Did you see this headline in the news this past week? “Physicists have announced the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago.” Here’s the rest of that story…
Albert Einstein, on his deathbed, asked for his glasses so that he could continue working on a project he believed would be his greatest work of all. He was not interested in mere phenomena anymore. He wanted, as he put it, “to know God’s thoughts.” Everything else was details. This “theory of everything,” as it came to be known, was based on Einstein’s believe that physics was an “expression of the divine.” He believed there was an explanation for everything, that God did not create chaos but order. He spent thirty years on this project, working on it until the very last day of his life. He never finished that project.
Though it was an important work. And though he had done all that he could. Einstein never finished his project. Have you ever started something that you didn’t go on to finish?
Unfinished projects are common to man. The landscape of human history is littered with an immeasurable number of unfinished projects. And even if they are “quote, unquote” “finished,” they are never brought to the point of true perfection, because true perfection in any matter lies in the realm of the Divine. On this side of heaven things are intrinsically mired in the curse.
Things are different with God. God finishes what He starts. He always does.
That was true of God in creation. He began a work in creation which we read about in Genesis chapter 1. Then we read in Chapter 2, verse 1, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed.”
That was true of God in His deliverance of His people from Egypt. He promised to do it. And we read in Exodus 14:30, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians.”
That was true in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:3, “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
And there are, of course, countless other examples in Scripture. God finishes what He starts. That’s a part of who God is. And there is a word for this particular attribute of God—God is faithful.
The term means “to be trusted, reliable.” God is faithful inasmuch as He is absolutely trustworthy in all that He does. No promise of His can ever fail. No purpose of His will fail to come to fruition. The context of that great hymn we sang earlier, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” speaks to this truth. Jeremiah the prophet writes in the book of Lamentations regarding the complete and utter destruction of Jerusalem, of which he was a witness. It brought great despair and discouragement to His heart. But then He recalled to mind this truth about God, God is faithful (Lamentations 3:23). His purpose for His covenant people would not fail. That same prophet who witnessed Judah’s destruction is the prophet through whom God spoke when He said, “’For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:10-11).
Philippians 1:6 needs to be understood in this context. The verse speaks to the work that God does in the lives of those who trust in Him for salvation. God will finish the work that He starts in them. To put it another way, “Those who are truly saved will be kept saved by God and God will finish the work that He started in them.”
Note that in our verse there is a beginning and an end. There is the start of a work and then there is the finished product. And that reminds us of the nature of salvation. Some fail to recognize that salvation is in three tenses, past, present and future. We call the past aspect, justification (salvation from the penalty for sin). We call the present aspect, sanctification (salvation from the practice of sin). That’s a progressive work that knows of degrees. We call the future aspect glorification (salvation from the presence of sin).
Salvation is God’s work. It is a work that God does, by His grace based solely on Christ’s saving work on the cross. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. Salvation is not a matter of us trying harder to be or do better. Salvation is a work of God whereby He, by grace, works to forgive us, transform us, and eventually deliver us safely into His heavenly kingdom.
So, let’s look at our text!
- God Begins the Work
The term translated “began” means literally “to make a beginning.” Its only other usage in the NT is in Galatians 3:3, where Paul asks, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Note here: Salvation is a work begun by God. He is the one must begin the work. The work would never start with us.
Romans 3:11, “There is none who seeks for God.”
God must therefore draw them. John 6:44, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws Him.”
The lost man is blinded to the truth of the gospel. 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.”
The Holy Spirit must therefore convict of sins and open blinded eyes to the truth.
Christianity is not a religion where men do this or that in the attempt to gain favor or merit from God. A Biblical Christian is one who has been born again as a result of having trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. That’s a work that God must do. Let me ask you a question? How much did you have to do with your first birth? Don’t remember? Your mother did all the work in delivering you into the world. Just like that, a man is not born again of the spirit with life from above in God’s family divine as a result of his own self efforts. John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
How did God begin this good work in the lives of these believers in Philippi? We studied it in Acts 16. There was religious Lydia, at the place of prayer. Paul and his companions came to her preaching the gospel. And it tells us how she was saved. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” The Lord began that work. And then there was the demon-possessed, slave-girl, fortune-teller. She didn’t even ask to be saved, but using Paul the Lord exorcised the demon from her. And then there was the Philiippian jailer. A pagan. God orchestrated everything that took place in his prison so that he might be brought to salvation. God began a good work in their lives. What was true of them is true of all those who are saved by God. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.”
Now some get this turned around. They speak in terms that fail to understand this dynamic when it comes to salvation. Their testimonies speak not so much of what Christ has done, but what they have done. I went forward. I said a prayer. I was baptized. I was raised in a Christian family. I go to church. I’m a good person. But that misunderstands this fundamental aspect of salvation. God is the one who saves. It’s not a matter of our doing, but God’s intervention. John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
I said earlier that we could summarize this text this way: Those who are truly saved will be kept saved and God will finish the work that He started in them. But for the second and third parts of that statement to be true, the first part must first be true. Have you been born again as a result of sincerely trusting in Christ alone and what He has done on the cross for you? That’s the way that God begins His saving work in the life of a person. Anything less or else is mere religion.
2. God Finishes the Work
The word translated “perfect” means to “completely fulfill, finish.”
It is the same term used in Galatians 3:3, where Paul asks, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
He will finish the work that He started.
Now this is an important point and we need to spend a little bit of time on it so that we understand. What is God’s plan for you, believer in Christ? What has He purposed to do? I think that there is much confusion today regarding salvation because we fail to understand this fundamental question—From what does God save us from? And, of course, the simply answer to that question is SIN.
In salvation the believer has been justified before God (Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”). What is justification? Freedom from the penalty of sin.
In salvation the believer is being sanctified (2 Thess. 2:13, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.). What is sanctification? Freedom from the practice of sin.
In salvation the believer will be glorified (Philippians 3:21, “(He) will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.). What is glorification? Freedom from the presence of sin.
All these aspects of salvation need to be included in our understanding of salvation. It is as Hebrews 7:25 puts it: “Hence, also He is able to save forever (or to the uttermost, or completely, or finally) those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
The “end point” (and I used this phrase reluctantly because there is really no end point in the eternity of God) of salvation is being brought “holy” into the presence of our holy God. To be like Christ. This was Paul’s great purpose: Philippians 3:10, “That I may know Him.” This is the work that God will complete: 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.” We will be like Him.
Now other Scriptures speak of this “end point” using a variety of related expressions:
Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”
1 Corinthians 1:8, “Who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Ephesians 3:19, “Filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”
Ephesians 5:27, “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”
Philippians 3:21, “(He) will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
1 Thessalonanians 5:23-24, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”
2 Timothy 1:12, “For I know whom I have believed and convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
The reason Paul was convinced that God would finish the work He began in the Philippians is because He understood the truth of who God is. God is faithful. He is able. He will do what He purposed to do. He will do what He promised to do.
3. God does the Work
God begins the work in salvation. He finishes the work. But what about what happens in the time in between?
We call this aspect of salvation sanctification. We refer to it as progressive sanctification because it knows of degrees, from one state of glory to the next (Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).
Now let’s turn attention to Philippians 2:12-13, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
This is a great “sanctification” text. And it speaks to both our roles and God’s role. The verse is misunderstood by many. It does not say “Work for your salvation with fear and trembling.” That would be an erroneous understanding and contrary to what the rest of Scripture has to say about this matter of salvation (note for example Ephesians 3:8-9 and Titus 3:5).
We are to work out our salvation. But to rightly understand what the verse is saying we need to read on to the next verse, Philippians 2:14, “For it is God who is at work in your, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
The term translated “work” here is a different Greek term which means “to work efficiently, be effective.” So God is efficiently and effectively at work in the life of the believer.
The same term is used of God in Ephesians 1:11, “(He) works all things after the counsel of His will.”
The same term us used of the Word of God in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (KJV).”
So God is at work in the believer and because He is at work, to will and to work, the believer is able to work out his salvation.
Look with me at another text. Colossians 1:28-29. Here we have Paul’s stated purpose and goal in his ministry. His goal? “To present every man complete in Christ.” The term translated “complete” is a term which means “finished or perfect.” So Paul’s goal in ministry coincided with God’s purpose. God’s purpose? To finish the work that He starts in the believer. Paul’s purpose? To present every man complete in Christ.
Note something else in this text. Paul worked hard in ministry. The term translated “labor” means speaks of “toil resulting in weariness.” So Paul worked hard. But he did not work in his own strength. He labored according to God’s power.
While we are still in Colossians, look down to Colossians 2:10. The verse says that in Him we’ve been made “complete.” Now this is a different Greek term than the term used in Colossians 1:28. The term means “full.” It was used in that day of a ship that was fully provisioned and made ready for departure or an army that was fully supplied and made ready for war. The idea behind the term is that everything necessary has been provided for. The thought is akin to what it says in 2 Peter 1:3, “(He) has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.”
So, while we are to work out our salvation, the only reason we can do such a thing is because God is at work in us both to will and to work. He has fully provisioned us with everything we need. The indwelling Spirit. The Word of God. The fellowship of believers. He—faithful, wise, loving and powerful as He is—is at work in us. And because He is at work, we can be confident that He will finish the work that He has started.
We work dependent on Him. And He has provided everything we need—the Spirit of God, the Word of God, the fellowship of believers.
We work dependent on His power. The work God began in us by the Spirit is perfected in us by the Spirit.
We work by His grace. The good works that He intends for us to do are works He prepared ahead of time for us to do.
We work by faith in Him. He does the work in us. Are part is to trust Him and obey Him.
Let me try to illustrate what we are talking about. About a year ago we took our grandson, Urijah, to the zoo. Now he was 2 years old and had never been to the zoo. But Anna had talked to him about it and he was all excited to go and see the animals. Now his little 2 year old mind could hardly imagine all that was involved in making a tour of the zoo—seeing all of the animals and riding on the zoo train. And if we simply left him at the ticket counter by himself and said to him, “Go Urijah. Buy your ticket. Follow the signs. Go see all the animals and ride the train. We will be waiting for you here when you get done.” How do you suppose that would have worked out for him? Not so good. We paid for the tickets. We led him along. We carried him when he got tired. We encouraged him when he grew weary. We bought him food when he was hungry. We were excited when he got excited and we cared for him when he got tired.
And it’s kind of like that with us in our relationship with God.
God will finish the work that He started in you.
Has He started that work in you? Have you been born again through faith in Jesus who died for your sins and rose from the dead? If not, that’s something you need to do right now.
If you are in Philippians 1:6, you should praise and thank God for this truth.
And you should apply yourself to the work that He is doing. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
We face opposition, obstacles, challenges, defeats, setbacks, regrets, trials of various kinds—the path is not easy. How important is this truth—that God will finish the work that He started in you! Romans 8:28 speaks to this. We rejoice in the truth that God is at work and since God is for us there is no one who can work to thwart the good work that He has purposed to do.
Steve Green had a song, “He who began a good work in you.” Here’s some of what He said in that song:
He who started a work Will be faithful to complete it in you
If the struggle you’re facing Is slowly replacing your hope With despair
Or the process is long And you’re losing your song In the night
You can be sure that the Lord Has His hand on you
Safe and secure He will never abandon you
You are His treasure And He finds His pleasure in you
He who started the work Will be faithful to complete it in you