Sanctification (Philippians 2:12-18)


Philippians 2:12-18; Key Verse: 2:12b-13

"...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."

The 1 point of my 2012 New Year sermon is: "Because God works in you (accepts you/saves you), you can change and you will change." Are you changing? Stated differently, the 1 point is: "Because God accepts you, change is now possible." Thus, there will always be change in a Christian's life, and it will always work itself out in our lives daily. This is salvation. Salvation never means, "I save myself by my repentance, my faith, my decision and my will." Rather, salvation always means, "God saved me, even though I am (completely) helpless to save myself."

West Loop UBF Church has prayed that 2010 may be the year of the Gospel and that 2011 may be a year of Grace. For 2012 we pray that it may be the year of Sanctification. (This sounds scary, especially for me!)

What is sanctification? What does it have to do with salvation?

There are 3 stages of salvation: Justification, Sanctification, Glorification. Justification removes the penalty of sin (hell). Sanctification removes the power of sin (the pattern of sin in one's life). Glorification removes the presence of sin (perfection), which does not occur till Jesus 2nd Coming. In Christ, God accepts us and adopts us in Justification, changes us in Sanctification, and perfects us in Glorification. All 3 stages fully involve the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Spirit (2 Cor 13:14). J. I. Packer summarizes the gospel as,

"God saves sinners. God—the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves—does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies."
My 3 point sermon on Sanctification is as follows:
  1. What it is.
  2. What it does.
  3. What it's like.
I. What is Sanctification (Php 2:12-13)? How does it work? Why it works?

Php 2:12-13 is 1 of the most important passages in all of the Bible about sanctification. Sanctification is a technical term that theologians and Bible teachers use to describe what it means to grow in Christian maturity.

The NT talks about sanctification in many ways: becoming more and more like Jesus, imitating Jesus, emulating Jesus, becoming more godly, having the fruit of the Spirit, having the law of God written in our heart by the Holy Spirit, being reshaped in the image of God, which was not lost, but marred, not erased but effaced by sin. In sanctification God is addressing that marring, and healing it and restoring it to its former glory so that we would be what He intended us to be in the 1st place: the very image and likeness of God Almighty.

Paul begins in Php 2:12 with "Therefore..." which should prompt the question, "What is 'therefore' there for?" Paul is pointing back to Php 2:5-11, which is the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. Thus, "therefore" is there for encouraging Christians to live in light of Jesus' humble obedience in his humiliation and exaltation.

What is the difference between our work and God's work? The Greek word for man's "work" (Php 2:12) is katergazesthai, which always has the idea of bringing to completion. Paul does not want us to stop half-way, or burn out, or suffer from CFS - Christian Fatigue Syndrome. No happy Christian ever thinks, "I've arrived. I'm there" (cf. Php 3:12). Instead, every Christian knows that "I am a work in progress. I am still under construction."

However, the Greek word for God's "work" in us (Php 2:13) is energein, a word which is always used of the action of God, and it is always used of effective action that cannot be frustrated, nor can it remain half-finished; it must be fully effective. This is not an excuse for failure or apathy. Instead, how comforting and reassuring it is to know that God's work can never fail, and will never fail, even if my work fails and falls short all the time.

II. What Sanctification Does (Php 2:12-16a)? The 5 signs/evidences of Sanctification (Salvation) are:

  1. Obedience: Daily practical work (Php 12; 3:12-16). We pursue godliness/holiness.
  2. Awe: Fear and trembling (Php 12).
  3. Gratitude: Without grumbling or arguing (Php 14).
  4. Purity: Blameless, pure and without fault (Php 15a).
  5. Evangelism: Shine forth the word of life (Php 15b-16a).
Do you have these 5 signs and evidences of Sanctification?

III. What is Sanctification Like (Php 2:16b-18)? Sanctification is like:

  1. An athlete racing/competing to win the prize (Php 2:16b, 3:14; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 Cor 9:24-27).
  2. An offering poured out to God (Php 2:17-18; 2 Tim 4:6).
The practical "real" problem in the Christian life is that we still have sin in us. Because of sin still in us, we either despair in fatalism that we will never change. Or we primarily change outwardly like a Pharisee, so that we try to look good in the eyes of others (Mt 23:25-28), not that this ever works. Paul's encouragement to us is that real heart change and real life change is possible because it is God whose work in us can never fail (1 Cor 8:6, 12:6; 2 Cor 3:5; Eph 2:8-10; Php 1:6; Rom 6:17; 2 Th 1:11-12; Heb 13:20-21; 1 Pet 4:11; Gal 5:22-23). This reminds me of a poem that expresses God's ever present grace to us:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee. (Anonymous)

  1. To what is "therefore" referring (2:5-11)? What does it mean to "work out your salvation" (12)? "...for it is God who works in you" (13)? What is the difference between our "work" and God's "works"? What is sanctification (1 Th 5:23; 1 Pet 1:2)? How does salvation "work" (1 Cor 8:6, 12:6; 2 Cor 3:5; Eph 2:8-10; Php 1:6; Rom 6:17; 2 Th 1:11-12; Heb 13:20-21; 1 Pet 4:11; Gal 5:22-23)?
  2. Notice and discuss the "signs" of salvation in Phil 2:12-16a:
    • Daily practical work (12; 3:12-16).
    • Fear and trembling (12).
    • Without grumbling or arguing (14).
    • Blameless, pure and without fault (15a).
    • Shine forth the word of life (15b-16a).
  3. Notice Paul's use of athletic imagery: run and labor (16b; 3:14; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 Cor 9:24-27), and religious sacrifice: poured out like a drink offering (17; 2 Tim 4:6). What does this tell us about Paul's life (1 Cor 15:30-31)? How should the Philippians view suffering (18; 1:19)?


  1. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible, 1975, 2003.
  2. Live Life in Light of the Humiliation and Exaltation of Christ, Ligon Duncan, Php 2:12-13, Sermon 2/10/08.
  3. Sanctification 101 and Missions, Ligon Duncan, Php 2:12-13, Sermon 2/17/08.

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