A simple explanation of justification

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The Fall of Man, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530 AD

The Fall of Man, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530 AD

While Catholics and Lutherans (and some other Protestants) have agreed that both sides mean the same thing when they use different words, there remains tension with some regarding salvation by faith alone vs salvation by grace alone. Our response to grace is sometimes mistakenly seen by Protestants as being our own works, and therefore of no value to God. They seem to ignore Galatians 2:20.

Galatians 2:20 (KJV) – I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

The only time in the Bible where the two words “faith” and “alone” are mentioned in the same verse, faith alone is regarded as insufficient.

James 2:17 (KJV) – Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Between Paul and James, we see that Abraham was justified by faith and by works:

Romans 4:1-2 (KJV) – What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

James 2:21-24 (KJV) – Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

A simple explanation for Protestants to consider is this:

Initial justification comes by faith through grace. This is what Protestants typically think of when they talk about justification.

But, biblically, justification continues – it’s not a one-time event. Justification is not a boolean operator – either on or off, present or absent. It continues, and is progressive.

Continued, progressive justification is where we submit our faith to God and follow his will. Abraham was justified by faith (a gift by grace) in Genesis 15, and then he was further justified by his obedience in Genesis 22, which too was a gift by grace. His initial justification, which is either present or absent, came by faith. But he continued to grow in justification, through grace.

Protestants usually think of that as sanctification, but when listening to Catholics they need to understand how we use the words, and not assume that we mean the same thing they do when we use the same words they do.

St Therese of Lisieux

St Therese of Lisieux

St Therese of Lisieux saw herself as a small wild flower growing in God’s garden:

Jesus set before me the book of nature. I understand how all the flowers God has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understand that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. So it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He has created smaller ones and those must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.
St Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

Consider containers of different sizes. A large bucket, a small cup. We are all destined to be filled to the brim with God’s grace, but some may have more than others, yet all will be complete according to God’s love for us, and completely filled with grace.

Further reading:

Was Abraham saved by Faith Alone? … by Steve Ray
The Disasters of “By Faith Alone” … Catholic Answers
What is purgatory? … this blog
St Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

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