How do you know that you’ll wake up a Christian tomorrow morning? How do you know that you’ll still love God a few months or even a few years from now? How do you know that you’ll make it glory? This is a pressing question. We’ve all known people who’ve made a profession of faith and have even seemed to grow strong in faith only to later turn their back on such things. How do we know we won’t end up like that? Can we know we’ll make it? Or do we just hope that everything will be ok? Jesus said in Matthew 24:13, ‘Those who endure to the end will be saved.’ Church, we have a need to endure to the end if we’re going to be finally saved, so let’s ask the question today – how are we going to endure? Your answer to this question reveals not only your hope for eternal life, it reveals your understanding of the gospel, it reveals what you’re placing your hope in to finally save you.
Recall in this series on The Historical Faith we’ve covered man’s corruption, God’s sovereign election, Christ’s definite atonement, the Spirit’s effectual call, and today we’ll end this series by discussing the last of the five precious doctrines of Church history – the Preservation of the Saints.
Philippians 1:6, which says, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’ I have 4 points today:
1) Paul’s Context
In order to understand the text of Phil 1:6 we must see it in it’s context, which is Phil. 1:3-11 where Paul prays for the Philippian church. In the beginning of this section Paul says this in v3-5, ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’ Here Paul, as He often does, begins with an opening prayer for the particular church in view. What we ought to notice is that it is in these prayers that we find the major themes of each letter. For the letter to the Philippians the main theme of Paul’s opening prayer is joy. Joy in thankfulness, joy in their partnership in the gospel, and joy in God’s continued work in them. Every time Paul remembers the Philippians in prayer, he thanks God for them joyously. Why is he so joyous and glad when he prays for them? v5 tells us, ‘…of because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’ The foundation of Paul’s joy in the Philippians is that from the first day he came to them they’ve partnered with him in the gospel work. This word ‘partnership’ in Greek is the word ‘koinonia’ which is usually translated as ‘fellowship.’ This lets us know that Paul and the Philippians were working together, partnering together, and were joined together for, or had fellowship in, the one aim of spreading and advancing the gospel. This same word in v7 is used and translated as ‘partakers’ meaning the Philippians joined or shared in this great work of preaching, defending, and suffering for the gospel.
This shows us how intimately connected Paul and the Philippians were in his day. It also shows us how we’re do life with one another in the local church in our day. We are individuals true, but as we come together to worship and study and pray throughout the week we slowly over time become more than mere isolated individuals, we grow in ‘koinonia.’ We grow in our fellowship, we grow in our partnership in the gospel and for the gospel. So just as Paul and the Philippians worked together, partnered together, joined together for, and had fellowship in the one aim of spreading and advancing the gospel, there should be nothing different about how we do life here at SonRise. This means the work of ministry is not just about what we, as your elders, do for you. It’s more about what we together. Following Christ is a community endeavor. In this context Paul writes Phil. 1:6.
So we’ve seen Paul’s context, let’s now see…
2) Paul’s Confidence
In Phil. 1:6 Paul begins with these words, ‘And I am sure of this…’ Paul is confident, and shows a deep conviction here. He’s sure of something about this church. He’s not guessing. He doesn’t say, ‘I may be right about this…’ or ‘I have a hunch about this church…’ No, he says, ‘And I am sure of this…’ Paul’s firm conviction about God’s work in the Philippians is deep and grounded, perhaps this is why he has such joy in praying for them. He knows they’re spiritually healthy, walking wisely, and loving each other as they ought to. Their conduct with the gospel gives Paul a firm conviction that they’re truly in the gospel. And because he has a firm conviction that they’re truly in the gospel, he is confident of one thing – that God is working in them. This is why Paul can confidently say later in 2:12, ‘Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, so now, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ Paul is very confident in this church, even when he’s not with them he knows they’re living as they ought to. His certainty he feels for them is great, but it doesn’t come from them, it comes from God. How so?
3) God Begins and Completes the Work in Philippi
1:6 continues, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’ Here we see the foundation of Paul’s confidence in this church. It’s not them who began this great gospel work, it is God who did so. And it’s not them who will complete this great gospel work, it is God who will do so. God began a work of conversion in the hearts of many Philippians, and this work shows itself in fruit. Fruit that looks like working together, partnering together, joining together for the spread and advance the gospel. Paul saw this, rejoiced in it, happily prayed about it, and then concluded that just as God had begun this work, so too He’ll complete it.
Front and center here we the sovereignty of God in salvation as well as the sovereign faithfulness of God to keep them until the end. Even though the Philippian church suffered so much Paul encourages them with the sovereign faithfulness of God to keep and preserve them in 1:6. He does this later in 1:27-29 saying, ‘Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in one spirit with one mind…don’t be frightened in anything by your opponents…for it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but suffer for His sake.’ So God has granted two things to the Philippian church. God has granted them the gift of believing in Him and granted them the gift of suffering for Him. In these things the Philippian church is reminded that the only reason they will persevere in faith to the end is because God has promised to faithfully preserve them to the end. What does this mean for us?
4) God Begins and Completes the Work in Us
Phil. 1:6 is not just a promise for the Philippian church, it’s a promise to the universal Church throughout all time. The same way God encouraged and taught the Philippians of His sovereign faithfulness to keep and preserve them to the end is the same way God encourages you and I when we face the questions like we posed at the beginning of this message: how do we know we’ll remain Christians throughout our lives? How will we endure? What is our confidence that we’ll last to the end? Phil. 1:6, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’ We will persevere in faith because God has promised to preserve us.
Jesus in John 10:28-29 said, ‘I give My sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.’ Paul in Romans 8:30 said, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ Everyone whom God has predestined, called, and justified God will glorify. When God begins a work, He always finishes it. In Eph. 1:13-14 Paul says, ‘In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.’ The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a promise of and evidence for God’s great keeping power. Jude addressed his small letter in Jude v1 to ‘those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.’ And at the end of Jude in v24 we read, ‘Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy…’ Be of good cheer Church, God promises to keep us, and make us blameless and happy before the presence of His glory. God began this great work, God grows this great work, and one day God will finish this great work.
Yes, we cannot lose our salvation, but people have a habit of twisting these things to their own evil ends. The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is twisted in this manner, ‘I’ve got my ticket, I know that the ‘man upstairs’ and me are good…once saved always saved right?’ It is true that once we’re saved/converted, we’ll always be saved/converted, but if you use that as a license to do whatever you want to do, or just sit back and passively and do nothing, you’re not saved/converted. Those who are truly saved, work out their salvation with fear and trembling because God is act work within them to act according to His own good pleasure.
But another question comes up. What do we do about those who claim to have fallen away from the faith? If we can’t lose our salvation what happened to them? 1 John 2:19 makes it pretty clear saying, ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.’ On this passage R.C. Sproul comments, ‘If you have saving faith you’ll never lose it, if you lose it you never had it.’
This even affects our singing. Many songs nowadays have lyrics like this, ‘God, I will not forget You, I will never leave You, I will always stay with You…’ (or something like that). Let me ask you – how do we expect to not forget God, or to never leave Him, and to always stay with Him? In singing these words we’re making some big promises to God, can we really do these things? Yes and no. No, because it would be sinful to sing while believing that we on our own power could muster up enough strength to stay close to God. But yes, we could sing this in a godly way, trusting in God’s keeping power over us, not our own power to stay with God. It would honor God for us to praise Him for His great keeping power. It would not honor God for us to sing and promise God that we, by our own power, will keep ourselves believing. Do you see the difference in singing these two ways? It may seem that this comment is unnecessary to some, but it really matters to God how we sing and what we say to Him when we praise His name. So remember when you sing songs like this, know and be joyful, it is God doing the keeping and promising, not you.
So Church, rest well. The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is God’s sovereign faithful promise to keep us through all the affliction and suffering of life, so that we will one day gain an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forevermore. Rest well, the doctrine of the preservation of the saints reminds us on our worst days and even on our best days God has a firmer grip on us than we will ever have on Him. Rest well, this doctrine of the preservation of the saints points us to the gospel truth – (my story of worrying I’d lose my grip on Jesus the first few weeks I was saved). Before conversion we we’re in a battle we couldn’t win. After conversion, because of the preserving work of God, we’re now in a battle we can’t lose. (Tim Keller)
As we come to a close of this sermon series I’ve got three things I want to say.
First, a word of thanks. I want to thank you for many reasons: these doctrines we’ve been going over are hard and weighty things, they’re not easy, simple, or even stress-free to think about. Throughout these past 5 weeks you’ve been patient and very receptive of these things. For this I thank you.
Second, a word of warning. In returning to the historical faith of the Church the temptation is easy to treat these precious doctrines as trivia, or just a bunch of historical facts of the way things used to be, or even as just a suggestion from me to you. Do not give way to such temptations. The elders wanted you to hear what I’ve described to you over the past five weeks, NOT for the purpose of mere suggestion but with the intention that in them you would hear us saying ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ So try to look outside of our generation, if you do you’ll see much irony. It’s ironic that while the Church has long held these five truths to be central and precious they are largely rejected and ridiculed within the Church today. It is therefore no surprise that from rejecting God-centered doctrine we see so much man-centeredness in the Church today. The lesson for us is clear. Don’t be chronological snobs, thinking that we know better than Christians who’ve gone before us simply because we’re more contemporary or sophisticated. Jonathan Edwards said it well, ‘The wisdom of God was not given for any particular age but for all ages. It surely therefore becomes us to receive what God reveals to be truth and to look upon His Word.’
Third, a word of gospel encouragement. Man’s corruption, God’s sovereign election, Christ’s definite atonement, the Spirit’s effectual call, and the Spirit’s preservation of the saints, when taken together show us one grand theme. Redemption accomplished and applied.
How did God accomplish our redemption? He chose corrupted sinners by grace before time and sent His Son to save and purchase them on the cross because in our corruption we could not save ourselves.
How did God apply this redemption to us? God, through His Spirit, called and awakened us to new life, and God is now (by the same Spirit) nourishing that life so that it matures and grows, making us more and more into the image of Christ.
These 5 doctrines describe the actions of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. All of them together form a summary of one grand theme: redemption accomplished and applied.