In Paul’s letter to the believers at Philippi, he states, “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, CSB). What is that good work to which Paul refers? And how does God go about finishing this work within the believer?
The Significance of the Holy Seal
This good work is a direct reference to the gospel’s work within the believer — it is life-changing! Ephesians 1:13 says, “In him [Christ] you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed.”
Your old life as a slave to sin is dead and you have been made new in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-5 CSB). That is the process of regeneration, it's immediate. No delay. You are justified and saved — sealed by the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word that Paul used was sphragizo, which means to seal. This was referencing the type of seal one would have used during that period to seal and mark a letter proving its authenticity.
In a similar manner, we are stamped and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Unlike the manmade seal, we carry the eternal seal of El-Shaddai — there is absolutely nothing breaking through that (Romans 8:38, CSB).
As we delve further into how God finishes the work within the believer, we will cover some theological terms that, while we hear pastors or even Bible study leaders say, we ourselves might not necessarily grasp the in-depth meaning and importance.
Oftentimes, words such as unrighteous, regeneration, justification, and sanctification get jumbled and interchanged when, in all actuality, they are each distinct and vital aspects of the work of God.
Truthfully, I had been a Christian for the better part of a decade before I had a firm grasp of each of them. Praise the Lord that the gospel is so simple that even a child can understand, yet so rich and complex that in my lifetime I will still be growing and studying until God calls me home.
Unrighteous Vs Righteous
First, let us look at unrighteous. The prefix -un means not; therefore, one who is unrighteous is not righteous, rather they are sinful, wicked (Merriam-Webster). In three different places, the Bible makes it explicitly clear “…there is no one righteous, not even one” (Psalms 14:3, Psalms 53:3; Romans 3:12, CSB).
All of God’s Word is important, though we can be certain that when things are repeated multiple times, it means God is telling us this is extremely important to know.
Recognizing this foundational truth — that our innate sin nature and inability to save ourselves is the first part of the work that God starts within our hearts — is vital to understanding the importance of the next terms throughout this study (Romans 3:23).
Since God is righteous and holy — He is without sin, therefore, we are unable to be in His presence in our unrighteous, in our sinful state (Romans 3:21-23).
Justified Through Christ
Justification means to be declared just or made righteous in the sight of God. It was Jesus’ sinless life being sacrificed on that cruel cross and then his resurrection three days later that immediately justifies, or makes right before God, any person that willingly confesses their sins and accepts Christ as Lord and Savior. Now and forevermore, no exceptions.
If you listened to Christian music in the late 90s, the following illustration may sound familiar. Back when performing skits were popular amongst church youth groups, one of the leaders from my home church played a song called “The Courtroom” for us.
Overlooking the cheesy 90s production quality, as well as artistic liberties of how things will occur at the final judgment, the actual analogy fits. God is the ultimate lawgiver and judge. He sits on His throne like a judge in a court of law.
We, every person on this earth, are all the defendants. In this case, the lawyer, Jesus, is quite literally the only one who can save you — so we each must choose wisely. Jesus has offered to be the substitutionary atonement — He is willing to take our place as a substitute before God.
The moment you accept this gift, God no longer sees sin-marred [insert your name here], but the spotless lamb of God — Jesus. You have been made just or righteous in the eyes of God (Romans 3:24-26).
The Perfect Potter
You have been redeemed, regenerated, justified, and now the work of sanctification takes place. Sanctification is the process of being sanctified — to make holy or to set apart, becoming more and more like Christ.
It began the moment you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior. Paul explains in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.”
Like a potter who sits at the wheel, applying pressure here and there, guiding the clay to take the shape he desires, so too, God shapes, molds, and guides us to become useful vessels to bring glory and honor to Him. Just like a potter, God uses various tools, if you will, to accomplish His plan of refining us.
As we have discussed earlier, the Holy Spirit is the driving force within a Christian’s life that convicts and compels them to forsake sin and choose the righteous path of God.
In His infinite wisdom, God knew that we would need an instruction manual to navigate this broken world, therefore, the next tool within the sanctification process is the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
While it is an ancient text, it is very much active and alive — it does not change with the current cultural climate, it is meant to change us (Hebrews 4:12, CSB).
Unlike a human potter who is at the mercy of the integrity of the clay and his instruments, God’s sovereign authority is on magnificent display as He uses all our circumstances, yes, even trials to shape us.
It’s for that very reason we are reminded to “consider it a great joy…whenever you experience various trials because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-3, CSB).
No Wasted Suffering
The other day I saw a video of a potter as she went through the steps to reclaim and recycle old bits of her pottery. She started by putting all the old bits from bowls, mugs, etc. into a large bucket. Then taking a hammer she began crushing the pieces into smaller bits.
Next, she filled the bucket with water, covered all the tiny pieces, added some mason stain for a particular color, mixed it around a bit, and let it reconstitute. Afterward, she had to lay it out onto her work surface to dry, remembering to flip it daily until the clay was dry enough to wedge or knead.
Her final product was so stunning. It reminded me of God, how He takes our brokenness — it’s never wasted with Him if we allow Him to reconstitute it — sometimes it feels like our circumstances are beating us into bits.
Have you ever felt like you just cannot take anymore? You might be experiencing pain so excruciating that it seems like there is no way you will recover. Our culture tells us to be strong and do not bend (2 Corinthians 4:4, CSB).
Maybe, just maybe, God needs to break those strongholds in your life first before turning you into His masterpiece (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, CSB).
For me, the Lord has used parenthood as a major source of refinement. While I fully believe that children are most definitely blessings from the Lord, He has used my precious sweeties as tiny pieces of sandpaper to smooth those rough edges of selfishness and pride within my life.
Praise God for that! Though parenthood has not always been Instagram-worthy, I am beyond thankful that those moments were not wasted, but in fact part of God’s master plan to sanctify me.
Trust the Process
Maybe you already understand the differences between sanctification and justification, fantastic! However, if questioned by a child, would you be able to break it down in a way for him/her to comprehend?
Let this serve as an exhortation for us as believers to know fully and deeply what we cling to that we may be able to teach and train the next generation. For me, the conviction to dig deeper came when my eldest child began asking questions about the Bible, God, and my faith.
In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul reminded Timothy to “be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.”
It is our responsibility to know what we believe and why, not to prove others wrong, but to give an account of our faith and to train faithfully the next generation.
The good work of sanctification is a life-long process for a Christian, ending only at death or at the return of Jesus, whichever occurs first. “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, CSB). Hallelujah that God is patient and faithful!
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Amanda Robinson is a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mom of three, and a Christian blogger. As someone who has struggled through the deepest valleys of depression, Amanda hopes to share the complete joy that comes through forgiveness and renewal in Jesus Christ. For more, check out her blog.
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