Addressing the Calvinist Claim That God Can Irresisitibly Cause (Make) People to “Freely” Love Him

Below is a recent response to a Calvinist in a discussion forum which addresses the oft repeated Calvinist claim that while God works in the elect irresistibly, the elect still freely come to Christ in such a way that their free will is not violated. In other words, Calvinists often say that it is a misrepresentation of Calvinism to suggest that God saves people “against their will”, while it seems that their theological claims cannot actually avoid that logical conclusion.  This is a part of a conversation I recently had with a Calvinist that made this claim:

Calvinist: “My wife made me willing to love her the first time I saw her. She was so appealing to me I knew that I had to have her. That is what the Lord does to His people. He makes us willing by showing us our desperate need of Him and then the beauty of His salvation. He makes us willing by giving us a new heart to know our need and to see the wonder of the truth of the Gospel as it is in Christ.”

Me: “But prior to that we were God haters who wanted nothing to do with God, so the analogy fails. And we didn’t want a “new heart” prior to God giving us one (in Calvinism, since in my view the new heart is clearly and Biblically the result of faith, and not the cause). It would be like someone using a mind control device in someone who hated broccoli and controlling the mind in such a way that it suddenly found broccoli irresistibly attractive. Would we say that the person then freely chose to love broccoli? Of course not.”

Calvinist: “That is why Christ said that you must be born again in order to even see the kingdom of God. The new nature must come before faith. God making us willing is not mind control in the sense that you describe it but giving us a new nature and a new mind. Of course the analogy isn’t perfect but it does illustrate the fact that we can be made to love without it being against our will.”

Me: “No it doesn’t. If we were God haters that wanted nothing to do with Christ prior to His irresistible act of “giving us a new heart” that “makes us willing”, then it was certainly “against our will” because our will was to hate and reject God prior to His irresistible working in us. It would be like a man meeting a girl at a bar and the girl doesn’t like him and wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she finds him repulsive. So the man slips a pill in her drink that removes her inhibitions and causes her to begin to find him attractive, even to the point of “making her willing” to sleep with him. Now if this incident was brought before the court, would the court say that the man is not liable for violating the woman against her will, since the pill he put in her drink “made her willing”? Of course not. Nobody would say that she freely chose to be with the man under such circumstances, and no one would say that her will was not violated.”

“As distasteful as this illustration might be, it illustrates the exact same principle behind your claims that while God “makes us willing” this making us willing by “giving us a new heart” is not a violation of the person’s will. Instead of dropping a pill into our drink, God drops a “new heart” into our God hating chest. The only difference would be that in your view of how God works, the “effects” of the “drug” would never wear off. But that doesn’t change the fact that a person’s will has been obviously violated in the process.”

“It really is pretty simple. If God’s working faith into us is not resistible, but irresistible, then it certainly violates freedom and the will. That is so obvious, it shouldn’t even need to be pointed out. If you want to say that God irresistibly brings sinners to faith and love and devotion to Him (by irresistibly removing their “hate God heart” and putting in a “love God heart”) because you think the Bible teaches that, then fine. But trying to then claim that God does this in such a way that we freely come to him in such a way that our wills are not violated is clearly incoherent. You can’t have it both ways. Sorry.”

Related posts:

Resistible Grace or Sinless Perfection? A Call For Theological Precision in the Calvinist Accounting of Monergistic Conversion

The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture

No Real Choice in Calvinism

Is The “New Heart” of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation vs. The T.U.L.I.P. of Calvinism

While Calvinists like to play with flowers (or MUPPETS?), Arminians prefer to deal with the FACTS.  For an excellent and detailed summary of what Arminians believe and why, be sure to check out The FACTS of Salvation: A summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace!!

I just wanted to share some brief notes about my article, “The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace,” recently published here at the website of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. It comes to about 25 pages and is a summary of Arminian theology with substantial scriptural support using the acronym FACTS. It is meant to be a positive presentation of the Arminian position and so does not typically get into debate over the various Scriptures appealed to, but mostly assumes a particular interpretation of them.

We occasionally get requests for Scripture citations to support our statement of faith. We have never felt it necessary to add Scripture references to our statement of faith since the website is largely dedicated to giving scriptural support for the distinctive elements of Arminian theology. But this FACTS article now provides that in a substantial way in one article. May the Lord use it to bless his church and advance his truth. [link]

Is Philippians 1:6 A Good Proof Text For Eternal Security?

Matt O’Reilly takes a corporate view of the passage and concludes that Paul did not intend to teach individual eternal security in Philippians 1:6

The Question of Perseverance in Philippians 1:6

For a post I wrote a while back that takes a slightly different approach, but also concludes that Philippians 1:6 fails as  proof text for eternal security see:

Does Paul Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in Philippians 1:6?

A Telling and Ironic Tweet by John Piper on “Waking up in the Morning” as a Believer

Calvinist John Piper recently gave the following Tweet:

 I fall asleep quietly confident that I will be a believer in the morning not because of my free will but God’s free grace. 

This is an obvious attack on Arminianism and those that reject Piper’s Calvinistic presuppositions, though it is misplaced.  While Arminians do believe that our will plays a part in our continuing to trust God and remain a believer, it is inaccurate to suggest that Arminians believe our wills are the only factor.  Our wills must be continually empowered and enabled by God’s grace in order for us to continue to trust, obey and remain in Christ, for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).  Thankfully, God has provided us with everything we need in order to continue to trust in Him and strengthen our faith so that we will not “stumble.” (2 Peter 1:2-11).  But it is also true that God’s empowering us to believe and continue to believe can be resisted.  While we cannot believe or continue to believe unless God empowers us, we are still capable of walking away and resisting the abundant grace He provides.

Piper seems to see this fact as some sort of reason for insecurity.  But that is not the case at all.  It is similar to the security that would accompany any relationship that involves a level of commitment.  Marriage is a prime example.   I acknowledge that I need to guard and protect my marriage by the choices that I (freely) make that will either strengthen that relationship or weaken and harm it.  I must concede that it is possible for me to neglect that relationship, even to the point of infidelity.  It would be presumptuous to assume such a thing were not possible.  However, I don’t live in fear and terror and insecurity over my marriage, always thinking about how it might not last, and I certainly don’t go to bed at night fearing that I might wake up and no longer love my wife or want anything at all to do with her.

Does Piper really think that those who fall away go to bed believers and suddenly wake up “in the morning” as hardened unbelievers?  It is hard to even imagine such a case.  Such a scenario presents a rather silly, simplified and unrealistic way of speaking about  someone leaving the faith.  Nobody who falls away just wakes up one morning an unbeliever after having gone to bed a believer.  The road to unbelief is gradual, at least to some degree, and it typically involves many (free) choices along the way.   But of course, since Piper rejects the possibility of apostasy from genuine faith, he can only hold that deluded hypocrites can go to bed thinking they are saved and that their faith is real only to apparently wake up in the morning in a more honest frame of mind, finally embracing their unbelief instead of clinging to their false fleshly hypocritical faith that was never real in the first place.  And that leads us to the most problematic difficulty in Piper’s trite little Tweet: As a Calvinist, John Piper can have no assurance that he is saved when he goes to bed or assurance that he will be saved when he wakes up!

Calvinists, like Piper, believe that those who have been truly regenerated will inevitably persevere to the end in saving faith.  But how does one know that he is regenerate?  The only true test is to persevere to the end in saving faith.  If one fails to persevere, that person only reveals that while he may have thought his faith was real, it was only a case of self deception, or even worse, divine deception.  John Calvin called this divine deception “evanescent grace”.  It was his answer to the problem of so many real life cases of those who lived for many years seemingly loving and trusting in God and producing godly fruit, only to eventually fall away and abandon the faith.  According to Calvin, God gave such people a delusion that made them think they were saved, and even feel like they were saved, only to eventually remove this fleeting grace and reveal that they were just deluded hypocrites that God had never regenerated and whose faith, while it seemed very real to them, was not real faith at all.  For a more detailed look at Calvin’s evanescent grace and the way that Calvinism undercuts Biblical salvation assurance, see the first link given at the end of this post.

So for Calvin and Piper, confidence of perseverance is tied up in being regenerate, and it is not at all clear how one can be sure she is regenerate unless she perseveres (to the end) in the faith (a problem of circularity that effectively kills assurance).  So the bigger problem for Piper is that he cannot be sure that he will wake up every morning as a believer because his faith may, in fact, be spurious.  The only way that he can have confidence that his bedtime faith is not spurious and that he will wake up each morning as a [true] believer is if he in fact wakes up each morning as a [true] believer.  So he can have no real confidence at all that he will wake up tomorrow morning, or any other morning, as a believer.  In short, he is guilty of wishful thinking and nothing more. Again, the main problem for Piper is how he can know that he is even going to bed a true believer and not a deluded hypocrite.   There is simply no way to be sure of this if Calvinism is true.

The irony is obvious.  While the Arminians that Piper wanted to discount can have significant salvation assurance while going to bed and in day to day life, Piper’s theology effectively undermines and makes such assurance impossible and, in so doing, nullifies the promises of Scripture that we can indeed know that we presently have eternal life (1 John 5:13).  While the Arminian could rightly say what Piper says in his tweet, John Piper cannot.

For more on the problems with Calvinist assurance in contrast with the strong basis for assurance that Arminians possess, see the following posts:

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

An Important Admission on Salvation Assurance from Prominent Calvinist C. Michael Patton 

Does Believing Apostasy is Possible Lead to Insecurity, Lack of Assurance and Anxiety?

Richard Watson on “Who maketh thee to differ from another?” as an Argument for Calvinism

 

1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who maketh thee to differ from another?”

The context shows that the apostle was here endeavouring to repress that ostentation which had arisen among many persons in the Church of Corinth, on account of their spiritual gifts and endowments. This he does by referring those gifts to God, as the sole giver, — “for who maketh thee to differ?” or who confers superiority upon thee? as the sense obviously is; “and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” Mr. Scott acknowledges that “the apostle is here speaking more immediately of natural abilities, and spiritual gifts; and not of special and efficacious grace.” If so, then the passage has nothing to do with this controversy.

The argument he however affirms, concludes equally in one case, as in the other; and in his sermon on election he thus applies it: “Let the blessings of the Gospel be fairly proposed, with solemn warnings and pressing invitations, to two men of exactly the same character and disposition: if they are left to themselves in entirely similar circumstances, the effect must be precisely the same. But, behold, while one proudly scorns and resents the gracious offer, the other trembles, weeps, prays, repents, believes! Who maketh this man to differ from the other? or what hath he that he hath not received? The Scriptural answer to this question, when properly understood, decides the whole controversy.”

As this is a favourite argument, and a popular dilemma in the hands of the

Calvinists, and so much is supposed to depend upon its solution, we may somewhat particularly examine it.

Instead of supposing the case of two men “of exactly the same character and disposition,” why not suppose the same man in two moral states? For one man who “proudly scorns the Gospel” does not more differ from another who penitently receives it, than the same man who has once scoffingly rejected, and afterward meekly submitted to it, differs from himself; as for instance, Saul the Pharisee from Paul the apostle.

Now, to account for the case of two men, one receiving the Gospel, and the other rejecting it, the theory of election is brought in; but in the case of the one man in two different states, this theory cannot be resorted to. The man was elect from eternity; he is no outcast from the mercy of his God, and the redemption of his Saviour, and yet, in one period of his life, he proudly scorns the offered mercy of Christ, at another he accepts it. It is clear, then, that the doctrine of election, simply considered in itself, will not solve the latter case; and by consequence it will not solve the former: for the mere fact, that one man rejects the Gospel while another receives it, is no more a proof of the non-election of the non-recipient, than the fact of a man now rejecting it, who shall afterward receive it, is a proof of his non-election.

The solution, then, must be sought for in some communication of the grace of God, in some inward operation upon the heart, which is supposed to be a consequence of election; but this leads to another and distinct question.

This question is not, however, the vincibility or invincibility of the grace of God, at least not in the first instance. It is, in truth, whether there is any operation of the grace of God in man at all tending to salvation, in cases where we see the Gospel rejected. Is the man who rejects perseveringly, and he who rejects but for a time, perhaps a long period of his life, left without any good motions or assisting influence from the grace of GOD, or not? This question seems to admit of but one of three answers. Either he has no gracious assistance at all, to dispose him to receive the Gospel; or he has a sufficient influence of grace so to dispose him; or that gracious influence is dispensed in an insufficient measure.

If the first answer be given, then not only are the non-elect left without any visitations of grace throughout life; but the elect also are left without them, until the moment of their effectual calling. If the second be offered as the answer, then both in the case of the non-elect man who finally rejects Christ, and that of the elect man, who rejects him for a great part of his life, the saving grace of God must be allowed so to work as to be capable of counteraction, and effectual resistance. If this be denied, then the third answer must be adopted, and the grace of God must be allowed so to influence as to be designedly insufficient for the ends for which it is given; that is, it is given for no saving end at all, either as to the non-elect, or as to the elect all the time they remain in a state of actual alienation from Christ. For if an insufficient degree of grace is bestowed, when a sufficient degree might have been imparted, then there must have been a reason for restraining the degree of grace to an insufficient measure; which reason could only be, that it might be insufficient, and therefore not saving.

Now, two of the three of these positions are manifestly contrary to the word of GOD. To say that no gracious influence of the Holy Spirit operates upon the unconverted, is to take away their guilt; since they cannot be guilty of rejecting the Gospel if they have no power to embrace it, either from themselves, or by impartation, while yet the Scripture represents this as the highest guilt of men. All the exhortations, and reproofs, and invitations of Scripture, are, also, by this doctrine, turned into mockery and delusion; and, finally, there can be no such thing in this case, as “resisting the Holy Ghost;” as “grieving and quenching the Spirit;” as “doing despite to the Spirit of grace,” either in the case of the non-elect, who are never converted, or of the elect, before conversion: so that the latter have never been guilty of stubbornness, and obstinacy, and rebellion, and resistance of grace; though these are, by them, afterward, always acknowledged among their sins. Nor did they ever feel any good motion, or drawing from the Spirit of God, before what they term their effectual calling; though, it is presumed, that few, if any of them, will deny this in fact.

If the doctrine, that no grace is imparted before conversion, is then contradicted both by Scripture and experience, how will the case stand, as to the intentional restriction of that grace to a degree which is insufficient to dispose the subject to the acceptance of the Gospel? If this view be held, it must be maintained equally as to the elect before their conversion, and as to the non-elect. In that case, then, we have equal difficulty in accounting for the guilt of man, as when it is supposed that no grace at all is imparted; and for the reproofs, calls, and invitations, and threatenings of the word of God. For where lies the difference between the absolute non-impartation of grace, and grace so imparted as to be designedly insufficient for salvation? Plainly there is none, except that we can see no end at all for giving insufficient grace; a circumstance which would only serve to render still more perplexing the principles and practice of the Divine administration. It has no end of mercy, and none of justice; nor, as far as can be perceived, of wisdom. Not of mercy, for it effects nothing merciful, and designs not to effect it; not of justice, for it places no man under equitable responsibility; not of wisdom, for it has no assignable end.

The Scripture treats all men to whom the Gospel is preached as endowed with power, not indeed from themselves, but from the grace of God, to “turn at his reproof;” to come at his “call;” to embrace his “grace;” but they have no capacity for any of these acts, if either of these opinions be true: and thus the word of GOD is contradicted. So also is experience, in both cases; for there could be no sense of guilt for having rejected Christ, and grieved the Holy Spirit, either in the non-elect never converted, or in the elect before conversion, if either they had no visitations of grace at all; or if these were designedly granted in an insufficient degree.

It follows, then, that the doctrine of the impartation of grace to the unconverted, in a sufficient degree to enable them to embrace the Gospel, must be admitted; and with this doctrine comes in that of a power in man to use, or to spurn this heavenly gift and gracious assistance: in other words, a power of willing to come to Christ, even when men do not come; a power of considering their ways, and turning to the Lord, when they do not consider them, and turn to him; a power of praying, when they do not pray; and a power of believing, when they do not believe: powers all of grace; all the results of the work of the Spirit in the heart; but powers to be exerted by man, since it is man, and not God, who wills, and turns, and prays, and believes, while the influence under which this is done is from the grace of GOD alone. This is the doctrine which is clearly contained in the words of St. Paul, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure;” where, not only the operation of God, but the co-operation of man, are distinctly marked; and are both held up as necessary to the production of the grand result — “salvation.”

It will appear, then, from these observations, that the question, “Who maketh thee to differ?” as urged by Mr. Scott and others from the time of Calvin, is a very inapposite one to their purpose, for,

First, it is a question which the apostle asks with no reference to a difference in religious state, but only with respect to gifts and endowments. Secondly, the Holy Ghost gives no authority for such an application of his words, as is thus made, in any other part of Scripture. Thirdly, it cannot be employed for the purpose for which it is dragged forth so often from its context and meaning; for, in the use thus made of it, it is falsely assumed,that the two men instanced, the one who rejects, and the other who embraces the Gospel, are not each endowed with sufficient grace to enable them to receive God’s gracious offer.

Now this, we may again say, must either be denied or affirmed. If it be affirmed, then the difference between the two men consists, not where they place it, in the destitution ordeficiency on the one hand, or in the plenitude on the other, of the grace of GOD; but in the use of grace: and when they say, “it is God which maketh them to differ,” they say in fact, that it is God that not only gives sufficient grace to each; but uses that grace for them. For if it be allowed that sufficient grace for repentance and faith is given to each, then the true difference between them is, that one repents, and the other does not repent; the one believes, and the other does not believe: if, therefore, this difference is to be attributed to God directly, then the act of repenting, and the act of believing, are both the acts of GOD.

If they hesitate to avow this, for it is an absurdity, then either they must give up the question as totally useless to them, or else take the other side of the alternative, that to all who reject the Gospel, sufficient grace to receive it is not given. How then will that serve them? They may say, it is true, when they take the man who embraces the Gospel, “Who maketh him to differ but God, who gives this sufficient grace to him?” but then we have an equal right to take the man who rejects the Gospel, and ask, “Who maketh him to differ” from the man that embraces it?

To this they cannot reply that he maketh himself to differ; for that which they here lay down is, that he has either no grace at all imparted to him to enable him to act as the other; or, what amounts to the same thing, no sufficient degree of it to produce a true faith; that he never had that grace; that he is, and always must remain, as destitute of it as when he was born. He does not, therefore, make himself to differ from the man who embraces the Gospel; for he has no power to imitate his example, and to make himself equal with him; and the only answer to our question is, “that it is God who maketh him to differ from the other,” by withholding that grace by which alone he could be prevented from rejecting the Gospel; and this, so far from “settling the whole controversy,” is the very point in debate.

This dilemma, then, will prove, when examined, but inconvenient to themselves; for if sufficiency of grace be allowed to the unconverted then the Calvinists make the acts of grace, as well as the gift of grace itself to be the work of God in the elect: if sufficiency of grace is denied, then the unbelief and condemnation of the wicked are not from themselves, but from God.

The fact is, that this supposed puzzle has been always used ad captandum; and is unworthy so grave a controversy; and as to the pretence, that the admission of a power in man to use or to abuse the grace of GOD involves some merit or ground of glorying in man himself, this is equally fallacious. The power “to will and to do,” is the sole result of the working of God in man. All is of grace: “By the grace of God,” must every one say, “I am what I am.” Here is no dispute; every good thought, desire, and tendency of the heart, and all its power to turn these to practical account by prayer, by faith, by the use of the means of grace, through which new power “to will and to do,” new power to use grace, as well as new grace, is communicated, is of GOD.

Every good act, therefore, is the use of a communicated power which is given of grace, as the stretching out of the withered hand of the healed man was the use of the power communicated to his imbecility, and still working with the act, though not the act itself; and to attempt to lay a ground of boasting and self sufficiency in the assisted acceptance of the grace of God by us; and the empowered submission of our hearts to it, is as manifestly absurd as it would be to say, that the man, whose arm was withered, had great reason to congratulate himself on his share in the glory of the miracle, because he himself stretched out the invigorated member at the command of Christ; and because it was not, in fact, lifted up by the hand of him who, in that act of faith and obedience, had healed him. (From: Watson’s Theological Institutes, Volume 2)

 See also: Does Paul Support Calvinism’s View of Irresistible Grace in 1 Corinthians 4:7?

Dr. Brian Abasciano on the Conditionality Implied in Romans 9:16 and its Connection to John 1:12-13

“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”  Romans 9:16 (ESV)

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13 (ESV).

Piper’s further, detailed argument for 9.16 as speaking of unconditional bestowal of divine mercy founders on both fundamental presupposition and its particulars. For the former, Piper assumes that the language of 9.16 is incompatible with God bestowing his mercy on a condition sovereignly determined by himself. But our exegesis has found this to be a false assumption. As for the particulars, appeals to 9.11-12 and Exod. 33.19 are contradicted by our exegesis of these texts as well as of 9.16, and the reader is directed to the relevant portions of the present volume. Curiously, Piper’s final main argument invokes Phil. 2.13 (because of the somewhat similar language of ‘willing’ (τὸ θέλειν) and ‘working’ (τὸ ἐνεργεῖν)) as somehow ruling out any condition for the bestowal of God’s mercy. But that text does not particularly talk about God’s mercy (except insofar as any blessing of God can be considered mercy) and it does not indicate anything about God’s bestowal of mercy, or any divine action, being unconditional. Piper seems to be overreaching here, and we conclude that Phil. 2.13 is largely irrelevant to Rom. 9.16 and the question of the conditionality of the mercy it mentions.

Piper, 154 n. 3, notes one further reference, cited by Sanday/Headlam as an analogy to 9.16 (though Piper mistakenly refers to 9.6): Jn 1.12-13. This reference actually works against Piper because the regenerating act of God there, performed by God alone, is presented as the divine response to human faith (cf. justification in Paul’s thought, which is performed by God alone in response to human faith). John 1.12 indicates that people become children of God by faith. That is, upon believing, God gives them the right to become something that they were not prior to believing – children of God. John 1.13 then clarifies that they become children of God not from human ancestry (that is the significance of ‘not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh [which equates to sexual desire that might lead to procreation], nor of the will of a husband [who was thought to be in charge of sexual/procreative activity]’), but from God, describing their becoming children of God as being born of God. ‘Becoming children of God’ and ‘being born of God’ are parallel expressions referring to the same phenomenon (it would be special pleading, and a desperate expedient at that, to argue that becoming God’s child and being born of him are distinct in the Johannine context or that the text would allow that a person could be born of God and yet not be his child), so that God’s act of regenerating believers, making them his own children, is a response to their faith.

The parallel with Rom. 9.16 is significant and quite supportive of our exegesis. Both contexts make the point that elect status (which equates to sonship; cf. Rom. 9.8) is not bestowed by human ancestry, but by God, whose will is to choose as his own those who believe in Christ. Even if one were to deny that reference to θελήματος σαρκός or θελήματος ἀνδρός is to human ancestry specifically and insist that it refers to human willing in general, it would not make the divine action of regeneration any less a response to human faith and hence any less conditional on it. Nor would this be inconsistent with Jn 1.13’s attribution of the act of regeneration to God. The text indicates that God is the one who grants the right to become children of God and the one who regenerates. His doing so in response to faith is a matter of his discretion and would not somehow make the human choice to believe the source of regeneration instead of God any more than it makes it the source of justification. (Excerpt from footnote #153 on page 191 of Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10-18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis, by Dr. Brian Abasciano, paragraph breaks added for easier reading)

Does Paul Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in Philippians 1:6?

Philippians 1:6

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it in the day of Christ Jesus.

Does this verse then teach that one who begins in saving faith will inevitably continue in that faith until the “day of Christ Jesus?”  The advocates of unconditional security are trying to squeeze far more from this verse than was intended by Paul.  Paul was confident in the work of God being completed in the Philippians to whom he writes because he had every reason to believe that they would endure in the faith.  Paul explains why he has such confidence in them:  They have participated in the ministry of the gospel from the “first day until now.” (1:5) They have shared in grace with Paul in supporting his ministry and supporting him while in prison (1:7; 4:18, 19).  Paul is also confident that God will complete his work in them because he is praying for them and trusting God on their behalf (1:3, 9-11).

Since Paul has every reason to believe that they will continue in the faith based on their track record he can express his confidence that God will continue to work in them since God cannot fail to work in believers.  All believers who continue in the faith will see God’s work completed in them on the “day of Christ Jesus.”  Paul is not guaranteeing that they will make it to glory but only expressing his personal confidence in them based on his own experience of their commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, Paul’s confidence is seen to be a cautious confidence in that he warns them to continue following his example of single minded commitment to the gospel of Christ lest they begin to focus instead on the things of this world and become enemies of the cross (3:17-19).  Paul still expresses concern that he may yet return to them and not find them standing firm in Christ, and for that reason encourages them to continually conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (1:27).  In verses 12-13 we see that Paul has grounds for confidence in them since they have “always” obeyed, and yet he admonishes them to continue to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (2:12) If their destination was guaranteed there should be nothing for them to fear (cf. Rom. 11:19-22).  Yet they must continue to “work out” their salvation by yielding to the working of God within them (2:13).

Philippians 2:12-13 gets to the heart of the matter and provides the primary context by which we should understand Paul’s comments in 1:6.  God will complete His work in them but only as they continue to yield to that “working” within them.  If they continue to yield to the work of God within them God will certainly bring that work to completion (perfect it) on “the day of Christ Jesus.”  We cannot do this work in ourselves, God must do it.  We cannot even yield to the work of God in us on our own, but we can do “all things through Him” who strengthens us.  We are still called on to fearfully submit to God’s work and there is nothing in Paul’s words that would suggest that we cannot resist that work and fail to see it brought to perfection in us.  In fact, Philippians 2:13 suggests just the opposite.

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security