The Father William Most Collection
Do we earn our salvation? Definitely no. In Romans 6. 23: "The wages of sin [what we earn] is death, the free gift of God [what we do not earn] is eternal life." And several times in St. Paul, e.g., in 1 Cor 6. 10 we see that we "inherit" the kingdom. Now when we inherit from our parents we do not say we earned the inheritance, though , on the other hand, by being bad enough long enough we could have earned to lose it. So, as a student put it, as to salvation, "you can't earn it, but you can blow it."
So we get justification, being right with God, without any merit at all. But, when we have that, it makes us sons of the Father, and brothers of Christ - as such we have a claim to inherit. We did not earn that claim, but we could earn to lose it. So in 1 Cor 6:9-10 St. Paul gives a list of the chief great sins and sinners, adds that they "will not inherit the kingdom."
We are not saved as individuals, or by our own power, but we are saved inasmuch as we are members of Christ. That means we must be like Him. Hence in Gal 5:13-26 Paul gives two lists: the fruits of the Spirit, and the works of the flesh. If we follow the flesh, we will die. We will not inherit. But we must follow the Spirit. Romans 8:9:"If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." - that Spirit leads us to do as Christ did, which means to avoid sin. We cannot say: If we have taken Christ as our Savior we can sin as much as we want. For faith includes obedience - cf. Romans 1:5. We cannot say if we have faith we can disobey, for faith includes obedience.
This is really the syn Christo theme of St. Paul: We must suffer with Him, die with Him, be buried with Him, rise with Him, ascend with Him (cf. Romans 8. 17; 6:3-8; Col. 3:1-4; Eph. 2:5-6; Rom 8:13).
So the Council of Trent distinguished three steps: 1) We get justification, the state of grace, without any merit, without earning it at all; 2) Having it, since that makes us children of
God, gives us a claim to be in the Father's house.
A claim could be called a merit - but it is a very different kind of merit, since we get that merit, that ticket, without earning it; 3) Once we are in that status, the status of being children of God and having a share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1. 4), then our good works get a special dignity, which makes it suitable that a reward be given to them: that reward is an increase in sanctifying grace. Now sanctifying grace is really the change of the soul making it basically capable of seeing
God face to face in the next life. Since that vision is infinite, and we are finite receptacles, our capacity could be increased indefinitely - that increase is what we mean by an increase in sanctifying grace.
We should notice too the fact that there are two stages, sometimes called objective redemption and subjective redemption. The objective redemption is the work of earning a claim to all forgiveness and grace -- we do not contribute to that at all, Christ did it for us. The subjective redemption is the process of giving out that forgiveness and grace throughout all subsequent ages, even today. It is in that that we need to be like Christ to share in the claim He generated.
Our part in the subjective redemption is had by being like Christ in suffering and other things. God likes this as part of His love of good order. Summa I. 19. 5. c. , paraphrased (literal is very crude) says: God in His love of good order likes to have one thing in place to serve as a reason or title for giving the second thing, even though that thing does not really move Him. Hence, in the objective redemption, He was pleased to use the Blessed Mother (whose ability to do anything came from her Son). In the subjective redemption, He uses her, the Saints, and us.