The disciple’s sanctification (Phil. 2:12-13)

POST OVERVIEW. This post is the second part of a series of articles on Philippians 2:12-13, exploring how the disciple of Jesus can “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” Having discussed justification in the previous post (#579), we now examine the disciple’s sanctification. We will also explore how sanctification relates to discipleship. This is a foundational article in my own consideration of the broad topic of discipleship.

FROM BIRTH TO ETERNITY

If we were to give a simplified sequence of events in the life of the disciple of Jesus Christ from birth to eternity, there would be four major components: condemnation, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Condemnation is the condition of being an unforgiven sinner and being subject to the judgment and wrath of God for your sins. All people are born as sinners and all people are therefore born into this state of condemnation (Rom. 3:23). Justification describes the event when God declares the sinner to be righteous in His sight because of the sinner’s initial confession of faith in Jesus Christ. In justification, the disciple passes from death to life (John 5:24), becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and no longer experiences condemnation (Romans 8:1). After the disciple has been justified (declared righteous), he enters the stage of sanctification, which lasts till the end of his earthly life. Sanctification is the process of growing in practical holiness and Christlikeness, which means decreasing sin and increasing obedience. (Note: “Discipleship” occurs in the sanctification stage.) The final state for every disciple of Jesus Christ is glorification, when all the saints are in heaven forever in glorified, resurrection bodies. All disciples will receive their glorified bodies on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17).

JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION, AND DISCIPLESHIP

Since this consideration of justification and sanctification is in the context of discipleship, we need to see how these two ideas of justification and sanctification relate to the disciple of Jesus. In simple terms, the event of justification creates a disciple. We know that, prior to justification, the sinner is outside Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). At justification, when the sinner believes in Jesus and is thus declared righteous, the sinner is converted into a disciple of Jesus. But if justification creates a disciple, sanctification grows a disciple into increasing Christlikeness. This is the process whereby the disciple learns “to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Ephesians 4:1). It is apparent that sanctification is only possible if justification has already occurred, but we also know that, if justification has truly occurred, then it will certainly result in sanctification.

COMPARING JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION

In further considering justification and sanctification, we can say that justification is necessarily “monergistic.” “Monergistic” means that justification, the event whereby God declares the sinner to be fully and forever righteous based on the sinner’s faith in Jesus, is exclusively the work of God. In the act of justification, God is the only actor. When God justifies the believing sinner, He imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to the sinner’s account as if Christ’s righteousness were the sinner’s own, while the sinner passively receives Christ’s imputed righteousness based solely on his profession of faith. The point is that in justification, God is active and the sinner-disciple is passive.

By contrast, sanctification – the progressive decreasing of sin and the progressive increasing of practical righteousness – is a joint effort between the disciple of Jesus and God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the clearest statement of this biblical truth is in Philippians 2:12-13:

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

THE WORK OF THE DISCIPLE

In these verses, Paul is certainly speaking about the disciple’s sanctification. As we consider the bolded part of the passage, the cooperative, joint effort between the disciple and the Lord is apparent. First, Paul commands the disciple to “work out his salvation.” The apostle does not have in mind some ongoing work by which the disciple earns or merits his salvation, for the Bible rejects the idea of human works meriting salvation in many places. Rather, he is instructing the disciple who has already been justified by his faith to labor with all his might so that his changed life will be vividly displayed in the outward fruit of repentance. In other words, “work out your salvation” means “be diligent and vigorous in your sanctification efforts so that, as time goes on, there is a closer and closer agreement between the righteousness your life displays and the full righteousness that has been imputed to you.” The point is that progress in sanctification depends on the disciple’s active efforts to grow in holiness.  

THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

But while it is clear that sanctification depends on the disciple’s efforts, we also see that sanctification is dependent on the ongoing work of God the Holy Spirit. “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” When a disciple comes to faith in Jesus, then not only is the person declared righteous, but that person is also “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). Thus, from the moment of salvation, the disciple is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He, the Holy Spirit, immediately begins to accomplish the ongoing, unconscious transformation of the disciple. For example, the disciple receives the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The disciple also receives a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12), which allows him to serve and edify the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals sin to the disciple and guides him into all truth (John 16:9ff). The Holy Spirit allows the disciple to put sin to death (Rom. 8:13), leads the disciple (8:14), testifies to the disciple that he is a child of God (8:16), and intercedes for the disciple in prayer “with groanings too deep for words” (8:26). This is the work of the Holy Spirit in all believers and the result of this unconscious work of the Spirit is that the disciple grows in sanctification.

We have seen, then, that the disciple grows in sanctification both by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, who is unconsciously and invisibly transforming the disciple, and by the disciple’s own efforts. While acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s necessary role in sanctification, we want to now turn our attention to the sanctification that is brought about by the disciple’s own efforts, for this is the sanctification that we can directly influence.

DEFINITION OF DISCIPLESHIP

Now we want to address the question, “What is the relationship between ‘discipleship’ and ‘sanctification’?” We remember that we defined sanctification as “the progressive decreasing of sin and the progressive increasing of practical righteousness in the life of the disciple of Jesus.” From this, we can say that a functional definition of discipleship is “the sanctification that is brought about in the disciple’s life as a result of the disciple’s  own conscious efforts.” This discipleship is what Paul has in mind in Philippians 2:12 when he commands us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Thus, in discipleship, the disciple of Jesus takes conscious actions to intentionally attack their sin and purposefully grow in their practice of righteous, Bible-approved acts until they finish the race.

Discipleship, then, is a logical outgrowth of justification, when the sinner passes from death to life (John 5:24) and is made a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Being made new in Christ generates in every disciple a desire for holiness and an ambition to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 5:9). This desire for holiness is part of the seed of justification and is a required product of the new birth such that, if the desire for holiness and the growth in Christlikeness are absent, the real occurrence of justification is brought into question.

In discipleship, then, the key words are “conscious,” “intentional,” and “purposeful.” This is because these conscious, intentional, purposeful actions to increase in holiness are the result of the disciple’s own planning and choices and reflections and efforts. This conscious, intentional activity is motivated by the disciple’s own desire for holiness and by his ambition to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus and is an example of the disciple “working out his salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). And while this activity is certainly empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, its initiation and execution depend on the individual disciple.

THE DISCIPLE’S OWN RESPONSIBILITY

In the sense, then, that progress in discipleship depends on the disciple’s own wisdom and diligence and desire and activity and persistence, discipleship is similar to other human endeavors. In any human activity, those who are more diligent and energetic will make more progress in that activity than those who are less so. It is the same with the degree of sanctification you achieve from your own discipleship efforts. The spiritual resources for your sanctification have all been supplied. You have been set free from your slavery to sin (Romans 6), you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), you have been given full access to God’s throne to send Him your prayers (Hebrews 4:16), you have been placed in His body the church so that you have brothers and sisters to encourage you, and you have His Word to read and to meditate on. You have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). Now, with all these resources available to you, you are commanded to work out your salvation. Both because the disciple has received apostolic command to work out his salvation and because the disciple has been entrusted with divine resources for working out of his salvation, discipleship is each disciple’s own responsibility.

SDG                 rmb                 10/19/2022                 #582

The disciple’s justification (Phil. 2:12-13)

POST OVERVIEW. This post begins a short series of articles on Philippians 2:12-13, exploring how the disciple of Jesus can work out their salvation with fear and trembling. The first post examines the doctrine of justification as background for study of sanctification.

The New Testament introduces us to the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and has as its central theme the gospel of salvation. This gospel states that, for anyone who will place their faith in Jesus and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, God will forgive their sins and will save them from His wrath and give them eternal life. After this salvation event, the believer commits to walk with Christ for the rest of their life in obedience to His commands. One of the words the New Testament uses for the event of salvation is justification, and the believer’s subsequent walk of increasing holiness is called sanctification. This short series is mostly on sanctification, but we first need to understand justification in order to fully understand sanctification.

JUSTIFICATION

We have already spoken about the salvation event as justification, but we need to be a little more precise. Justification is the event whereby a sinner is declared fully and forever righteous in the sight of God because of the sinner’s professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Three things should be noted about this definition. First, this justification is an event, not a process. Although the journey to the point of salvation may take years, justification itself occurs at a point in time. It is a one-time, once-for-all event that has eternal results. This is the moment when the sinner passes from death to life (John 5:24). This is the moment of spiritual birth when one is born again (John 3:3, 5). God justifies the sinner when he initially professes his faith in Jesus. So, event, not process.

But second, in justification, the sinner is declared righteous on the basis of their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. God declares as righteous the one who confesses Jesus as Lord. Thus the believer, having been declared righteous upon their initial faith in Jesus, is forever viewed as righteous. This also means that all true followers of Jesus are equally justified and equally righteous, even though there may be great differences in terms of the disciples’ actual progress in practical holiness. Justification is God’s declaration of righteousness, not a reward for the disciple’s own efforts.

Third, justification is based solely on the repentant sinner’s initial profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That is, “having heard the message of truth, the gospel of salvation” (Ephesians 1:13) and having understood that Jesus has come from heaven to die on the cross as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), the sinner believes in Jesus and publicly professes Jesus Christ as their own Lord and Savior.

JUSTIFICATION IS ENTIRELY THE WORK OF GOD

Notice that, in justification, God is the only actor. The Bible presents justification as entirely the work of God. God is the One who justifies (Romans 8:33). God is just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26 in the powerful verses of 3:21-26). God is the One who justifies the circumcised (Jewish people) by faith and the uncircumcised (Gentiles) through faith (Romans 3:29-30). All this attests to the fact that our God is the One who does the work of justification. In justification, God is active and the believer is passive. God declares righteous and the believer receives righteousness. God is the actor and the believer is the object. It is God alone who “delivers us from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).

Having gotten a good handle on justification, in the next post in this series we will turn our attention to the corresponding subject of sanctification.

SDG                 rmb                 10/5/2022                   #579

Pearls from the Word: Philippians 1:6

INTRODUCTION. A series of posts on my musings on selected verses from Philippians. This post is on Philippians 1:6.

The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul from prison. But despite his circumstances, Paul writes to his beloved Philippians with joy, thanksgiving, confidence, and hope as he instructs them how to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27).

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. – Phil. 1:6

This verse gives strong encouragement to every believer in Jesus that he or she will continue to follow Christ all their days and will, on the last day, be perfected with a glorified body to live forever with the Lord. Yes, all that is here in this verse!

GOD BEGAN A GOOD WORK

In this verse, we read that Paul is confident because God has done an amazing work here in this church in Philippi. “He began a good work.” This “good work” can be restated as, “God has saved you. You were dead in your transgressions and separated from Christ, but then you heard the gospel and believed.” The “good work” that God began in you is the work of your salvation. You have been delivered from the domain of darkness. You have passed from death to life. By grace you have been saved. The “good work” that God began in you is that you have been born again and you are now a new creation in Christ. You have been justified by faith. So Paul’s confidence about God’s good work applies to every believer, to everyone in whom God began the work of salvation.

HE WILL PERFECT IT UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS

But Paul’s confidence is also this: If God indeed began a good work in you and you have become a born-again follower of Jesus, God has guaranteed that you will persevere in your faith until the end of your life and that finally, on the last day, when Jesus returns, you will receive your perfect glorified body for your eternity with the Lord in heaven.

The New Testament is consistent and clear: every single person who has believed in Jesus Christ will believe in Him to the end. This doctrine has been called “the perseverance of the saints” and is explicitly taught in the Scriptures, not only here in this verse, but also in passages like Romans 8:30, which says, “and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Justification is the beginning of our salvation and glorification is the end. Thus we can say with confidence that every person who has been justified by faith will certainly receive their glorified body on “the day of Christ Jesus.” The God who began the work of salvation by our justification will keep us until He perfects the work by our glorification.

BUT THERE’S MORE! And God also preserves us until the day of Christ Jesus. From the moment of our justification, the Lord is actively preserving us in the faith. We persevere because God is preserving us. As we journey through this world of sin, we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), but the real power is from “God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:13). Since God the Father chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), and since we have been redeemed by Christ’s blood (Eph. 1:7), and since we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13), we can be confident of this very thing, that God will keep us until the day of Christ Jesus.

So, fellow believer, be confident of this very thing: God has saved you, and God will preserve you, and God will give you a perfect glorified body when Jesus returns.

SDG                 rmb                 5/24/2022                   #535

Justified by faith and justified by works (James 2:14-26)

“Does the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone, or does the Bible teach that we are justified by our works?” This question was one of the central issues of the Protestant Reformation and remains the main dividing line between evangelical Christians and Catholics. “Justification by faith alone” is a non-negotiable doctrine of the Christian faith because it is a central teaching of the New Testament. On the other hand, a major doctrine of Catholicism is that the Catholic is saved by faith and works. This teaching was firmly established as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Trent and is still the doctrine of the Catholic Church today. Thus, the two positions contradict one another. Justification is either by faith alone or it is by faith and human works, but both positions cannot be true.

A PROBLEM PASSAGE?

And this brings us to a passage in the New Testament book of “James” that seems to create a conundrum, because James explicitly states in James 2:24,

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

Now, it is a fact that the overwhelming majority of New Testament teachings on justification explicitly state that justification is by faith. “Works” are either expressly rejected within the passage or are prohibited by the context of the passage. (A list of these passages is given at the end of this article.) But now we see that this passage in James 2 seems to declare that justification is by works. In light of this verse and this passage, Catholics say that their doctrine of justification by faith plus works has biblical warrant.

Is this the case? Do Paul and James contradict one another in the fundamental doctrine of justification? Is there a contradiction in the New Testament, indeed, a major contradiction? Is the Bible ambiguous on how a sinner is justified? We will need to investigate this passage in James 2:14-26 to see if these things are so.

TWO DIFFERENT QUESTIONS

First, the good news is that there is no contradiction in the Bible’s teaching on justification. The Bible is the Holy-Spirit inspired, God-breathed infallible word of the living God and, as such, has no contradictions. The Bible is the Christian’s final source for all matters of faith and practice and is trustworthy. Therefore, we know from the outset that Paul and James do not contradict one another. But, having said that, we must nevertheless carefully consider this passage in James 2 and see why there is no contradiction with the rest of the New Testament.

Second, a reading of James 2:14-26 will reveal that James is addressing the situation where the person in view already has faith. James’ teaching in this passage requires that the person under consideration already professes faith in Jesus. In fact, the entire passage is predicated on a claim of saving faith. So, in this passage James is not addressing the question, “How does a person receive salvation?” Rather, this passage addresses the question, “Is the faith that you claim you have received a saving faith that manifests itself in works keeping with salvation?” The answers to these two questions cannot contradict each other because they answer two entirely different questions.

JAMES AND PAUL ON JUSTIFICATION

Paul’s teaching on justification is almost entirely focused on answering the first question above, “How is a sinner justified unto salvation?” Paul consistently and repeatedly answers that question with, “The sinner is justified by faith (alone).”

By contrast, in James 2:14-26, James is dealing with the second question; namely, “How is the faith that you claim justified (proven)?” James answers that question with, “The claim of faith must be justified (proven) by your works.” So, it may be said that James is, indeed, teaching “justification by works.” James is teaching that saving faith is “justified” by a changed life full of “works,” full of evidence that you are saved.

With that understanding as a background, the difficulties of James 2:14-26 disappear, and the passage flows easily.

INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE

  • 2:14-17 – James gives an example of faith without works. “What use is that (2:16)?” The expected answer is, “It’s not worth anything!” “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.” A works-less faith is dead.
  • 2:18 – The difficulty of a claim of faith is that anyone can make such a claim. It may be a justified claim, or it may be an empty claim, but there is no way to tell based on the claim alone. Ah, but show me your godly works, and show me your obedience, and show me your fruit in keeping with repentance, and I will believe your claim of faith.
  • 2:19 – You can make a claim of faith and the demons can make a claim of faith, but if your claim is not justified by visible godly works, your claim will net you a demon’s reward.
  • 2:20 – James is now going to give illustrations of those who were justified by saving faith, because “faith without works is useless.”
  • 2:21-23 – Abraham proved the immensity of his faith by obediently being willing to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. The faith that had justified Abraham and that was reckoned to him as righteousness many years before (Genesis 15:6); that faith was justified and perfected when Abraham offered up Isaac on Moriah.
  • You see that Abraham was justified by faith, but Abraham’s faith was justified by his works.
  • 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works and not by (a claim of) faith alone.”
  • 2:25 – Even Rahab the harlot proved that she had saving faith because she risked her life by sending the spies out by another way. In this way, her invisible saving faith was made visible. So, she was justified by her works.
  • 2:26 – James concludes his argument, “Faith without works is dead.”

APPLICATION

            The first application of this teaching is to assure the believer that James and Paul are not at odds and the Bible is not unclear about justification. James and Paul are addressing two different questions and are using “justification” in two different ways.

            The second application would be as a possible Bible study opportunity for one of your Catholic friends. If your friend was willing to listen to this teaching from James AND also listen to the teaching on justification by faith unto salvation, you may be able to use this as an evangelistic opportunity.

            SDG                 rmb                 4/26/2021

It is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.

“Justification by faith” verses or passages:
Romans 3:22, 24, 28, 30; 4:2-6; 5:1; 9:30-33; Galatians 2:16, 21; 3:6, 8, 11; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 11:6, 7, 17-19; 1 Peter 1:5, 9