One of the devotions I use regularly during my personal quiet time chose 1 Corinthians 15:10 as the key verse for Monday’s devotional. (All verses in ESV unless otherwise noted.)
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
I always look up the verse in my Bible to see the context in which it was used, and with this verse I sensed it was time for some more in-depth study. This passage begins with a reminder of the gospel message in a nutshell. Written by the apostle Paul, in verses 3 – 5 he says:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
Then next four verses tell of the appearances of the resurrected Christ to His apostles, ending with Paul’s own visitation on the road to Damascus. In verse 9, he identifies himself as “the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle“, because of being a persecutor of the church prior to his conversion. And then Paul speaks of the grace of God in verse 10.
After studying a verse in context, one of my favorite online resources for gaining a clearer understanding of a verse or passage of Scripture is the website preceptaustin.org, which often has a detailed commentary and other resources to help me see the verse in light of the whole of Scripture. I decided to check that out today, and found some help getting a clearer understanding of what Paul was trying to communicate in this verse.
First, this resource gives the verse being studied in a variety of translations. As I read through the list, one version stood out to me for it’s clarity, one I seldom use in my personal study. In the Barclay translation, this verse reads:
“It is by the grace of God that I am what I am, and his grace to me has not proved ineffective, but I have toiled more exceedingly than all of them, but it was not I who achieved anything but God’s grace working with me.”
The commentator on this passage, who is a retired physician, points out that grace is used “in triplicate” in this verse. He compares 1 Corinthians 15:10 to a prescription from God, written in triplicate, for “spiritual health” in both our personal lives and in our ministry to others.
By the grace of God that I am what I am
Most of us have a basic understanding of the meaning of grace. The Greek word for grace, “charis,” means undeserved favor given to us. There are two main kinds of grace taught in the New Testament, saving grace. This is the kind of grace spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Paul definitely acknowledged this kind of grace in his life, but this isn’t the kind of grace he is focusing on in this verse. The second type of grace has been called sanctifying grace. This is the daily grace God extends to us as Christians that empowers us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Sanctifying grace is the ongoing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit that enables us to grow spiritually, so that we become better representatives of the Lord to those around us. It is the process described in Romans 8:29, and it will continue until the day we see Jesus face to face.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
His grace toward me was not in vain
The proud Saul of Acts 7 who was rejoicing over Stephen’s stoning and who “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” in Acts 8:3 is gone. And more than his name was changed. He had been changed on the inside. And God’s grace was responsible for the change, first in bringing Saul to saving grace and then in changing him into Paul through His sanctifying grace, a key instrument of God in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth and author of much of the New Testament. The message for us here: The grace of God in our lives is effective in accomplishing His purposes in and through us.
His grace in our work and ministry.
The third mention of grace in this verse is the one that caught my attention. Paul worked diligently at the tasks God had called him to do. But the changed Paul took no credit for what he had accomplished. Instead, he acknowledged anything achieved in and through his life was the result of God’s grace. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Paul further explains this in Philippians 2:12-13,
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Yes, we have a part in living the successful Christian life. Our part is choosing to walk in obedience. But total obedience isn’t something we can accomplish in our own strength. If so, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to send the Holy Spirit to empower us to live the life He calls us to live.
- Grace is what brings us to Christ.
- Grace is what helps us grow more like Jesus.
- Grace is what empowers us to do the work of the Kingdom that God has prepared beforehand for us to do.
The Holy Spirit is the member of the Godhead who offers us saving grace and sanctifying grace, and He is also our source of empowering grace for the work God has called us to do.
Are you in need of God’s grace today? I sure am. If you don’t already know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, if you haven’t put your faith in Him for forgiveness of sin, don’t put this life-changing decision off another day. You need God’s saving grace and the Holy Spirit you will receive the moment you surrender your life to Jesus.
If you already have become a Christian, did you know that sanctification is a work of grace, accomplished as we cooperate with the indwelling Holy Spirit? Or are you trying to change your “problem areas” in your own strength? Paul described the results of doing this is Romans 7:14-15, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We have a part in the process – renewing our minds in God’s Word, choosing to lay down our will and walk in obedience – but the needed power to walk out His will comes from the Holy Spirit within all believers. The Holy Spirit will bring both conviction concerning areas that need to change and the power to make those changes.
Are you struggling with seeing what purpose God has for this season of your life? Is there something you believe God is calling you to do but don’t have any idea how to get started? In this area too, God’s grace is the answer. The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit is given to make us God’s witnesses in the neighborhood and city where we live, the surrounding area, and even to the ends of the earth if that’s a part of God’s calling on your life.