“…it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.”
When we come to faith in Christ, God testifies directly to our spirits that we have been adopted into His family. As we continue to walk with Christ, God continues to confirm our membership in His family by working the character of Christ inside of us. Since no one can desire or perform God’s will on a consistent basis without the saving grace of the Holy Spirit, such desire and performance is a sign of God’s saving power.
Progressive Divine Confirmation
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.
The witness of the Holy Spirit is a declaration that comes directly from God to His child assuring him of His acceptance. Before the newly reborn soul has a chance to produce the fruits of repentance and faith, God recognizes, and acknowledges, the genuineness of both his faith and repentance. Before the disciple produces any good fruit God declares him to be a “good tree.” This testimony of God is initial divine confirmation of salvation.
But as time passes the “good tree” begins to bear good fruit. This fruit of a changed life further testifies to the fact that the believer has indeed gone through a fundamental transformation since a “tree is known by its fruit.” This fruit of holy submission to the will of God is a sign that God is at work in the individual forming him into the image of Jesus Christ. This change of attitude and character is progressive divine confirmation of the discple’s salvation in Christ.
Co-laborers with God
So then, my dear friends … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.
When know God works in a believer, and we note that this divine activity is confirmation of a person’s standing in Christ, but we must not make the mistake of imagining that God is the only one to play a role in his transformation. When we look at Philippians 2:13 we see it starts with a small but important word, “for.” This means that God working in believers has a connection to verse 12. The Apostle is saying that since God is working in His child, that individual is obligated to work it out.
He makes the same point in Romans 8:12-14:
So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons.
We see that since the Spirit of God lives in the born again soul and has given him the power to overcome sin, he is obligated to utilize that grace in his life. The Scripture warns believers against “receiving God’s grace in vain.” God gives the disciple the desire and ability to follow His will, but the disciple is the one that must follow. Without God’s grace he could not follow, but because he has God’s grace he must follow. So, those that are enabled to do God’s will, and who actually do it, are those that receive the confirmation of their salvation.
1 John 2:3
This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands.
What is the fruit of a life walking in the grace of God? As we see in 1 John 2:3 the answer is that saved individuals live in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in the Great Commission (MAT. 28:18-20), “Make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” These commands are summed up in loving God and loving others. If a person truly obeys these two commands he will walk out all the commands given by God through His Son.
We see a sample of these commands in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7. But throughout the Gospels we see various commands given by the Master. And in the letters of the Apostles we see these commands reworded and reiterated.
Here is a sample of such commands given by Paul in Ephesians 5:3-5:
But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God.
Children of God do not live in habitual willful sin against God. We are told very clearly that those who live in such rebellion should not consider themselves Christians in 1 John 3:9-10:
Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because His seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. This is how God’s children — and the Devil’s children — are made evident.
Ever Increasing Growth
Christians are obedient, not rebellious, from the first day they come to Christ. Repentance is a condition of saving faith, without it, someone is still lost in their sins. But this does not mean that believers do not grow in “grace and knowledge” (2 Pet 3:18). Though born again individuals are no longer rebellious, they still have inward corruption that must be transformed by grace and they still need to come to understand fully what the will of the Lord is. So though they don’t grow in obedience, they do learn to follow the will of God more precisely and are changed within so that obedience becomes easier.
For this reason we read in 2 Peter 1:5-8
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self- control, self- control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christians are not perfect in the sense that they know everything and always find it easy to obey the commands of Christ, but they do “live up to whatever truth we have attained” (Phil. 3:16). In this way they “keep from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge” of Jesus Christ; and they confirm their “calling and election” and ensure they will “never stumble” (2 Pet. 1:10).
Testimony of Conscience
1 John 3:18-19
Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action. This is how we will know we belong to the truth and will convince our conscience in His presence…
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit bears testimony to God’s children that they belong to Him. But it is not only the Spirit of God that testifies, but also the spirit of the individual. A believer’s conscience knows whether he is walking in the grace of God or not. This is why the Bible tells us, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). On the Last Day God will judge our faith by the fruit we bore, we must prepare for that day by judging ourselves in the same way. As we are told in 1 Corinthians 11:31, “If we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.”
You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.’
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
One last point we want to discuss as we consider the progressive divine confirmation of a godly life. Many imagine that if God is working in them they will always feel like they are doing well and overcoming. But though Christians are overcomers, growth in holiness is not always a pretty sight. Though we go from “glory to glory” there is often a lot of messy things that go on under the surface. We can’t make the mistake of imagining that the growth in sanctification which confirms our faith is lacking any visible weakness.
During some seasons believers are more convinced of their inner corruption than when they were first under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. God disciplines His sons and daughters, and sometimes this discipline comes in the form of bringing hidden motives and attitudes to the surface that His child didn’t know dwelt in their hearts. He can bring these to the surface by putting them in situations that expose these corruptions, or He can shine the spotlight of the Holy Spirit directly on them, surprising the soul of the disciple.
When the believer was lost, God brought them to repentance by convicting of them of their sinfulness and convincing them that they were condemned before a holy God. Now that they are God’s children they are no longer under condemnation. But this does not mean that many of the corruptions they developed while alienated from Him disappear overnight. Inbred sin still lurks below the surface. God in His mercy shines on this corruption in order to humble His dearly loved children. God does not give grace to the proud, but to the humble. One of the main reason for this is that the proud will never cry out to the Lord for help, but the humble will. When believers see the “fleshly desires that war against” their souls they call upon the One who came to save them from their sins (1 Pet. 2:11, Mat. 1:21).
We are told again and again the kind of attitude taht God takes delight in. It is not the self-confidence and self-righteousness of the Pharisee that please Him, but brokenness of a contrite heart. Consider these verses in order to see what a sanctified soul looks like.
This is the Lord’s declaration. I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at My word.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.
God’s children are obedient by His grace, but they don’t feel self-sufficient or self-satisfied. They are like newborn infants longing for pure spiritual milk, so that they may grow by it for their salvation (1 Pet. 2:2). They don’t feel they have arrived, but they press on towards the goal (Phil. 3:13). They don’t have their eyes on themselves but on Jesus, the source and perfecter of their faith (Heb. 12:2).
When helping a soul discern whether or not he is truly walking in God’s grace we must be very careful to make a distinction between open rebellion to God’s commands and natural human weakness. In the list below, only #1 and #2 reveal a heart not walking in God’s grace. #1 is a heart that has either never been born again or has turned away from God back into rebellion. #2 reveals a heart that has a form of godliness but denies the transforming power of God’s grace. #1 is a rebel, and #2 is a moralist, neither are new creations in Christ. #3 – #5 are all possible in the Christian experience.
- Habitually doing what a person knows is against God’s commandments.
- Not practicing any obvious sins, but also not growing in the character of Christ and the knowledge of God’s will.
- Willfully transgressing a known command, but not on a habitual basis.
- Habitually, but unknowingly, sinning against one or more of God’s commands.
- Feeling tempted to sin because of fleshly desires but not deciding to sin in thought, word or deed.