Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Christian discipleship is a process that has its ups and downs, but its trajectory is toward holiness. The journey of a disciple has a beginning and an end, neither of which the individual disciple has any control over. All of the Christian life is lived by sheer grace through the power and strength of the Lord. Every follower of Christ is a work in progress. This is what the Apostle Paul discussed in this brief but often sited verse in the first chapter of Philippians. He has been describing to his original readers his thankfulness to the Lord for their partnership in the gospel. In verse six, he reminds them that the work they are doing is all for and by the Lord, who has called them by His grace. He states, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6, ESV). As sure as his confidence in his prayers for the Philippians is being heard by the Lord, so he is confident that the Lord is working in their lives. Paul is confident that the good work that the Lord started, he will see to completion. The good work to which Paul is referring here is the work of God’s grace in the lives of the Philippian believers, namely salvation. Packed into this verse, we see three aspects of salvation that are important for each believer to understand. Many believers are not aware of the threefold nature of salvation thinking that salvation is a one-time occurrence. Yet, the biblical doctrine of salvation includes the past action of salvation (justification), the present action of salvation (sanctification), and the future act of salvation (glorification). All of which are initiated and completed by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Past Action of Justification
The first aspect of the biblical doctrine of salvation is the past action of justification. This aspect of salvation was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Justification is a legal term that refers to a debt owed by one party to another. It is the act in which the party in debt pays back the debt in full, reconciling the record between the two parties.
The biblical understanding of sin, however, indicates that all of humanity is debt to God because of their sin and cannot pay it back. Yet, by grace, God steps into human history and assumes the debt on behalf of sinful man through the person and work of Jesus. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul puts it, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14, ESV). It is only by grace through faith in Jesus that anyone can stand before God justified. On the cross, Jesus atoned for sin in the place of sinners. What a glorious truth!
The Present Action of Sanctification
The second aspect of the biblical doctrine of salvation is the present action of sanctification. This aspect of salvation is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. The good work that God began, he will see it through.
Another biblical word for sanctification is discipleship. It is the process by which the believer is made holy. The record is sin that stood against us has been paid in full by the work of Jesus on the cross. However, sin still affects all people, including believers. Sanctification is the process by which the believer learns to trust more in Jesus and less in the fleeting passions of sin. This is not a straight path and will include many setbacks. There will be seasons of temptation and unbelief. Yet, the trajectory of sanctification is always pointed toward holiness.
A believer should be able to look back and see the ways in which they have grown to become more like Jesus. Many times, it is assumed that once the believer is justified by the Lord, it is then the responsibility of the believer to be holy. This could not be farther from the truth of the teaching of Scripture. Paul says that God began the good work and he will complete it. Elsewhere Paul states, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV). The believer has an active role in sanctification, yes, but the work is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit not the strength of the individual.
The Future Action of Glorification
The third aspect of the biblical doctrine of salvation is the future action of glorification. This aspect of salvation will be accomplished upon death or the Second Coming Jesus.
One day everyone, believers and non-believers, will stand before the Lord. Non-believers will be judged for their actions and sent to eternal punishment. Believers will be judged on the work of Christ and will spend eternity walking with the Lord in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21). The good work that the Lord started in the life of all believers will culminate in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10). The old things of this current world will pass away and the Lord will make all things new. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4, ESV). All believers will dwell with the Lord forever. What a glorious picture that is painted in the book of Revelation. In this present life, all of creation is groaning and longing for this time when all be made right (Romans 8:22-25). All believers cry out with creation, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
Philippians 1:6 and the Christian Life Today
Paul’s encouragement to the church at Philippi packed these truths of justification, sanctification, and glorification into this short verse “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
What an encouragement to his original readers and to believers throughout Church history. All of us long to know the Lord and be more like Him. In seasons of temptation, struggle, and suffering, it is easy to take our eyes on Jesus and trudge through life on our own strength. However, this verse reminds all believers that we are a work in progress that will not be completed until the day of Jesus Christ. Until that day, we must keep our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). As the hymn writer Robert Robinson wrote, “Oh, that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face, clothed then in blood washed linen how I’ll sing Thy wondrous grace. Come, my Lord, no longer tarry take my ransomed soul away. Send Thine angels now to carry me to realms of endless day.”
Zach is a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at zachkendrick.wordpress.com, and is a contributor for Servants of Grace. He has written book reviews for Cross-Focused Reviews, Crossway, New Growth Press, Tyndale House Publishers and Fortress Press. He resides in Birmingham with his wife, Courtney.