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“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12: 17 – 18).

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control…” (2 Pet 1: 5 – 6a).

Today, I find myself pondering this question: when we think about the things we do, particularly in terms of achieving something, how much does a job well done depend on the grace of God, and how much comes as a result of our own ability, or sheer determination?

In other words, when we preach an inspiring sermon, write a well-argued blog, beat a personal best or overcome a difficult challenge, how much of that achievement is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, and how much can be chalked down to your own dogged, hard work?

Or, put it another way, does “success” in the Christian life come mainly from trust in the resources and promises of Heaven or does it largely depend on our choices to do right, work hard or obey His Word?

I realise you can do your head in thinking about this too much, but there is a point.

In the seventh chapter of Isaiah, the prophet recalls a critical time in Judah’s history when Jerusalem was threatened by the military might of neighbours, Israel and Aram. They had marched up against the city and at a crucial moment, the prophet arranged to meet Judah’s king, Ahaz. Isaiah said, “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smouldering stubs of firewood” (Is 7: 4).

He went on to report what the Lord had told him to say, that the threat will amount to nothing, concluding with, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (v 9b).

It strikes me that this, almost, throwaway phrase at the end encapsulates something of profound importance – the synergy and balance between faith in a mighty God and an exercise of the will.

Ahaz is to trust in His God and not in human solutions, yet he is to muster his own strength to stay calm, look away from fear and stand firm. Let’s break this down: who do we look to, to change the situation? The answer is clearly God. How much are we called to trust God? Obviously, we must put 100% of our faith into the only God who can truly make a difference.

But, at the same time, we are called to put all of our energy into obeying him in the things he has called us to do. Stand firm in your faith. Be careful to do what is right… …as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Make every effort to add to your faith goodness… knowledge… self-control…”

In other words, do all that you can to obey Jesus. Work hard, and make every effort, but only up to the point of trusting him to do the job. Stand firm in your faith. Do everything you can to put your trust in Him.


“4-min devotions – the podcast” are now available here: ( This week’s message – “Clothed with the Lamb”.