What does it mean to be "Reformed"? (3)May 1, 2013
We are now ready to move on to the second thing entailed by the use of the word “Reformed.”
(2) To be Reformed means that you attribute your salvation to God and God alone: from its inception at the time of the new birth, through the progressive sanctifying influence of the Spirit during the course of one’s Christian life, to its consummation at the moment Christ returns and we are finally and fully glorified.
There are countless texts that affirm this truth, but we will look at one that is rarely noted in this regard: Philippians 1:3-6, 27-28. I encourage you to first go read the passage.
Paul's opening word of gratitude to God is not some customary literary formality. It is a solemn declaration that as far as Paul is concerned God is the ultimate source of both his and the Philippians' salvation and sanctification. Whatever degree of progress that either he or they had made in the Christian life was God's doing, ultimately, and that is why he thanks him for it.
If God were not ultimately responsible for the Philippians’ participation in the gospel, Paul might reasonably inform him of these things, he might declare it as an affirmation of faith, but he couldn't thank him for them. When you "thank" someone you are acknowledging that they have done something or given something or acted in some way with the result that either you or others have been blessed. They are the source or the cause for whatever it is you now have. Thanksgiving is a declaration that identifies and acknowledges who is responsible. If you send me a gift and I thank your sister, you'd be understandably confused. To "thank" someone is to give them credit for the gift. So, for what does Paul thank God? Two things in particular:
First, he thanks God for their participation in the gospel (v. 5). Paul recognized that their desire to spread the good news and their actual doing of it were traceable to God working in their hearts: "God, thank you for stirring up the Philippians to join with me in preaching the good news of Jesus." They participated by sending Paul a monetary gift while he was imprisoned (see 4:10 and compare with 2 Cor. 8:1; the Macedonians = Philippians, and others). The ultimate source for their sacrificial giving was God who showered them with grace, that is, with a divinely empowered ability to do what in their own strength they couldn't do.
Second, he thanks God because of his commitment to bring their salvation to its full consummation (v. 6) - Note what he says: "I thank God because he is going to finish in you what he started! God began a good work in you. It wasn't just a work; it was a ‘good’ work. I know it was because I've seen evidence of it in the way you participated in the gospel and the way you supported me financially in my time of great need. And I have absolute, unassailable confidence that no matter what happens God will consummate this work so that when you stand before Jesus at the judgment you will have no need to be afraid."
Thus Paul is confident of the Christians in Philippi because he is confident of God! Paul's confidence has little to do with the Philippians themselves. He doesn't have confidence in them simply because they've worked hard and been generous. He has confidence in them because he has confidence in God. “I know what God is like. I know how his saving grace works.”
But his acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty in their salvation doesn’t end there. He picks up this theme again in 1:27-28 where he tells the church not to fear their opponents, because both the opposition they experience as well as their perseverance (“standing firm in one spirit”) in the midst of it serve as a sign. On the one hand, their enemies interpret their suffering as a sign that they (the believers) will be destroyed, whereas believers should interpret their perseverance in suffering as a sign that they truly are saved.
But then note the little phrase that Paul tags on at the end of v. 28 - "and that from God." And "what" from God? Their perseverance in the midst of suffering and the salvation to which it testifies!
In other words, it is God who sovereignly orchestrates the opposition they face. It is God who sovereignly enables them to endure the persecutions that come their way. And it is God who is the source of the salvation they enjoy. “God,” says Walter Hansen, “is the source of all aspects of their salvation – of their ability to stand firm in the one Spirit, their striving together as one soul to declare and live by the gospel, and their courageous persistence when threatened with destruction by their opponents” (101).
One could hardly affirm less about the sovereignty of God in salvation and rightly be called Reformed.