Happy New Year! Have you made any resolutions yet? Perhaps to lose weight or to get a better handle on your finances? Maybe to exercise more or to give up a bad habit?
Usually, we make resolutions because we see something in our lives that we want to improve—a bad habit that we want to eliminate or something good that we want to make even better. New Year’s resolutions are all about changing our lives.
We often make resolutions at the beginning of a new year because we are looking for a fresh start. There’s something about the changing of the calendar that prompts us to try to better ourselves. It offers us a specific beginning and end time for our goals, and it helps give us a sense of focus and purpose.
This year, why not add some “faith resolutions” into the mix—that is, resolutions that will help you draw closer to Jesus? These faith resolutions go beyond promising to attend Mass more faithfully or increasing our prayer time by a few minutes. They are interior resolutions, promises that, no matter what spiritual practices we are following, we will try to open ourselves more to God’s grace as we do them.
To help you with these resolutions, we want to spend this month looking at how our faith and God’s grace work together to bring about changes in our lives—changes that will bear fruit all throughout this new year.
Jumping into Grace. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
Picture yourself trapped on the fourth floor of a burning building. Down below, firefighters are unfurling a net and urging you to jump. “Go ahead!” they call. “We’ll catch you!” You take a deep breath, jump, and land safely. You’ve been rescued from the flames! Were you saved just because you jumped? Not exactly. If the net had not been there, you’d be dead. It was the net that saved you. At the same time, you had to decide to jump. You had to take that leap of faith, trusting that the firefighters would save you.
That’s how grace and faith work together. The grace of God is like the net, and your decision to jump is an act of faith. You jump because you trust the firefighters and you believe in the net. Similarly, our leap of faith into the arms of Christ is the only way we will be safe. There is no other way. Faith is a life-or-death decision—and a decision that we need to reaffirm every day. It’s a daily decision to find our safety, our home, and our security in the Lord. It’s also a daily decision that opens us up to an endless store of grace and blessing.
Why does Jesus want to give us so much grace? Because he wants to do more than just save us from sin. He wants to change our lives! St. Paul once said, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective” (1 Corinthians 15:10). He saw that grace had an effect on him, that it made him the man he had become. He knew that without this grace, he wouldn’t be anywhere near as humble, peaceful, or fruitful as he was.
Grace and Faith. Grace and faith: the two are closely intertwined! God’s grace without our acts of faith has very little ability to change us. And our efforts, no matter how faithful and disciplined we may be, simply won’t have much impact if we aren’t open to the flow of grace that God is always pouring out from heaven.
Let’s take a look at how the Scriptures describe this interplay between God’s grace and our efforts. First, Jesus describes how a seed planted (God’s grace) in the right soil (our faith) could produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold (Matthew 13:3-8).
Next, Peter tells us to “long for pure spiritual milk [God’s grace] so that through it you may grow into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). He also says that if we want this grace to work in our lives, we need to rid ourselves “of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander”—and that takes effort (2:1)!
Finally, James tells us, “put away all filth and evil excess [the leap of faith] and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls [God’s grace]” (James 1:21).
Each of these passages, as well as so many more, describes what can happen when we make the decision to jump into the arms of Jesus.
Cheap and Costly Grace. In his book The Cost of Discipleship, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about the difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Cheap grace, he writes, “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.” It is “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.” Those who rely on cheap grace believe in Jesus, in eternal life, and in the forgiveness of sins, but they don’t strive “to live a different life under grace from the old life under sin.”
By contrast, costly grace “is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” This grace is costly because it calls us to leave our old selves behind and ̶#8220;follow.” But it is grace “because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.” It is grace because the One we are following is full of love, compassion, and mercy. He is always with us to help us and empower us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that grace is “the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call” (CCC, 1996). So grace is a gift from God that inspires us and empowers us to change our lives. But the Catechism goes on to say that this grace demands our “free response” (CCC, 2002). Grace is not just a magic formula that transforms us instantly. We have an important role to play, and that role is to yield to God’s grace, however costly that yielding may feel.
We see this costly grace at work in people like Abraham and Moses and the Virgin Mary. Touched deeply by the Lord, they surrendered their lives to him. Abraham left his home in Ur to travel to a promised land he knew nothing about. Moses risked his life by calling Pharaoh to set the Israelites free. And Mary said yes to the angel’s invitation to become the Mother of God. They were touched by grace, and they freely accepted the call, as well as the responsibility, that God offered them.
Brothers and sisters, God’s grace is always raining down on us. It may be costly, but it’s not burdensome. It’s an inspiring and encouraging grace that moves us to do whatever is necessary so that we can grow closer to God. His grace is a generous invitation to make a choice—a choice that will bring untold blessings to us and to the people around us.
Persistent Faith, Abundant Grace. In the beginning of the twentieth century, when electricity was just being made available in people’s homes, one family paid an electrician to connect them to the new power grid. Over the next year, the electric company noticed that this family was using very little electricity, so they sent a representative to look into the matter. “You have all the power you need,” he asked. “Why aren’t you using it?” The father replied, “Oh, but we are using it. We love electricity. We turn the light bulbs on for a couple of minutes every night. It helps us see better when we try to light our candles.” He didn’t realize how much better his family’s life could be if they used that power all the time!
Let’s not be like that family. Let’s not be satisfied with just a little bit of grace. Instead, let’s exercise our faith, confident that God’s grace—his electric power—is always available to us. Through that grace, we can find the guidance, encouragement, and peace we need to live as joyful disciples of Jesus. His grace is an unending supply of supernatural power. If we can learn to remain connected to that grace as Moses, Abraham, and Mary did, we’ll be able to step out and do great things for the Lord.
So as you begin this new year, resolve to deepen your faith. Don’t settle for cheap grace. Make the decision to stay connected with God’s grace, even when it becomes costly. Be persistent, and when you fall, get back up and start over again. Have faith in God, and you’ll find yourself filled with his grace.