In this posting and in the next I will point out other hermeneutic problems for Hardshells that become evident in examining and comparing Philippians 1: 6 with Philippians 2: 12 in light of Hardshell views.
"Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it (epiteleō) until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1: 6)
Hardshells agree with other Calvinists that these words, directly or indirectly, support the teaching that none who have been born again can be lost. The work that God does in the heart, mind, and soul of the sinner in initial salvation is indeed a "good work." and is also known as regeneration, renewing, calling, conversion, etc. (* see note below)
The work of transforming the nature and character of a sinner is begun by God when a sinner is regenerated. That divine work does not end as soon as it begins, as many neo Hardshells teach. The "good work" of God continues on throughout the life of the newly regenerated and will not be completed till the day of Christ, when perfection is reached. God is the first, efficient, and final cause of this work. (** see note below)
Problem #1 - God's Work is Continuous
It is interesting how Paul uses the intensive form of "epiteleo" for the "ending" or "performing" of God's good work in the heart. Many Hardshells will want to acknowledge that this "good work," whatever it is, only has the beginning (regeneration) and an ending (glorification) but has no continuity of work in between. Conversion to Christ is not part of this "good work," nor is progression in holiness, further transformation, nor perseverence in faith. This "good work," in Hardshell theory, cannot be continuous and progressive.
The thing is, however, the affirmation of continuous work is clear in the syntax, as can be seen in either the Greek or English, or in many translations. For instance, "will perfect" is from the Greek "epitelesei" and here are some examples of how it should be translated:
will carry it on to completion (NIV)
will go on completing it (NJB)
will continue his work until it is finally finished (NLT)
The words "from the first day until now" (vs. 5) speak of a period of time, not to an instant, being a time when God was doing his good work.
A favorite Hardshell saying is "We are passive in regeneration, but in obedience we are active." What is meant by "in obedience" is "in the life after regeneration." According to Hardshell theory God does not work in the same way after regeneration as he did in regeneration. God does not work effectually in the regenerated to insure their progressive sanctification or perseverence. There is no further work that God needs to do, after regeneration, and before the resurrection of the body, towards completing this "good work." After regeneration, it is taught by nearly all neo Hardshells, the saint is never passive. But, again, in rebuttal, the text is clear that the good work of God is continuous and without interruption. Further, as we shall see, Scripture speaks of the ongoing work of God in daily renewal and transformation and uses the passive voice.
Problem #2 - Identifying the "good work"
Whatever the "good work" is, it has a beginning, ending, and continuous work in between.
The commentary at preceptaustin (a good place for Bible study help) wrote:
"Good work almost certainly refers to God's work in salvation but a few commentators feel that it may relate to their active financial participation ("good work") in the furtherance of the gospel. For example Wuest feels that God who had begun in the Philippians the good work of giving to missions would maintain their fruitful activity until Christ returns." (see here)
I do not wish to go into the view of Wuest and others who contend that the "good work" is not regeneration or conversion specifically (a view which I accept), but "the good work of giving to missions." The posting after next in this series will concern this point and if it is shown that the good work is equated with a heart for supporting evangelism and missions, then such a fact will present yet another problem for Hardshells. But, whether it is regeneration or mission support, the principle that Paul upholds is true. In all of God's works we may say that God finishes what works he begins. So, I will deal now with the verse with the supposition that the "good work" is talking about regeneration or conversion.
Hardshells have a problem with affirming that this "good work" is regeneration, for the good work, as we have seen, is continuous, and does not stop with initial regeneration. Let us read the verse substituting "regeneration" for "good work" and see what problems it gives to the Hardshells.
"he which hath begun a regeneration in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
The difficulty for Hardshell interpretation is easily seen. They do not believe that regeneration is continuous in the life of the believer. I, like John Calvin, do not have any problem with viewing "regeneration" as a word that may include daily transformation into the image of Christ. This seems to be more in keeping with Scripture usage though it be at odds with many post reformation theologians who want to confine the term "regeneration" and its equivalent terms, to first receiving spiritual life. If we equate "regeneration" (paliggenesia - noun) with "transformation" (metamorphoō - verb), and with "renewal" (anakainōsis), then we must say that it is indeed continous.
Regeneration & Transformation
In II Cor. 3: 18 Paul wrote:
"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
"Are changed" is better translated as "are being transformed." The Greek word "metamorphoumetha" is present passive denoting a work that is ongoing and one in which the receiver of the work is passive. This is a difficulty for the Hardshells. What will they say about this continuous change from glory to glory? In Hardshell theory, when a person is passive in some spiritual activity, then God is the one doing the work and thus it will always be effectual. How can they deny that God is working as effectually in people after regeneration as he did in regeneration? "The legs of the lame are not equal" here.
Further, this transformation occurs while people are "beholding" the glory of the Lord, and this beholding is continuous. This is significant and poses insurmountable difficulties for the Hardshells and their views. The Hardshells of today will likely not want to acknowledge that this continual change into the glorious image of Christ is the "good work" of God. They will not confess that progressive sanctification and perseverence in the faith are part of that "good work."
Hardshells dare not make conversion to Christ a part of this "good work" that God begins and which he will surely bring to completion. Yet, it gives them insurmountable difficulties to exclude conversion from it.
Regeneration & Renewal
In Titus 3: 5, a verse often cited by Hardshells, Paul connects "the washing of regeneration" with the "renewing of the Holy Ghost."
Regeneration and renewal go together as does change and transformation. In Scripture, the words used to denote renewal and transformation are nearly always, if not always, used in present tense linear form which represents continuous action, not a one time instantaneous action. We are being regenerated, being renewed and being transformed, and that "day by day."
"Trench writes that "anakainosis" ("renewing") refers to
the gradual conforming of the man more and more to that new spiritual world into which he has been introduced, and in which he now lives and moves; the restoration of the divine image.
John Stott agrees writing that anakainosis...
may be synonymous with ‘rebirth’, the repetition being used for rhetorical effect. Or it may refer to the process of moral renovation or transformation which follows the new birth. ( Stott, J. R. W. Guard the Truth: The message of 1 Timothy & Titus. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press)
The noun anakainosis is found only twice in the NT here and in Romans 12:2 (no uses in Lxx)
And do not be conformed (stop this - present imperative) to this world, but be transformed (continually - present imperative) by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (ibid)
The Hardshells must deny that the transformation and renewal in these words are the same divine "good work" as that transformation and renewal that happens in regeneration. Yet, there is no justification for doing this. What is clear, however, is the fact that the transforming of people into the likeness of Christ is not only a continuous fashioning work, but is also described as a work that God does upon people, who are passive, and as a work these same people are exhorted to be active in. Hardshell failure to see how these are harmonious facts is because of their false presuppositions and false premises.
Problem #3 - God works in believers to persevere
The preceptaustin study page on our passage then cites the famed Bible scholar Hendrikson.
"how closely the apostle links human perseverance (“your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until the present”) with divine preservation (“he who began a good work in you will carry it on toward completion”). Any doctrine of salvation which does not do full justice to both of these elements is unscriptural... Although it is true that God brings his work to completion, it is equally true that when God has once begun his work in men, the latter by no means remain merely passive instruments! (Hendriksen, W., Kistemaker, S. J. New Testament Commentary Set, 12 Volumes. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House)"
But, this linking of perseverance with preservation is a truth cast away by today's Hardshells. In the next posting, when we look at Philippians 2: 12-13, we will see how the Apostle Paul had no problem seeing God's saving work as having both passive and active aspects to it.
*(Note: Salvation's aspects may be divided into those things that God does for the sinner, external to the sinner, and what he does to or in the sinner. Justification and forensic pardon are works done for the sinner. These change the sinners state or legal standing while conversion, regeneration, sanctification, etc., are works done in the psyche/pneuma of the sinner, changing his condition and moral character.)
**(Note: In saying that there is a beginning and an ending to God's good work of saving and transforming the character of a sinner, it is also affirmed that there is a first cause and a final cause. "Teleo" is the Greek word used for "end" in Scripture. The teleological "end" of a thing is not simple cessation, but for a thing to reach the final state intended. It signifies a goal attained, purpose or aim accomplished. The idea of reaching maturity is included in the Greek idea of "teleo." (Note: The Greek word "synteleia," often translated end or consummation, carries more of the mere idea of cessation of a process than does "telos") Aristotle spoke of the four causes, the material, formal, efficient (or moving), and final cause. Paul speaks of three causes. He wrote:
"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever." (Rom. 11: 36)
When a thing (A) is said to be "of" another thing (B), it is affirmed that B is the cause of A, that B is either the formal, material, or first cause of A. When Paul says that all things are "through" God, he means that God is not only the first cause but also the efficient cause, or means. Finally, when Paul says that all things are "to" God, he means that God is the final cause, the reason or purpose for all things. Because a Christian's transformation is the work of God, a work of infinite love, wisdom, and power, it cannot fail to reach its purposed end.