God’s grace–what are we to do with it?
Grace may be more difficult to handle than it seems at first look.
Paul makes an interesting statement in 1 Corinthians 15:10:
“But God’s grace has made me what I am, and his grace to me was not wasted. I worked harder than all the other apostles. (But it was not I really, it was God’s grace that was with me.”
Paul mentions this in the middle of his discussion of the resurrection. He chronicles the occasions that the resurrected Jesus appeared to people. Paul lists Peter, the twelve as a group, then 500 believers, James, and then all the apostles again.
Lastly, Jesus appears to Paul. It’s as if he was born out of time, he says. He doesn’t consider himself worthy to be counted among the other apostles. This is due to Paul’s persecution of the church.
Paul sees his behavior prior to his encounter with the risen Jesus as a disqualification. Paul has no business being counted among the faithful, much less be considered an apostle.
Thankfully, God disagrees. God is undeterred in forgiving Paul. God readily includes him in the family of the faith. He generously invests calling and gifts, opening up a compelling future for Paul’s life.
What to do with it?
Paul doesn’t take it lightly.
He knows the gravity of his past. He’d been responsible for much suffering. People went to jail, experienced deprivation, and were no doubt tortured, on account of his misplaced zeal. Families were disrupted. Children were traumatized by the loss of parents. No doubt some of Paul’s victims died unjust deaths.
He could allow the shame of persecuting the church to continue to disqualify him.
Instead, he exercises the courage and faith to believe he’s been fully forgiven. With forgiveness comes the freedom to move forward.
Paul seizes the privilege. He throws himself wholeheartedly to the task.
Paul recognizes God’s grace has made him who he is, and he;s determined to not to let it be in vain. He jumps all in, faithfully applying himself to the task set before him. He partners with God in fulfilling his assignment.
This is no easy task Paul pulls off. The tendency is to keep looking back, to justify why our past should disqualify us.
We can be very loyal to our shame.
It’s audacious to embrace grace and dare believe we have permission to have a future.
To do anything less is to discount the grace of God.
It allows shame to win out.
And grace to be in vain.