One of the most common theological questions people have is how divine sovereignty and human responsibility work together. Despite very clear biblical teaching on the matter, it seems that our finite minds struggle to rest easy. Colossians 1:29 is one of the texts that helps give light to the issue. Since I won’t be taking this particular angle when I preach on verse 29, I wanted to quote some very helpful observations from Sam Storms’ book The Hope of Glory: 100 Daily Meditations on Colossians.
For this purpose I labor, striving according to his power, which mightily works within me. (Col. 1:29)
The presence of God’s power does not preclude Paul’s personal struggle or energetic striving or laboring. Rather, it makes it possible. God’s power is not designed to eliminate our responsibility to work hard but to enable us to fulfill it. Paul is able to work hard because God is working hard. The latter doesn’t destroy or undermine the former.
J.I. Packer perhaps put it best when he said, “The Holy Spirit’s ordinary way of working in us is through the working of our own minds and wills. He moves us to act by causing us to see reasons for moving ourselves to act. Thus our conscious, rational selfhood, so far from being annihilated, is strengthened, and in reverent, resolute obedience we work out our salvation, knowing that God is at work in us…”
Thus we see that God has chosen to operate not independently of but only through and by means of human effort and labor. God’s energy doesn’t fall from heaven haphazardly and amorphously, but comes to us through human ministers and ministry, via human toil and struggle.
So how might we know when God is energetically and powerfully working in us? If, when you are slandered, you respond by entreating (1 Cor. 4:13), you can rest assured that divine energy is working mightily in you. If, when you are reviled, you bless instead of curse (1 Cor 4:12), you can rest assured that divine energy is working mightily in you. If, when you are persecuted, you endure (1 Cor 4:12), you can rest assured that divine energy is working mightily in you. When you are afflicted but not crushed, are perplexed but do not yield to despair, are struck down but not destroyed, you can rest assured that divine energy is working mightily in you (2 Cor 4:8-9). When you are sorrowful and still rejoice, possess nothing yet are rich, you may rest assured that divine energy is working mightily in you (2 Cor 6:10). If, when you are in poverty, you give generously and joyfully (2 Cor 8:1ff), you may rest assured that divine energy is working mightily in you.
You probably won’t feel anything. There’s no guarantee that your body will vibrate or your appearance will change. But if you find yourself responding and thinking as Jesus would, if you find yourself acting and choosing contrary to every fleshly and sinful impulse, you may rest assured that divine energy is mightily at work in you. Only in this way can we, like Paul, continue to serve and love and minister and not lose heart.
— from Sam Storms, The Hope of Glory (Crossway, 2007), 137-138.