The Apostle Paul knows who he is and he knows what is behind who he is (1 Corinthians 15:10). He says, "By the grace of God, I am what I am." This is not a flagrant statement that is meant to excuse character flaws. I'm not sure why it rings that way to my American ear (maybe I've listened to too much country music).
Paul simply knows who he is (1 Corinthians 15:9). He knows he is a sinner who Jesus Christ came into the world to save (1 Timothy 1:15). And he knows about the powerful grace of God in the source and work of his life, represented in verse 15a by the Manner. Paul is what he is, by the grace of God.
So it's free grace. Paul was destined for wrath and helpless. At no point was he trying to meet God half way by scooting close to the front row at an altar call. Jesus knocked him down and—like Jesus always does it—radically called a dweller of darkness into the kingdom of light (Acts 9:1-6). Paul did not earn this good. It is all God, all grace.
Here's the question: does grace like this set us up for a "couch and potato chips" kind of life?
No. Absolutely not. Not grace like this. Not God's grace. Paul goes on to say that he worked harder than anyone else. He really worked. And yet it was not him, but the grace of God. God's grace is the bookends to this passage. Grace makes Paul who he is and grace accomplishes in Paul the crazy-eyed, joy-filled labor for the gospel of which we Gentiles are all beneficiaries.
It is a glorious thing how such freedom in grace produces such productive industry. The world doesn't get this. It is gospel glory.
Listen to Pastor John explain: