Anyone who wades into Christian personalism (especially in the John-Pauline articulation) soon encounters what Damian Fedoryka calls “the hermeneutics of the gift.” Personal life can only be adequately understood and lived when it is recognized and received as a gift. We do not make ourselves; we cannot account for our existence; we can only accept it (or not) as a gift.
The due response to a gift is gratitude. And gratitude involves a sincere desire to “make a return”. Hence the essential vocation of personal life: the call to give ourselves in love, as we have received ourselves in love.
It is the same in the religious life of persons. We cannot save ourselves through works. We cannot earn our redemption. It comes through Grace. But it does not follow that works are unimportant. Works of love are the way we express our gratitude for the gift we have received.
Here is Ferreira again speaking of this key theme in Kierkegaard [emphasis in the original]:
Indeed, in Kierkegaard’s journals we find a lovely formulation of this dual commitment: he writes that Christianity is “grace, and then a striving born of gratitude.” The implication is that our effort is important, although it cannot be meritorious in the sense of entitling us or giving us a right to something from God. Kierkegaard is assuming here the importance of a distinction between what I can deserving something from someone in the sense of having a right or entitlement to it and what I call being gratefully receptive to it; that is, we may not have deserved or merited some good thing given to us, but we can do something to prepare ourselves for an appropriate reception of the gift, to embrace it gratefully, or to appropriately express our gratitude through the exercise of love.