Response to “Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?” by Mark Hausam

houseMark,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read and comment on your blog post, “Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?” Your post is thoughtful and engaging as is usual from you. At the risk of being overly succint, I offer a response in the form of the following points:

1. You mix sanctification and justification. It is vital that they be understood distictly, otherwise no ground is left for assurance of salvation, for “in much we offend all”, even as regenerate Christians. A justification in part based on our own righteous works, (albeit works the Holy Spirit is producing in us) is but a house built upon sand, because we are still sinners.

2. Our good works cannot be the forensic and juridicial basis for our right standing before God, and our full acquittal for having broken his holy law, because they are still quite tainted by sin. By that standard, we would perish, even by the works that the grace of God produces in us. It is not enough to obey somewhat in sin-tainted works. The law requires perfect obedience, not partial obedience.

3. Even if Christian perfection were something that could be attained in this life, as Wesley and some others have (erroneously) taught, this would be entirely insufficient as a basis for a standing of righteousness before God’s law-court.  Once one has offended, one doesn’t make up for it by doing good works–even sinless good works.  One offense is sufficient to bring condemnation.  Furthermore the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity imputes sin and its guilt to them, and this is alone sufficient to prevent anyone from being justified by the most sinless, perfect good works (if it were possible for us to do such works.)

4. God promises in Scripture to reward the good works of the saints, not because of some instrinsic worth in them inducing him to be pleased with them, for in every good work we yet have the taint of sin, which is naturally a stink to his nostrils. He has promised to reward them not of merit, but of grace, through the Mediatorial intercession of Jesus Christ, forgiving even the iniquity of our good works and accepting them for the sake of Christ’s own righteousness.

5. It may still be possible for a loyal Roman Catholic to hold to a monergistic soteriology as did the Jansenists, Augustinians and Dominican friars, but this is questionable since the Council of Trent, which adopted a Jesuitical semi-pelagian view that seemed to the then pope to contrast better with the Protestant Reformers.  But this is not justification.

6. In answer to your question, as you demonstrate in your post, the Roman Catholic view is justification, not by faith alone, but by faith, hope, and love.

7. An imputed alien righteousness is no more a “legal” fiction than citizenship status conferred to an adopted child, recognized by courts of law.  What is external is made internal in time, by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.  Justification is a declaratory and forensic declaration of righteousness by imputation.

8. While it’s true that “without holiness shall no man see the Lord”, this is not a part and parcel of justification, but its fruit. It’s not that the justified sinner lacks any legal or forensic right to be accepted in God’s presence–it’s just a matter of practical fitness, since God is holy, and there can be no sin in his presence. Furthermore, it is the goal of his grace to make us holy, so that we will on that day be fit to dwell in his presence. Eph 1:4

9. I recommend that you and others studying justification read carefully the OPC Report on Justification, which makes important distinctions in these topics we’re discussing in response to some new and romanizing teachings on justification in Reformed circles, namely the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi43_DVltPPAhUBVGMKHXerCwAQFggeMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.opc.org%2FGA%2Fjustification.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFkx_ZgNbV-Lm0-J2cj5hffaxULjQ

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3 thoughts on “Response to “Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?” by Mark Hausam

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on my article, Riley. As usual, your thoughts have a clarity that is too often lacking in these kinds of discussions and which makes for a much more productive conversation.

    Let me first reply very briefly to your brief points:

    1 and 2. What the moral law of God requires is obedience. As all the moral law is summed up in “love God and love your neighbor,” obedience ultimately means “loving God supremely and one’s neighbor as oneself.” In terms of its essence, this does not admit of degrees. One either loves God supremely or one does not in any particular act of will. Therefore, any act of will which is characterized by supreme love of God is pleasing to God and acceptable to him, warranting his favor. It is true that the lives of the regenerate are not entirely free from sin in this life, but the presence of remaining sin does not negate the pleasure God takes in genuine acts of righteousness.

    However, it does indeed remain true that we are not yet perfect. We have not yet seen in our own lives the final and full victory of the regenerate heart over all remaining sinful tendencies and actions, though in a truly regenerate heart righteousness has the dominion and the upper hand. Because we are not yet perfect, we are not yet fit for the full communion with God. The regenerate are in this life the true friends of God, pleasing to him, but not yet perfectly pleasing to him. This is why we must continue on the path of sanctification until, by God’s grace, perfection is reached. When that happens, we will be fully fit to dwell with God in the fullness of our salvation.

    3 and 4. Here, as well as in 1 and 2, we see a serious error Protestants are often drawn into by certain problematic tendencies in common Protestant formulations of justification. The error is in thinking that God cannot be pleased with a life in which there has ever been any sin. In your view, it seems that even after, by grace, we become morally perfect, free of all sin and loving God with full and perfect hearts, having rejected and put to death and obtained final victory over all sin and temptation, because our record attests that we had even one sin sometime in our past, the whole of our life is deemed by God “a stench in his nostrils” and forever worthy only of God’s displeasure expressed in the judgment of hell and never of God’s favor expressed in his rewards. But this view of things is both unbiblical and morally absurd. It paints a picture of God as unconcerned with our actual moral condition, equating an eternally unregenerate God-hater with a person who, by grace, has turned to God and attained a state of perfect love to him, making these two morally equal in his sight when it is obvious that they are truly infinitely different. There is an infinite difference between a person who never repents and remains a God-hater for all eternity and a person who has been a sinner, but has turned from sin to repentance and has struggled through the process of sanctification to eventually arrive at a state of perfect and full and eternal love to God. This latter person’s moral character could not but be pleasing to God, who cannot but love his own moral image reflected in it just as he cannot but hate the moral evil of those who continue in inveterate enmity against him. It is a fundamental moral fact that God must love love to himself and must hate hatred to himself, and it follows from this that a moral character full of hatred to God cannot be regarded by him as morally equal to a character full of love to him, but that rather these two characters must be seen by him as infinitely diverse.

    It is one of the fundamental errors of the Protestant doctrine of justification (at least as it is often understood) that it presents God as unconcerned by our actual moral condition. It pictures the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, considered as distinct from our regeneration and sanctification, as making us fully morally acceptable to him, as if our regeneration and sanctification are of no moral import to him and we could be fully acceptable to him apart from any question of our inward moral state. It declares that our sanctification is morally worthless to God because of one sin in our past, as if the moral beauty of a perfectly sanctified being is without any real beauty in the sight of God and does not call from him attestations of favor. The Catholic view, on the other hand, articulated (I would argue) in the Bible and by St. Augustine and his followers, holds that God is concerned with our inward moral character, and so justifies us not merely by imputing righteousness to us but only by changing us within to conform our inward state to the standards of his moral law. We are indeed justified by the righteousness of Christ alone, and this is a free gift to us, but this process necessarily involves the application of that righteousness to us inwardly as it is applied to us in our regeneration and sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    5. Trent did not adopt any Semipelagian viewpoint. The affirmations of Trent are fully consistent with the affirmations of the Second Council of Orange. Both Orange and Trent continue to represent authentic and official Church teaching. For more on this, see these articles:

    http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2016/06/what-was-wrong-with-jansenism.html

    http://freethoughtforchrist.blogspot.com/2016/05/clearing-up-some-concerns-about-molinism.html

    6. If “justification by faith alone” means “we are fully morally acceptable to God by means of imputed righteousness without any input from imparted righteousness,” then yes, the Catholic view rejects this idea. However, if we mean simply that all our righteousness comes from God through the sacrifice of merits of Christ alone, so that it is all entirely a free gift and none of it comes from us originally, and so we must look to Christ alone to receive it and not try to produce it ourselves by our own works, then Catholics wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment as central to their own system.

    7. An imputed righteousness considered as making us fully right with God without any reference to any internal change is indeed a legal fiction, because righteousness is not the sort of thing that exists as an external commodity but can be nothing else ultimately than an inward disposition. “Righteousness” simply means, ultimately, “supreme love to God.” Therefore, one cannot be said to be righteous unless one has supreme love to God, and anyone who does have this must be said to be righteous. To declare a person righteous without regard to internal moral character would be in essence to commit a legal fiction–unless we so distort moral reality as to imagine God to be morally unmoved by supreme love to himself or supreme hatred to himself in the heart of a creature. We would have to deny the very essence of what righteousness is to hold such a view.

    Interestingly, you add that “what is external is made internal in time.” But in your view, the external is never made internal, because even when we are perfected our inward righteousness is of no moral value to God because of even one sin on our past record and because God is fully morally satisfied by mere imputation without respect for internal change.

    8. Your concept of sanctification as necessary to make us “fit” to dwell with God contradicts your overall doctrine of justification. How does sanctification make us “fit” to dwell with God? Surely it is because a character of enmity against God is morally abhorrent to him and deserves to be cast from his presence, while an inward character of supreme love to God cannot but be morally pleasing to him and so is justly fit to dwell in his presence. But admit this, and you deny your own doctrine of justification, for that doctrine depends on denying that God is morally concerned with our inward state. If a fully justified person with Christ’s imputed righteousness can be yet only fit to be cast from the presence of God on account of his inward moral imperfection being a “stench to God’s nostrils,” then surely such a person cannot be deemed to be fully morally right with God. He needs something other than imputation; he also needs inward sanctification, and without that sanctification his justification–that is, his being made fully right and morally acceptable to God–is incomplete. If, on the other hand, you affirm that he is fully right and acceptable to God solely by imputation without regard to his inward state–his justification being constituted solely by imputation–then you can no longer ascribe any moral unfitness to the unsanctified state per se or affirm that there would be any moral reason for an unsanctified person, per his unsanctification, to be cast from the presence of God. Either imputation, by itself, makes us fully morally acceptable to God, or it does not. If it does, then sanctification serves no moral purpose. If it doesn’t, then sanctification is a necessary part of the process of being made fully morally acceptable to God–in Augustinian language, it is part of the process of justification.

    Related to this, the Bible presents eternal life as a reward for our own love to God expressed in our good works. There is no way around this. The language of Scripture is clear. We are to be condemned or rewarded according to our works. We are to receive according to what we have done in the body. Etc. This language is incompatible with the idea that even the righteousness of the sanctified deserves nothing but hell. If that is so, then the final judgment is a sham, for we must picture God as deciding that in a truly just judgment the sanctified person deserves hell, but giving him heaven anyway in disregard to the actual merits of his moral condition or his own works. But how is this to render judgment “according to our works”? This is rather a rendering of judgment “in spite of our works”! In the Catholic view, there is no problem here, for by God’s gift the righteous become truly righteous, and God treats them according to what he has truly made them to be. Although we are all by nature sinners, and have all sinned in various ways, yet by grace the righteous have overcome sin and turned to God. Their record shows a life that contains sin, but also a life in which virtue eventually overcame sin and in which the person turned finally and fully eventually to God. As Ezekiel said, when a person who was a sinner turns to God, his former sin will not be remembered. Why? Because he has put it to death and become a different person through grace. When God judges our record, he judges the whole of it, including not just how we started but how we ended up.

    There is one more thing that is necessary to add: Catholics and Protestants can fully and wholeheartedly agree that our salvation, our justification, is nothing other than a gift of God’s free grace in Christ. We contribute nothing to it that is not a product of God’s grace through the sacrifice and merits of Christ. Considered in terms of our own deserving as fallen creatures, we can deserve only hell. If God were to give us according to our own merits as fallen creatures, in response to what we ourselves have produced in the moral sphere, we would all be doomed to eternal perdition. It is only through the righteousness of Christ received as a free gift that we can be friends of God and worthy of his favor. The utter graciousness of justification is not in the least impaired by the fact that that gift necessarily involves not just an external imputation but also an internal impartation. As an analogy, imagine a person who goes to buy groceries but finds he has no money. He is doomed to failure. But a friend, out of sheer graciousness, gives him the necessary money. He goes into the store and buys what he needs. Surely his groceries have come to him as a gift of pure grace, not earned by him in any way. We do not need to devalue the value of the money he used to buy the groceries in order to maintain the pure graciousness of the gift. We do not need to say that the money wasn’t really sufficient, that the cashier simply gave the groceries to him without requiring him to pay for it. The money was fully sufficient, but it was a gift. Similarly, we do not need to say that we are justified by God’s setting aside his moral requirements with regard to our moral condition and allowing that which is a “stink to his nostrils” into his presence by means of overlooking it because of some external declaration. Rather, we can say that God does not merely overlook but actually removes the stink, making us truly pleasing to him–and that all of this is nothing other than a gift of pure grace through the sacrifice and merits of Jesus Christ.

  2. As a former OPC’er (now PCA) and a WSC graduate (1992) who also studied at WTS in Philadelphia for 3 years, I would value your thoughts on a short piece I wrote several years ago, which is relevant to this discussion: https://christianityistrue.org/the-relationship-of-faith-and-works-to-salvation.

    Also, I am currently doing research for an apologetic/evangelistic book I hope to write in 2017. My goal will be, first, to make a very simple call to everyone to think about their most basic beliefs about themselves, others, the nature of ultimate reality and whether or not God exists. As you’re probably aware, most people in America and the rest of the developed world have not been taught to think carefully and critically about these things, but have just been indoctrinated in one point-of-view: Secular Humanism. So, the second thing I will seek to do in my book is to show in very simple terms that Secular Humanism isn’t credible, rather it is self-defeating. The final part of the book will show that, out of all approaches, only Christianity holds water. But, more importantly, it is the One Way to forgiveness, peace in this world and unimaginable and endless blessing as God’s beloved children.

    I always value the respectful and thoughtful feedback of others, whether they agree or disagree with me. Actually, disagreement is often more helpful.

    Thanks,
    Chris Andrus

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