Some non-Catholic thinking says the new creation is a kind of legal fiction. It is said that God looks on our sinful condition and sees Jesus instead. Luther said our condition was like ‘a dunghill covered with snow.’ Catholics don’t accept this view. We believe Jesus’ death and resurrection makes the new creation a real possibility—not just a legal fiction. Not only are we justified, but we are actually given the power to become the sons of God.(Gal.3:26; 4.6) The early Church fathers put it in a striking way—they said in Jesus God became man so that man could become like God.
In other words, the real physical and historical event of the incarnation enables real physical and historical people like you and me to become like God.
Through faith we are made just in God’s eyes, but based on this fact Catholics believe we have the potential to actually become like Christ. This is not just something which will happen in heaven. We believe it can happen here and now. In St John’s first epistle he says the Christian is one who no longer sins. Is this really possible? The saints show us that it is. A saint is an ordinary person who has been totally transformed by grace. The saint has become all he was made to be through God’s goodness. While Catholics recognise that this is hard work we have also insisted from the earliest times that this is not something we can do on our own. Saint Augustine said,
‘Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.’
More Christianity fully affirms that we are saved through grace by faith, but it affirms more that. The same grace that saves us through faith also enables us to live a victorious faith-full life. Furthermore, that grace which calls and saves us is available for our day to day walk with God in floods of blessing we can hardly imagine. This amazing grace is present in the world to bring us into the abundant life which Christ promised.
More Christianity affirms fully that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, but faith in Jesus Christ’ also means a daily life which is lived in his presence and power. By faith Christ lives in me and through my life. Through faith in Christ I can become a new incarnation of Christ in the world. Because of this amazing reality what I say and do really matters. Because of this kind of faith real people matter. Real choices matter. Real actions matter. If our decisions and actions matter then there is everything to play for. We may lose our soul to gain the world, or we may lose the world and gain our soul. We may forfeit everything through our sinful choices or we may inherit all things through faith in God’s promises. If we work alongside God’s grace, then we really can be healed. We really can become whole. We really can make an eternal difference. In Christ our potential is enormous and the challenge is exciting. More Christianity accepts the challenge. It works daily to move further up and further in to God’s amazing new life. It builds on the foundation of our justification and co-operates with God’s grace to become more and more like Christ himself. The possibility of perfection spurs us on to greater and greater devotion to the Lord who calls us to himself until, as St Benedict says, ‘We run on the path of God’s commandments with an inexpressible delight of love.’
This is a cause for great enthusiasm and supernatural joy. Knowing the possibilities of healing and transformation which grace provides, Therese of Lisieux encourages us to move forward with great zeal, saying, ‘You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all!’
Furthermore, this possibility of total transformation is not only for us. It is for the church and for the whole world. Jesus died to save not just my soul, but to redeem the whole fallen creation. If the possibility really exists that I can be transformed into his likeness, then the possibility also exists that, through his power, the whole church can continued to be transformed into his likeness. If I can be changed that means the whole world can be changed. This is not simply a future reality in heaven. It means we can change ourselves and change the world right here and right now. As Christ’s agents in the world we have the real power and responsibility to effect that transformation. This is why Christians are called to get involved in ministering to the sick and the poor, the uneducated and the down-trodden. The good news is that through faith real change is possible. It only depends how much we respond to God’s grace in our lives.
That real change happens through the nitty gritty of our real ordinary lives. More Christianity is glorious, complex and majestic, but it is also humble, simple and plain. It is the religion of the incarnation where kings and shepherds meet, and where angels sing the praises of one born in a stable. Our justification by grace through faith enables us to gaze up to the stars with hope while keeping our feet firmly on the ground. Our good works are the physical outworking of our faith, and our faith is the elevation and glory of our good works. Through the two together we get a glimpse of a God who reaches down to work within this physical realm. As he modelled the first man out of a lump of clay, so he is still getting his hands dirty granting us the gift of himself through our ordinary physical lives.