There is a strain of protestantism which reflects on Christ’s redeeming work on the cross and his last words, “It is finished,” and then rejoices that there is nothing further for them to do. They have believed it for themselves, and all else is up to God to accomplish. Anything more is works of the flesh.
In fact, they are so worried about not relying on works of the flesh for salvation, that the mere suggestion of man cooperating in becoming holy creates unrest within them. This concept is one of the pivotal differences between Catholics and other Christians, leading to false accusations of works-based righteousness and even a disavowal of the salvation of Catholics. But what it really is, is a difference in the lived experience of the Christian life, the inner life of the soul in-between conversion and post-death judgment.
For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son…who made Himself a perfect sacrifice, that through the cross, our sins may be redeemed. This is the beginning and the end of the Christian life, but we were originally created to be more than we are now. In our redemption, Christ has made it possible for us to be truly pleasing to Him, to be very good once again, to rise above the muck that sin has smeared over us, and to become holy, even to become divine (little-d)–for that is what being a son or daughter of God really means! This is what we were created for.
God isn’t content to leave his creatures bereft. If He meant to save us so that we could continue to live without likewise responding to that love with purification, holiness, deep desire for righteousness, not for OUR sake, but for HIS sake, because that Love is consuming, provoking, fulfilling…if He meant no response from us, then He would not have become man. His humanity means something important. It is not simply a means to an end. There is more to man, more to being human.
Our being has become elevated, because God sought to unite with us, become one with us, in the process not just saving us from death, but truly redeeming our very lives. We are called, then, to respond to life with abundant life. We are not converted and then immediately snatched up into heaven. We do not plod through life satisfied that our end game is in place, and so nothing else matters.
If nothing else, gratitude for an unearned gift requires a response. ‘I am so grateful, that I wish to do what I can to be worthy, recognizing that there is never enough I can do to be deserving.’ It is the response of love.
Pure love between persons is a gift undeserved. There is some unique quality or trait which may first spark our interest, but in and of itself does not demand love. One chooses to love another. The other chooses to respond. In response, love grows and builds, and continues in cycle.
It is the same in the Christian life. God chose us first. We respond with belief. When we recognize the magnitude of His Love, how can we help but choose to pour out our love upon Him? Our beloved is perfect, and we seek to become more pure, more holy, more righteous, because we want to be like Him who we love.
Salvation? I don’t deserve it, and I never will. But I know He loves me anyway, and because of that my soul burns with the desire to cast off my rags and be united with Him in this world AND the next. It is that burning desire, and my will cooperating with it, that grants me joy, peace, and happiness in my soul.