A parable: two students each received scholarships to Harvard University. Full rides, every possible expense paid. Both were bright kids, and both felt intimidated by the reputation of such a great college. They each thought, “I don’t deserve to be here.”
One student studied day and night. She gave it all she had. The other student began to enjoy the thrill of college life: parties, the big-city and the freedom of being on his own for the very first time. By mid term the first student was still working hard, earning C’s and B’s in her classes. The other was failing every class and placed on academic probation. By Christmas the first student had earned a 3.0 GPA, but the second had flunked out of Harvard. Which of these two students laid hold of the opportunity given to them?
Of course the answer is the first student, humble and hard working. The gossips wagged their heads over the second: “How could he throw away an opportunity like that?”
The scholarship to Harvard was a gift of grace, but the truth was the work was just beginning. God’s grace does for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves. What is beyond our reach is joyfully paid in full by Jesus Christ, but the work is just beginning. The new birth is by grace, but what lies ahead is growth in Christ. God’s grace stands ready to supply the energy needed to navigate new life in Jesus, yet we must sadly acknowledge that there are many who squander the possibilities of new life in him.
Some people might object to the close association between grace and work. God’s grace comes with no strings attached, doesn’t it? No amount of effort on our part could win his pardon. True enough—it’s just not the whole story.
Consider another young man who received a full ride from Jesus: “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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.” (I Corinthians 15: 9-10) The Apostle Paul had no trouble seeing the connections between grace and work.
The grace of God is a calling to a new life. The only reasonable response to such grace is gratitude that moves us to action.