How do we cooperate with grace?

I’ve been rereading Pope Francis’s Gaudete et Exsultate recently, and it’s got me thinking about grace (mainly the section about the modern day pelagianism secretly undermining the gospel).

The gospel opposes the basic assumptions of the world: we’re not saved by our special knowledge (gnosticism) or by our own efforts (pelagianism); not by what we possess nor by what we do. We are saved by Jesus, and by Jesus alone.

True, we have to cooperate with grace, but this too is only possible because of God’s grace. Our part in our salvation is still more truly His part. It’s all His gift.

I’m not sure what this means practically for us still trying to work out our salvation with fear and trembling… If we aren’t saved by self-improvement, what are we meant to do? And yet, “faith without works is dead”.

What is grace even? In my imagination, it’s always a sort of bright, glowing, golden liquid, flowing in people’s bodies. But I’m thinking now that this quasi-magical thinking is off. I think it’s God’s giving of Himself. It’s God moving, I think. God’s conversing with the world and in the world and through the world, maybe.

We have absolutely no power in/of ourselves to cooperate with grace. But there is grace already in us. God is already living and moving within us. He is giving us life and He will give us life.

Still, “what must I do to be saved?” Can the answer be nothing? What is first, grace or my openness to grace?

Is grace separate from me? No, not really. God is not really separate from us. He is the non-other because He is the completely other, and He is the completely other because He is the completely non-other. In Him we live and move and have our being. We exist only by participation in Him.

Still, salvation is by grace, and not by me. God is moving through me for my salvation, not like a liquid, but like a dance moving through my body. It is not me, but it is not separate from me – not while it’s in me.

Our cooperation with grace is not the cooperation of business partners. It’s perhaps closer to that of dance partners, except the one leading is the dance itself.

I think I’ve found it: the way to cooperate with grace and be saved is to stop worrying about it, and just enjoy God’s grace! Dwell with Him, converse with Him, dance with Him!

God is in love with each of us, and yet we forget to enjoy His company (and so to really be in His company), because we’re focused on earning our place with Him. We’re so focused on being perfect that we forget to be real.

(I know this is for some TV thing, but what a great image for salvation falling out of the Heavens with power and might!)

As so often happens, I have spent ages working out what I’m trying to say on this, only to discover that St Paul has handed me the answer right there in the scriptures:

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ (Philippians 2:12-13)

(NB: This is immediately after Paul’s fantastic canticle about Christ’s self-emptying and glorification)

What is there to fear or tremble at then? I believe we must fear and tremble before Christ’s grace to us – before His humility and His glory. The light of Christ is brighter than a billion suns. The one we have received is the King of the Universe.

We ought to tremble at how close He draws to us. The babe in the manger, the body hanging from the Cross, the bread and wine upon the altar, these are more than the entire universe.

And He will judge us according to our deeds. He will tear this universe apart like paper, and reveal everything in the incredible and unbearable light of His grace.

His closeness should terrify us, because we are absolutely unworthy. All we have and all we are is from Him and owed to Him, and so we can make no just reparations for our crimes; we have less than nothing before God. In this terror, this experience of our nakedness before God, we can submit to His perfectly free grace, and be set free. Gaudete!

God bless you!

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