Summary: The work God does in you and me has three phases: a beginning, a middle, and an end. God began His “good work” in us, He “will carry it on,” and, in time, He will bring it to completion.
Recently, our daughter Catherine completed a refinishing project. Se took an old chest, worn and marred by the years and transformed it into an elegant piece of furniture, which she is pleased to display in her home. She took an object that was ruined and unsightly and restored it in such a way that it is not beautiful and functional and treasured.
That is what God does with us in His great restoration project called salvation. He takes ruined sinners, stained and disfigured by sin, and transforms them into something new and lovely. It is what the Bible calls redemption, or, as Paul describes it here in Philippians 1, the “work” of God. “He who began a good work in you,” Paul writes, “will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
This “work” of God in you and me has three phases, and they are easily identified. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is a past, a present, and a future. We are told that God began His “good work” in us, that He “will carry it on,” and that, in time, He will bring it to completion. In fact, we are even given a due date. It will be “the day of Christ Jesus,” although we are not told exactly when that will be.
The thing to notice is that God is the agent who is active at every stage of this “good work.” It is He that is doing everything necessary for our transformation. The initiative lies with Him. The momentum is His. And even the date of completion is in His control.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a part to play, as we will see. We are not altogether passive like the inanimate chest that Catherine restored. But still, until God begins His “good work” in us, we may as well be a lifeless piece of dead wood. In fact, the Bible tells us that, before God takes steps to change us, we are actually “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1). And the dead, of course, take no initiative.
So, let’s look at the beginning of God’s work in us. Paul says that “he…began a good work” in us. What does he mean? Our restoration began before the dawn of time. According to Ephesians 1:4, God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” That means that, before God created anything – before He said, “Let there be light,” He knew us, and He chose us. We should be deeply humbled by this because, remember, when He chose us, He was choosing sinners who would be marred and misshapen by our sin. He did not choose us because there was anything about us that would make us desirable to Him. He chose us because of His amazing grace.
In choosing us, He had in mind a plan to restore us, and that plan involved His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ came into this world to die for our sins, to pay the penalty we should have had to pay. And, as we consider what Jesus did, we attest that He laid down His life at the cross for your sake and mine and became for us the atonement for our sin.
And then, in an act of great mercy, the Holy Spirit brought you and me – dead sinners – to life. He illumined our darkened minds so that, when we heard the message of salvation in Christ, we could understand it, and He gave us a new heart so that we could believe it. And when we did – when we believed this good news about what Jesus has done for us – God declared us righteous. The biblical word for that is justification. He justified us. He gave us a right standing with Him. He declared us “not guilty.”
But that’s not the end of it. That’s only the beginning. “He…began a good work” in us. And, thankfully, He did not stop there.
In fact, we have the middle part to consider. Paul has written about what God did in the past. Now, what about the present? Paul describes this in verse 6 as God “carry[ing] it on.” Through His Holy Spirit, He continues the work He began. He has declared us righteous. That’s justification, remember. Now He will make us righteous. This is what the Bible calls sanctification, a word that means “to make holy.” And this an essential part of God’s work; indeed, the Bible says that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
What does this process look like? You can get a glimpse of it right here in Philippians, chapter 1. It is what Paul says he prays for when he prays for the people in Philippi. Beginning in verse 9, Paul says, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God” (vv. 9-11).