I Am What I Am (Because of God’s Grace)

Ninety years ago, on January 17, 1929, a character with a prominent cleft chin, bulging forearms, and a corn cob pipe constantly in his mouth made his debut in a comic strip called Thimble Theatre. This character was an unrefined but lovable sailor, whose love for spinach was outweighed only by his love for a woman named Olive Oyl. The character’s name? Popeye the Sailor Man. Popeye was an underdog hero who got his strength from eating spinach, which he somehow always had a can of. And Popeye made no bones about where his strength came from, singing, “I’m strong to the finich, ’cause I eats me spinach.”

So, you may be wondering what Popeye is doing in a blog called A Worshiper’s Journal. Perhaps one of this comic strip turned cartoon star’s most famous quotes was, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.” In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10, NIV).

When you look at the history of the early church and consider the growth of that church, it is obvious that Paul worked hard at spreading the gospel, the good news that faith in Jesus Christ brings salvation from sin to all who follow Jesus. He probably worked harder than any of the apostles. He certainly traveled more and suffered more opposition than the other apostles. He wrote more epistles than the others and founded more churches than the others. In fact, you could say that Paul was a key factor in the church’s becoming as widespread as it is today.

Like Popeye, Paul knew who he was (“I am what I am”) and like Popeye, Paul knew where his strength came from. But Paul’s strength did not come from what he ate. It didn’t come from his education or his upbringing. Paul’s strength came from God. In Colossians 1:29 (NLT), Paul wrote, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Paul knew it was Jesus who strengthened him to put him into service as he spread the gospel (1 Timothy 1:12). And though Paul knew that in his own power he was weak, he also knew that by God’s grace, the power of God was perfected in that weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul understood that it was the grace of God that made him what he was. My prayer, for myself and for all who follow Christ, is that, as we look to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, we remember that our ability to do so comes from God and that it is by His grace that we are what we are – sinners saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8) and ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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