For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The last verse of this “encouragement” chapter from I Thessalonians 5 introduces us to the word “grace.” Saint Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8 that “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast. So grace is something that comes from God. It is a gift, not an entitlement. It is something that He offers us, not something we can earn. And is it something that we need, on top of faith and works.
There are several ways to understand grace.
One is to take a cup, some rocks, and some water. The cup is a structure that holds something. The cup is useful when it is filled. An empty cup is useless. The cup represents our faith. It is the structure of what we believe. If there are no works to compliment the faith, then the faith is empty, or as Saint Paul writes in James 2:17, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
The rocks represent the works that we do in our life. If we do works for the sake of works, the ultimate beneficiary of our work is ourselves, which is narcissism. Rocks poured out on a table have no structure, and no point. When the rocks are put into the cup, they have some order to them. Similarly, when we combine our faith with works, our cup of faith starts to fill.
Fill the cup with rocks and there will still be empty spaces. This is where grace comes in. Grace is like taking water and pouring it over the rocks. Once the water gets to the top of the cup, the cup is truly full. Grace fills the empty spaces. It fills what is empty in the cup and completes what is lacking in our lives. We need faith, works and grace to get to salvation.
Another way of defining grace is to say that grace takes what is ordinary and makes it extraordinary. We take ordinary people, and through the sacrament of marriage, they become a family, they become what they were not before, they become extraordinary. We take ordinary substances of bread and wine, things we can buy, things we can make, and we call the grace of the Holy Spirit on them, and they become extraordinary, they become the Body and Blood of Christ. We take ordinary people, intertwined in our sinful habits, and put the extraordinary Eucharist into them. And then we are supposed to be extraordinary.
Grace also comes through prayer. When we bend our knees before God and ask Him to give us wisdom or patience to to help us come at a problem and find resolution. These answers to prayer, these times when an ordinary (but big) problem has an extraordinary resolution, this is God’s hand at play. God’s grace calls us to be extraordinary. The challenge is for us to react to it in the extraordinary way we are called to respond, rather than receiving what is extraordinary and remaining content with being ordinary.
In signing off on this letter saying “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,” (I Thessalonians 5:28) Saint Paul is praying for the Thessalonians of the first century, and by extension for the Christians of the 21st century, that he hopes we experience God’s extraordinary grace and that we allow it to transform us from ordinary into extraordinary, that it completes what is lacking in us, and that it fills the empty spaces in our cup of faith that our works cannot fill. It is God’s grace that allows us to walk through this life and it is ultimately God’s grace that will get us to everlasting life.
Lord, thank You for the gift of grace, and for every time that something ordinary in my life has become extraordinary, for every time that an empty space has felt full. Please continually send Your grace on me, so that whatever is lacking in me may be completed, and whatever is empty will feel full. Help me to receive Your grace with a motivation to be extraordinary. Help me not be content with being ordinary but to meet your extraordinary grace with extraordinary faith and extraordinary effort. By Your grace, lead me to salvation. Strengthen my faith, bless my work, and give me Your grace in this life and place it upon me at the end of my life so that I may enter by Your grace enter into Your heavenly kingdom. Amen.
Be extraordinary in your Christianity today—in faith, works, kindness, generosity, patience, forgiveness and love.