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A Gospel Interlude:
The Amazing Grace of God,
Part 2
1 Corinthians 15:9-11
“But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (v.


In our text for this morning, 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul

writes, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am…” And
if you are a Christian, the same can be said of you. You
are what you are by the grace of God.

If we were to stop and consider it for a moment, there

are three things that make you what you are today:
your history, your salvation, and your sanctification, or
growth in Christ since He saved you. This morning I
want to deal with the first two – your history and your
salvation. Next Lord’s day, God willing, I will deal with
the last – your sanctification.

And in dealing with the first two this morning, I am going

to do so in two ways. First, I intend to remind you of
what a person is before coming to Christ and then
remind you of how a person comes to Christ. This will
allow the second half of the verse to apply to us – the “I
am what I am” part.

Second, I intend to interweave into these two points on

your history and salvation the truth of the first half of
that verse – “by the grace of God.” For it is only by the
grace of God, and by His grace alone, that your history is
what it was, and your salvation is what it is. The two
parts of the verse cannot be separated.
If you simply claim, “I am what I am” without any
reference to the grace of God, then God help you
whatever you think you may be. But if you claim
both parts, saying that you are what you are by
God’s grace, then you have suddenly given
meaning and purpose and vision to that life,
whatever it may be. So with that in mind, let’s jump
into a reminder of your history.

I. Your History

If we were to consider your history, this would include

where you were born, who your parents were, how they
raised you, where you grew up, where you went to
school, how many schools you went to, whether or not
your parents were divorced, whether or not they
remarried giving you two sets of parents. It also
includes the evil acts that happened to you in the past –
whether you were raped or cheated; whether you had
something stolen from you or someone close to you
killed or murdered. It includes where you went to
church, who your pastor was, what they preached or
didn’t preach, the denomination of that church, etc. It
includes your first job all the way down to where you
work today, and even where you retired from. It
includes your retirement, your investments, your bank
accounts, your stock portfolio, etc. Anything and
everything that happened to you in the past is a part of
your history. And while some of it is good and some is
bad, all of it has been controlled by a gracious God.

A. Paul’s History

The Apostle Paul gives us glimpses here and there of his

history. WE saw some of it last week. But right now,
let’s take a quick peek at a little more of the Apostle
Paul’s history in Philippians 3, beginning in verse 5. He
says “I as circumcised when I was eight days old.” That
part is important because it shows his parents were
strict observers of the Law of God in the OT.

Then he writes, “having been born into a pure-blooded

Jewish family.” That is especially important to a Jew.
Many Jews mixed and intermarried with pagan Gentiles
which was forbidden by the Law of God during that time.
Therefore to have parents who had remained pure-
blooded Jews for thousands of years is a testimony to his
family lineage.

He goes on and writes, “a pure-blooded Jewish family

that is a branch of the tribe of Benjamin.” This was
extremely important to be able to trace one’s lineage to
a particular son of Jacob. And not only that, but he was
of the smallest tribe, a tribe from whom came the likes
of the powerful King Saul.

He concludes by writing, “So I am a real Jew if there ever

was one! What’s more, I was a member of the
Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the
Jewish law.” He intends to communicate that in that his
parents were strict followers of the Law of God, he
intended to follow suit. And not only strict in his
attention to the Law as a Jew, but also as a teacher of
the Jews. That was climbing the ladder to the top of the

Then in verse 6, he recounts more of his history. “And

zealous? Yes, in fact, I harshly persecuted the church.
And I obeyed the Jewish law so carefully that I was never
accused of any fault.” Now that’s pretty bold. And you
know what. He was not lying. He was faultless when it
came to observing the Law of God. That is, he was
faultless, of course, when it came to being accused by
his fellow Pharisees. But he would have been at fault,
clearly if Christ had been judging him.
As I showed you last week, we see him in Acts 7 as
approving of Stephen’s death. We see him in Acts 8
pursuing more Christians to the death, even beginning a
region-wide persecution of them. This persecution that
he started was probably the reason why the Apostle
James was martyred. We saw his testimonies in Acts 22
and 26. And then we see His conversion in Acts 9.

God was at work in this man’s life from the moment he

was conceived, yes, even before he was conceived, in
order to orchestrate the events and course of his life to
his point of salvation and calling as an apostle. This is
why he says what he says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By
the grace of God, I am what I am.”

B. The Grace of God in Paul’s History

Paul was the man that he was at the time of his writing 1
Corinthians because he was also the man he was before
he was saved. And that kind of life that he lived before
God saved him was all rubbish or dung, as you just read
for yourselves. It was rubbish because it was a life
without the grace of God.

But as I read to you several times last week, Paul

proudly boasts in the amazing grace of God in almost
every letter he writes, for without that grace, there
would be neither purpose nor escape from his former
life. There would have been no purpose because all of
the training he had from the Old Testament would have
been used throughout his life in a way that did not honor
the God of that Old Testament. Remember, he was
trained as a highly skilled Jewish lawyer and teacher
under the top Jewish teacher in the world at that time.
But all that training would have gone wasted on
Christian-killing if it were not for God’s grace. And that
grace transformed him and then used his skills and
knowledge for the kingdom of God. So without the grace
of God, his former life would have had no purpose.

But without that same grace, he would have also had no

escape from that former life. He would have been
trapped in wickedness and sinfulness forever, if God had
not come along and suddenly saved Paul. Notice God
didn’t ask Paul’s permission. There was no call to be
saved. There was the simple presence of Jesus Christ
making a special appearance to Paul, and simply telling
Paul how it was going to be from then on out. And if that
kind of grace had not appeared to Paul, he would be
forever trapped in his own sin.

C. The Grace of God in Your Own History

From these two truths, that God’s grace gave a purpose

to Paul’s former life and it also provided escape from
that life, I want to give you a couple of encouragements

1. Be Encouraged by the Free and

Sovereign Grace of God

First, even though there was nothing in you to catch

God’s eye, but rather the very opposite (in that you were
an object of His wrath), God saved you anyway, merely
because He desired to. He didn’t ask your permission.
He simply saved you. And as Paul did, we should thank
God that He exercised this amazing grace upon our

Paul’s point in preaching every sermon that he did was

that God’s grace is in fact truly amazing, for it took a
Christian-killer and made him into a Christian preacher.
He was on a path to kill, and God met him, converting
him to a path to save. Without anything in Paul’s life to
commend him to God, God saved him anyway. That’s
called free grace or sovereign grace, because God gave
it to a man who didn’t deserve it, who didn’t want it, and
who was pursuing to the death those who said they had

2. Be Encouraged by the Prevenient

Grace of God

Second, even though you were who you were before

Christ, even though you were the sinner that you were,
there was the amazing grace of God working in and
through it all to bring you to Christ. Further, perhaps
there were skills and abilities that you developed before
Christ that you find yourself now using since you’ve
been saved. The work of God in your life before He
saved you is called prevenient grace, because it is that
kind of grace that goes before the grace that saves. In
other words, God gives some of His grace to a sinner
before He visits that sinner with His saving grace.

Now, on the one hand, this means your life before Christ
was certainly wasted in the sense that all of that time
could have been used to follow Him. Think of how much
of your life went unused to the glory of God, and how
much of His love you could know by now. But take
heart, because if free and sovereign grace exists, that
means that on the other hand your life before Christ was
part of God’s plan to bring you to Christ. This brings
amazing encouragement because God worked in and
through the details, events, circumstances, and
situations of your life before Christ to make certain that
He brought you to Christ.

“But what about the mess my life was before I was

saved?” one may ask. “What about the pain and
suffering I endured?…what about the horrors?...what
about the way in which people have hurt me?” I respond
sympathetically yet confidently that it was God’s grace
which has worked in your history. Is there anything for
which you are bitter in your history? It was controlled by
God to the end that He might save you and make you
one of His own. And would you be angry at that effort
when if He had not done this you would die in your sins
and suffer eternal condemnation in hell? Would you be
angry at His control over your history when those events
happened in order to bring you to Himself where you
would find all the comfort and happiness you could
possibly dream of?

You see, it is grace that is behind all of His actions in

your history. The food you ate, the clothes you wore,
the water you drank, the home you lived in, the sunshine
and rain which you enjoyed, the car you drove, the air
you breathed…all of it is because of the grace of God
which keeps you alive and sustains you even though you
don’t deserve it. That is called temporal grace, for it is
the grace God gives to every human being whether they
are saved or not.

3. Be Encouraged by the Cooperation

of Prevenient and Sovereign
Grace in Your Life

Now consider God’s saving grace in connection with His

prevenient grace. Think of the events in your life where
you were forced to think about Him, to think about
eternity. Think about those times when your conscience
was plagued with guilt over your sins. And think of how
you acted in defiance of your conscience time and time
again, and yet were visited once more a little later with
more conviction. Think of where you might be had not
God given you the conscience he had given you. You
developed the conscience you have now primarily based
on the parents he gave you and how they raised you.
Suppose you had been born under a different set of
parents who never went to church, never read the Bible,
etc. Think then of what your conscience would have
been like, and what kind of trouble you would have run
My point is that your life could have been so much worse
than you think it has already been. And what else
restrained it but the amazing grace of God. It held you
back from sinning time and again. It prevented you from
getting into more trouble. And what is funny is the fact
that it worked its amazing work on you and you weren’t
even aware of it. And it continued to work its mysterious
work on your soul until you came to Christ to be saved
from your sin. Thus, every moment of your life before
salvation was orchestrated by a God who desired to
glorify Himself by saving you from your sins and His
wrath. And He did it in such a way that you are the
more blessed for it and are far more satisfied and happy
than you would have been otherwise.

Moving on to the time of your salvation…

II. Your Salvation

This includes the season or seasons in life in which the

Lord began to awaken your mind to gospel truths, to the
love of Christ, to God’s mercy, to your sin, to His justice,
etc. It also includes the moment in which you decided to
commit your life to Christ, when you made that public,
when you were baptized, etc.

A. Paul’s Salvation by Grace

Paul attributed such great power to God’s amazing

grace, for it must have been powerful to stop Paul in the
tracks he was making to persecute yet more Christians.
He was set in his ways, convinced in his heart and mind
that opposing these Christians was the way of God. The
only one who would be able to convince him otherwise
was God Himself. And that’s just what happened, wasn’t

Christ in all His glory appeared to Paul, knocking him to

the ground and blinding him. It was Jesus Christ who
appeared to Paul and identified Himself as the One Paul
was persecuting. And it was this same Christ who then
so amazingly appointed Paul to be an apostle, a
preacher, a teacher, an evangelist and a missionary for
the sake of the same Christ he was just persecuting.

B. Your Salvation by Grace

And what about your salvation experience. What were

you before Christ saved you. Paul would attest that the
course and events of your life before God saved you
were designed to bring you to Himself where He would
save you. And since this course, according to Ephesians
2:1-3, was according to the world, according to Satan,
and according to your own sinful pleasures, it is only
grace that could and would work in and through all this
sin in order to save you. In other words, God’s grace
was working on you and in you while you were dead in
sin, while there was nothing deserving about you
whatsoever. It is only the clean and pure grace of God
that could intermingle with your sinfulness in order to
bring about your salvation. And to be sure, it is the only
power that can work against the flow of your natural
body to continue saving and sanctifying you.

The Reformers of the 16th century (Martin Luther, Ulrich

Zwingli, and yes, John Calvin) coined and often preached
the Latin phrase, Sola Gratia, which means “by grace
alone.” They coined the phrase because they were in
opposition to the Roman Catholic Church which taught
that a person could receive God’s grace by meriting it in
some way, whether by confession, or penance, or saying
so many hail-marys, or purchasing an indulgence, or in
doing some good work.
As these men read the Scriptures, and as Protestants
today read the Scriptures, it becomes clear that God
does not save anybody on the basis of what they do. In
fact it says the opposite. It teaches that God saves
people in spite of what they do. So let us glory in the
free and sovereign grace of God which alone saves us,
because only He knows what we would have become
and where we might end up if He left us on our own.

Listen to Charles Spurgeon, who was preaching during

this same time period, but on the other side of the
Atlantic. He preached of Paul,

“He believed himself to be a regenerate

man, a forgiven man, a saved man, and he
believed that condition of his was the result
of the unmerited favor of God. He did not
imagine that he was saved because he
deserved salvation…He did not reckon that
his prayers had merited salvation, or that
his abundant labors and many sufferings
had earned that boon for him at God’s
hands. No, he does not for a moment speak
of merit, it is a word which Paul’s mouth
could not pronounce in such a connection as
that; but his declaration is, ‘It is by God’s
free favor that I, Saul of Tarsus, have been
converted, and made into Paul the apostle,
the servant of Jesus Christ. I attribute this
great change entirely to the good-will, the
sovereign benignity, the undeserved favor
of the ever-blessed God” (“Paul’s
Parenthesis,” Sermon No. 3084).

He went to apply this by preaching,

“Now, my dear brothers, let me put this

truth very plainly, so that you may not
mistake it. If you are saved, you do not owe
your salvation to anything that you have
done; nor if you ever are to be saved, will it
be the result of any goodness of your own.
You may spin, but if you are ever saved, the
first thing God will do will be to unravel that
which you have spun. You may clothe
yourself in the gaudy garments of a self-
made righteousness, but God’s first act of
grace will be to strip you of them, and to
make you feel that all such garments are
nothing but filthy rags, fit only for the fire.
You must deny your own merits, or you
cannot have the merits of Christ. Your
church-goings, your chapel-going, your
baptism, your so-called sacraments, your
confirmation, your private prayers, your
family prayers, your Bible readings, your
good thoughts, your alms deeds, all these
put together have no merit in them that
could you go an inch towards salvation.
Salvation is not of works, but of grace alone;
and they who do not obtain salvation in this
way will as surely perish as the blasphemer
and the drunkard. There is but one way of
salvation, the way of free favor. That was
the way in which Paul went, and that is the
way in which we must go if we would enter
into eternal life.”

On this side of the Atlantic, our own Baptist Faith and

Message words this truth this way, saying that God’s
grace is “the glorious display of God’s sovereign
goodness…It excludes boasting and promotes humility.”

This concept finds it origin in the theology of John Dagg,

a Southern Baptist whose theology of the grace of God
was officially adopted by the convention in 1879 to be
an expression of the theology of the convention. In his
Manual of Theology, written in 1857, Dagg writes

“The doctrine of grace completely excludes

all human boasting. This was Paul’s view of
it…Its tendency to humble men before God,
and teach them to glory in the Lord alone, is
an excellence which the inspired apostle
highly prized. This endeared the doctrine to
him, and should endear it to us” (p. 337).

Commenting on Dagg’s work, Thomas Nettles, professor

of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
writes, the doctrine of grace, gives clear vision to the
reality that none can boast of anything before God (Rom.
3:27; 1 Cor. 1:30, 31; Eph. 2:8,9). Only the doctrine of
sovereign grace is sufficient to wipe all boasting from
the mind of man” (By His Grace and For His Glory, p.

Therefore, if you are truly saved, you are saved only

because of God’s grace. You are what you are by and
only by His grace.


So I ask all of you. Have you truly come to the point in

your life where you have absolutely nothing to offer to
God and you actually realize it? Have you viewed
yourself yet as the one who is poor in spirit, as Jesus
described in Matthew 5:4? Have you come the
realization that your pockets are empty and there is
nothing to give Him? If not, you have not yet been
visited by the saving grace of God. For that grace
makes you realize your pockets are empty. And it
makes you realize that all you can offer to God is what
He freely puts in your pockets.

And I ask all of you who believe yourselves to belong to

Christ, do you struggle with pride? Or do others view
you as prideful? The sin of pride is at the root of every
sin you commit. And yet it is this sin above all others
that stands diametrically opposed to the grace of God.
For pride thinks it needs no help at all from anyone. But
grace constantly humbles you by first telling you what
you really are without Christ, and then helps you by
rooting out that pride, killing it, and purposing to
become more holy. If you are a Christian, but have not
come to this realization, then you are still standing on
the first step in your Christian life.

The problem is that self underlies everything we do from

birth. We love ourselves and anything and everything
that we can do to preserve and promote ourselves is
what we seek to do. We think we can do pretty much
anything by ourselves. That is why salvation is so hard
for so many, and that is why so few find it. The only
ones whom Christ will save are those who know they
need salvation.

But if you cherish the delusion that you think God is

happy with you because you believe yourself to be a
pretty-good person, you are like a Hindu I heard about
once. He held to his faith that he must not eat animals
or anything of animal substance, and that if he did he
would die. So a missionary said to him, “That idea is
ridiculous. Why, you can’t even drink a glass of water
without swallowing thousands of living creatures.” The
Hindu man didn’t believe it. So the missionary took him
to a microscope, put a drop of water on a slide, and had
him look and see for himself. And when the Hindu man
saw the innumerable living creatures swarming in that
one drop of water, what did he do? He smashed the
microscope. That was his way of settling the question.

So I have brought the gospel to you for the last three

months, each Sunday. And you have heard it for
yourselves from our text of 1 Corinthians 15. That
gospel is the microscope that has magnified the sin and
delusion that lies in some hearts. And it has magnified
the self-reliance that lies in the hearts of some who are
truly believers.

Each week you have looked through the gospel and

there you have seen yourselves, even if ever so slightly.
And yet some seek to smash the microscope. And some
go even further, seeking to ignore or remove the
missionary who is pointing them to look through the

But that doesn’t change the fact that their hearts remain
the same, the gospel still stands there ever pointing to
their need of Christ’s righteousness rather than their
own. And Christ still stands pleading to renounce
themselves and follow after Him. God commands you all
not just to give a weekly glance into the microscope of
the gospel. He commands us in James 1 to camp out in
front of it, looking intently into that perfect law of liberty.


To close, whatever it is that you are as a result of your

history, your salvation and your sanctification is because
of the grace of God. God planned or orchestrated the
events of the history of your life for your salvation and
for His glory. This should be and is in fact an
encouragement to all of you who are plagued by your
history as Paul seemed to be. Whatever you are now,
you are now because of God’s grace. And that makes
your life worth living now. If you had a God of such
amazing grace tracking you and dealing with you in the
midst of your sinful lifestyle, and if this God saved you
by amazing grace out of your sin, your life as you know it
today owes its breath to that amazing grace. And our
lives are then lived in moment-by-moment gratitude to
God for that amazing grace.

Some of you sitting here are living in a history that is full

of trouble, misery, agony, pain and suffering. Yet you
have been clearly convicted this morning by your
conscience and by the Spirit of God that you do not have
this amazing grace of God at work within you to help you
see any purpose in your life. Nor have you taken
advantage of that saving grace that can rescue from
your current life. You realize that the emptiness you feel
and the void you experience every day is because the
one main object of your life is missing. Grace has no
hold on your heart.

Glorifying God is the highest aim of your life. This

means finding pleasure in who He is. But this is
noticeably absent. There is no pleasure. There is only
pain. And the pleasure that is there is only temporary.
When the bottle is empty, when the drugs are gone,
when the television program or movie is over, when the
vacation is done, when the weekend is over there is
nothing but further emptiness.

It is because the amazing grace of God just isn’t there.

But it can be. You can find that one satisfying thing in
your life that fills you with happiness. It is glorifying
God. It is supposed to be the end for which you live all
of your life. But you can only do it by the amazing grace
of God. And you can only get that amazing grace by
asking Him for it.

But this necessarily entails a confession of your current

life without Him as sin, and it requires a once-and-for-all
renouncement of that life. Because it is empty and
without grace, you must leave it behind. The God of the
universe, the Maker of heaven and earth has provided
grace for you in Christ Jesus, and He commands you this
moment to receive it. He commands you to repent of
your unfulfilling life and to find refuge and safety in Him.
He commands you to receive His grace this very
moment. Do not wait another minute, hour, or day.