The Great Commission received from Christ by the Apostles and passed to us as their heirs calls us to work. This tends to be a bit of sticking point denominationally. Work is essential to our salvation. We are the workers in the vineyard and we are the laborers who carry on the mission of Christ in the world… baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mission is Christ’s… ours the work. Does our work buy our salvation? No. Our work orients our lives to the Will of God and calls others to the saving work of our Lord.
In the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, our Lord opened the Gates of Heaven to all created in the Image and Likeness of God. Our work is to lead our brothers and sisters home. We do this through Baptism which is our rebirth (“born again”) into the family life of God (1 John 3:1). In Baptism, we take on His Name; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… just like we took on the name of our earthly families when born into them. We are not just forgiven sinners who are spared the final judgement of God (although we are that), we are sons and daughters sharing in the Life of God Himself. Our reward isn’t a day’s wage for a day’s work, it is a royal inheritance in the Holy Family of Heaven.
The challenge for all of us is to remember that the mission is Christ’s and we are just laborers. When we find a convert, we rejoice. However, do we take credit for their conversion? Is it our doing or the Spirit Who works through us? Our work is sharing the truth of the Gospel… the planting of a seed… loving the sinner while hating sin. The work of the Spirit germinates this seed and brings new growth. Ours is the planting, the Spirit’s is the harvest. We work in the life-giving hope of Love, the animator of all good graces. True love is freely given.
Taking credit for the work of the Spirit can turn our hearts inward in selfishness and pride. We can begin to see ourselves as essential to the mission… and worth every penny. We demand our wages in order to show mercy. We expect alms to offer prayer. We want to be noticed for our sacrifices. We become a pitiful wretch no longer serving the Will of God but rather our own selfish desires.
When it becomes all about us, it stops being all about Christ. Woe be unto us if we make converts in our own image of selfishness. Our suffering is no longer an act of love but an exercise in bitterness… and we breed bitter disciples (Matt 23:15).
What is suffering? Suffering, when done for love, is love in action. What is love without self-giving… what is self-giving without self-denial… what is self-denial without sacrifice? By this definition, we come to know God (Who is Love) by taking up our crosses to follow Jesus… as admonished and demonstrated by Him (Luke 9:23). In selfishness, our focus is inward upon ourselves… on our own fears and desires. In love, we focus outward… first on the God Who loves us and second on our neighbor who is made in God’s image and likeness.
Therefore, being followers of Christ who are called to lives of suffering, we recognize the works called for through the Church. These works are not “earning” salvation, they are growing in knowledge of God and taking care of those loved by God. Taking the opposite approach is selfishness and failing to grow–and only dead things fail to grow. We are the Body of Christ on Earth through our union with His Bride, the Church. In this, we carry on His earthly mission to call all people to Himself. There is much work to be done and a just God Who will reward our efforts (Heb 6:10). What is lacking in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross (Col 1:24)? Our own sacrifice (love) joined with His.
Christ’s sacrifice is once and for all but, sadly, not all will come to Him. Many are being lost around us every day for a lack of faith. Just as the prodigal son squandered his inheritance, so too can we squander the grace of God to our own ruin. God stands ready to receive us when we return… but failing to return can cost us our eternal reward. We are not simply sinners forgiven or the fallen raised up… we are sons and daughters of God by the New Covenant through Baptism in His Name. As sons and daughters we will be judged more harshly for failing to use His Grace for the accomplishment of His Will than will the poor man who never knew. Baptism is an oath (sacramentum) we take with both blessing and curse (as laid before our forebears through Moses–Deut 30:19). Blessing in obedience… curse in repudiation.
Many, who are not part of our faith tradition, say that works have no place in our salvation. Their usual source is the clear language of the Book of Romans. However, that is a misreading. Throughout Romans, St Paul is talking about the Works of the Law and their inability to save (Rom 3:27-29). They were given for our knowledge of sin and our reproof. Clearly, the Works of the Law were not sufficient for our salvation because we still need Christ on the Cross (Gal 2:16). The work we do is the Will of God for the salvation of souls through Works of Mercy (Matt 25:31-46).
Our salvation is there for us to receive by the once for all sacrifice of Christ… but we must follow where He leads (the Cross–sacrifice) and do as He commanded to truly be one of His (1 John 5:2-4). Those are the works of a Christian and they are part of our salvation.