Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Hard-Working Nature of God's Grace (I Cor. 15:1-11)

One of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible would have to be I Corinthians 15. It's about the centrality of the crucifixion of Christ to our Christian walk, which Paul argues chiefly in verses 12-58.

But for this post, I want to look at the first 11 verses, where Paul gives a summary of Christ's sacrificial death, burial, resurrection, and appearances to the Apostles and James and "[l]ast of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

Paul makes clear that that divine appointment on the road to Damascus was not for naught (emphasis mine).

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. (15:10)
This, remember, comes in the midst of a passage where Paul is refreshing the Corinthian church's memory as to "the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached you." (15:2)

I think that aside from re-establishing his apostolic credentials for the readers, Paul was pointing out that the Gospel is far from a cold theological creed or formula to be recited. It's a life-transforming message of good news -- Christ died for my sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again on the third day in accord with the Scriptures -- that continues to this day to resurrect spiritually dead people (like Saul on the road to Damascus) to new life in Christ.

Indeed, this is a theme Paul touched on elsewhere in his writings, using himself as an example, even calling himself the "chief of sinners" (I Timothy 1:15).

Paul points to himself as an example of, but ultimately refuses to claim credit for, the good work he does in his new life as a Christian, saying it was "the grace of God that is with me."

What's more, immediately following that disclaimer that it is the grace within him at work that has yielded a dynamic apostolic ministry, he concludes his summation of the Gospel with this (emphasis mine):
"Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed."
The Apostles preached the Gospel and its power to save. The Apostles preached the Gospel and its power to work in the lives of regenerated sinners, including and especially within the Apostles themselves, who never ceased to be amazed of the love of Christ towards them. I can only imagine how powerful it must of been for Peter to preach about Christ's forgiveness when he could point out how greatly he had been forgiven by the risen Christ, the same Lord and Savior he denied three times less than 72 hours earlier.

It was this preaching of the Gospel that the early church heard and believed unto salvation, and the resurrection of Christ is absolutely central to it. To preach otherwise is to empty the cross of its power and tie a blindfold over our eyes as we walk the lost straight into the ditch.

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