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.
Thank you, Mark! I find your interaction to be intellectually stimulating and irenic.
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.
You’re neglecting the complexity of motives and ends to the human will. By the standard you supply, every act of the human will since the fall is just plain sin. And I agree. No need to talk of degrees. We just sin. None of us has loved God supremely or loved our neighbor adequately, ever. We still sin much in everything.
Therefore, any act of will which is characterized by supreme love of God is pleasing to God and acceptable to him, warranting his favor.
That never happens.
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.
But we have none.
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.
“True friends of God”, we are, only by Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, and received by faith alone. We will be perfect, by His grace, but we aren’t there yet. So we are saved by grace through faith alone.
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,
You will use this phrase, “morally perfect”, a lot. I find that it is unhelpfully ambiguous. Moral perfection, if possible in this life, would not erase the debt to the law previously incurred by sin. Absence of sin is not the only goal of God’s grace, though we’ll get there some day, when we die, should Christ tarry. But there is a debt to the law, requiring eternal condemnation, regardless of current or future works. The Judge of all the earth must do right, and every sin must be punished. He will “by no means clear the guilty.” Exodus 34:7
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.
That’s what guilt does. A judge wouldn’t let you off the hook in court simply because you had amended yourself. The victims would cry, “Unjust!” Every crime deserves its punishment, and every sin must be punished infinitely.
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.
“Morally equal” is ambiguous. They are equally guilty before God’s holy law court.
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.
No, just a finite difference, really, since both are guilty creatures.
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.
God is not pleased with past guilt, ever. And He’s too holy to let it slide.
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.
No. It’s the only way our morally guilty condition can be remedied.
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.
Regeneration is concurrent with the gift of faith, so there’s no faith without regeneration. But this isn’t enough to remedy our guilt. Christ, the object of faith, and His righteousness imputed to us are the only way our guilt may be erased and fulfilled.
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.
That’s how the law works. One infraction incurs guilt, no matter what follows.
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.
The inner change to conform us to the standards of His law is indespensible, but can’t happen unless we are first made whole with regard to the law and its claim over us—our guilt and debt to the 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…
I haven’t yet had the time to read your blog posts on it, but even Roman Catholic and secular sources agree with me that monergism lost and a synergistic doctrine prevailed at Trent because the Pope was convinced by the Jesuits that monergism was too close to the Protestant Reformers.
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.
Correct. That was my point. You reject Justification by Faith Alone.
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.
That’s not sufficient. That’s not what the justification debate was about in the 16th century. Roman Catholics largely agreed on it until Trent.
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.”
Honestly I don’t see that definition flowing from Scripture, etymology, or historical usage. It’s a forensic declaration of being right or just with regard to God’s law. That’s what the word indicates. It means we are not guilty of breaking it, and credited with keeping it fully. But this can only be by Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, for sinners such as we are.
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.
Righteousness is made internal for those who are justified. But this internal righteousness is wholly imperfect until translation when we die or when Christ returns.
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.
No such thing was stated. Only that we are judicially accepted by God on account of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. It remains that “without holiness shall no man see the Lord.”
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.
His sanctification is incomplete. We must distinguish between two different things—justification and sanctification.
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.
“Moral fitness”, is, again, an ambiguous term. There is guilt of sin, and continual actual sin. Both are our problem since the fall. Christ is the remedy to both, since both keep us from God.
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.
It’s no sham or contradiction. Those who are justified by faith in Christ will have their good works accepted on that day, despite their taint of sin, through His mediation. They will truly be accepted, not of merit, but of grace. He forgives the iniquity of our holy things through Christ our High Priest. (Exodus 28:38) No sham or contradiction here.
In summary, you may confess that justification is by grace alone, but you do not confess that it is by faith alone. By trusting in your own merit, even done through the Holy Spirit, you build your house upon the sand, for in much we offend all. And, truthfully, in practice, it’s doubtful that people can truly rely on God’s grace alone, when they think to merit eternal life by their own works.