Our Dependence on the Spirit in Missions

We do well to acknowledge that the mission work of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA) is the work of the Spirit of our exalted Christ.

The Word of God leaves no room for us to doubt or question this. The Spirit of Christ opens doors for mission labors (Acts 16:6). That same Spirit also closes doors (Acts 16:7). The Spirit is involved in calling and sending men to be missionaries, which includes convicting a man of the call (Acts 8:29, Acts 13:2). The Spirit also equips a man for his labors, giving him the ability and the boldness needed to preach the Word to all the world (Luke 24:49, Eph. 6:18-20).

Most significant, however, is the fact that the Spirit of Christ is the One who controls and produces the fruit of mission preaching and teaching. Zechariah 4:6 makes this plain when it states, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” This brief but powerful statement forcefully reminds us of the sovereignty of the Spirit, the weakness of man, and our constant dependence on the Spirit of Christ.

The PRCA, through missions, are involved in a great work. The Spirit gives us this work. It is the work of building the church of Christ. It is the spiritual work of gathering in, from all nations of the world, those ordained to eternal life. This is a most important work. It is far more important than the direction of the stock market, or the success of our nation’s ongoing fight against terrorism, or the outcome of the presidential election. For this work is the goal of all history. When this work is completed, Christ will appear on clouds of glory and bring all history to an end (Matt. 24:14).

Many things are needed in order to carry out this work, and we are fully dependent on Christ and His Spirit for all these things. We need men to preach the gospel, and to do so in faithfulness to the Word of God. We need financial resources, so that we are able to carry out the work the Spirit gives us. We need godly wisdom to do all our work in accordance with Scripture, and thus in a way that advances Christ’s gospel and cause. We need boldness, so that we do not compromise the truth and dishonor the Name of God. We need carefulness. We need the humility to lean on the experiences and wisdom of others. These are only a few of the things we need. We need the Spirit to give us many other things as well.

When the Spirit sets open doors before us (as He has), and when He provides us with the resources we need (as He does), then we as churches must busy ourselves in this work. And by the power of the Spirit of Christ, we do so.

The PRCA are presently putting many resources and a lot of work into missions. We are laboring hard to bring the Word of God to many around the world who are interested in and hungry for the truths of the gospel and the Reformed faith. We meet as synod and councils and mission committees and sub-committees to oversee and to make important decisions concerning this work. We call and send out missionaries. We visit mission fields. We visit new contacts around the world. We preach to congregations and groups of believers. We instruct both current and future pastors. We teach men concerning their work as elders and deacons. We teach the youth and children. We preach the Word of God. We seek to impart a knowledge and understanding of the Reformed creeds. We explain as clearly as possible the doctrines of the Reformed faith. We teach groups of believers (often for many, many years) what it means to be truly Reformed in doctrine, in worship, in church government, and in life. We guide churches in forming and in carrying out the work of a denomination. We sell books and distribute literature. And we make sure that the PR churches and members, who send men to do this work, are kept apprised of their work in missions. The Spirit enables us to do all these things. He is in our midst, and keeps us busy in all this work.

But as regards all our labors and efforts, we ought to remind ourselves repeatedly that we are powerless to make our mission work effective. It is the Spirit of Christ, and not we, who causes the work to be fruitful. We ourselves may work very hard in missions (and so we should), but we cannot humble and save one sinner. We cannot regenerate one person who is lost. We cannot sanctify one child of God who is living in sin. We cannot cause one individual anywhere in the world to believe and embrace the truths of God. That is, we cannot build the church. We are helpless in gathering in any of those who are ordained to eternal life.

This does not mean that the Spirit does not use us and what we do. He does. For the Spirit of Christ uses means to accomplish His work of saving the church.

But the point is that the Spirit does not need us. He does not need you, or me, or anyone. He does not need our zeal, our wisdom, our insights, our money, our abilities, or our tireless efforts. For it is not by human might or power that the elect are saved, but by the power of the Spirit Himself.

This is a humbling truth. We need constantly to be humbled by it. For we are often tempted to think that the Spirit does indeed need us. We may become proud of who we are and be inclined to say: “We have the truth, and we hold the line. We are conservative and truly Reformed, while hardly anyone else is. And so, if it were not for us, who would there be in all the world to defend the Reformed faith, and to bring those God-glorifying and precious truths to others? The Spirit needs especially us for the work of missions to be successful in the world. Without our diligent work, the truth might never be proclaimed and the church might never be gathered and built.”

The reality is that the Spirit of Christ does not need us. The success of the spread of the gospel does not hinge on our zeal, our resources, our persistence, or our diligent labors. Nor does it depend on our ability to use just the right words and just the right amount of persuasion. We must certainly do our best work. But the church is not built because of human might. And that is how it must be, so God is glorified, and not man.

That in itself is humbling. But what is even more humbling is that the church is built in spite of us. Although He does not need us, the Spirit is pleased to use us. But think a moment of what He is using. The Spirit is using sinners. We are very weak instruments in His hands. We teach others the truths of the Reformed faith, but we ourselves often have little interest in that truth. We call God’s people to humble themselves before the Word of God, but we ourselves often remain proud and unwilling to submit to that Word. We teach others about the godly life that follows from and flows out of the truth, but we ourselves fail in so many ways to live that godly life. Yet in spite of our many weaknesses, faults, failures, and sins, which things could easily ruin mission work, the Spirit is still pleased to use us and to give fruit on the work. That is very humbling. Indeed, it is.

In the end, however, the fact that it is the Spirit’s work is what encourages us concerning mission work, giving us the confidence that the work will be successful.

We would have no confidence in the work if it depended on us. If it depended at all upon us, none of the elect would be saved. For human power and effort cannot accomplish something that is a divine work.

We have confidence because the Spirit (who alone is able) takes the preached Word and applies it to the elect of God. The Spirit humbles. The Spirit regenerates. The Spirit works faith. The Spirit justifies and sanctifies and preserves. The Spirit causes our weak efforts to bear fruit.

What we must not forget is that sometimes the fruit is negative. We prefer only positive fruit. But sometimes there are gainsayers and those who reject the truth. Some reject it from the very start. Others are interested for a good while, but only up to a certain point, for they do not want all of the truth. The latter has been our experience in teaching predestination, with everything being agreed on until we taught reprobation. Since then, some have not been seen again.

The Spirit also sovereignly sees to it that sometimes the preaching and teaching of the truth leads to a rejection of that truth and a hardening in unbelief. This is also an integral part of the success of the spread of the gospel, for rejection and hardening are important fruits with a view to the end of time and the return of Christ.

The Lord encourages us. What we are doing as a denomination in the area of mission work may seem small and insignificant in comparison to the great mission endeavors of others. But let us not despise the day of small things (Zech. 4:10). A great work is being accomplished by the Spirit—the greatest work in all of history. And we are privileged to be used by the Spirit in that work.

Thanks be to God for His mighty Spirit and the Spirit’s effective work in missions!