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Lesson 3: Confident About Salvation (Philippians 1:3-6)

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One of the most important questions for every person to answer is, “How can I be confident that I am truly saved?” And, some follow-up questions are just as crucial, “If I am truly saved, can I know for sure that I will not lose my salvation?” “What about our loved ones? Can we know if they are truly saved and if they will persevere?”

These are crucial questions because they concern matters of our own and our loved ones’ eternal destinies. If we are truly saved, but lack assurance, we will live in constant anxiety about the state of our souls. On the other hand, if we or our loved ones think we are saved when we are not truly saved, we will be in for the most rude awakening when we someday stand before the Lord only to hear Him say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). So we must be careful not to rest on false assurance, or to give it to others. But, if we can obtain true assurance from God about our salvation, then we need it.

Our text gives us some answers to these questions. It is not all that is written on this topic, of course. The entire epistle of First John was written so that those who had believed in Christ could know that they had eternal life (1 John 5:13). John gives a number of tests which we can both apply to ourselves and also to others, to make sure that we are in the faith. But Philippians 1:3-6 is an important text. James Boice calls verse 6 one of the three greatest verses in the Bible that teaches the perseverance of the saints, “the doctrine that no one whom God has brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ will ever be lost,” the other two texts being Romans 8:38, 39 and John 10:27, 28 (Philippians, An Expositional Commentary [Zondervan], p. 40).

It is tempting to develop these verses along the theme of joy (as I did the first two messages on Philippians), because Paul begins by mentioning his joy as he prayed with thanksgiving for these believers. It’s certainly remarkable that Paul’s focus was not on himself. He was in prison in Rome facing possible execution; fellow Christian leaders were preaching against Paul out of envy and strife (Phil. 1:15); but he was filled with joy because his focus was on God and His faithfulness and on what God was doing with the Philippian church.

If you are feeling down, a prescription for joy is to fix your thoughts on God’s faithfulness. If He has used you in the past to lead someone to Christ or to minister to a fellow believer, think about them and pray for their continued growth. In other words, get your focus off of self and onto God and others and you’ll be flooded with God’s joy.

But to return to the other theme, of how we can be confident about our own or others’ salvation, the apostle teaches us that ...

If there is evidence that God has begun the work of salvation in us, we can be confident that He will complete it.

 

My view on this subject will probably be different than the views many of you have heard or believe. Some teach that a person can be truly saved, but if he turns away from Christ, he can lose his salvation. This view is called Arminianism, and also was promoted by John Wesley. I believe this view is in error. Others teach that if a person professes faith in Christ, he is saved and, thus, eternally secure. One of the first things to share with this person is assurance of salvation. Even if he later falls away and goes back into the world, with no evidence of salvation in his life, this view teaches that he will be in heaven someday because, “Once saved, always saved.” I believe that this view is incomplete and thus in error.

I believe that Scripture teaches that salvation is entirely the work of God, not of man. The God who is powerful to save is also powerful to keep the ones He saves. At the same time, the enemy is deceitful to counterfeit the work of God. Thus some, like the seed sown on the rocky ground and on the thorny ground, seem at first to be saved. But time proves that they were not truly saved, because they do not persevere by bearing fruit unto eternal life. Thus we must be careful to distinguish in ourselves and in others the true saving grace of God from the counterfeit work of the devil. If there is evidence that God has truly begun His work of salvation in us, then we can be confident that He will complete what He has begun. Let’s develop this further:

1. God begins the work of salvation.

“He who began a good work in you” refers to God and the work of salvation which He began in the hearts of the Philippians. We have seen (in Acts 16) how the households of Lydia and the Philippian jailer responded to the gospel, and perhaps also the demon-possessed slave girl. It is the preaching of the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3, 4) that is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

We also saw in our first study that God is decidedly the author of salvation. He elected us to salvation in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). He sent the Savior at the proper time. He ordained that Christ must die for our sins as the only acceptable substitute (John 1:29; Acts 2:23). He prohibited Paul and his companions from going into certain areas to preach and instead directed them to Philippi (Acts 16:6-10). When they obeyed God’s leading and preached the gospel to Lydia, “the Lord opened her heart to respond” (Acts 16:14). As Jesus Himself stated plainly, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him”; “... no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:44, 65). “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).

We also need to understand that the gospel message is not, “If you’ve got some problems in your life and you’d like to have a happier life, trust in Jesus. He will give you an abundant life.” We often hear variations of this theme presented as the gospel, but they miss the heart of the matter, which is of far greater consequence than enjoying a happy life here on earth. The true gospel confronts our fundamental problem, namely, our alienation from a holy God due to our sin and rebellion. If we die in this condition, we will be eternally separated from God, under His just wrath in hell. But God, who is rich in mercy, provided His substitutionary Lamb to make atonement for our sin, so that all who trust in Him are saved from God’s judgment.

When that good news is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit bears witness to the objective truth of it in the hearts of those whom the Father is drawing to Himself. Apart from any human merit, God supernaturally imparts to that person an abiding change of nature through regeneration (the new birth). He grants them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25) and faith to believe it (Phil. 1:29). Thus salvation is not at all from man, but rather is “by grace through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9; see Titus 3:4-7; John 1:12-13).

It is important to affirm the true nature of the gospel and of salvation, because if we mistakenly think that salvation depends upon us, or upon a human decision, then that decision could be reversed or rescinded. The Arminian error is that God has given us a free will, so we can decide by ourselves either to choose God or reject Him. But Scripture is abundantly clear that the human will is not free, except to continue in sin and rebellion against God (Rom. 3:10-18; 8:7-8; Eph. 2:1-5). Even John Wesley sang his brother, Charles’, great hymn which says, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke--the dungeon flamed with light! My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”

If you want to read a powerful refutation of the idea of “free will,” read Martin Luther’s, The Bondage of the Will (translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnson [Revell]). For over 300 pages, Luther relentlessly devastates the view that salvation depends on our “free will.” He argues that if it depended on such a thing, we could never have assurance that we are right with God. He admits to his own misery in believing that for years before his conversion (pp. 313-314). Then he states (p. 314),

But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. “No one,” He says, “shall pluck them out of my hand, because my Father which gave them me is greater than all” (John 10:28-29). Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of “free-will” none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish.

Please understand, a person is not saved apart from faith in Christ. But Scripture clearly teaches that when a person believes in Christ, that faith is not the product of his “free will,” but rather comes from God who powerfully works faith in us. Salvation is totally from God.

2. God’s salvation is always accompanied by evidence.

The “good work” which God begins works its way out as a believer grows to maturity and is progressively conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). In other words, salvation is always accompanied and followed by sanctification, or growth in holiness. As Jonathan Edwards argued in his profound work, “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections” (in The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:236), “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” He means that “love and the pursuit of holiness is the enduring mark of the true Christian” (Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography [Banner of Truth], by Iain Murray, p. 259).

The evidence in the Philippian believers to which Paul calls attention was their “participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5). “Participation” is the word “fellowship” (Greek, koinonia), which means “sharing together in.” The Philippians had shared with Paul in the gospel, first by believing it and being saved, then by devoting themselves to it and all that it entails. Like all who are truly saved, they were not just occasional dabblers in religion; rather, they were vitally joined together with the apostle in the great cause of Jesus Christ, so that he could rightly refer to them as fellow-sharers, participants, in the gospel. While there is far more evidence that could be compiled from the rest of the New Testament, I want to point out four lines of evidence of salvation contained in these verses.

A. Salvation is always accompanied by the evidence of fellowship with God.

To fellowship in the gospel is to fellowship with God Himself, who gave us the gospel. Christianity is not just believing a set of doctrines, as essential as doctrinal truth is. It is coming to know the living and true God, and that through His Son Jesus Christ. As Jesus prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Or, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).

Thus if a person is genuinely saved, he enters into a personal relationship with the personal God. Relationships involve a progressive knowledge of the other person. We grow to know God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. A relationship involves time spent together, sharing our deepest thoughts, fears, and hopes with this God who knows us thoroughly. A relationship implies that we are interested in the things that concern the other person. Even so, an evidence of salvation is that a person becomes interested in the things of God as revealed in His Word. When a true Christian is around other Christians, he delights to talk about God and His Word. If there is no interest in the things of God and no evidence of personal fellowship with God, it is doubtful if a person is truly saved.

B. Salvation is always accompanied by the evidence of fellowship with God’s people.

By entering the fellowship of the gospel, the Philippians had entered into fellowship with Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke who brought the gospel to them. Paul shares his deep feelings of love for these people. His remembrance of them brought tears of joy to his eyes and a longing to his heart. There is nothing humanly to explain this bond of love between this Asian who was formerly a Jewish zealot and these mostly Gentile Europeans who were formerly worldly pagans. One evidence of salvation is that it brings us into genuine fellowship with the people of God, no matter how different our backgrounds.

I believe this is a powerful proof of the reality of the gospel. All of us who know Christ have had the experience of meeting someone we’ve never met before, and discovering that this person also knows Christ. In just a matter of minutes, even though the person was a total stranger, the fact that we both know the Lord draws us together into a bond of fellowship that often seems closer than you feel toward some family members who do not know Christ. One of the glories of the church is that people who otherwise would have nothing in common--people like Lydia, the businesswoman; the formerly demonic slave-girl; and, the career military man (the jailer)--suddenly become “partakers of grace” (1:7) together and join together in the great cause of the gospel (1:27).

C. Salvation is always accompanied by the evidence of a new focus and endeavor: the gospel.

The Philippians, from day one, joined with Paul in the fellowship of the gospel. Rather than living for self and pleasure, as they formerly did, they now lived to serve Jesus Christ, even in the face of opposition (1:27-30). This was also the experience of the early church in Jerusalem, as we read in Acts 8:4, “Those who had been scattered [by persecution] went about spreading the good news of the word” (lit.). That’s not referring to so-called preachers only, but to all the believers. If your life has been transformed through the gospel, so that you have experienced the forgiveness of your sins by God’s grace and you have been raised from spiritual death to life by God’s power, then with the early apostles you must say, “We cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

God doesn’t save anyone so that they can live a happy, self-centered life. When He saves you, you become a minister (servant) of the gospel. We have different spiritual gifts and we have different ways and situations in which to exercise those gifts. But there is simply no such thing as a saved person who is not supposed to be serving the Lord and His gospel in some capacity. You view all of life through the lens of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:23).

One way (not the only way) that the Philippians had fellowshiped with Paul in the gospel was by frequently sending him financial support (4:15-16). It’s safe to say that if the gospel has not touched your money, it has not touched your heart, because your heart is bound up with your treasure (Matt. 6:21). So a powerful evidence of the new birth is when, quietly and without public notice (Matt. 6:1-4), out of a desire to please God, you begin giving generously to support the work of the gospel.

D. Salvation is always accompanied by the evidence of living in light of the Lord’s coming.

Paul says that God will perfect His good work “until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6), that great day when He comes back in power and glory. We shall see Him and shall be like Him (1 John 3:2). We will give an account to Him of our management of what He has entrusted to us. Every true child of God will hear those joyous words, “Well done, good and faithful slave; ... enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21, 23). The Lord will then reveal “the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). If you often think of the Lord’s coming and our meeting Him in the air, it’s a powerful evidence that He has begun the work of salvation in your heart.

3. God completes the work of salvation.

What God begins, He finishes. If salvation is, even in part, the work of man, there is the chance that it won’t be finished. But if God has begun it, and we see evidences of it, then we can be confident, whether in ourselves or in others, that He “will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” As Paul states later in this letter, it is a process in which we never arrive in this life, and so we must press on toward maturity (3:12-14). Perfection in these evidences is not going to happen until we’re with the Lord.

The fact that God does it does not imply that we are passive. God is at work, but we work with Him. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (2:12, 13). But our assurance and confidence is never in ourselves or in our working, but only in God and in the evidences we see of His faithful working in and through us. If there is evidence that God has begun the work of salvation in us, we can be confident that He will complete it as we continue to participate in the gospel.

Conclusion

A message like this may have the effect of shaking the assurance of salvation that some of you formerly had. If that assurance was a false assurance because there is no evidence that God has truly begun His good work in you, then it needs to be shaken. Or, if your assurance was based on your decision to follow Christ (rather than on His sovereign, unmerited grace), or if it was based on what you have done for God through your good deeds (rather than on what God has done for you in the death of His Son), it needs to be shaken. You need to abandon your pride and call out to God for His saving grace.

But if you can see how God sovereignly, graciously has called you to Himself, and you see the evidence of His working through your fellowship in the gospel, then you can be confident that He who began the good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  1. What Scriptures counter the common notion that people have the “free will” to choose God? (Try Rom. 9:16; James 1:18.)
  2. In light of the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23), is it wise to share “assurance of salvation” with someone who just professed faith in Christ? Why/why not?
  3. Can a Christian who has turned away from the Lord have assurance of salvation? Should we share it with him?
  4. Some argue, “If salvation requires evidence, then it is not by faith alone.” Why is this fallacious?

Copyright 1995, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Sanctification, Soteriology (Salvation)