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Vain Grace

Vain Grace

Words of Faith 10-20-17

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017

Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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2 Corinthians 6

   As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. [2] For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.


     How could the Corinthian believers possibly receive God's grace in vain? The word translated vain means "emptiness" or futility. Paul urged the believers, fellow workers in the diplomacy of the Gospel, to not receive God's grace in emptiness or futility. This is vain grace. Emptied grace. How might this happen? There are several possibilities of how they might have done this in Corinth.

       For the Corinthians, one way to "empty" the grace of God would have been to slip back into a religiousness that denied the righteousness of God received only by faith. This is what some of Paul's opponents were pushing for, more religion. Religion empties grace of its wonder and power. Another way to make God's grace futile was to refuse to purify themselves from the contamination of the world and allow a gap to develop between their faith and conduct. That was a big problem in Corinth.

       Paul quoted Isaiah 49:8 which declares the Messianic age and the favor of God. Paul saw this fulfilled in the person of Jesus who brought the grace and help of God in the day of salvation, If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come (5:17). The offer of grace is here now! The Good News is ready to be announced. Don't empty that grace by backing away from it or sitting on it.

       How might we "receive God's grace in vain"? How might we empty grace of its power? Really, this is impossible. God's grace is God's grace. But we can "receive it in vain" or receive it as empty and in doing so we render it futile in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.

       We make God's grace futile when we back away from the pure message of God's righteousness by grace, salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). When we add works or religion, we empty the message of grace. When we place requirements on what God has freely offered, we render the Good News futile. When we receive grace but then judge others or burden them with rules, we make the message of grace futile.

      We also receive God's grace in vain when we treat it like a cheap perfume slapped on to cover up the scent of sin. That's what some Corinthians were doing. We know that God's grace is amazing and boundless, but when we take that for granted and resist the work of the Spirit to make us holy, we render that very grace powerless in our lives. We are saved by the grace of Jesus, but we are also made holy by that same grace.

       The Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this sort of vain treatment cheap grace. "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God" (The Cost of Discipleship p45).

     "Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. 'All for sin could not atone.' Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world's standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin" (p46).

       Another way that we empty the wondrous grace of Jesus is when we treat the wondrous grace of Jesus like just another life option. This is easy to slip into in our pluralistic society that is tolerant of everything except the Gospel. We may experience the transformation of God's grace but when we treat that grace like an option that "works for me but maybe not for you" it becomes a little like choosing leather seats over fabric in your car! If the Gospel is that benign in our lives, then it is surely emptied of its power to transform the lives of anyone we might encounter.

       What is the alternative? What can we do? How can we be? How do we keep from receiving God's grace in emptiness and futility?

       The alternative is to actively live and breathe the grace of the Lord Jesus with the knowledge that God is making his appeal through us, imploring those around us on behalf of Christ, Be reconciled to God.

         The alternative is to live a life that is increasingly surrendered to the Spirit and seeks to behave with the dignity of a Christ Ambassador. This means "growing in grace" as He works His holiness in us by His Spirit.

         The alternative is to live in a way that recognizes the day of salvation and the help of God. His healing is here now. His favor is available and is real. His grace is not an option package. His grace is not a cheap cover-up or a reusable commodity.

        As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.


         O God, be at work in me. Keep me from making your grace something cheap. Make Your wondrous offer through me to those around me. Keep me walking in a growing life of surrender to You. In Jesus' Name.