Consider what Jesus taught about the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46): he never said we’d be judged on how religious we were, but on how we treated others especially the poor, the dispossessed, the powerless, and the disenfranchised. Did we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, or visit the imprisoned? In other words, did we help bring the Kingdom of God into the world through love, peace, justice, and good behavior? Or, did we act like everyone else and oppress the poor and downcast, lie to others, cheat others, treat others badly, and hate our neighbors?
Christians believe that we cannot separate our faith from our everyday lives. We cannot compartmentalize our lives by behaving righteously in some circumstances and behaving unrighteously in others. What good does it do to go the church on Sundays but behave poorly during the rest of the week? We can oftentimes fool other people; sometimes we can even fool ourselves; but we can never fool God!
Persevering in our Christian faith is an integral and necessary part of becoming better people. But ultimately, Christians don’t believe we become better people by getting smarter or through our own hard work, but through our trust and faith in God to work in us and through us. We must try to do our best and then let God do the rest.
Some call this cooperating with God because all we can really offer to God is our free will. St. Paul wrote (Ephesians 2:8-10): For by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Because of this, practicing Christians don’t claim to always be perfect, upstanding citizens. We’re human beings—just like everyone else—full of flaws, weaknesses, and insecurities. But the process of persevering to overcome our sinful ways and live honestly, decently, ethically, and morally is what God is looking for from us, and then his grace will do the rest in us. St. Paul discussed the necessity of persevering in our Christian faith this way (Philippians 2:12-13): Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
These are all encouraging things to meditate on, but what about the big problem that the philosopher Qoheleth brought up in his book Ecclesiastes: the problem of death? Recall that Qoheleth believed that it is death and our fear of death that make life so pointless, frustrating and meaningless for all of us. Well salvation is not only being liberated from evil or the undesirable but it’s also being liberated from death!
For practicing Christians, our hope is in the resurrection from the dead so that we no longer have to live in fear of death. As Christ conquered death by rising from the dead, we believe that someday he’ll raise us from the dead as well. Our belief in the resurrection from the dead is what gives Christians hope beyond our futile existence that somehow God will one day raise us from the dead to an everlasting life with Him in heaven. And since we no longer have to live in fear of death (our necessary end), we can live a meaningful life knowing that our persistence in living honestly, decently, ethically, and morally won’t go unrewarded.
In short, based on the premise of original sin, redemption, and salvation, we can become Christians through faith and baptism. And then we become better people by persevering in a life of love for God and others through honest, decent, ethical, and moral living. These are what save us. For Christians, faith is the beginning but the end result is love for God and others.