Grace and Work in the Christian Life

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.

1 Corinthians 15:10

If we live by grace, does that mean we don't have to work hard? If we labor with intense effort, does this mean we aren't living by grace? What is the relationship of grace and work in the Christian life?

In 1 Corinthians 15:10, the apostle Paul provides a tantalizing answer to these questions. But his answer does not come in the form or theological instruction so much as personal example. He talks about his own life in Christ in a way that speaks to the relationship of grace and work.

Paul begins by noting that he is what he is—a follower of Jesus, an apostle—because of God's grace. Were it not for this grace, Paul would still be persecuting Christians, and therefore Jesus, rather than joining Christians in service to Jesus the Lord.

Yet the grace of God was not simply a key that unlocked the door to salvation. Rather, it was also a catalyst in Paul's life for a new way of living. God's grace was "not without results" (15:10). In fact, Paul explains, he "worked harder than any of the other apostles" (15:10). This sounds like Paul began his life in Christ through grace, but lived by his own efforts. But then Paul adds, "yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace" (15:10). More literally, he says that it was "not I who labored harder than any of the other apostles, but the grace of God with me."

Did Paul work hard? Yes, but not exactly. His hard work was itself an expression of God's grace. In fact, the most significant factor in Paul's work was not his effort but God's grace.

Paul does not explain exactly how the grace of God worked in and through him as he labored in his apostolic mission. From 1 Corinthians 12-14, we know that this grace included spiritual gifts, bursts of divine help supplied by the Holy Spirit. (In fact, the Greek word for gifts, charismata, comes from the word grace, charis.) Paul no doubt experienced God's grace in manifold other ways, such as: comfort in affliction, encouragement, guidance, love and support from Christian churches, hospitality, etc.

Paul's example encourages us to invest our lives in the work God has given to us, which includes all that we do in his service. Yes, we should work hard. But we must recognize that God's grace is at work in and through us. Our efforts are not our own, but are guided and motivated by God's presence in and around us.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you work hard, do you ever experience your work as empowered by God's grace? Do you think of the Christian life more as an expression of grace or a matter of hard work? How do grace and personal effort come together in your life?

PRAYER: Thank you, dear Lord, for your grace that is with me. Thank you for all the ways you make a difference in my life each day. Thank you especially for the grace that helps me to work hard in your service. Thank you for encouraging me, for giving me vision, for gifts from your Spirit, for brothers and sisters who love me, for your patience and forgiveness.

O Lord, may your grace have even greater freedom and reign in my life. May I open my heart to a fresh outpouring of grace. May I be attentive to the work of your Spirit in me, listening faithfully to your still, small voice.

All praise be to you, God of grace, because you are alive within me, helping me to work for you each day. Amen.