Do Not Receive God’s Grace in Vain
2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2
“As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” (6:1)
The first two verses in chapter 6 carry on the instruction from chapter 5 concerning our calling and task as Christ’s ambassadors. God has just finished a passionate plea that each person who is a new creation in Christ Jesus participate in the ministry of reconciliation. Each one reconciled by Christ is to be involved in reconciling the world to God. But not all those in the church are for one way or another. They have missed their ministry. According to our text, they have received the grace of God in vain.
When one receives the grace of God, the life should vindicate itself by being God’s steward or workman (Eph 2: 8-10). God expects those who have received grace to be involved in the ministry of reconciliation. For not only are we saved by grace, the grace of God sanctifies us as we join Him in the ministry of reconciliation. The grace of God moves and changes us as we carry out the stewardship which has been entrusted to us.
Look at verse 1a that says “As God’s fellow workers…” It is based upon the teaching in 5:17–21 where we are informed and encouraged to be ministers of the word of reconciliation. Because we have received the grace of God, we are to work together in this ministry of reconciliation to win others to Christ as verse one urges. ESV says this way: “Working together with him…”
In the preceding chapter, Paul is describing the new creation’s duty. God has blessed us by saving us by His grace so that we might be co-workers with Him. One of the highest compliments ever given to believers is calling us “fellow workers” with the Almighty God. He who set the universe and galaxy, scattered the stars in space, created light and all creatures with life allowed us to join Him in His creative work. God is busy making sinners into new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), and He has called us to be His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). As ambassadors represent their nation to other nations, Christians are Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation to the world. As partners with Christ, we go out and offer God’s reconciliation to people. As His ambassadors, we experience His empowering grace flowing in us as He works through us and situations to bring about reconciliation with Him. God here is imploring us who have received His grace to work together with Him and become his “fellow workers”. Paul was exactly collaborating with God.
Read verse 1. It implies that Corinthian Christians received the grace of God in vain or were in danger of doing that. How could one “receive God’s grace in vain”? You might think of the lost son in Luke 15 who left his father and wasted all of wealth in wild living. It is more than that. A Christian’s salvation is forever secure, but some of us choose to spend our lives on ourselves rather than on the purposes to which God has called us. Those who do not join together with God in this ministry of reconciliation have received the grace of God in vain. Justification is not grace’s end result. The justifying grace of God seeks to bring us into fuller sanctification. This grace given to sanctify us is in vain unless we join with God in what He would have us do, so that we may become what he would have us be (1 Pet 1:22; 2:9).
Grace is the undeserved favor God demonstrated in the sacrificial death of Christ (5:14–19). Christ’s death is the reason why people can freely enter into salvation and a relationship with God. This grace received in salvation must not be received in vain [kenon] meaning “without content, empty, without result, or useless,” but is to be taken as a stewardship. There is no indication that the salvation of the Corinthian believers is in jeopardy, but the salvation of others is in danger.
God has called us to be ambassadors for Christ and given us the ministry of reconciling the world to Him (5:18). Not to do so is to receive the grace which saved us in vain, or not to benefit all the lost souls around us. Paul says this way in Ephesians 8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Receiving the grace of God in vain means that their practice did not measure up to their confession as Christians, that their inconsistent lives establish a denial of the logical implications of the Gospel, namely that Christ died for them so that they might no longer live to themselves, but to His glory (5:15).
For all those who accept His grace, God has supplied a challenging and worthy purpose for living, giving eternal meaning to all our days. Acting in faith on His plan rather than on personal preferences is putting the grace of God to worthy use.
Verse 2 quotes Isaiah 49:8 as an appeal to them and us of God’s readiness to receive anyone who turn to Him. “for he says, ‘in the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’”. NASB: “for He says, ‘At the acceptable time I listened to You, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is the acceptable time,: behold, now is the day of salvation.’”
In Isaiah 49, these words were originally addressed to the Servant of God, promising to sustain Him in the time of his ministry and to invest Him with spiritual power so that He might be a light to Israel and the gentile nations. However, the passage not only has messianic implications but is addressed also to Messiah’s people, who represent Him. Since his readers have put their faith in the Messiah of whom Isaiah wrote, a specific application is made. So he underscores it with repeated words “behold now”: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” It emphasizes that the time is NOW! The force of his statement is that God conveys His grace and salvation to men in the day and time suited to Him and it is necessary for people to appropriate that grace in the time appointed by God (Rom 10:18).
This quotation would remind the Corinthian believers of the time when they repented and received the gift of salvation during Paul’s reconciling ministry that came in a demonstration of the Spirit & of power (1 Cor 2:3-5). Paul has taken on himself the task of the servant and offers these that possess the knowledge of the messianic prophecies fulfillment to join with him & others in taking full advantage of this day of offered salvation. Join with Christ in reconciling the world to Himself so that the grace of God would not be in vain.
This acceptable time was created by Christ’s reconciling death, God listened to us and gave us salvation. And we must use this time of acceptance so that it can be the day of salvation, a day of deliverance, for others also.
Notice that God helps us in the day of salvation. Salvation is always initiated by God as an act of His grace. By God’s grace He had restored Israel from exile, now He offers by His grace to reconcile people to Himself through Christ.
I learned about the work of a prison doctor in Detroit. Dr. Cynthia Miller was a humanitarian working in a very inhumane place. One incident described by her associate gives an insight into the compassion she brought to prisoners. When a female inmate near death from an overdose of narcotics was rushed to the prison clinic, Dr Miller worked hard to save this life that society had already classed as unwanted. As she struggled to keep the woman breathing, she pleaded w/ the inmate’s friends to tell her what drug had been taken & when. She said, “look, if you use drugs, that’s your choice. I’m not a cop. But don’t wait until the last minute before you bring someone to me. I’m trying to save lives.” (William Hart in the Detroit Free Press). I think it illustrates what God would tell us when we delay.
Every person who rejects Christ will realize when death comes, which can strike suddenly, that it’s too late to hit the save button. Our destiny is sealed for eternity when we die, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (5:10). That’s why we are urged to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today (Acts 16:31). Imagine the horror of realizing it’s too late. You will have lost everything -forever.
Do you think you’ll always have tomorrow to hit the save button? Please don’t postpone receiving Christ as your Savior any longer, or you may end up like the rich man in Jesus’ parable of Luke 16. Trust Christ today. It’s never too early to receive Christ, but at any moment it could be too late.
The gospel is a word of grace for our ears and heart. The gospel is the means of grace and the means of salvation (Rom. 1:16). The offer of the gospel is the offer of salvation, and the present opportunity is the proper time to accept these offers. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. We do not know what will be tomorrow, nor where we will be. We now enjoy a day of grace; so let us all be careful not to neglect it. If you continually say no to Him, there will come a point when He will let your decision stand.
In Summary, God offers salvation to all people. Because of the reconciling work of Christ on the cross, today is indeed the day of salvation. There is no guarantee that any sinner will have the opportunity to be saved tomorrow. Many people delay a decision for Christ, thinking that there will be a better time-but they could easily miss their opportunity altogether. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isa. 55:6). There is no time like the present to receive God’s forgiveness. Don’t let anything hold you back from coming to Christ or from telling others about how they can be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. God’s grace is available to all to complete this life and death ministry.
Gracious Father, although we are unworthy, thank you for making us co-workers with our Lord and Savior. May the grace of God take hold of us so that we join with you in the ministry of the word of reconciliation. Amen