A short time ago I shared with CE’s readers how the Lord allowed my long-time dream of writing a book to be realized. What I did not share in that article was how writing that book has given me a new analogy for explaining the process of salvation – how it is a union of faith and works, but those works are all grace.
I had wanted to write that book for so many years, developing a general outline and reading to continue deepening my understanding of the subject. After the Lord flung open the door with the right publisher, however, I had to get down to the business of actually putting fingers to the keyboard. The first two chapters came together fairly easily, but every chapter after was a struggle. In each, I inevitably reached a point where I either didn’t know how to adequately express such mysteries or I couldn’t see how to logically progress from one point to the next I wanted to make. Each time that happened, though, I stopped and sincerely asked the Lord to show me the way forward. And He was true to His word; every time I asked, I received (Mt 7:7). As each chapter was completed, I felt such tremendous gratitude toward Him . . . and sometimes awe at what He allowed to make its way onto the page – points that had not even occurred to me when starting to write the chapter. I wrote before work, on lunch breaks, and at night from my recliner. I had originally asked my publisher for sixteen months to finish the manuscript; but, even with the recurring struggles, I submitted it to them in nine!
When it was finished, I looked back and felt nothing but gratitude. There was no sense that I had “accomplished” something. Time and time again I had stalled, and it was only the Lord’s continual answering of my prayers that produced the book. Yes, I could remember the hours at the keyboard; but I knew that anything good that was accomplished was solely due to the grace of God. I’m firm in my conviction that, if the book proves helpful to someone, any gratitude that arises in his or her heart must be directed to God alone. I was quickly struck by the thought that, should I reach my goal of eternal union with the Lord, I will look back over my life and feel exactly the same way – not accomplishment but endless gratitude. Isn’t this what we find in Scripture?
Scripture speaks of God rewarding us for our works (Lk 6:35; Rom 2:6-7; 1 Cor 9:17; Rev 22:12) and our receiving the crown of eternal life (2 Tim 4:8; 1 Cor 9:25). But note what John tells us of the saints in heaven: When they worship the Lord, the “cast their crowns before the throne, singing, ‘Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, / to receive glory and honor and power, / for thou didst create all things’” (Rev 4:10-11). They cast their crowns before the Lord because, like St. Paul, they know that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). Now, good works are clearly necessary if we are to obtain final salvation (John 15:1-8, Galatians 5:5-6, Hebrews 6:10-12, James 2:21-24), and our cooperation is necessary; but as St. Augustine wrote, “When God crowns our merits, He crowns his own gifts.“ His gift of faith moves us to cooperate with His grace, continually, until the day when He “rewards” us with the crown of eternal life. Whatever feelings of struggle or pain we experience in our journey will melt away. There will be no feeling of accomplishment, though – only gratitude to God for bringing us safely to our End . . . and then the perpetual awe of adoration we begin to take in, as if for the first time, Who that End is.