But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (1 Cor 15:10)
“By the grace of God I am what I am.” This is not apologetic like we often hear. It is proclamation of worth and acceptance that isn’t based on anything Paul did or didn’t do. Paul received the “by grace through faith” revelation of the mystery that the old man was crucified with Christ, that he is now dead to sin and alive to God forever, that he had received in exchange the very life and righteousness of Christ as his life, and that the law of the Spirit of life had set him free from sin and death. Much more, that same Spirit of life would produce life and righteousness and peace and be his all in all as he lived from his life hidden above in Christ Jesus. By grace, Paul knew He was a new creation; a new man, wrought in Christ. Paul knew who he was. I am what I am!”
The outworking of the inner resurrection life utterly transformed zealous, legalistic Paul. First, inwardly through regeneration. Then outwardly through transformation of the renewal of the Spirit. As Paul yielded His life, ability and talents to the Lord, “counting them as lost”, the grace of God abounded to Paul.
Paul “labored all the more” because he saw the riches of God’s grace as available to all who believe that their life too is hidden with God in Christ and receive it as a grace--gift. He saw that all of the ‘try harder”, “pray harder”, “apply the Scriptures harder” to live righteously never truly transforms anyone’s behavior. Effort apart from the Vine is vanity. “Righteousness [and right living only] comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phi 3:9). The Spirit of life delivered him from trying to prove himself, from striving to be successful or right with God. Because he was who he was by the grace of God, that issue was settled and striving didn’t slow him down anymore. He was freed to be used and used fully. God’s grace then did not prove vain.
Yet, not I [labored], but the grace of God with me. Paul now labored as the branch labors to remain completely dependent on the vine to manifest the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. Paul knew better then to take credit for what the Vine produced. Equally, he knew that the Vine could not produce if he hadn’t labored in dependence on the Spirit of life to prove out in his life the good, acceptable and pleasing will of the Father. Paul didn’t do it for God; God didn’t do it for Paul. Much more, much better, they did it together! “God with me.” Co-laboring is never in vain (fruitless)!