I am “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6 NIV).
It’s a good thing! What a relief! Thank you, Lord! We certainly can’t carry out our own sanctification through sheer human effort. It’s impossible. We’re sinners. But we’re made-new sinners. Therein lies the rub. We’re no longer happy sinning or content to stay that way. This is evidence of the Holy Spirit within us. Yet, daily, we still sin. It’s a good thing he’s faithful to carry out the good work, bringing it to completion.
We often don’t even know we’re sinning. Our sins are bred in our thoughts and intentions. We hide our motives behind our backs, sure that our intentions are loving, good, and selfless. Only later, after everything blows up in our faces, do we discover that our intentions were unloving, bad, and selfish. We lie to ourselves so easily. We’re sinners. We do it well. Hence, David’s question and plea: “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12 ESV).
Sometimes our sins aren’t so easily hidden. The worry line between our eyes proclaims our continuing battle with anxiety. Our tempers flare. The tire around our waistline discloses our gluttony. Our cluelessness about others’ pain reveals our self-absorption and lack of empathy. We’re still tempted to look when the men’s cross country team runs by in their scanty running apparel. And on it goes. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:3 ESV).
Our inability to ever arrive at the state of perfection is universal. This fact of our humanity does not cause God to throw up his hands in disgust and say, “That’s it! Now you’ve done it. I’m giving up on you!” Nor does our continued sinfulness surprise him. No. He’s aware that we’re dust, jars of clay, human. Instead, he patiently continues to show us his mercy and to work out our sanctification within us.
We merely cooperate. But we can’t even take credit for that. It is he who pours his grace into our hearts, giving us the desire to change. The transformation begins. Ever so gradually. Bit by bit. Until our time on earth is through. But we will not “arrive” until we see him face to face. Only then will the metamorphosis be complete.
So what do we do? Give up? No indeed. We yield ourselves to his work and avail ourselves of God’s grace, grabbing a hold of Jesus’ ankles. We fight the good fight; we press on. With the Holy Spirit nudging us, we remain constantly aware of our flawed brokenness, humbly admitting to our Savior our inability to save ourselves, habitually pleading for his help, thanking him for this moment-by-moment grace.
We “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12b, 13 NIV). What a relief!