Justification: Classic Catholic & Protestant Reflections

Justification: Classic Catholic & Protestant Reflections October 10, 2018

[see book and purchase information; only $2.99 for e-book]


1. Justification: Catholic Definitions

A. Ludwig Ott (On Trent)

“On the negative side it [justification, according to the Council’s teaching] is a true eradication of sin; on the positive side it is a supernatural sanctifying and renewal of the inner man . . . The Reformers’ teaching of the merely external imputation of Christ’s justice was rejected, by the Council of Trent, as heretical.” (3:250)

B. Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.

“Justification is a true removal of sin, and not merely having one’s sins ignored or no longer held against the sinner by God . . .

“An infant is justified by baptism and the faith of the one who requests or confers the sacrament. Adults are justified for the first time either by personal faith, sorrow for sin and baptism, or by the perfect love of God . . . Adults who have sinned gravely after being justified can receive justification by sacramental absolution or perfect contrition for their sins.” (4:214-215)

C. William Marshner

“The Catholic Church holds that faith in Jesus Christ is not saving faith unless it bears fruit in good works. Vice-versa, the Church holds that such works are so intimately joined to faith, that, without them, it is impossible for the believer to grow or persevere in his faith. In this way, good works are necessary for salvation.

“Most Protestants are uncomfortable with such a statement. Without denying the importance of good works, Protestants tend to see them as symptoms of the one thing necessary rather than as necessities in their own right. For Luther, good works were merely symptoms of confident faith; for Calvin, they were symptoms of irresistible grace. Few Protestants today are familiar with the details of Luther’s or Calvin’s personal thought; what they have inherited from these great forebearers is rather a general orientation, whose core is the conviction that according to St. Paul, we are justified sola fide (by faith alone) or sola gratia (by grace alone), either formula being understood to exclude any essential role of good works.” (13:219)

2. Justification: Protestant Definitions

A. Augustus Strong (Systematic Theology) (P)

“That initial act of God by which, on account of Christ, to whom the sinner is united by faith, he declares that sinner to be no longer exposed to the penalty of the law, but to be restored to his favor . . . Justification is the reversal of God’s attitude toward the sinner, because of the sinner’s new relation to Christ. God did condemn; he now acquits. He did repel; he now admits to favor.

“Justification, as thus defined, is therefore a declarative act, as distinguished from an efficient act; an act of God external to the sinner, as distinguished from an act within the sinner’s nature and changing that nature; a judicial act, as distinguished from a sovereign act; an act based upon and logically presupposing the sinner’s union with Christ, as distinguished from an act which causes and is followed by that union with Christ.” (8:849)

B. Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology) (P)

“(1) Justification is an instantaneous act and not, like sanctification, a continued and progressive work.

(2) Justification is an act of grace to the sinner, who in himself deserves condemnation.

(3) . . . It does not produce any subjective change in the person justified. It does not effect a change of character, making those good who were bad, those holy who were unholy. That is done in regeneration and sanctification . . . It is a forensic or judicial act . . . It is a declarative act in which God pronounces the sinner just or righteous . . .

(4) The meritorious ground of justification is not faith; we are not justified on account of our faith, considered as a virtuous or holy act or state of mind. Nor are our works of any kind the ground of justification . . . The ground of justification is the righteousness of Christ . . . including His perfect obedience to the law as a covenant and His enduring the penalty of the law in our stead and in our behalf.

(5) The righteousness of Christ is in justification imputed to the believer. That is, it is set to his account, so that he is entitled to plead it at the bar of God, as though it were personally and inherently his own.” (9:454)

“Grace and works are antithetical . . . Grace of necessity excludes works of every kind, and more especially those of the highest kind, which might have some show of merit. But merit of any degree is of necessity excluded if our salvation be by grace . . .

“The sins which are pardoned in justification include all sins, past, present, and future.” (9:458, 461)

3. Sanctification: Catholic Definition

A. Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.

“Being made holy. The first sanctification takes place at baptism, by which the love of God is infused by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Newly baptized persons are holy because the Holy Trinity begins to dwell in their souls and they are pleasing to God. The second sanctification is a lifelong process in which a person already in the state of grace grows in the possession of grace and in likeness to God by faithfully corresponding with divine inspirations. The third sanctification takes place when a person enters heaven and becomes totally and irrevocably united with God in the beatific vision.” (4:393)

4. Sanctification: Protestant Definitions

A. Augustus Strong (P)

“Sanctification is that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which the holy disposition imparted in regeneration is maintained and strengthened . . .

“Regeneration is instantaneous, but sanctification takes time. The ‘developing’ of the photographer’s picture may illustrate God’s process of sanctifying the regenerate soul . . .

“Salvation is something past, something present, and something future; a past fact, justification; a present process, sanctification; a future consummation, redemption and glory . . .

“Sanctification is not a matter of course, which will go on whatever we do, or do not do. It requires a direct superintendence and surgery on the one hand, and, on the other hand a practical hatred of evil on our part that cooperates with the husbandry of God . . .

“The Holy Spirit enables the Christian, through increasing faith, more fully and consciously to appropriate Christ, and thus progressively to make conquest of the remaining sinfulness of his nature . . .

“The operation of God reveals itself in, and is accompanied by, intelligent and voluntary activity of the believer in the discovery and mortification of sinful desires, and in the bringing of the whole being into obedience to Christ and conformity to the standards of his word.” (8:869-871)

B. Charles Hodge (P)

“Justification is a forensic act, God acting as judge, . . . whereas sanctification is an effect due to divine operation . . . Sanctification involves a change of character . . . Justification is complete and the same in all, while sanctification is progressive and is more complete in some than in others . . . . .

“The cooperation of second causes is not excluded from the process of sanctification. When Christ opened the eyes of the blind, no second cause interposed between His volition and the effect. But men work out their own salvation, while God works in them to will and to do according to His own good pleasure. In the work of regeneration, the soul is passive. It cannot cooperate in the communication of spiritual life. But in conversion, repentance, faith, and growth in grace, all its powers are called into exercise. At the same time sanctification is supernatural or a work of grace, for the effects produced transcend the efficiency of our fallen nature and are due to the agency of the Spirit . . .

“On the subject of the necessity of good works there has never been any real difference of opinion among Protestants. First, it is universally admitted that good works are not necessary to our justification; they are consequences and indirectly the fruits of justification and, therefore, cannot be its ground . . . It is agreed that it is only a living faith, i.e., a faith which works by love and purifies the heart, that unites the soul to Christ and secures our reconciliation with God . . . It is universally admitted that an immoral life is inconsistent with a state of grace, that those who willfully continue in the practice of sin shall not inherit the kingdom of God . . . For sanctification is inseparable from justification, and the one is just as essential as the other.

“Although Protestants deny the merit of good works and teach that salvation is entirely gratuitous – . . . solely on the grounds of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ – they nevertheless teach that God does reward His people for their works . . . The Scriptures also teach that the happiness or blessedness which believers will experience in a future life will be greater or less in proportion to their devotion to the service of Christ in this life.” (9:464-465, 471-472)

5. Merit

A. Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.

“Divine reward for the practice of virtue. It is Catholic doctrine that by his good works a person in the state of grace really acquires a claim to supernatural reward from God. ‘The reward given for good works is not won by reason of actions which precede grace, but grace, which is unmerited, precedes actions in order that they may be performed meritoriously’ (II Council of Orange [529 A.D.], Denzinger, 388) . . .

“The meritorious work must be morally good, that is, in accordance with the moral law in its object, intent, and circumstances . . .

“Strictly speaking only a person in the state of grace can merit . . .

“Merit depends on the free ordinance of God to reward with everlasting happiness the good works performed by his grace. On account of the infinite distance between Creator and creature, a human being alone cannot make God his or her debtor, if God does not do so by his own free ordinance. That God has made such an ordinance is clear from his frequent promises, e.g., the Beatitudes and the prediction of the Last Judgment.

“The object of supernatural merit is an increase of sanctifying grace, eternal life (if the person dies in divine friendship), and an increase of heavenly glory.” (4:259)

6. Grace

A. John A. Hardon, S. J. 

“The condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race; it is also an unmerited gift proceeding from this benevolent disposition. Grace, therefore, is a totally gratuitous gift on which man has absolutely no claim . . .

“It refers to something more than the gifts of nature, such as creation or the blessings of bodily health. Grace is the supernatural gift that God, of his free benevolence, bestows on rational creatures for their eternal salvation.” (4:166)

7. Mortal Sin

A. Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.

“An actual sin that destroys sanctifying grace and causes the supernatural death of the soul . . .

“The transgression of a divine law in a grievous matter with full knowledge and consent.

“The matter may be serious in itself (as blasphemy) or because of the circumstances (as striking one’s father or mother) or on account of its purpose (as telling a lie in order to destroy a person’s character). Sufficient knowledge of the serious nature of a sinful action is present if one is clearly conscious that the act is mortally sinful, say because the Scriptures or the Church identify certain acts as seriously offensive to God. It is enough that one knows that what one intends to do may be a mortal sin, but does it anyhow. Indifference to the laws of God is equivalent to disobeying them.

“Full consent is present when one freely wills to commit an action although one clearly knows it is gravely sinful. No sin is committed if one does not will the deed, no matter how clear one’s knowledge may be. After all, the essence of sin is in the free will.” (4:271, 167)

8. Venial Sin

A. Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J. 

“An offense against God which does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace. It is called venial (from venia, pardon) because the soul still has the vital principle that allows a cure from within . . .

“They are committed under a variety of conditions: when a person transgresses with full or partial knowledge and consent to a divine law that does not oblige seriously; when one violates a law that obliges gravely but either one’s knowledge or consent is not complete; or when one disobeys what is an objectively grave precept but due to invincible ignorance a person thinks the obligation is not serious.

“The essence of venial sin consists in a certain disorder but does not imply complete aversion from humanity’s final destiny. It is an illness of the soul rather than its supernatural death. When people commit a venial sin, they do not decisively set themselves on turning away from God, but from overfondness for some created good fall short of God.” (4:449)


1. Peter Kreeft

“The Protestant Reformation began when a Catholic monk rediscovered a Catholic doctrine in a Catholic book. The monk, of course, was Luther; the doctrine was justification by faith; and the book was the Bible. One of the tragic ironies of Christian history is that the deepest split in the history of the Church . . . originated in a misunderstanding. And to this day many Catholics and many Protestants still do not realize that fact . . .

“Even if the two sides did disagree about the relationship between faith and works, they both agreed (1) that faith is absolutely necessary for salvation and (2) that we are absolutely commanded by God to do good works. Both these two points are unmistakably clear in Scripture . . .

“When Luther taught that we are saved by faith alone, he meant by salvation only the initial step, justification, being put right with God. But when Trent said we are saved by good works as well as faith, they meant by salvation the whole process by which God brings us to our eternal destiny and that process includes faith, hope, and charity, the works of love . . .

“The plant of our new life in Christ is one; the life of God comes into us by faith, through us by hope, and out of us by works of love. That is clearly the biblical view, and when Protestants and Catholics who know and believe the Bible discuss the issue sincerely, it is amazing how quickly and easily they come to understand and agree with each other on this, the fundamental divisive issue . . .

“But many Catholics to this day have not learned the Catholic and biblical doctrine. They think we are saved by good intentions or being nice or sincere or trying a little harder or doing a sufficient number of good deeds . . .

“I remember vividly the thrill of discovery when, as a young Protestant at Calvin College, I read Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent on justification. I did not find what I had been told I would find, `another gospel’ of do-it-yourself salvation by works, but a clear and forceful statement that we can do nothing without God’s grace, and that this grace, accepted by faith, is what saves us.” (12:277, 279-281)

2. Alan Schreck

“The Catholic Church has always affirmed that salvation is a gift that God freely offers to mankind . . . Nothing that a person has ever done or ever could do on his own can `merit’ or `earn’ eternal life; God must offer it and confer it . . . The Catholic Church teaches that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ . . .

“Nor, I might add, do Catholics believe that anyone is saved by the Pope, Mary, the saints, or any other member of the Church. Jesus alone is the savior of man . . .

“Catholics believe that while God offers all men the grace to believe in him and do good (see 1 Tim 2:4), each person must freely choose to accept that gift . . . This free will has been weakened by sin, but not destroyed . . .

“Catholics understand that our `good works’ or `merits’ are really God’s gifts or graces.” (2:17-18, 21, 27)

3. Karl Adam

“Justification does not consist in an external imputation of the merits of Christ, but in a true re-creation of the inward man, in his re-birth and in the supernatural emergence of a new love for goodness and holiness, therefore justification of its nature demands sanctification and perfection, and is only complete and finished in this sanctification . . . Only such a one whose being is in its every part transfigured by love of God and his neighbour, only such a one will see God.” (1:107)

4. Christopher Dawson

“For Luther sin is passion, for Catholicism sin is in the will – the act of choice. In Freudian terms Luther’s sin is libido, Catholic sin is ego. From this a number of consequences flow. From the Lutheran point of view the conclusion follows that, as nobody is ever entirely passionless (least of all essentially passionate types like Luther), there can be no freedom from sin in this world. Man is born and dies in iniquity. The utmost he can attain is an assurance that this won’t be counted against him – that Christ’s redemptive suffering covers all. Hence justice is only imputed – the Lutheran concept which became the center of controversy.

“In Catholic teaching, on the other hand, the work of justification is not limited to the act of faith with which it begins. It is carried on by the use of the sacraments, the life of charity and the practice of good works, so that human nature recovers the spiritual life that was lost by sin and man becomes a new creature . . .

“Good habits make a man good and bad habits make him bad. This . . . was ignored or underestimated by Luther. It seems that there was a certain confusion in his thought on these matters. He had become convinced of the worthlessness of pious practices – that it is no use fasting or saying long prayers or making a pilgrimage or a vow. Good works, however, are not merely pious practices, they are simply what the words denote – doing good – and it is a fallacy to argue that such action has no value from a religious point of view.” (5:78-79)

5. William Marshner

“In the preparatory stage . . . in which prevenient graces first stir a person towards an interest in religious truth, towards repentance, and towards faith, Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists are at one in saying `sola gratia.’ A second stage is the very transition from death to life, which is the first stage of justification proper. Here the parties are at one in saying `sola fide,’ though they seem to mean different things by it. Protestants tend to mean that, at this stage, by the grace of God, man’s act of faith is the sole act required of him; Catholics mean that faith is the beginning, foundation and root of all justification, since only faith makes possible the acts of hope and charity (i.e. love-for-God) which are also required.

However, since most Protestants have a broad notion of the act of faith, whereby it includes elements of hope and love, it is often hard to tell how far the difference on this point is real and how far it is a matter of words. Finally, however, there comes a third stage, that of actual Christian life . . . The man justified by faith is called to `walk’ with God, to progress in holiness. It is at this stage that the parties sharply diverge. Catholics affirm, and Protestants strenuously deny, that the born-again Christian’s good works merit for him the increase of grace and of the Christian virtues. As a result, Protestant piety has no obvious place for the self-sacrifices, fasts, and states of perfection which are prominent features of Catholic piety . . .

“The existence of grace as a real entity in man – ontic grace – was and is the foundation, without which the whole Catholic understanding of justification makes no sense.

“The Protestant Reformers . . . denied its existence. To them it seemed simpler to say that grace is something wholly in God, namely, His favor towards us. But then, if grace is not something real in man, our `justification’ can no longer be conceived as a real change in us; it will have to become a sheer declaration on God’s part, e.g. a declaration that, thanks to the work of Christ, He will henceforth consider us as just, even though we remain inwardly the sinners we always were. Hence the Protestant doctrine of `forensic’ or `extrinsic’ justification. Now watch what happens to our own act of faith: it ceases to be the foundational act of an interior renewal and becomes a mere requirement, devoid of any salvific power in its own right, which God arbitrarily sets as the condition on which He will declare us just. Whereupon, watch what happens to our good works: they cease to be the vital acts wherein an ontologically real `new life’ consists and manifests itself; they become mere human responses to divine mercy – nice, but totally irrelevant to our justification – or else they become zombie-like motions produced in us by irresistible divine impulses, whereby God exhibits His glory in His elect.” (13:220, 222)

6. Ludwig Ott

“It would be incompatible with the veracity and the sanctity of God that He should declare the sinner to be justified, if he remains in reality sinful . . .

“According to the teaching of Scripture, grace and sin stand to each other in direct contrast like light and darkness, life and death. Thus the communication of grace necessarily effects the remission of sins. Cf. 2 Cor 6:14 . . . Col 2:13 . . . 1 Jn 3:14 . . .

“The Reformers denied the reality of supernatural merit. While Luther at first taught that all works of the just man are sinful in themselves, on account of the sin remaining in him, he later admitted that a just man with the help of the Holy Ghost, which he has received, can and must perform good works (cf, Augsburg Confession, Art. 20), but he denied that these are meritorious. According to Calvin (Institutes, III, 12,4), all works of man are before God `impurity and dirt.’ In the Catholic doctrine of merit Protestantism sees a belittling of grace and of the merits of Christ, a favouring of external sanctification through works, base self-interest, and pharisaical self-righteousness . . .

“According to Holy Writ, eternal blessedness in heaven is the reward for good works performed on this earth, and rewards and merit are correlative concepts. Jesus promises rich rewards in Heaven . . . [cites Matt 5:12, 25:34 ff., 19:29, 25:21, Lk 6:38] . . . St. Paul, who stresses grace so much, also emphasizes on the other hand, the meritorious nature of good works performed with grace, by teaching that the reward is in proportion to the works [cites Rom 2:6, 1 Cor 3:8, Col 3:24; cf. Heb 10:35, 11:6] . . .When he characterises the eternal reward as `the crown of justice which the Lord, the just judge, will render’ (2 Tim 4:8), he thereby shows that the good works of the just establish a legal claim to reward on God. Cf. Heb 6:10 . . .

“From the times of the Apostolic Fathers, Tradition attests the meritoriousness of good works. St. Ignatius of Antioch [d.c.110] thus writes to St. Polycarp: `Where there is great effort there is rich gain’ (I,3) . . . Cf. St. Justin [d.c.165], Apology, I,43. Tertullian [d.c.245] introduced the term `merit,’ but without thereby making any material change in the traditional teaching . . .

“The general conscience of men bears witness to the appropriateness of a supernatural reward for supernaturally good deeds freely performed . . .

“St. Augustine says: `The Lord has made Himself a debtor, not by receiving, but by promising. Man cannot say to Him “Give back what thou hast received” but only, “Give what thou hast promised”‘ (Enarr. in Ps. 83,16).” (3:251-252, 264-265, 267)

7. Louis Bouyer

“The further Luther advanced in his conflict with other theologians, then with Rome, then with the whole of contemporary Catholicism and finally with the Catholicism of every age, the more closely we see him identifying his affirmation about `sola gratia’ with a particular theory, known as extrinsic justification. That is to say, he himself unites two statements so closely that they become inseparable – one an affirmation, grace alone saves us; the second a negation, it changes nothing in us in so doing. To recall a simile he himself popularised, the grace of God envelops us as in a cloak, but this grace leaves us exactly as we were. The sinner, after receiving grace and so saved, is no less a sinner than before . . .

“Justification by faith is not nearly so important to St. Paul as to Luther, but has been forcibly crammed by the latter into texts which in fact do not mention it . . . Without the least doubt, grace, for St. Paul, however freely given, involves what he calls `the new creation’, the appearance in us of a `new man’, created in justice and holiness. So far from suppressing the efforts of man, or making them a matter of indifference, or at least irrelevant to salvation, he himself tells us to `work out your salvation with fear and trembling’, at the very moment when he affirms that `. . . knowing that it is God who works in you both to will and to accomplish’. These two expressions say better than any other that all is grace in our salvation, but at the same time grace is not opposed to human acts and endeavour in order to attain salvation, but arouses them and exacts their performance . . .

“Extrinsic justification, a justification independent of any interior change, of any new capability given to man to perform acts pleasing of themselves to God, is so far from being a Pauline doctrine that it is quite irreconcilable with the whole body of his teaching.

“Calvin . . . was quite conscious of this, and applied himself with some success to correcting Luther on this point. None the less, the clear-cut distinction he tried to draw between justification and sanctification, while willingly admitting that they are inseparable in fact, cannot be maintained in a scientific exegesis. Scripture, even St. Paul alone, apart from the evidence of the four Gospels, sweeps aside the last dialectical device for safeguarding the theory of extrinsic justification . . .

“The uneasiness felt by Protestant systems opposed to Catholicism is nowhere so evident than in the long controversy on the meaning in St. Paul of the word `dikaioo,’ to justify. All Protestant exegetes, anxious to safeguard the expressions used by Luther and Calvin, set out to show that it can only mean `to declare just’, not `to make just’; that is, it applies merely to extrinsic justice, which has nothing real to correspond with it in the person justified. Nevertheless, modern scientific exegesis unanimously acknowledges that the word can only mean `to declare officially just someone who is so in reality’. Even the idea of the Word of God creating what he says by the act of saying it – so well drawn out by Barth from the entire Bible – would be enough to show that God makes just whom he `declares just’, even if he were not so beforehand, by the very fact of his declaration, so the opposition set up is without meaning.” (7:170,175-176,180-181)


1. A.W. Tozer (P)

“In the Bible the offer of pardon on the part of God is conditioned upon intention to reform on the part of man. There can be no spiritual regeneration till there has been a moral reformation. That this statement requires defense only proves how far from the truth we have strayed . . .

“The not-reformation-but-regeneration doctrine incorrectly presents us with an either-or; either you take reformation or you take regeneration. This is inaccurate. The fact is that on this subject we are presented not with an either-or, but with a both-and . . .

“The promise of pardon and cleansing is always associated in the Scriptures with the command to repent . . .

“Apart from obedience, there can be no salvation, for salvation without obedience is a self-contradictory impossibility.” (3)

2. H.A. Ironside (P)

“The doctrine of repentance is the missing note in many otherwise orthodox and fundamentally sound circles today . . .

“We have myriads of glib-tongued professors today who give no evidence of regeneration whatever. Prating of salvation by grace, they manifest no grace in their lives. Loudly declaring they are justified by faith alone, they fail to remember that `faith without works is dead’; and that justification by works before men is not to be ignored as though it were in contradiction to justification by faith before God.” (4)

3. Charles Spurgeon (P)

“Although we are sure that men are not saved for the sake of their works, yet we are equally sure that no man will be saved without them.” (5)

4. George Carey (P)

“The priority of grace is often thought to be a Protestant emphasis . . . The Council of Trent was just as fierce as the Reformers in denouncing good deeds as the basis of salvation; without grace our actions have no value . . . The irony of the sixteenth century was that both the Reformers and the Tridentine fathers accused each other of Pelagianism, that is, teaching that human goodness has merit in God’s sight for salvation. According to Catholics, Protestants appeared to make faith a giant work in which they trusted for salvation; furthermore, they seemed to deny the importance of good deeds as well as the role of the church. A subjective faith appeared to be the center of Protestantism. On the other hand, according to Protestants, Catholics appeared to be preaching that salvation depended on living a moral life and performing religious duties, instead of trusting in a Savior who had already purchased our redemption . . . [In fact] Catholics and Protestants agree that God’s grace, which excludes all human boasting, is the basis of everything in the Christian life.” (6)

5. Hans Asmussen (P)

“It was customary, before the appearance of Karl Barth, to say that Catholics believe they are sanctified through good works, but Lutherans know they are saved by grace alone through faith. Anyone who has some respect for truth must readily admit that this formula is so false in its simplicity that it should never be allowed to be taught anywhere . . .

“It is also a catholic truth that we are saved by grace alone, just as it is an Evangelical truth that God does not save us without our cooperation. The apparent contradiction contained in this statement can be surmounted when we realize that God, in leading us to salvation, cannot be understood in terms of the categories of rational causality concepts. It is therefore necessary that we give scriptural evidence that God rewards every good deed of believers and unbelievers both in time and eternity. This truth, however, does not contradict the doctrine that salvation is a gift.” (10:10,56)

6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (P)

“The whole purpose of our new creation in Christ is that in him we might attain unto good works.

“But all our good works are the works of God himself, the works for which he has prepared us beforehand. Good works then are ordained for the sake of salvation, but they are in the end those which God himself works within us. They are his gift, but it is our task to walk in them at every moment of our lives.” (7)

7. G. C. Berkouwer (P)

“Now more than ever, it is clear that Rome never intended to devaluate the significance of faith and God’s sovereign grace . . . Is it not, then, a grievous misconception to interpret Roman Catholic teaching as Pelagian? . . .

“The Council of Trent confessed grace as the `first factor’ of the way of salvation, and this is no less than any reformer has done. The differences touch only the manner in which this grace relates itself to the sinner and to the means which grace uses to achieve her purpose . . .

“The differences arise as soon as the next stop is approached. The conflict opens around the doctrine of infused grace and that of imputation . . .

“Though it is difficult to characterize this relationship between faith and works precisely, we may speak of works as giving form to faith . . . The tree, according to Jesus, is known by its fruit (Matt 12:33), and faith is known by its works.” (8)

8. John MacArthur (P)

“Any message that fails to define and confront the severity of personal sin is a deficient gospel. And any `salvation’ that does not alter a life-style of sin and transform the heart of the sinner is not a genuine salvation . . .

“While justification and sanctification are distinct theological concepts, both are essential elements of salvation. God will not declare a person righteous without also making him Righteous . . . When God justifies an individual He also sanctifies him . . . Scripture challenges those who define salvation as a purely judicial act with no practical consequence [cites Rom 10:10, Heb 12:14].” (9)

9. John Wesley (P)

“With regard to the condition of salvation, it may be remembered that I allow, not only faith, but likewise holiness or universal obedience, to be the ordinary condition of final salvation . . . At what time soever faith is given, holiness commences in the soul. For that instant `the love of God’ (which is the source of holiness) `is shed abroad in the heart’.” (10)

“Suffer me to warn you of another silly, unmeaning word: Do not say, `I can do nothing’. If so, you know nothing of Christ; then you have no faith: For if you have, if you believe, then you `can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth you’. You can love him and keep his Commandments.” (11)

“1. God works in us – therefore man can work. Prevenient grace is accorded to all. 2. God works in you – therefore you must work. You must work together with Him, or He will cease Working.” (12)

“Wesley himself claimed to teach nothing but justification by faith. But he was not satisfied, like the pietists before him. with bringing sanctification and justification into the closest possible relation, after the Calvinist formula he was fond of recalling. More penetrating than any of his predecessors, he criticised Luther’s opposition of faith to works as a sophistry. As early as the year 1739, when he started on his new course of action, he denounced what he called Luther’s `mania of solifideism’. Luther’s commentary on the epistle to the Galatians, with its unbalanced depreciation of the divine Law, was in his view more likely to be pernicious than beneficial in its results. His reason was that the holiness of Christ should by no means be opposed to the holiness accessible to the Christian, but, rather, be represented as its unique source. Far from admitting, therefore, that the epistle of St. James deserved to be called an `epistle of straw’ [Luther’s phrase], he called it `the great antidote Against the poison’ of a justification which required no moral change in the Christian . . .

“Wesley . . . taught more and more clearly that since the great effect of conversion was the regeneration by grace of the human will, the human will ought to work for its own salvation, and make daily progress, otherwise, even if the conversion was real in the beginning, it would become ineffective, through want of perseverance.” (7:221-222)

10. John Henry Newman (From his Anglican period) (13)

“If a certain character of mind, a certain state of the heart and affections, be necessary for entering heaven, our actions will avail for our salvation, chiefly as they tend to produce or evidence this frame of mind . . . They are the means, under God’s grace, of strengthening and showing forth that holy principle which God implants in the heart, and without which (as the text tells us) [Heb 12:14] we cannot see Him . . .

“These holy works will be the means of making our hearts holy, and of preparing us for the future presence of God. Outward acts, done on principle, create inward habits.”

“Though a man spoke like an angel, I would not believe him, on the mere ground of his speaking. Nay, till he acts upon them, he has not even evidence to himself that he has true living faith. Dead faith (as St. James says) profits no man . . . Those who think they really believe, because they have in word and thought surrendered themselves to God, are much too hasty in their judgment. They have done something, indeed, but not at all the most difficult part of their duty, which is to surrender themselves to God in deed and act . . . Justifying faith has no existence independent of its particular definite acts . . . Yet how many there are who sit still with folded hands, dreaming, doing nothing at all, thinking they have done every thing, or need do nothing, when they merely have had these good thoughts, which will save no one!” (14:9-10,109-110)


1. Matthew 5:20 “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed {the righteousness} of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

A. Mark Brumley

“Protestants misunderstand the passage because they try to rob it of its moral force. Jesus, they claim, is revealing the futility of trying to achieve righteousness through good deeds. He’s really contrasting the false righteousness of good works with the true, merely imputed declaratory righteousness that comes through faith alone . . .

“Jesus . . . [is] contrasting the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with the interior righteousness that proceeds from the heart and which is to characterize his followers. Jesus is telling his disciples how to be righteous – not how to look righteous [cites teachings in Matt 5:21-48 as examples of the same dynamic] . . .

“This is not some sort of imputed, extrinsic, `looking-at-the-believer-through-Jesus-colored-glasses’ righteousness. No, it’s the result of a grace-created interior transformation in which believers can grow through authentic obedience (1 John 3:7) as true children of God (Matt 5:45).” (14)

2. Matthew 7:16-27

A. John MacArthur (P)

“[vss. 21-23] Those who think of salvation as merely a legal transaction, a reckoning apart from practical righteousness, will have a difficult time with this warning of Jesus. It puts salvation in very practical terms. It reiterates the key statement of the Sermon on the Mount [Matt 5:20 – see above] . . . In Matthew 7, the Lord gives us a glimpse of the coming judgment and the tragedy of those who will stand before the throne with high expectations but only a verbal profession or mere intellectual knowledge . . . Notice the key phrase in Matthew 7:21, identifying the kind of person who will inhabit heaven. It is `he who does the will of My Father.’ It is not the one who says he knows Jesus or who believes certain facts about Him. It is the one who does the Father’s will . . . The lesson here is that if a person lives an unrighteous life of disobedience, it doesn’t matter what he says or what good things he has done. He is an unbeliever in danger of eternal damnation.” (15)

3. The Rich Young Ruler

A. John MacArthur (P)

“The issue here was clearly this man’s salvation, not some higher level of discipleship subsequent to conversion . . . He was the perfect evangelistic target. He was ready to sign the card, raise his hand, walk the aisle, or whatever . . . To the human eye, he looked like the hottest evangelistic prospect the Lord had encountered so far. He was ripe. He was eager . . . Jesus set up an insurmountable barrier for the man. Instead of taking him from where he was and getting him to make a `decision,’ Jesus laid out terms to which he was unwilling to submit. In a sense, Jesus chased him off.

“What kind of evangelism is this? Jesus would have failed personal evangelism class in almost every Bible college or seminary I know! He gave a message of works, and at this point did not even mention faith or the facts of redemption. Nor did He challenge the man to believe. He failed to get closure . . .

“Modern evangelism is preoccupied with decisions, statistics, aisle-walking, gimmicks, prefabricated presentations, pitches, emotional manipulation, and even intimidation . . . Unbelievers are told that if they invite Jesus into their hearts, accept Him as personal Savior, or believe the facts of the gospel, that’s all there is to it. The aftermath is appalling failure, as seen in the lives of multitudes who have professed faith in Christ with no subsequent impact on their behavior.” (17)

4. John 6:27-29 “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. (28) Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? (29) Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”

A. John Wesley (P)

Wesley writes of salvation:

“Who can deny that both inward good works (loving God and our neighbour) and outward good works (keeping His commandments) are a condition of this? What is this more or less than `Without holiness no man shall see the Lord’?” (18)

B. John MacArthur (P)

“There is a sense in which Jesus calls even the act of believing a work (John 6:29) – not merely a human work, but a gracious work of God in us. He brings us to faith, then enables and empowers us to believe unto obedience (cf. Romans 16:26).” (19)


A. William Marshner

“Few Protestants have thought these matters through. Most do not realize that the theology they have inherited derives historically from nominalistic assumptions, which led Luther and Calvin to deny the existence of sanctifying grace [infused grace]. Rather, they feel that they are simply reading St. Paul . . . Catholic apologetics, therefore, must . . . break down that lively conviction by which the Protestant feels that St. Paul is his home turf. We must show that St. Paul’s real position is far closer to that of Trent than to that of Luther . . .

“St. Paul did not regard good works as impossible, misguided, or pernicious, as some Protestant exegetes have tried to hold. Quite the contrary. But if St. Paul seems to admit justifying works in Romans 2 [e.g., 2:7,14] and to exclude them in Romans 7, the most plausible explanation is that he is speaking of the total human condition in chapter 2, where grace is at work among Jew and gentile alike, whereas in chapter 7 he is showing what happens when the Law is isolated from grace. Such isolation is exactly what is sought, when man seeks his own righteousness on the basis of law.” (13:222-223, 228-229)

B. Ludwig Ott

“When St. Paul teaches that we are saved by faith without the works of the Law (Rom 3:28: `For we account a man to be justified by faith, without the works of the law,’ cf. Gal 2:16) he understands by faith, living faith, active through love (Gal 5:6); by the works of the law he means the works of the law of the Old Testament, for example, circumcision; by justification, the inner purification and sanctification of the non-Christian sinner by the acceptance of the Christian Faith. When St. James, in apparent contradiction to this, teaches that we are justified by works, not merely by faith (Jas 2:24), he understands by faith, dead faith (Jas 2:17; cf. Matt 7:21); by works, the good works proceeding from Christian Faith; by justification, the declaration of the righteousness of the Christian before the judgment seat of God. St. Paul is inveighing against Judaists who made much of the works of the Law. Hence the stressing of the good works. The two Apostles concur in demanding a living, active faith.” (3:254)

Romans 2:5-13 “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; (6) Who will render to every man according to his deeds: (7) To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: (8) But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, (9) Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; (10) But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: (11) For there is no respect of persons with God. (12) For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (13) (For not the hearers of the law {are} just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”

A. G. C. Berkouwer (P)

“In Paul, as elsewhere, we are impressed by an unambiguous eschatological perspective of the judgment which shall be according to works . . .

“The relation between final judgment and works is here [Rom 2:6-8] unmistakably intimate. There is a final divorce between obedience and disobedience . . . The question is the more insistent in view of other utterances of Paul [cites Gal 6:7-9, 2 Cor 5:10, Col 3:23-25, 1 Cor 3:13, 4:5] . . .

“We can hardly say that such ideas form a subordinate line, a secondary and rather unimportant element of Paul’s message. Quite the contrary. The utmost earnestness of the judgment and the appeal to man to consider his daily responsibility before the Lord of life sound clarionlike through his whole witness. It is not to be denied that for Paul, too, the works and affairs of man play a role in the final drama of God’s judgment.” (22)

Romans 3:28 “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

A. Hartmann Grisar

“Here he merely excludes the works `of the law,’ i.e. according to the context such works as do not rest on faith but precede faith, whether the purely outward works of the Mosaic ceremonial law, or other natural works done apart from, or before, Christ.” (51;v.1:309)

Romans 5:1 “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

A. Mark Brumley

“Romans 5:1 . . . is often cited in defense of the Reformed view that justification is a once for all declaration by God; justification can neither be increased nor lost . . .

“Although the Bible speaks in Romans 5:1 of justification as a `past, completed act,’ this doesn’t mean it can’t be altered, for better or worse, by what we do. To say an act has been completed needn’t imply that no further development or change is possible.

“Consider the biblical teaching about sanctification . . . Paul speaks of sanctification as a `past, completed act’ – in the aorist tense [the same used in Rom 5:1] – in 1 Corinthians 6:11. He tells his readers, `You have been washed, you have been sanctified, you have been justified . . .’ At the same time, Scripture teaches sanctification or holiness is something into which we can grow [cites 2 Cor 7:1, Heb 12:10,14] . . .

“Sanctification, then, is both a `past, completed action’ and something which believers can increase or from which they can fall away through sin. This leads us to ask, `If Paul’s use of the aorist with respect to sanctification doesn’t preclude progress or regress, why should it do so with respect to justification?’ . . .

“If the gratuitousness of sanctification isn’t undermined by its capacity for increase through obedience or loss through disobedience [as Protestants hold], why should justification be? Only by assuming that justification is unalterable – an assumption grammatical arguments about the aorist tense will not uphold – could we conclude that increasing or decreasing in justification is, per se, incompatible with justification by grace.

“Works of obedience which contribute to our sanctification are as much the result of grace as is our faith.” (23)

Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: {it is} the gift of God: (9) Not of works, lest any man should boast. (10) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

A. John MacArthur (P)

“Salvation by faith does not eliminate works per se. It does away with works that are the result of human effort alone (Ephesians 2:8). It abolishes any attempt to merit God’s favor by our works (v.9), but it does not deter God’s foreordained purpose that our walk of faith should be characterized by good works (v.10) . . . True salvation wrought by God will not fail to produce the good works that are its fruit (cf. Matthew 7:17).” (26)

The Book of James

A. William Most

“St. James clearly uses faith to mean, narrowly, just intellectual acceptance of a revealed truth . . . St. Paul does not disagree with St. James, but his use of the word faith is much broader. By faith, Paul means total adherence of a person to God in mind and will.” (11:107)

B. John MacArthur (P)

“It has often been imagined that Paul’s view of justification differed from James’s . . . There is no contradiction . . . Paul denounced the notion that the unregenerate man can buy merit with God through works. James condemned the idea that a true believer might fail to produce good works.” (30)

C. Augustus Strong (P)

“Good works are the proper evidence of faith. The faith which does not lead men to act upon the commands and promises of Christ, or, in other words, does not lead to obedience, is called in Scripture a `dead,’ that is, an unreal, faith. Such faith is not saving, since it lacks the voluntary element – actual appropriation of Christ (James 2:14-26) . . .

“The doctrine of James is that we are justified only by such faith as makes us faithful and brings forth good works.” (141:846, 851)

D. G. C. Berkouwer (P)

“James specifies a necessary marriage of works to faith and in that concurs with Paul’s insistence on the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), on faith working through love (Gal 5:6), on the work of faith (1 Thess 2:13), and on the impossibility that those who have died to sin could live in it any longer (Rom 6:2).” (31)

E. Karl Keating

“James nowhere states that the justification to which he refers is a justification before man, rather than before God. He merely uses the example of Abraham’s obedience to show that in addition to faith, justification also involves works. Also, James doesn’t say Abraham’s works `justified’ his faith . . . The object of justification is Abraham, not his faith. James says simply that works justify individuals – something quite different from merely showing their faith to be real.

“Furthermore, translating `justified’ to mean `vindicated’ actually supports rather than refutes the Catholic position. Abraham was vindicated – proved to be righteous – not merely by his faith, but also by his actions. His righteousness is shown to be real, not simply imputed . . .

“When Paul talks about justification, he means by it what is called `first justice’ . . .

“As James uses the word, justification refers to second justice or the increase of righteousness which takes place after initial justification (Rom 6:19; Heb 12:14; Rev 22:11). Evangelicals would call this sanctification. Here works are involved.” (32)

F. John Henry Newman (P)

“On the whole, then, salvation is both by faith and by works. St. James says, not dead faith, and St. Paul, not dead works. St. James, `not by faith only,’ for that would be dead faith: St. Paul, `not by works only,’ for such would be dead works. Faith alone can make works living; works alone can make faith living. Take away either, and you take away both; – he alone has faith who has works, – he alone has works who has faith.” (14:1057/33)


1. Karl Adam, The Spirit of Catholicism, translated by Justin McCann, revised edition, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1954 (orig. 1924).

2. Alan Schreck, Catholic and Christian, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books, 1984.

3. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1974.

4. Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J., Pocket Catholic Dictionary, New York: Doubleday Image, 1980.

5. Christopher Dawson, The Dividing of Christendom, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1965.

6. Hartmann Grisar, Luther, translated by E. M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, 6 volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917.

7. Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, translated by A. V. Littledale, London: Harvill Press, 1956.

8. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1967 (orig. 1907). [Northern Baptist].

9. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, abridged one-volume edition by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988 (orig. 1873, 3 volumes). [Presbyterian].

10. Hans Asmussen et al, The Unfinished Reformation, translated by Robert J. Olsen, Notre Dame, Indiana: Fides Publishers Assoc., 1961. [Lutheran].

11. William G. Most, Catholic Apologetics Today, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1986.

12. Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.

13. Jeffrey A. Mirus, editor, Reasons For Hope, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Press, revised edition, 1982.

14. John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987 (orig. 1843).


1. Anathema: A condemnation used by the Church to declare that a position or viewpoint is contrary to Catholic faith or doctrine, derived from Galatians 1:9. It means, literally, “let him be excommunicated,” or barred from the sacraments, not damned, as many mistakenly suppose.

2. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1952, 129-130.

3. A. W. Tozer, A Treasury of A. W. Tozer, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980, 115-116, 181.

4. H. A. Ironside, Except Ye Repent, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1937, 7, 11.

5. Charles H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1963 (orig. 1858), 4:265.

6. George Carey, A Tale of Two Churches, Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1985, 41-42.

7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York: Macmillan, 1963, 334-335.

8. G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification (Studies in Dogmatics), translated by Lewis B. Smedes, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1954, 13, 109.

9. John F. MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan (Academie Books), 1988, 60, 187-188.

10. John Wesley, A Farther Appeal, 1745, Works, London: 1831, VIII, 68 ff.

11. John Wesley, A Blow at the Root, 1762, Works, X, 369.

12. John Wesley, Working Out Our Own Salvation, 1788, Works, VI, 511 ff.

13. Newman, who was received into the Catholic Church in 1845 and later made a Cardinal, was still, at the time of these sermons (1834), a staunch, and very influential, Anglican (all other quotes from Newman in this chapter are also from his Protestant period).

14. Mark Brumley, “Righteousness Done Right,” This Rock, August 1991, 20.

15. MacArthur, ibid. (#9), 88-89.

17. MacArthur, ibid., 78-79.

18. John Wesley, Letter to Several Preachers and Friends, July 10, 1771, Letters of Wesley, edited by John Telford, London: 1831, V, 264.

19. MacArthur, ibid., 33.

22. Berkouwer, ibid. (#8), 103-105.

23. Mark Brumley, “Is Justification Ongoing?,” This Rock, September 1991, 26-27.

26. MacArthur, ibid., 33.

30. MacArthur, ibid. 214-215.

31. Berkouwer, ibid. (#8), 133.

32. Karl Keating, “Paul and James at Odds?,” Catholic Answers Newsletter, November 1989, 1.

33. Sermon: “The New Works of the Gospel,” 1840.


(originally compiled in 1994)


"Personhood does NOT begin at conception. Some fetal deformities/abnormalities are not detected until 20th week ..."

Thoughts on Roe Being Overturned
"I'd assert that the Right is far more antithetical to Christianity, despite its pretenses at ..."

Thoughts on Roe Being Overturned
"The foundation of the modern left is secularism: Religion was not revealed, it was inspired. ..."

Thoughts on Roe Being Overturned
"That's not what I said. Don't be dismissive when you're basing it on a distortion.I ..."

Thoughts on Roe Being Overturned

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad