I don’t recall a time in my life when I did not believe in Jesus Christ.
I remember praying a sinner’s prayer at the age of three or four. I think I even meant it.
But that didn’t stop me from lying awake at night as I got older, repeating the same prayers for salvation again and again to make sure that it “took.”
Many Christians struggle with assurance of their salvation. For some, such doubt is a passing phase. For others, these doubts can torture their conscience for extended seasons of life. Either way, the apostle’s words to the Philippian church are nothing short of monumental.
The subject of Paul’s statement in this verse is “he who began a good work” in the Philippians. The context of verse 3 indicates that “he” refers to God himself. What, then, is God’s “good work”? Paul has just referred to their fellowship with him in the gospel (v. 5). Thus, God’s work here is his remaking them at their conversion when the Holy Spirit opened their hearts to believe (cf. Acts 16:14).
Here we have a potent reminder that salvation is not a human accomplishment but a divine one. Many within the Christian church have long debated the tense relationship between human will and divine sovereignty. But Scripture knows little of such tension. To the biblical writers, God is absolutely sovereign, and man is accountable to him and has a will subjected to his fallen nature. Salvation, then, is wholly of God. In salvation we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10) and a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
God’s Commitment to Our Perseverance
God’s sovereignty over salvation has great bearing on our assurance. Long before Paul’s time, King David prayed to the Lord, “Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:8)—referring to himself. The good news is that God doesn’t.
Much of my house is a testimony to my many unfinished projects. My yard is a graveyard of good intentions. Perhaps you can relate. Yet God does not do anything halfway. What he begins, he finishes. He does not bring anyone to true, saving union with Christ by faith only to forget about them and let them wander into damnation.
The word rendered “bring . . . to completion” (epitelesei) leaves no ambiguity: God totally fulfills his work. The word stems from telos, from which we derive our English word teleology, the study of ultimate purposes or ends. We see that God does not look at a mostly finished product and remark, “That’s good enough.” Rather, he is committed to every one of his redeemed children reaching their final end: to behold him, face to face, in perfect love.
What Perseverance Means… and Doesn’t Mean
This idea is known historically as the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints—that those for whom Christ died will all endure unto eternal life. He who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete it. Or, as Paul explains elsewhere, “[T]hose whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). Salvation is a glorious, unbroken chain from eternity past to eternity future, and not one of Christ’s people is lost along the way.
Yet sometimes this glorious truth appears to contradict experience. Many of us have known professing Christians who seemed sincere but fell away from the faith.
In such cases, Scripture offers two possible interpretations. It is possible that the individual made an outward profession of faith but was not truly converted. In Jesus’ words, such a person had “no root in himself” (Matthew 13:21). This was the case with the false teachers John addresses: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19).
Alternatively, a person might appear to lapse in their faith for a season but will surely be brought back by Christ. True believers may experience seasons of great doubt and backsliding, but the Spirit of Christ within them will not allow them to remain away from him forever. Jesus said, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). If no one can snatch Christ’s people from his hands, then it follows that neither can they escape his grip on their own.
The doctrine of perseverance fuels not only assurance but also mission, in two distinct ways.
First, it emboldens us. If I know that God will give me the grace to persevere in the faith, then I can confidently undertake great works in his name. If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?
Second, it speaks of God’s commitment to the church. Note that the word “you” in verse 6 is plural. In context, Paul is saying that God will bring to completion the good work he began in the Philippian church.
Though the church in Philippi eventually receded into the sands of time, Christ’s purpose for it was fulfilled. Through the living testimony of Scripture, that church remains with us today. And Jesus promised to build his church such that not even the gates of hell could withstand it (Matthew 16:18). No true church anywhere in the world has ever been planted in vain—no matter how insignificant or beleaguered it may seem. Christ’s purpose for his global church remains.
Salvation is of you—from beginning to end. I contributed nothing to my salvation except the sin that made it necessary; you are the one who stepped in and acted. You changed my heart and opened my eyes to see Christ. I thank you for the freeness of your grace. When I doubt your love, remind me that you never forsake the work of your hands. Deepen my assurance of Christ’s love for me. Arm me with confidence in your saving power so that I would gladly risk for the gospel and recognize your powerful working in the lives of others too.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
- Pray for an individual you know—perhaps a friend, fellow church member, or your own child—whose faith seems wobbly. Pray that God would finish the work he began in them.
- Pray that God would finish the good work he began in your local church. Ask him to show you and your fellow church members what mission he has entrusted to you in your community.
- Pray for church planters in cultures that are hostile to the gospel, where fledgling churches may appear weak and disorganized. Pray that God would fulfill his work in their churches, too, enabling them to persevere as a church and accomplish the mission God has given them.
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