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The word of God does not return empty or void but it waters and returns accomplishing its purposes (Isaiah 55).

We do not know when God’s purposes will be accomplished. We do not know if God’s purpose is to harden the heart or to soften it. But we ought to have absolute confidence that our work in the word is never in vain. No faithful sermon, no Bible study, no time of prayer in the word with your children, no memorizing of scripture, no ministry of the word is in vain.

Why should missionaries continue to labor in the hardest parts of the world with limited success or no success at all? Because they are confident that God has a people for himself from every tribe and language and tongue and nation, and so they stay.

Divine sovereignty—of the strong Reformed type—is one of God’s great motivators for missions. Paul says he endures all for the sake of the elect (2 Timothy 2:10). John Newton wrote a letter to Reverend Thomas Jones stating, “If I were not a Calvinist, I think I should have no more hope of success in preaching to men than in preaching to horses or cows.” Divine sovereignty should not make us lazy. It should make us long suffering.

One of the most common objections to the doctrine of election is that if it is true that God chooses who will be saved then there is not much point in working hard to get the gospel out. But this is human logic is just the opposite of biblical logic which says: if God has not chosen some to believe, then why bother speaking?  Divine sovereignty in salvation is precisely the reason to keep on speaking—because God has chosen some; because God is sovereign; because God has elected; because some will believe. As Spurgeon noted, we don’t know who the elect are until they believe, so we better keep sharing the gospel, in hope and in confidence that those appointed for eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48).

God’s sovereignty is fuel for our faithfulness–not a deterrent to hard work and sacrifice, but the best motivation for it. As Luther said, reflecting on his labors for reformation: “I did nothing. The word did all the work.”


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6 thoughts on “Fuel for our Faithfulness”

  1. Joan says:

    This is a good and timely reminder today as our little OPC church plant in northern Ohio presses on after 5 years of struggling to grow in rocky ground. These words were especially helpful: “We do not know when God’s purposes will be accomplished. We do not know if God’s purpose is to harden the heart or to soften it. But we ought to have absolute confidence that our work in the word is never in vain.” Thank you.

  2. a. says:

    men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. Heb 6:16-18

    we constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is,the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. 1 Thess 2:13

    praise be to God and may He be strengthening His people.

  3. David Platt did a powerful sermon on this topic at the 2012 Together for the Gospel conference. Still one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. Here’s the link to the audio, video, and my notes:

  4. Fuel for our faithfulness! I’ve been thinking a lot about fuel for hope and growth and also been reflecting on Is. 55 as we work and wonder what God is doing here where we are in Tanzania. God indeed is sovereign (even when we don’t understand!) and His word is indeed powerful! Thanks, Rachel

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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