I Am What I Am
(1 Corinthians 15: 1-11)

I think many of us can identify with this problem. We’ve done something we deeply regret and nothing we do, including apologizing, can make it right. We may have even asked God for forgiveness and, knowing He has forgiven us, we are still nagged by the lingering feelings of guilt and shame. Your transgression causes you to doubt yourself. You have feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. You may even feel a little hypocritical every time you tell someone you’re a Christian, especially if they know of your past behavior or lifestyle.

This is one of the things I take away from our scripture reading this morning. The Apostle Paul has written a letter to the church in Corinth as he had gotten some reports of problems within the church that included jealousy, divisiveness, sexual immorality and failure to discipline members. Churches are full of people who are there for all the right reasons, unfortunately, many of these people don’t leave their baggage at the door. They drag their bags into the church with them. In one respect, that’s what we are here for. To help you deal with your baggage and assist you in your journey to a better, fuller and richer life in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, this baggage, if not checked, can significantly disrupt the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In this portion of Paul’s letter he reminds them of what he taught them when he was among them. He reminds them that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and the prophets and without the truth of this message, Christ’s death was worthless. Christ took the punishment for our sins so that those who believe can have their sins removed. He did die and was buried which was witnessed by hundreds if not thousands. He was raised on the third day as was foretold in the scriptures. Crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday. Paul then reminds them that Jesus was seen by hundreds of people after his resurrection, including himself.

This is the point I think is relevant to those of us who wrestle with our pasts. Paul says, Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. Paul is reminding his readers of who he used to be, one of their chief persecutors. He was a Pharisee’s Pharisee. He strictly adhered to the Mosaic Law and you can bet his voice was heard above all the other voices when they were debating this Jesus matter. After the death of Jesus, when it appeared the movement wasn’t going to die, he made it his personal mission to take into custody as many believers he could who were living in Jerusalem. He was so relentless, this caused many of the Followers of the Way to flee Jerusalem with the unintended consequence of spreading the Word outside of Jerusalem. Paul, while still known as Saul, stood by and witnessed the stoning of the Apostle Stephen and reportedly held the cloaks of many of the stoners. So determined was he to kill Christianity, he obtained permission to leave Jerusalem and travel out into the countryside to find believers and return them to Jerusalem for punishment. It was on the Damascus Road that Paul had his encounter with Jesus and experienced his conversion.

Paul’s past profoundly impacted him and his transgressions committed against the church weighed heavily on him and were always in the back of his mind. But Paul continues by saying, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and this grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Paul says that it is by the grace of God that he is who he now is, a new creation, reborn in Christ Jesus. He is so thankful for this new life that he points out that the grace given to him by God has not been in vain. He is so appreciative of his second chance, his new life, that he has worked harder than any of the others to prove himself and to do the work of his Lord and Savior. He’s not discounting all the great work done by countless others. He’s just saying he has a whole lot of baggage weighing on him. What’s ironic is that God has relieved him of the weight of this baggage. It’s other people who seem to delight in reminding Paul of his troubled past as if that disqualifies him for the work God has commissioned him to do in Jesus’ name.

Paul had been humbled by God and, through the grace of God, he was given a new life and a second chance at living a fuller, richer life. We, like Paul, must humble ourselves. True humility is not convincing yourself that you are worthless, but recognizing God’s work in you. It’s having God’s perspective on who you are and acknowledging his grace in developing your abilities.

This is the message of the cross and the resurrection. Our sins are dead to God if we repent and accept his grace as we move forward in building our new lives in Jesus Christ. God doesn’t require us to prove anything to him. We don’t have to be driven like Paul was to prove to others that he had changed. We just have to change and accept the opportunities God presents us to reach other sinners just like us.

Please pray with me.

Most loving and understanding God, how grateful we are for your love and forgiveness and for accepting us just as we are. We know that we are unworthy of the sacrifice of your Son who laid down his life for us for the redemption of our sins. Help us to remain your humble servants secure in the knowledge that you see the worth and the value in our lives as you make us into the disciples we need to be to continue the work your son, our brother, began here on earth. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we pray, Amen.