Cheryl & I are both fans of the English author Charles Dickens; Cheryl has read a number of his novels, and I have a personal tradition of reading his “A Christmas Carol” every December during Christmas season. Dickens is famous for several of his books, including A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and many more. But one of his stories, sadly, was never completed. He was in the process of writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and he was putting it out in “serials” — that is, a chapter in a magazine every month or so — when he passed away in 1870 without finishing the story. What’s worse is, the book was a murder mystery, and because it was incomplete we now have NO IDEA who the murderer was! People have speculated, and some have written what they think the conclusion to the book should be, but no one really knows. It will always remain unfinished.
Well thankfully, we can know that nothing our God does, will be unfinished like that. God finishes what He starts. In Genesis 1, the Bible describes how God began His work of creation. It tells how He worked for 6 days, and then :31 says, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” And the next verse, Chapter 2:1 concludes: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.” God had completed His work of creation. We can be confident that whatever God starts, He will finish. Our verse for this morning, Philippians 1:6, reminds us of that:
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
This verse is a favorite for many in the Book of Philippians, and for good reason. It gives us confidence that God will not leave unfinished what He began in you & I when He saved us.
I. First of all, This verse teaches us that Your Sanctification is a PROCESS:
“He who began a good work in you will perfect it”: It says that God has started something in you, and that He is going to continue that work in you, until it is complete. It describes a process.
One of the things that gives many people difficulty regarding the Christian life is that they don’t really grasp the idea that your salvation does not happen “all at once.” You “get saved” at once, and your sins are forgiven and you have a home in heaven and you are a child of God, immediately — but that is also just the beginning of the PROCESS of salvation. Once you are converted, then you “continue to be saved” in a sense, day by day as you follow Christ, turn from more and more sin, learn to obey Him, and become more like Him. This is what theologians call the process of “sanctification.” “Sanctification” is a big word that just means becoming more holy. It is God’s will for us to be sanctified: I Thessalonians 4:3 says: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” God does not want you to remain just as you are as a Christian. He wants you to be sanctified — more holy. But what you have to understand is that you don’t become “sanctified” all at once. You don’t get holy all at once. It happens a little at a time, gradually, every day, as you follow Christ.
It is like with kids. I saw a picture on Facebook the other day of a minister friend of mine and his family who were on vacation in Florida, and the child I had known as his “little boy” looked like he was over 6 feet tall! I wrote to him and said: who is that grown man in the picture standing with your girls?! You look at a picture like that, and you ask yourself, “When did they grow up?” Well, the answer is, they didn’t grow up “all at once”. Sometimes it almost seems like they do, but they don’t. Even the fastest growth spurts are just incremental; just a little bit a day.
And that is how it is with our growth in the Lord, too. It doesn’t happen all at once. You don’t become perfect the second you are saved (this causes frustration in a lot of Christians — and sometimes in their friends and family. They think: “I’m saved — why am I still sinning like I do?”, or “My loved one is saved, why don’t they act like it?” Well, the truth is, it’s because we don’t change all at once. If you think that it’s going to happen immediately, you are very naive, and you are going to be very disappointed and frustrated, both in yourself and in others. Growing as a Christian is a gradual process, just like growing physically.
When I was in high school, I attended a church of another denomination for a short time. This church had what they called the “experience” of sanctification. They explained that it was a crisis experience that you would have, where you might be up all night, praying and praying that God would “break through” into your life in a special way, and their testimonies were usually something like: “I kept praying, and calling out to God, and finally at 4 in the morning, I ‘prayed through’ (that was the expression they used) and they came out at the end of it, and now I am sanctified.” Well, there were some sweet people in that that church, and it is certainly a good thing to pray all night to God, but the Bible never teaches that sanctification happens in a moment, or even in one night. It is a lifetime process.
(Someone just wrote in to my blog a couple of days ago, so frustrated with their spiritual life, and they said, “I was prayed over for deliverance but I still haven’t changed.” Well what we have to understand is that sometimes God will deliver us from something immediately — but most often it is a process that takes time.)
Here in Philippians 1:6 where it says that God “will perfect” us until the day of Christ, that verb “will perfect” is in a Greek Bible tense means that it is an action that is ongoing. It’s not going to happen all at once — they would have used another verb to express that. This verb means that the action is going to continue into the future “UNTIL” — and that another key word, because it indicates that this process is going to continue UNTIL the day of Christ — when He calls you to Himself. So the sanctification, the holiness, that God is building in you is NOT something happens all at once, but a process that began when you were saved and will continue until the day you go to be with the Lord. It is an ongoing process.
There is an old saying: “You WERE saved; you ARE being saved; and you WILL be saved”: you WERE saved from the penalty of sin the moment you gave your life to Jesus. You ARE being saved from the power of sin day by day, and one day you WILL be saved from the presence of sin forever. What Paul is describing here in Philippians 1:6 is that process of “being saved” from the power of sin — “sanctification”; holiness. We have to understand that it is a process; it doesn’t happen at once. Often in our worldly impatience we get frustrated at the pace of our Christian growth. We wonder why we aren’t more mature; we get devastated at our failures. But the fact is, we don’t become Christlike “in a moment.”
This is what happens to so many “celebrities” who get saved, and then we expect so much from them, and a lot of people get let down by them. We need to have patience with them, and let them grow — and leaders and churches probably need to WAIT longer than they do, and not put them in the spotlight before they are ready. But it’s not only celebrities we need to be patient with. We need to be patient with others, and we need to be patient with ourselves. We will not become mature Christians overnight. We need time to grow, and we need to be patient with the process of sanctification.
Years ago I was at a conference where they gave out a little button, and all it had on it were the 10 letters: PBPGINFWMY, These letters stood for: “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet”!
We ALL need to be wearing that button. We ALL need that patience ourselves — and we all need to show that same patience to others. Our teachers need to show it with their kids as they go back to school this week — it might help you, teachers, to picture those 9 letters on each of your students this week: “Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet!” And kids and parents need to show that same patience to teachers as well! We ALL need to show that patience & understanding to each other!
If you are a Christian, you are not perfect, but you are in the PROCESS of salvation. Many of us can say like that old song: “I’m not what I wanna be; I’m not what I’m gonna be; but thank God, I’m not what I WAS.” We are in God’s process of sanctification.
II. Your Sanctification has an OVERSEER:
“HE who began … will perfect …”
This tells us that our sanctification does not just “happen”; but there is Someone who is overseeing our spiritual development and growth — and that “Someone” is GOD. He began that work in us, and HE is perfecting it and will complete it. We know that He sees what we can’t, so we can trust Him with this process.
Several weeks ago, Cheryl & I climbed up Table Rock Mountain. Table Rock is pretty much our area “landmark”, so we felt like we needed to get up there. The trail was not long — maybe a mile? — but it was like walking up stairs the whole time! It was a workout! But once we got up to the top, the view there was amazing! If it’s not too cloudy or misty, you can basically see all the way to Morganton from there — and Lake James, and all the surrounding area. And you get an entirely different perspective when you are that high. You can see from there how the river and the lake and the towns all relate to each other. It is just a totally different perspective than being on the ground, where we generally only see what is right in front of us.
What we need to understand is that, multiplied billions of times over, that is like God’s perspective. God is on high; He can see what we can’t see. He can see perspectives that we can’t understand; He can see how events and even difficulties in our lives relate together and work together for His overarching purposes. God is overseeing our sanctification and He knows what we don’t, so we need to just trust this process to Him.
That doesn’t mean we don’t work together with Him, and participate in things to help that process. We need to be active in working together with Him in our sanctification; we have a part to play in that. We need to be active in our spiritual growth: we need to be sure that we are learning from the Word of God every day, and that we are spending time in prayer, and memorizing verses. We should put ourselves in position to grow by taking discipleship classes like MasterLife — if you have not yet taken MasterLife with me, I hope that you will sign up for it today; we’ve had SO many people come through that class and testify about how it has helped them to really learn to walk with God every day. (I spoke to Tommy Sain’s SS class for a second this morning about the importance of walking with God every day — I hope that many of y’all will take this class — it will help you to learn to walk in God’s word & prayer daily.) Our “War Room” class will focus especially on growing in intercessory prayer — and we have the “Named By God” ladies class and the “Shepherding Your Child’s Heart” — all to help us grow spiritually. If you haven’t done it already, I hope you’ll get your signup sheet from the bulletin and turn it in today. We are responsible to participate with God in the process of our spiritual growth. But at the same time, we also need to recognize that it is GOD who is ultimately in charge of this process. HE is “causing all things to work together for good …” to make us like Christ. HE is the One who is overseeing the process of our spiritual growth. And because of that …
III. Your Sanctification is a CERTAINTY!
“Being confident of this very thing … He who began … WILL perfect it …”.
It is amazing that Paul could have this kind of confidence, considering his circumstances. Here he was, as we have talked about before, locked up in prison, unable to be out preaching and discipling the people; and in fact as the chapter goes on to describe, he had enemies who were actively out there trying to discredit him and undo his work — and yet he could sit there in that prison and say “I am CONFIDENT” about what is going to happen; this work that has been started WILL be completed. How could he be so confident?
He could be that confident because his confidence was not in himself, or in the other workers out there, or in the Philippian Christians themselves. In fact, he had every reason NOT to be confident in them:
— He was locked up in prison, and at present he couldn’t get out to do anything, so he couldn’t have any confidence in himself.
— And he knew not to place too much confidence in his co-workers: he knew that Timothy was timid, and he had seen others fail in many ways. There was no reason for optimism based on them.
— Nor was it the Philippian church members themselves which inspired his confidence. As we pointed out before, this letter demonstrates that they were selfish, contentious, some of them wanted to go back to Judaism and legalistic Old Testament practices. He knew human flesh; that there was no reason to hope in them.
No, Paul’s confidence was not in any of those groups of people; Paul’s confidence of the ultimate perfection of the sanctification process of the Philippians was in GOD! Because GOD began this work, he knew he could be confident that it would be completed.
This is what Romans 8:28-30 teaches. It says: “For God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son … and these whom He predestined, He also called, and these whom He called, He also justified, and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Paul is describing here the process of salvation: that God foreknew, and predestined, and called, and sanctified, and glorified — but if you notice, it repeatedly says: “THESE whom He foreknew, He also predestined … THESE whom He predestined, He also called; and THESE whom He called, He also justified; and THESE whom He justified, He also glorified.” We see throughout this “chain” that the same “THESE” that He started with, are the same “THESE” who make it to the end. NONE get lost along the way! It is not that God saves a bunch, and some of them gradually drop out along the way. NO — these same ones who are foreknown, are predestined; the same ones who are predestined, are called; the same ones who are called, are justified; and the same ones who are also justified, end up being glorified. NONE are lost along the way. And the reason they aren’t, isn’t because those people are so faithful or so good, but because GOD is the One orchestrating this process.
(Now, does that mean that everyone who ever makes a “profession of faith” or raises their hand or gets baptized is saved to the end? NO — because there are a lot of people who do these things in a surface manner, and are not genuinely saved. But what this IS saying that those who really ARE saved, will NOT get lost along the way. If they are really saved, then they WILL ultimately be sanctified and glorified and will become like Christ. NONE will be lost along the way. If you are genuinely saved, then God will see you through this process to the end. We can be confident in Him.
II Tim. 1:12 says: “For I know Whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that HE is able to keep what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” GOD is the reason for our security. God is the guarantee that we will one day arrive at our ultimate spiritual aim: being glorified in heaven, and becoming perfect like Jesus Christ.
I have known of people who were really doubtful about their Christian hope. They just didn’t have confidence that they were going to “make it”; they were afraid that they didn’t have the will power not to give in to temptation, or that they would stop following Christ and go back to their old ways. Maybe you know someone like that — or maybe you ARE someone like that!
You know what? If you are like that, or know someone who is like that, you have every reason for those doubts, based on your own self. We have a fleshly body we are still in that we will be fighting with until the day God takes us home. We have “the world, the flesh & the devil” all working against us. Like Paul with the Philippians, we have every reason to doubt ourselves.
But the good news is: IT DOES NOT DEPEND ON US! Our confidence of salvation, and our ultimate consecration and glorification in heaven, is not based on our own faithfulness, but on GOD’S faithfulness! “HE who began this work …. HE will perfect it.”
It is just like it is with salvation. You are not saved by your good works, but by the good work that Jesus did for you on the cross. Salvation is a matter of putting your confidence in Jesus, not in yourself, to save you. And in the same way, your confidence that you will grow, and that you will ultimately be perfected one day in heaven, is not based on YOUR faithfulness, but on GOD’s!
A few weeks ago, my sons Paul & David & I went whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. We purposefully studied the different rivers and courses to get on some of the more “active” rapids — we wanted some 3’s & 4’s (on a scale of 5) instead of 1’s & 2’s so it would more challenging and fun — and it really was — it was one off the most fun things I have ever done. If you’ve ever gone on one of these trips, you know that you don’t just hop in a raft and start paddling; 5 or 6 of you get on a raft, and you are given a guide who gives you a quick lesson, and he practices some commands for you to follow so you’ll know how to paddle along the way. Now there were times on that trip when the rapids got really fast, and our raft got turned around, and he would be hollering commands at us as to what to do — but I was never afraid, and that was at least partially due to the fact that I had confidence in him. He could basically steer that raft by himself. In fact at one point, he maneuvered our raft to a place out in the middle of the river to where we were just sitting there, facing the oncoming rapids, with waves and spray going up in our faces — and he was able to just keep us there for a number of seconds by his skill. So as we got in some of those more “sticky” rapids later, I was never afraid; I was confident that we were going to make it — and I did my best to follow his instructions and paddle when he told me to, etc. — but my confidence that we were going to make it was NOT in myself, but on the expertise and experience of our guide.
In that same way, if you have genuinely been saved, then you can have every confidence that you are going to make it to heaven, and that all of God’s purposes for you and for your life are going to be fulfilled. But your confidence is not based on yourself, or your own obedience. Just like me with the guide on the rapids, you need to listen to God; you need obey Him; you need to do everything He tells you to in His word. But your confidence that you will grow, and be sanctified, and that you will actually be in heaven one day, is NOT based on yourself, or your own faithfulness or ability — but in your Guide; in GOD:
— “For I know Whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that HE is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
— “HE who began a good work in you, will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
— Some of us would admit today that we have been impatient with ourselves, or with others. We need to ask God to give us patience; that He has us in a PROCESS of salvation; that person we are frustrated with is in a PROCESS of salvation; so let’s be patient. God is not finished with us; and He’s not finished with them yet. Ask God to help you see things from His perspective.
— Maybe you need to pray in a special way right now for someone who is on your heart. Wednesday night we asked for every church member to pray specifically for ONE person they could witness to, or invite to church for our “John 3:16” emphasis. Commit that person to God today in prayer. HE is the One who is working in them; just claim that. There is only so much that you & I can do — we may not have much confidence in ourselves, or in this person, but let’s trust them to GOD again today in prayer!
— You might say today, I know that God is in charge of my sanctification, but I need to be more involved in that process. Ask God to help you recommit yourself to a daily time in His word & prayer. Take a moment during this invitation time to check or circle one of those discipleship classes, and be ready to turn it in during the offering. God’s in charge of your sanctification process, but you need to work together with Him in that.
— Or maybe you would say that you have never taken the first step towards following Jesus. LISTEN: God can’t “finish” a work in you that has never really started. You need to take the first step in salvation today by admitting your sin, trusting Jesus as your Savior, and following Him as Your Lord & Savior. Call out to Him right now in your heart and ask Him to save you — and if you are, come share your decision with me. Or if you have questions about following Christ, come and let me get you to a counselor who can help guide you to make Jesus your Lord & Savior today. And you can know that if God starts that process in you today, you are going to have some “ups & downs” but HE will see you through to the end. Your confidence isn’t in that YOU will be a great follower, but that HE is a great Savior, who will carry you through!