The Christian life is frustrating sometimes. I want nothing more than to be like Christ and live a life pleasing to God, but so often I find myself caught up in the ways and cares of the world. I remember hearing John Piper in a podcast one time say that the thing that frustrates him most about the Christian life is how slow his own sanctification seems to be going. Amen! I wish that the Holy Spirit was like a magic wand that took away all my unholy wants and deeds in one swoop and replaced them with God-honoring ones. Instead sanctification is more like growing up, a slow process that’s never really done until we die. This is why Philippians 1:6 is such an encouraging 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” (Phil.1:6 ESV). Paul is saying, ‘I have seen the effects of the gospel in your life, I am confident that you are a fellow partaker of the grace given through Jesus Christ, and so I can say with confidence that God will sanctify you and complete the work He started.
Sanctification means our gradual, growing righteousness, made possible by the Holy Spirit’s work in us (New City Catechism). Paul knows how slow sanctification can feel to us sometimes, so he is quick to defend his confident claim, and explain how God goes about this work in us. In Philippians 1, he paints a 3-part picture that shows us the means, evidence, and goal of sanctification that explains why He can exclaim in verse 1:6 that he is “sure…that He who began a good work…will bring it to completion.”
God’s Sanctification Tool-Box (Phil. 1:9-10a)
In Philippians, Paul tells the Christians of his confidence that God will continue moving in them, and he says that this is because he can see that they are recipients and demonstrators of the grace given in Jesus. The church had been helping and supporting Paul while he was in prison for preaching about Jesus. Paul is recognizing that this help is a fruit of the gospel working in the Philippians’ lives, and he is saying that he desires to see God continue to move in them. “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent” (Phil. 1:9-10a ESV).
Paul is not saying this because the Philippians were not already loving people, he is saying that real Christians are always becoming MORE like Christ, and in his prayer for them he lays out some ways that happens. He says he wants their “love to abound more and more” and for that love to be paired “with knowledge and all discernment.” This love and wisdom is “so that [they] may approve what is excellent.” If they once did not approve what is excellent, and now in the Holy Spirt are learning to desire the things that God desires, that is heart change. What Paul is saying here is that sanctification is our development in love, wisdom, and heart change. The Christian life is constant growth towards Christ, through head, heart, and hands. In our heads we learn what the scriptures teach and gain wisdom to use that knowledge well. In our hearts we begin to love God and the things that He loves, we find ourselves “approving what is excellent.” With our hands we reach out to love and serve others through the skills and good works that God has given us. In all these areas we are growing, not yet perfect, but growing toward Christ.
Evidence of the Builder (Phil. 1:10b-11a)
This growth in head, heart, and hands is not theoretical. Again, Paul said he has already seen the evidence of the gospel working in the Philippians’ lives, and he wants to see more of the fruit that is already beginning to come through God’s work in their lives. Paul’s explanation/prayer for the Philippians goes on, “so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:10-11a ESV). Earlier in the chapter, Paul calls the Philippians partners and partakers in the gospel (Phil. 1:5,7). Their lives reflect the work of Christ, and they are living like Christ, stepping into the hardships of someone in need to take on the burdens even though they don’t have to. The Philippians’ lives have a gospel shape, and Paul is saying that the evidence of Christ in someone is that their lives will be increasingly gospel-shaped. Christians live increasingly gospel-shaped lives. Paul says that the result of growth in head, heart, and hands will be purity “and blameless[ness] for the day of Christ,” and being “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus.” What I am seeing here is that sanctification leads to less sin, and more good works. As our lives take on more and more of a gospel shape, we will be led to more gospel things, and less of the sin we were rescued from. We will begin to live like our perfect and loving savior.
The Final Blueprints (Phil. 1:11b)
The all-encompassing end goal of our sanctification is not simply our perfection, but God’s glory. The last verse in this encouragement says that sanctification leads us to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11 ESV). I see two major things here that we cannot miss if we want to rightly understand the how and why of sanctification.
First, our sanctification is a fruit of Jesus’ righteousness in our lives. We are saved by grace alone through faith in the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Our righteousness before God is Jesus’ righteousness given to us, not a righteousness we earned (2 Corinthians 5:21). If you think that being right before God is a question of how sinless or good we can act or work, then you have fundamentally misunderstood Christianity and do not know the good news of the gospel. John Piper (again) has a saying, “the only sin that we can defeat is a forgiven one.” Maybe you have not begun the process of sanctification because you are trying to be righteous on your own. It will not work, only Jesus offers forgiveness of sins, turn to Him. Ask Him for forgiveness and to be your Savior, He will not turn you away! “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that we could be the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
Second, the end goal of our sanctification is the glory and praise of God. God rejoices over those he has saved (Zephaniah 3:17). It brings Him glory when those who were once in darkness to be brought into light. Mankind was made for God’s glory, and that should be the aim and orientation of our lives, anything less is too low a goal. God is making us new, and one day we will stand perfected in His glory and rejoice that He has done it. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!” (Romans 11:36).
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. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:6-11 ESV