Whenever I hear sentences begin like that, I can’t help but cringe. “We live by grace, however…” However what? In saying that we live by grace have we left out something fundamental to Christianity? Has something true to Christianity been contradicted? These are the questions that statements like, “We live by grace, but…” make me start asking.
It seems that those kinds of statements imply that grace does not go far enough, or that grace is lacking something. Therefore, we feel the need to add to it. Maybe the statement could also be said, “We live by grace and…”Thus my question is, “And what?” What is the grace of God for us lacking? What is missing that needs to be added in order to know and walk with God?
In this light, Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:10 are nothing but shocking. “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.” At first Paul may sound like what I have described. He says the grace of God has come to him. He goes on to add that the grace was not in vain. I take that to mean that he is saying this grace was not resisted by him but rather transformed him to love and live for Jesus. The next part is where Paul seems to say, “We live by grace, however…” Paul says that the grace was clearly not in vain because he worked harder than any one else. “See Collin! Grace and our independent hard work! God’s grace and our self-sufficient output!”
Let’s finish, shall we.
Paul’s fact about his hard work is conditioned with a “though”. The “though” is as if he is saying, “Before you think that I am talking about a grace-and mentality, let me finish.” He then says these shocking words: “…though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” All his hard work was the result of grace.
Paul does not view the grace of God as something that comes to him but then eventually hangs him out to dry, to go to work all by his big bad self. Paul views his life as all by grace. From beginning to end, Paul gives God and his grace all the glory for his life. He doesn’t say, “I live by grace, however, I also add my hard work,” as if mentioning grace contradicts us working hard. He says, “I live by grace, and I work hard, but it is because of grace.”
When we say, “We live by grace,” we do not need to qualify our statement, as if we just said there is no room for our own decisions and willful actions. God’s grace does not contradict the reality that we exert ourselves in our walk with God. It does not contradict the reality that we are people with wills, decisions, and choices to make. We don’t need to act as though it does, simply because some people want to justify their sin by saying, “Well it is all about grace, right?” Our answer should be, “Yes! And God’s grace, when effectively working in us, calls us out of sin and into worshipping God with our lives. And when we find ourselves obedient to God, working hard for his glory, worshipping him with our lives, we ought to be amazed at all the grace given to us by God.” All of our love for God, all of our obedience, all of our faithfulness, all of our disciple-making, all of our love for others is all by the grace of God working in us.
We live by grace. Period.