“. . . we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.
. . .now is the day of salvation.”
(2 Cor. 6:1-2)
The text I have for us this morning is a good example of one that can easily be taken out of context, and as I am going to focus today on just a couple of verses of scripture, if you have your hard or soft copy Bibles with you, you may like to have these verses in front of you from the start.
Our text then is 2 Corinthians 6:1–2: which reads: “1 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.”
Like many others I suspect, I have in the past used verse 2 of this text without verse 1, as a key motivator in a gospel message. And, let’s be clear, to tell those who are not believers, or those investigating the truth of the Christian faith that “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” is NOT an untruth, and certainly not a deception. But actually, in context, these verses were definitely written and intended for BELIEVERS, for Christians, for you and I, rather than for non-Christians.
Now it seems PROBABLE, the experts tell us, that this letter of Paul’s, now referred to by us as 2 Corinthians, was really the fourth of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth but that two have sadly been lost to us. In this letter, Paul’s underlying purpose was to expose false teaching in the Church and to seek to unpick the influence of some he dubbed facetiously “super-apostles” (2 Cor.11:5) and who preached what Paul describes as “a different gospel” (2 Cor.11:4). So really, our text this morning is essentially a stepping-stone in Paul’s powerful argument in defence of the true gospel he preached, and so is aimed specifically at established BELIEVERS who have heard that gospel.
Whenever we look to un-wrap words penned by the Apostle Paul we always need to approach with caution! He was not only a man with an awesome intellect, but in his depth of revelation, and in his anointing, he was surely unsurpassed. So it is very easy for us to misinterpret his words and to get the wrong end of the stick and we definitely need the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us this morning as we take a look at these two special verses.
In verse one Paul says: “As God’s fellow workers we URGE you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” You can almost feel the passion and intensity behind those words. This is not Paul’s half-hearted wish; not his vague desire for believer’s. He isn’t “rather hoping”, that we might respond the way he would like us to. He is earnestly and emphatically URGING us, for our own sake, for our own greatest benefit and blessing, not to be those who receive God’s grace in vain.
He is saying, as one whose heart is absolutely in tune with our Heavenly Father’s on this issue – “PLEASE do not let the grace you have received so freely from God to have been in vain, to have been for nothing, or as my Collins Dictionary suggests, to have been received “fruitlessly””.
Paul had written in his earlier letter to these Corinthian Christians, to remind them to recognise the obligation of their salvation when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “. . . You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.” So it is very clear that he was strongly aware of the fact that having received so much because of God’s grace through Jesus, we MUST respond appropriately. And in Ephesians 2:8-9, verses I so often quote as they are such a vital part of our understanding of our salvation, Paul writes: “8 For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the GIFT OF GOD— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” This is the grace that Paul is urging us not to allow to have been in vain. Purchased at such inestimable cost, how can we then not take full advantage of what Christ, at such a huge price, has FREELY given us.
So, without doubt the single most significant reason for us to want to make full use of and take full advantage of, what Christ has provided for us, is ITS ENORMOUS COST.
But that isn’t the only reason. Listen to the very next verse of that passage in Ephesians 2, it says in verse 10: “10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.” Here, Paul is telling us that there is another reason why we must NOT allow God’s grace gift to be in vain. It is because God has GOOD WORKS in mind for each one of us to do. These good works are part of God’s plan for us and part of the reason for Him giving us the grace gift of salvation and this short time here on planet earth.
Now here’s the rub - YOU cannot do the works God intends ME to do, and I cannot do the works God intends YOU to do. Each of us has an individual allocation of works, and only we can do them. That is the level of awesome responsibility that rests on each of us, whoever we are, who have received God’s grace gift of salvation.
We cannot then allow this aspect of God’s grace to be in vain or we will undermine His purpose for and through our lives. This is what, you and I are here for – not JUST to selfishly enjoy God’s grace gift of salvation, but to do our part in His great plans and purposes. Didn’t Jesus himself show that very same sense of obligation, motivation and purpose when he said in John 4:34: 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish HIS work.
So Paul, in urging us not “to receive God’s grace IN VAIN.” is highlighting the underlying truth, that to the extent that we fail to appropriate ALL that God’s grace has provided for us, to that extent, that much of the price paid was effectively in vain, wasted, useless. And when you reflect on the appalling and terrifying price Christ paid for our redemption, the significance and magnitude of that failure on our part begins to dawn.
But also, Paul is stressing that by neglecting ANY element of this great salvation we have been given, we are also potentially ruling ourselves out of our one time opportunity of being used by God as part of His great eternal plans and purposes here on earth. In words I’ve used before, we are taking ourselves off the field of play and plumping for a place on the bench.
This verse then is fundamentally urging us, for our own sake and for God’s sake, not to miss out on what God by His amazing grace has provided for us. It is urging us to make full use of ALL that this salvation gives us. Paul is saying to us, “Don’t miss out on ANYTHING that God has provided for us, or we will make that part of the price paid, of no value. Instead, let’s be zealous to squeeze out of this “gift of God” (Eph. 2:8) every precious blessing God has provided for us at such vast expense.
But let’s look now at verse 2 of our text and do some basic detective work. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says: 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. These words are actually a quote from the Old Testament, in Isaiah 49:8 which reads: “8 This is what the LORD says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; But did you notice the subtle difference between those two renderings. Paul has on purpose switched the tenses. Isaiah’s “I will answer you” has become Paul’s “I heard you”. And Isaiah’s “I will help you” has become Paul’s “I helped you”.
Why? Well because from Isaiah’s point in history he was LOOKING FORWARD to the day of God’s favour, while Paul, of course, was rejoicing IN the day of God’s favour - WHICH HAS NOW ARRIVED!
What is necessary for salvation HAS NOW been accomplished as Christ made His perfect sacrifice for us and rose in triumph over sin and death. The price for all sin has been paid, the victory has been won forever. And we, by God’s wonderful grace are living in the reality of that great victory and that great day.
But let’s put a few important facts on the table so we can be absolutely clear about what I am seeking to highlight today.
First, I don’t want to deny, and I’m not seeking to hide from you, the reality that there is a PROSPECTIVE element to our salvation. There IS something of salvation that is yet to come - something that we don’t have right now. Peter tells us, for example in 1 Peter 1:5 of those “5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power UNTIL THE COMING OF THE SALVATION that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” And Paul advises us in Romans 13:11 that:”11 . . . The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because OUR SALVATION IS NEARER NOW than when we first believed.” So there clearly is an aspect of full salvation that awaits us in the future when we will be clothed in a new body and presented blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is also true to say that our salvation has a PROGRESSIVE element. It definitely, as anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time can tell you, is a PROCESS that takes place moment by moment from that first day when we surrender our lives to Christ and are born again. Paul is confirming the truth of this observation when he says in 1 Corinthians 1:18:”18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are BEING SAVED it is the power of God.”
This is actually the very process that James refers to when he urges us in James 1:21 to “humbly accept the word planted in you, which CAN SAVE you.” Interestingly, the word for “you” in that phrase “which can save YOU” is the Greek word “psuche” which means “soul”. So it suggests that while our spirit is reborn as a new creation in Christ when we accept Christ as our Saviour, some of the work of salvation that has to go on after our new birth, particularly involves our “soul” - the term that some identify as our mind, our emotions and our will. And I think that many of us could testify that it is in this very area of our being, in our mind, in our emotions and in our will, - IN OUR SOUL, that many battles have to be fought as we seek to come into the good of this great salvation that we received when our spirit was born again in Christ.
But we also need to recognise, AND this is the heart of what I want us to really appreciate this morning, that in our salvation, there is fundamentally, and from the instant of our giving our hearts and lives to Christ, an amazing inheritance, a grace gift of matchless and eternal value, that we POSSESS fully and completely, lock, stock and barrel, FROM THAT VERY FIRST MOMENT OF NEW BIRTH IN JESUS.
We have become a NEW creature in Christ and therefore, as the Apostle Peter tells us in: 2 Peter 1:3 ,“ 3 His divine power HAS (PAST TENSE) given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” THAT is the glorious and amazing reality of our new birth. And if these blessings are not to be in vain, we are meant to be enjoying them, NOT sometime in the future but RIGHT NOW!
BUT(!), while we may recognise and accept as true, that according to God’s Word, “NOW IS the time of God’s favor, NOW IS the day of salvation.”; and, while we acknowledge that there IS an abundance of blessing in the experience of salvation that we SHOULD be enjoying right now; many of us also understand there is a battle going on in our SOULS, in our minds, our emotions and our wills, that is yet to be won.
So what are these aspects of our salvation that we should be walking in RIGHT NOW if our salvation, and the great COST of our salvation, is not to have been in vain in our case? Well let me give you just some of them.
First, something amazing has happened in relation to our proximity, our nearness, to our Creator God. Insignificant, untrustworthy, fickle and appallingly self-centered and sinful as we are, Ephesians 2:13 tells us the unbelievably good news that:13 . . . NOW in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
Without deserving it in any way, shape or form, that close and intimate relationship that man had with God in the Garden of Eden, that was lost through sin, has been completely restored and is ours RIGHT NOW if we reject our feelings and take hold of its truth by faith.
Second, Paul shares a thrilling revelation for anyone who has ever felt the shame, disgrace and sense of unworthiness that comes when we sin, for he tells us in Romans 8:1 the fantastic truth that because of Christ’s perfect life and sinless sacrifice, “ 1 . . ., there is NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
And then, listen to what Peter has to say about us. And, if you REALLY hear it; if you really even BEGIN to take in the reality, just something of the spectacular truth of these words, it will make your toes curl with delight: 1 Peter 2:9–10 tell us: 9 But YOU are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once YOU were not a people, but NOW you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but NOW you have received mercy.
To be God’s own, special people, out of no goodness or worthiness of our own, but purely because of God’s wonderful grace towards us – that has to be something spectacularly special. And we have that NOW. We don’t have to wait for it, we have it NOW. So don’t let’s let fickle feelings or the lies of the enemy cause this truth to be in vain for us, to be lost on us. Let’s live in the truth of this RIGHT NOW.
But then in 1 Corinthians 12:27 Paul explains another amazing NOW truth for us, he says: 27 NOW you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. You and I as new creations in Christ are part of one body – the body of Christ. We each have been given a unique and critical role in the church. Not only have we been forgiven for our sins, unworthy as we are, but we have been assigned a specific role in service to God. We are not in competition with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of us has a unique role to fulfil which no one else has been given. And it is a role that is complimentary to those of our fellow Christians. That’s exciting - that’s amazing.
Forgiven, welcomed into the wonderful fellowship of the company of the redeemed, but also commissioned and entrusted by God Himself with a unique and specific role chosen for us. A role that will use our abilities, challenge us to grow in faith and that will provide fulfilment in a way nothing else can and that will support the work of the rest of God’s people in the body of Christ.
And that’s just a few of the things that our salvation gives us RIGHT NOW. But there are many others:
• Ephesians 5:8 declares: “NOW you are light in the Lord.”;
• Colossians 3:3 brings the precious truth that our lives are “NOW hidden with Christ in God.”;
• Hebrews 4:3 proclaims that because of the finished work of Christ, “NOW we who have believed enter that rest” of God;
• Colossians 1:26 reveals that the mysteries of God’s Word are: ”NOW disclosed to the saints.”; and
• Ephesians 3:10 speaks of the spectacular SPIRITUAL MYSTERY: “that NOW, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”.
How important it is then that we personally do not allow the grace of God to have been in vain in our case, and how critical it is that we do not miss out on the full blessing of our great salvation and are not blind to the truth that NOW, not just some time in the distant future, but “NOW IS the time of God’s favor, NOW IS the day of salvation. Because, as the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:2 2 . . . NOW we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.