I'm continuing to look at the book of Philippians. Please read chapter 3 along with me.
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." Philippians 3:12-16
When we read the writings of Paul we must be sure to know what he's talking about, otherwise we get confused and miss the point. When you read this passage it is easy to read it as if Paul was saying that we earn salvation. However, if you read Paul very long you'll see that that is preposterous. Paul very often said that he had no confidence in the flesh, that salvation is not of works so that no one can boast... Paul is very clear in teaching that we don't earn salvation and couldn't earn salvation if we tried.
I think when we read the writings of the Apostle Paul we see a three step process of salvation. I know what you're thinking. "Isn't salvation instant? What about the thief on the cross?" Salvation is instant and a process. Let me explain what I mean:
1) Justification = instant.
Justification is being declared innocent. This is where God looks at us and sees only the righteousness of Christ in which we are clothed. At the moment of salvation you are justified just like the thief on the cross and millions of others throughout history. You can not earn justification, it is a gift of God purchased by Christ on the cross.
2) Sanctification = a process.
This is the stage I'm currently in. I've been justified but believe me I continue to sin. This is the stage Paul is talking in the passage above. Paul is pushing forward into Christ for sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more like Christ here in this life.
Is sanctification a work? Yes and no. Sanctification takes work and sacrifice. In order to be sanctified we must forget our old life and the way we once lived and strain toward our new goal. We must, unlike Lot's wife, not look back lovingly on our old, doomed life. Sanctification may take disciples like prayer, Scripture reading, meditation on Scripture, fasting, giving, etc. Don't be fooled into thinking Christ will sanctify you while you continue in your old life.
But sanctification is a gift of God. Christ sanctifies us. Look at what Paul says, "... let us live up to what we have already attained." I believe that Christ will sanctify me and that is why I work. If it were up to me and my "goodness" I would give up because I don't stand a chance. Christ will sanctify me through trials, through the reading of His Word, through men and women I can look up to, He will sanctify me in a variety of ways but leave no doubt that while I press on toward a goal it is a goal that has been already reached for me by Jesus.
3) Glorification = instant.
The moment I die I will be glorified. There is no Purgatory and there is no sin or sinners in heaven. When I breath my last breath I will reach a glory I could never reach on my own. I will be more like Jesus than you could ever imagine because I will see Him face-to-face. I will be not only declared sinless, I will be sinless. I look forward to receiving this gift!
This is Thanksgiving week so we are reminded to be thankful. Be thankful that you have been justified by the blood of the Lamb. Thank God that you are being sanctified by a God that loves you as you are but loves you too much to leave you in the sorry state you're in now. And thank God that in an instant He will glorify you when you die or when He returns. Thank God for His Gospel in your life today.