Some time ago, a friend was asking questions about the old debate about the role of faith and works in our salvation. It's pretty clear from Sacred Scripture that both faith and works are involved. After all, we "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2) and we are "justified not by the works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ." (Galatians 2)
There are many good explanations of how we are justified and saved (examples here, here, and here). These sorts of exegetical and philosophical explanations of justification and salvation are valuable, and we should want to have good answers to these questions as faithful Christians.
Nonetheless, for the person living the Christian life, the more important question is: how does this actually work? Or, how do faith and works intersect in our lives such that we are justified and saved?
And can we understand it theologically without learning a lot of technical jargon?
I think that we can, and I hope my use of an analogy from natural relationships to supernatural relationships (while recognizing the limits of such analogies) will be helpful in doing so.
In our most godly relationships, we give of ourselves freely to the other, rooted in a love purified by God's grace. We do this in imitation of God who loves us freely, pouring out His grace upon us whether we reciprocate His love for us or not. In the godly relationships that we have with other people, we cannot earn their love, nor can they earn our love; it is truly a gift.
This reciprocal gift, given over and over again, is efficacious for our development in joy and peace and ultimately in holiness. The more holy the person with whom we cultivate this godly relationship and the more we give of ourselves in the relationship, the holier we become as we grow closer to them (albeit not perfectly holy).
No one has earned anything in these godly relationships. It was all a gift made in the spirit of love. It's just that the natural result of relationships of mutual self-giving love is an increase in holiness in proportion to the holiness of the persons in the relationship and in proportion to their reciprocal self-giving.
God is perfectly holy, and so when we cultivate this reciprocal self-giving relationship of love with God, by the generous gift of His grace, the natural and supernatural result of this relationship of mutually self-giving love is perfect holiness (in proportion to the perfect holiness of God and the incomprehensible abundance of His gift of grace).
We are thus saved, not by earning it through our own works, but rather through accepting and entering into the natural and supernatural process which God has given to us so that we may finally rest our restless hearts in Him alone.
Our faith in Christ our God spurs us constantly to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling as we regard with profound gratitude the gift of His only-begotten Son who came so that we might be adopted into the Heavenly household as sons and daughters of the Most High.
Related: Does the existence of Hell contradict God's unconditional love?
Note: The above is an image of an icon I purchased from legacyicons.com, and it is a replica of an icon at Mount Sinai where Abba John Climacus lived and worked with his fellow monks to ascend the ladder to Heaven.