Let’s read that verse: “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (NKJV). There are two questions that we will address: 1) Who is Paul pleading with? and 2) How does one receive the grace of God in vain? We will be looking at three different views on this but before we do it’s important to know that the word “vain” means “without results.” So, Paul is speaking about “receiving the grace of God without results.”

  1. Paul is speaking to THOSE WHO HAVE NOT YET BELIEVED the message of the grace of God. According to this view, Paul is continuing the message from chapter 5 where in verse 20 he said, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” In 6:1 Paul is still pleading with any in Corinth who had heard the gospel of God’s grace to ACCEPT IT. If they don’t accept it by trusting in Christ and being reconciled to God, the message of God’s grace will have been received (heard) in vain, because it didn’t result in their salvation.
  2. Paul is speaking to THOSE WHO SAY THEY HAVE BELIEVED in God’s grace, but they are NOT TRUE BELIEVERS. This view espouses that Paul is speaking to those in Corinth who made a definite profession of faith in Christ. In our verse he is “testing their profession” by informing them that if they haven’t truly believed the gospel of grace it will be evidenced by their lives being unchanged; that is “without results.”
  3. Paul is speaking to THOSE WHO HAVE BELIEVED the gospel of God’s grace, but they aren’t responding to God’s grace as they should. They had indeed been reconciled to God and yet the purpose of God’s saving grace wasn’t being manifested in their lives, thus it was “without results” at the present time (though Paul is pleading with them to allow grace to have its desired effect). In Titus 2:11-12 we read, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”

To receive the grace of God and then to live in worldly lusts, is to “receive the grace of God in vain,” for the believer should indeed response to God’s precious grace by “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts” and by living “soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” When you read the letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians you see they were failing miserably in this area. There were divisions among them (1st Corinthians 1:10-13); they were allowing immorality (1st Corinthians 5); some were taking fellow-believers to court (1st Corinthians 6;1-8), and a host of other problems existed in their church. Paul earnestly longs to see the “desired results” that God’s grace should produce. In 1st Corinthians 15:10 he points to the results of God’s grace in his life: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was NOT IN VAIN; but I labored more abundantly that they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” It is my conviction that this 3rd view is the proper interpretation of our verse. (234.3) (DO)