I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)
Inasmuch as we are saved in an instant, we are conformed into the image of Christ over time — not just daily, but moment by moment, all the days of our lives. Each of us is a W.I.P. – a Work In Progress – until we cross the Jordan and enter into our promised land.
Our discipleship journey has a distinct beginning (the moment we are saved) and a determined end (the moment we are ushered into glory.) Both those moments, and everything that takes place in between, are gifts of God’s grace, given us through the power of the Holy Spirit, and it will all take place in God’s time and in His perfect way. Today’s verse assures us that God has promised to complete the good work that He has begun in each one of us, but that completion will look different in each of our lives.
Paul was absolutely assured of this promise from God, and he shared it with the Philippians as both a comfort and a challenge. It is a comfort to know God is at work in our lives and will finish what He started. It is also a challenge for us to know that we are commanded to play a role in the process. As I said, it is all of God’s grace, yet we must play our part in the process of growing and maturing in our faith. I devoted one of my last articles of 2021, titled “About Your Workout,” to discussing the Bible’s command to “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
This process of growth is called sanctification, in which the believer is progressively made holy. But it is never a straight path that leads to glory. The road of being conformed to the image of Christ has many twists and turns in it, and we will continually struggle with the “old self,” which is at war with the “new self,” as Paul so poignantly described in Romans 7. But the trajectory of this process is always progress, and it is ultimately pointed in the direction of becoming more and more like Jesus.
Can you not look back in your life and see how God has been growing you up into Christ? We all can see how God has been working in our lives, but we must always remember that He is still at work! As a W.I.P. we are not what we will be one day, and that means we must be patient with ourselves and with each other. Yes, we must do our part by engaging in the means of grace God has given us – prayer, Bible study, service, corporate worship, etc. – but we must never forget that this will take the rest of our lives to be completed, and the same goes for everyone else who is in Christ.
I closed out a recent sermon with this lovely quote from the great Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, who was describing the transformation of Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who had once been so unpleasant, after his encounter with Aslan, the Christ-figure in The Chronicles of Narnia book series:
It would be nice to say that from that time forth Eustace was a different boy. To be accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.
The same could be said of you and me as well, could it not? We all have our relapses. We all have our bad days . . . many of them! But the cure has begun. The message of the cross is a message of living hope, because He who was crucified and rose from the dead is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, where He lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is at work both in us and through us, and He will not stop short of His intended goal of Christlikeness for all those who have trusted in His atoning work on their behalf.
So . . . have you embraced this lifelong process of being conformed into the image of your Savior? What is the witness of your W.I.P.? Remember, you will not be perfect — not even close to it — until you are home with Jesus. So, Christian, embrace all your imperfection, holding fast to the goal of perfection, knowing that when you fail Him, you are completely forgiven and unconditionally loved.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!