Working together with Him, we also appeal to you, “Don’t receive God’s grace in vain.” For He says:
I heard you in an acceptable time,
and I helped you in the day of salvation.
Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.
I see three things in the Corinthian verses above: Grace, Working, and Time. We have a limited time here to work with unlimited grace. Grace is dynamic, which I will explain a bit below. The Christian life is not passive. It’s all by grace, but you must work, and the work is with him and it is in time.
I do believe in seasons and times. God is always seeking to prepare us for tomorrow and that preparation will not happen unless we participate in it. Then, there is the, “Ready or not, here I come”, time when God’s comes. When that happens, we want to be ready.
There are times like “life times”, seasons, and “now” times. “Now” times are special, unique times. The birth of your child or your birth, the day you got married, the day you met Christ, and the day of pentecost are examples of special days.
We need to be aware of special times and make the most of each day, looking for the graciousness of God to manifest.
God stands outside of time, but works in time. Today is very important to God: “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”, and, “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your heart as they did in the rebellion”. (Ps. 118:24, 98:5; Heb. 3:15)
What is grace? I grew up on the definition, that grace is God’s unmerited favor. There is an enhanced definition of grace, brought forth by James Ryle:
Grace is the empowering presence of God enabling you to be who God created you to be, and to do what God has called you to do – right where you are.
James also notes that if we take the common definition of grace (God’s unmerited favor), we have to ask, “What about 1 Peter 5:5, where it says that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble?” I would say that we only have grace, personally, by faith and through humility. We humble our selves and God lifts us and gives us grace (1 Pet. 5:6, Jas. 4:10).
Humility is an action and grace is more than a definition, but a dynamic.
The “unmerited favor” definition of grace, that some of us are very familiar with hearing, was popularized by B.B. Warfield, in his book, “Augustine & The Pelagian Controversy: The Theology of Grace”. His exact words are:
“When, then, it is asked, on the ground of what, grace is given, it can only be answered, ‘on the ground of God’s infinite mercy and undeserved favour.’ There is nothing in man to merit it, and it first gives merit of good to man. All men alike deserve death, and all that comes to them in way of blessing is necessarily of God’s free and unmerited favour.”
In his book, God’s Grace Revisited, James McClure challenges Warfield’s definition of grace, critiquing it as follows:
- It places unacceptable boundaries on the meaning of the word.
- It insufficiently defines the true meaning of grace.
- It is incapable of being used in every translation of the word as it is found in the New Testament.
- Affirms that God is the source of grace.
- Communicates the idea of something freely given by God.
We are living in the age of grace, between the first and second comings of Christ. And now, today, God is on the move. God is saving people, and touching people.
God’s grace is here now, in our lives. We can either work with that grace, or not. God wants to dynamically work in and through each one, all week, and when we gather together.
Gracious Gatherings of The Church
If grace is more than something bestowed, but is something that dynamically transforms, renews, and gives us locomotion, then we are going to be “on the move” with God. We are going to be activated and active Christians. We will be participating with God.
If this is true, then our “church services” or times of gathering with other Christians, will be active for all. There will be no passivity or inactivity. Church cannot be like going to a concert, lecture, or sporting event; because by its very nature, all Christians are part of the activity, rather than consumers or spectators.
Imagine going to a church meeting. Imagine if you showed up and a leader got up and announced that, “we are going to do it together today, rather than passively just talking about it”. Then, the person explains that “doing it” is “working with the grace of God.”
Then, the person announces that we are going to break up into groups of 3 to 5 and head out the doors, into the surrounding community and work with God for a couple hours, then come back to the building and share stories and eat lunch.
Or, your congregation might be directed, by a leader, to sit at tables and do “table talk”, sharing what God is doing in your lives. The tables would have bread and juice in the middle and you would have communion together while you share Christ’s life with one another.
Or, your congregation might have “kaleidoscopic worship” (1 Cor. 14:26, Eph. 5:19), where we edify each other. If God’s grace is working through all of us as we work it out in a dynamism, the life of the Christian, including the “church service” are not going to be a passive experience.
These are just three ideas or alternatives that answer God’s call that, “We have to stop meeting like this.” There are endless other alternatives, including an occasional sermon. But most often, if there is any monologuing, we need to hear people (plural) share what God is doing in their lives.
We need leaders who do not hog the mic or the spotlight, but who are “impresarios”, who organize and skilfully deploy people, for the glory of Christ. “Pastors” need to be re-positioned from “sages on stages” to “guides at the side”.
Working With Him
An important question is, “Will we work with him?” Will you be reconciled and work with him, reconciling others? Will you work hard with the grace of God?
Are you following the invisible, living, powerful Christ, who holds the universe together and is head of the church? Are you taking your ideas and your plans, and living your life by them and calling others to follow you, rather than simply working with Christ, and calling others to work with him?
Are you working with him or are you living out a ministry where you want Him to work with you? I believe that we often try to persuade God to work with us, when all along we have it backwards and God has invited us to come out and work with Him.
Paul worked hard and is an example of a man in Christ, a true disciple. We love to read Paul as history and learn theology from his work. But what if Paul’s life was a message from Jesus Christ? What if his assignment was to impart that life of Christ to everyone that be ministered to, including us today, who read his papers?
“Working” God wants us to work. That is how he designed us. He does not call us to the “do nothing” life of sitting on the couch or lazyboy and passively consuming.
The one all powerful God takes us, as proverbial horses, to the water, but does not make us drink. He shows us the plow, but we have to push it. And he points to the harvest, but does not make us go work in it.
“Are you working with Him?” That is a question for all Christians, all people in Christ. There is a time in the Christian life, when we are babies, who can not work. We just need milk and to be held. What do we say to folks who claim to be Christians, but they don’t want to do any work with God, but just drink milk and be held?
“Don’t receive God’s grace in vain.” What that means is “Don’t squander God’s grace.” We squander it by not partnering with God to appropriate (spend) that grace.
Let’s end with a prayer:
Open the eyes of our hearts to see your grace. Help us to partner with you God, working with your grace in our lives. Let grace flow through our lives to others, so that our lives are not vanity fairs, but fruitful vineyards.
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