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But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Here is a very interesting observation on the grace of God from the “apostle of grace” himself—Paul. The grace of God for a believer can be “without effect”, meaning it can in fact be in vain. Now we are reminded that it was Paul who penned epistles like Galatians warning believers not to return to the Old Testament law, but to remain with the grace of God.
Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—
Galatians 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Clearly we are not saved by obeying the law of Moses. The most widely-quoted verse among Christians extolling God’s grace is attributed to Paul as well.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Indeed we are not saved by the doing the works commanded by the law of Moses. Salvation is rather the gift of God received through faith. Yet it is possible for the grace of God to be received “without effect” and “in vain.”
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1)
How can this be possible? Let’s first look at what happens when the grace of God is received with effect. Again, Paul wrote:
No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10b)
We will work hard when we receive the grace of God with effect. We will obey God’s New Testament commands. This is of course not us, but the grace of God that is with us and at work within us. Nevertheless, we must make a conscious decision to obey God and like Paul we must work hard in carrying out His commands. If we do not cooperate with the grace of God in this way, that grace could be in vain.
It is essential during this age of “cheap grace” that believers understand the true grace of God which enables us to work “harder than all of them.”
This can give us understanding of Jesus’ exhortation to his disciples in John 15.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5-6)
When we receive the grace of God without effect or in vain—when we fail to bear the fruit of personal holiness and of good works in obedience to the Lord’s holy commands—we are like a withered branch that is thrown away into the fire and burned. Whatever this may mean for a disciple, it’s clearly not good and is to be avoided at all costs.