are united to Christ. The Bible describes Christians over and over as those who are “in Him.” And this union with Christ does 2 works.
First, from a legal perspective, we now stand under Christ’s perfect righteousness. The NT calls this justification. Incredibly, God declares us righteous, even while we are sinners, because Christ’s perfect righteousness is credited to us. From a legal standpoint, we are holy as God is holy, and God promises to accept us forever. And it is all of grace, not of works.
Therefore, if you have always believed that it’s up to you to earn your way to God, I pray that you will grasp the good news of gospel grace for the very first time. Understand that there is no way you will ever bridge the gap between you and God on your own. But there is hope in Christ. He took the punishment for your sin in his body on the cross, and he offers his perfect righteous to all who believe on him (Rom 5:1).
If you put your faith in Christ alone, you can be justified (i.e., declared righteous) and enjoy peace with God. We’d love to talk with you today about how you can know this assurance that you will not find anywhere but in union with Christ and his perfect holiness.
But as wonderful as justification is, it’s not the focus of our text. After all justification is complete the moment we are united to Christ. In contrast our text describes something that won’t be complete until Christ returns.
Therefore, our text is concerned with the other aspect of our salvation (the green line), what you might call the practical side of our salvation. The theological term is sanctification. We also call it the pursuit of holiness or spiritual growth.
I want to be clear up front that this side does not earn us eternal life. The Bible is clear that we are not saved by our works. No one will earn a place in heaven because they progress up this line. But the Bible is also clear that God will change his people. Our text declares 2 very important realities regarding spiritual growth. First…
III. God has started a “good work.”
Paul says, “He (speaking specifically of God the Father) has begun a good work in you.” I’d like to emphasize 2 important truths from this statement.
Sanctification is ultimately God’s work. This is important to emphasize because we can easily look at this this chart and assume that justification is God’s job and sanctification is my job. And even if we know better, we often live as if it’s entirely on me. The pursuit of holiness becomes about me making myself a better person.
And sadly, that kind of focus generally produces a form of godliness that falls far short of the real thing. We create false standards of holiness based on externals, because we can meet them. But the heart is left cold and ungodly. There is no affection for God, no real love for others, no joy, peace, or grace. We need God to do those things.
And our text is clear that God produces them. As you can see on the chart, this all begins when God regenerates us. Regeneration simply means “to give new life,” and that’s exactly what God does. He gives new life to those who were once spiritually dead (2 Cor 5:17).
Notice, that the foundation is that I am “in Christ.” As a result, I am a “new creature.” I am not the same person anymore. Instead, “Old things have passed away…” That’s why I have the green line going immediately up at the moment of salvation.
Now, it’s important to add that this doesn’t mean that holiness is easy or that you won’t struggle with sin. We all still have a long ways to go. But I am still fundamentally different from what I was before.
So returning to our text, when Paul says that God has “begun a good work,” he is first of all referring to your regeneration. God began transforming you the moment you were saved.
And this incredible work only begins a lifelong process of change. Our text says God “will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The Greek verb here describes moving something toward maturity or perfection, so the idea is that God is continuing to build on the good work he began at regeneration, and he is moving us toward perfect holiness.
Notice that this is not a straight line. We go through seasons of rapid We are learning a ton and making lots of progress in the struggle against sin. But there are other times where it is painfully slow, and we even go backwards. We all know what that’s like. There are times when God seems distant, and we feel like we are going nowhere. Maybe that’s where you are today.
But even in these hard times, we must not despair, because our text is clear that our confidence is in God, not in ourselves. God is the one who began the process. He is continuing the process. And he will finish the process. You will make it so don’t give up. Keep your eyes on him not on yourself.
Now, does that mean that I can just sit back and wait for God to give me holy desires and actions? Absolutely not. The Scriptures are clear that we must work hard at our growth. God commands us to fight the fight, run the race, and strive for holiness.
But they are also clear that we can only do our part in the strength of Christ. Philippians 2:12–13 does a wonderful job of bringing this tension together. God commands us to work hard at developing our spiritual life. Why? Because God is working in us to accomplish his good purpose.
In other words, God’s sanctifying work should inspire me to work harder, not to be lazy. And the emphasis of our text is that it should inspire great hope. So often, we look at the pursuit of holiness as being practically impossible. “I will never be able to harness my temper.” “I will never be able to love my spouse.” “I will never get over my addiction to pornography, alcohol, or smoking.” “I will always be depressed and anxious.” As a result, we think, “What’s the use of even trying to change.”
But those are just lies of the devil. You can change, and by the grace of God you will change. So “work out your salvation.” Get busy chasing genuine holiness that begins in the heart and drives all of life.
But never forget that the power is only in Christ. If the power is in Christ, then your highest priority in life should be to walk with God. Read the Bible, pray, worship the Lord, fellowship with his people, and obey what he says.
I promise you that a healthy walk with Christ will do far more than your effort and strategy ever will. God promises, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” That’s where your strength lies, so look to him. Then a second truth about the work God is doing is…
Sanctification is a good work. That’s a duh statement, but we need lots of reminders. This is because Satan wants us to believe that holiness is the enemy of happiness. He tells you that you will be happier watching a foul movie than not watching it. He tells you that you will be happier chasing sexual pleasure than remaining holy.
Sadly many Christians teach the same thing. They say that when you really understand God’s love, you will see that God just wants you to be happy and enjoy yourself. In the process they ignore the clear teaching of Scripture. And really, they communicate that there is more joy in the pleasures of this world than in holiness and in sweet fellowship with the Savior.
But our text reminds us that holiness is a good and eternally significant work of God. And frankly that only makes sense. If God is good and wise, then what could be better than to be like him?
So Christian, rejoice that God has changed your heart and is changing your heart. Don’t resist his good work; instead, be inspired to participate in his good work. Drive out your sinful attitudes of bitterness, anxiety, and lust. And replace them with holy affections and actions. And do so with confidence, because not only has God started a good work…
IV. God will finish his good work.
We must miss the confidence of this verse. The idea is that in light of God’s sovereign faithfulness, we can live in a settled continuing state of confidence. We are, “confident of this very thing…” He will continue to convict us of sin and grow us into the image of Christ. He will protect and grow our faith. He will “hold us fast.” And we know that one day he will finish his good work.
God never starts a project only to leave it unfinished. He always finishes what he starts. So how is it that God will finish the good work of sanctification? Notice that the focus of this hope is that someday…
We will see Christ. Paul says God will do this work, “until the day of Jesus Christ.” As you can see on the chart, when we die, or when Christ returns, we will still be far from perfect. We will all die as unfinished projects. No one will reach perfection in this life.
However, remember what we saw in 1 John 3:2 a couple weeks ago. One day Christ will rapture the church. That’s what Paul means in our text when he mentions “the day of Jesus Christ.” We will see Christ in all his glory. It’s going to a marvelous sight of beauty and glory beyond any experience of beauty we have ever had before. And when we do, we will “be like him.”
We will be glorified. When we look into the face of Christ, God will instantly complete the good work he began the moment of our conversion (chart). I will be holy just as God is holy. For the very first time the actual character of my heart will reflect my legal standing. And so the two lines will merge in a perfect reflection of the holiness of God.
The exhausting struggle with sin, which the Scriptures describe as a marathon, a boxing match, and a war against demonic powers will be over. Every sinful passion and temptation will be gone. In their place will be wholly godly passions and thoughts. We will love what is good and right. We will be holy as Christ is holy. What a wonderful day that will be. God will finish what he started. God promises us in this verse, and God always keeps his promises. So in light of all the ground we have covered today, I’d like to close with 4 applications.
No true believer can lose his salvation. There are lots of groups out there who teach that we are saved by grace, but there is always the possibility that we could abandon Christ and lose our salvation. But this verse and so many others are clear that our salvation is not ultimately in our hands; it’s in God’s hands. And God finishes what he starts. Therefore, we can know that we are going to heaven someday, and we can live with confidence before God.
No true believer can fall away from Christ. Of course, this is similar to my first application, but I bring it up, because a lot of Christians believe that once you are saved, you are eternally secure, but that doesn’t insure that you will necessarily keep believing the truth and walking in the truth. So there is this constant fear that a true believer could end up a train wreck.
But God says in our text that this won’t happen. God will correct us when we stray, he will pick us up when we fall, and he will keep our faith. When you consider just how hard the Christian life is and the warfare that we endure, this is incredibly encouraging.
Your struggle for holiness will end in victory. I want to emphasize this, because many Christians don’t see the connection between our present struggle for godliness and future glory. Therefore, when they despair when they consider their especially difficult sin struggles. They really believe, “I will never get over this addiction.” “I will never overcome depression.” “I will never experience the peace of God.” As a result, they don’t really try to make progress.
But our text explicitly connects God’s present work of sanctification with his future work of glorification. Glorification is simply God finishing what he began the moment you got saved. So we know that every struggle for holiness will end in victory. And this promise should be deeply encouraging as we battle sin. Do not give up. Do not begin to drag feet. Clearly see the sovereign faithfulness of God. And see the finish line at the end of the race. You will get there, so keep putting one foot in front of the other and finish the race. You will make it.
Fellow-believers will make it. I bring this one up, because so many of us are burdened for fellow-believers who are struggling. I know from my time as a youth pastor that parents often worry a lot about what kind of race their kids will run. If you’ve spent any time at all discipling others, you know the feeling of fearing where the path will end for some weak believer.
Whenever I have those fears, I try to remind myself of Jesus’ words to Peter in the moments before Satan pointed all his guns at him when he denied “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift youas wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31–32).
Christ preserved Peter, and he will preserve every true believer. And what a blessing it is to know that when we feel those fears, we can bring them to the Lord in prayer. And then we can say with Paul, “I am ‘confident of this…’” Our God is sovereign, he is faithful, someday we will see him, and we will be like him.