Protestantism generally teaches that salvation is by faith alone, through grace.

Paul seem to make a case for this in Philippians 3:9:

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (ESV)

but later on verse 12, he says:

Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.

Does that not seem to indicate that we cannot be sure of our salvation, and that works are also implied?

2 Answers 2


Paul is explaining that yes we are saved by grace through faith because of Christ's faithfulness (Phil 3:9), but goes on to emphasize continuing in that (Phil 3:12). He's not contradicting himself.

He's already explained that works righteousness is dung to him. But in Christ we are perfect, yet because we live in this world not yet perfect. We continue to strive upward.

The reality is that people, being the knuckleheads that we are, would take our liberty, our righteousness in Christ, and use it as an excuse to sin.

Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

Recall with Thessalonica how some brothers interpreted their salvation to sit by in idle.

2 Thess. 3:6, 11 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. ... For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

Or recall the messes at Corinth and elsewhere.

It's a fine line to know you have no righteousness but in Christ's and to work at that, rather than be what you were or take advantage of that.

PS As regards the tri-theology of justification, sanctification, and washing, Paul is applying the same idea in Philippians as he did in Corinthians. Bold my emphasis.

1 Cor. 6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Justified is "to be made right or righteous". Passive voice. It is done to you.

Sanctified is "to be made holy or set aside". Passive voice. It is done to you.

Washed is "your visible testimony to the internal spiritual change (born-again as justified and sanctified)". Middle voice. Something you do and continue to do.

So again, the idea is simply that you are saved by grace in Christ's righteousness, not your own, but your appearance matters also. It's like a bath and being a zillionaire. Just because one is rich doesn't mean one should ignore his outward appearance and its influence.

As an aside to try to explain what happened, I'd suggest that somewhere along the line the idea of water baptism (washing) as salvific became like justification, as a one-time occurrence; thus rendering the necessity of your working for sanctification. Instead, one was a sinner, but upon salvation one is justified and is sanctified (done to you), but you must still walk the earth, not quite finished and thus not requiring your washing yourself with the word, Spirit, etc.

  • 1
    But does the first part of verse 12 not indicate that not just our sanctification, but our justification is also not yet achieved?
    – Dan
    Mar 2, 2018 at 19:50
  • Good question followup. I added the PS to help explain I hope. Paul uses justified, sanctified, washed.
    – SLM
    Mar 2, 2018 at 22:22

I would say the answer to both of your questions is "No". We can be sure of our salvation, and works are not implied.

All of the works required for our salvation were done by Jesus. The moment we trust in Him and that His death and resurrection was for our own sins, we are declared righteous in the eyes of God. God's credits His righteousness to our account as a free gift. This is what Paul is talking about in 3v9.

What is Paul "pressing on" for in v12? I believe it's the "prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" mentioned in v14. While this is not elaborated upon in the immediate context we do have other passages that speak to "running the race with endurance" and the rewards for a believer building on the foundation of Christ to receive a reward

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. NAS

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