Justification: A Catholic Perspective (vs. Francisco Tourinho)

Justification: A Catholic Perspective (vs. Francisco Tourinho) June 22, 2022

[book and purchase information]

Francisco Tourinho is a Brazilian Calvinist apologist. He described his theological credentials on my Facebook page:

I have the respect of the academic community for my articles published in peer review magazines, translation of unpublished classical works into Portuguese and also the production of a book in the year 2019 with more than 2000 copies sold (with no marketing). In addition I have higher education in physical education from Piauí State University and theology from the Assemblies of God Biblical Institute, am currently working towards a Masters from Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, and did post-graduate work at Dom Bosco Catholic University. Also, I am a professor in the Reformed Scholasticism discipline at the Jonathan Edwards Seminary in the postgraduate course in Philosophical Theology. [edited slightly for more flowing English]

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This is my first reply to Francisco’s first installment of what we hope will be a series of cordial theological debates. I am responding to his article, A Justificação pela Fé na Perspectiva Protestante [Justification by Faith from a Protestant Perspective] (6-21-22]. I use Google Translate to render his Portugese text into English. Francisco’s words will be in blue. We agreed in private discussions to both abide by the following terms for this series of debates (I wrote them; he agreed):
1) Stick solely to biblical arguments; exegesis, commentaries, systematic theology. Citing others is fine as long as it is on the biblical text or the doctrine being discussed.
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2) Don’t mention Church history on either side, internal affairs and real or supposed scandals of the Catholic Church, denominations, etc.
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3) Both of us should try to actually interact point-by-point rather than picking and choosing; a serious debate where all the opponent’s arguments are grappled with.
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4) If the personal attacks start, the dialogue is immediately over. I can’t control what goes on on your Facebook page and network of buddies and fan club (and my Brazilian friends are pretty outspoken too!), but we can both control what goes into our written responses.
I’m happy to report that Francisco in his first article has not violated any of these terms or rules. I hope to do the same. Good start! Counter-replies are much more challenging, because then one must directly deal with the opponent’s argument (#3): which I relish as the “heart” and “fun challenge” of debates: somewhat like the cross-examination in a court trial. And that is what I will proceed to do now.
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This is the first article in a debate between myself and American apologist Dave Armstrong on Justification by Faith.
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I emphasize that this debate is primarily biblical-exegetic, and may have resources from Systematic Theology.
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#1 in the terms above . . .
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Establishment of the Question
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Fides Justificat Sola (faith alone justifies), this was the cry of the reformers against the doctrine of Rome which teaches that faith and works justify. Sola (only) is not for reason of existence i.e. lonely, dull and love, but with respect to function or efficiency. So while faith alone justifies, we cannot say that faith can exist without grace, without love, and without works. Faith is inseparable from grace and works, but they are not the same things, just like the lung that alone is responsible for the strength of breathing, but would never function disconnected from other organs such as the liver and heart. Light and heat in the sun are so closely related that they are inseparable, however, only light illuminates and only heat warms. Therefore, although the other virtues do not justify together with faith, there is no justification in their absence, much less the opposite vices being present.
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My general (almost philosophical and not technically theological) initial reaction to this is to observe two things:
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1) It strikes me as a distinction without a difference. Why go to the “trouble” of asserting that “only x justifies” while at the same time asserting, “y must always be with this x that alone justifies, lest x cease to truly be x“? I understand the fine distinctions drawn above: standard Protestant soteriology with which I am very familiar, but it still seems to me to be straining at gnats. If y (works) is always — and should always be — there with x (faith), then is there not a sense in which y has some connection with justification, too? And that relationship between the two things is what Catholics think James 2 is dealing with.
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I shall argue that the Bible teaches an organic connection between faith and works: not merely an abstract “partnership” where “never the twain shall meet” in some respects. Two sides of a coin are also distinguishable from each other, but they both have to be there for the coin to be what it is, don’t they? We don’t say that “only one half of the coin bought the bubblegum in the machine.” We say that the coin (which contains two distinct sides by nature) bought the bubblegum. [sorry for the two idiomatic expressions. I hope they translate well into Portugese!]
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2) My second general initial reaction to a presentation like the above is to say that there is no practical difference whatsoever, or difference in the day-to-day lives of Christians, between what Francisco wrote above and how an observant Catholic lives his or her life. I often make this observation. Catholics and Protestants are in absolute agreement on two points:
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A) Grace is the ultimate enabling cause of faith and justification and salvation (sola gratia);
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and
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B) Good works are absolutely necessary and non-optional in the Christian life as the proof or inevitable fruit of the authenticity of a genuine faith.
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This being the case, I submit that there is a strong sense in which it seems futile and unnecessary to even dispute the fine points of whether justification and sanctification are together (Catholicism) or separate categories, with only justification directly tied to salvation (Protestantism). Why bother? The response and the result are the same: the faithful Christian who believed and appropriated God’s grace and justification proceeds to do good works: which, if absent, cast into serious doubt his or her position in relation to God, and faith.
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We can still do the debates on the fine points, and I love them, but I’m also very happy (as an ecumenist) that there is very substantial agreement on these matters. Protestant soteriology (theology of salvation) is not antinomian (the frequent Catholic stereotype of Protestantism) and Catholic soteriology is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian (the frequent Protestant caricature of our view). I rejoice in this common ground, even while I defend the Catholic view and think it is more true to the Bible than the Protestant one. It’s an honestly held, good faith difference.

The bottom-line question is whether Holy Scripture draws the rather sharp distinction between justification and sanctification that Protestant soteriology asserts. Francisco first laid out the view without Scripture, so I answered accordingly. When he argues from Scripture, I will do that, too. But the two competing “visions” above of faith and justification will serve as a good “philosophical” introduction.

The question is not whether a person who has faith can be admitted without works or without love, but whether these works are causes of justification, that we deny. It is not because we demand works concomitantly with faith, that both have the same ends.
The point is not whether works cannot be seen as justifying in some way, but that only through faith is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.
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In initial justification, as we call it, this is true. This is more common ground. It can’t be brought about by any work, because it is grace-originated, and God-originated (monergistic at this stage: to use a favorite Reformed term). But this is only the first stage.
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The dispute also arises in relation to the mode of justification, whether it is by imputation or by infusion of justice. We claim it is by imputation, and we deny that it is by infusion of righteousness.
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Well, we’ll be examining what Holy Scripture has to say about that.
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Justification can be seen from a double angle: the angle of the law and the angle of the gospel. From the point of view of the law we are guilty before God for violating it, therefore we must be free from that guilt, which is only done through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us through faith alone. From the angle of the gospel we are accused by Satan of unbelief and hypocrisy if we do not show that we have faith through good works. The first is justified by faith alone, the second is justified by faith and works.
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I thank Francisco for articulately explaining this interesting distinction. I will want to see how he backs it up with the Bible, and in the event that he can’t do so: why he would hold to it in the first place.
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Scriptural Basis that Confirms Justification by Faith Alone
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Based on Romans 3:28:
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We therefore conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
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The text is clear that we are justified by faith alone. However, only one of the three ways is possible:
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1 – Being is justified by faith alone;
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2 – To be justified by works alone, or,
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3 – To be justified by faith and works.
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As the verse states that we are justified without works, so it is left to us that we are justified by faith alone and not by works.
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No antithesis would be created between faith and works if the two contributed to justification. The same is true of Galatians 2:16: “Knowing, however, that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus.”
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The key that unlocks the meaning of these two passages is the word “law.” Paul is placing in opposition or antithesis, faith and the Mosaic law, not faith and works. Protestants habitually use these passages (and others that mention “works of the law”: Rom 3:20; Gal 3:2, 5, 10) to contend that works are antithetical to faith and grace. But “works of the law” has a particular meaning beyond simply “good works” or “all works”. This understanding has been affirmed by a Protestant movement of Pauline studies called the “New Perspective on Paul.” Anglican Bishop and professor of theology N. T. Wright (born 1948) is the most well-known proponent of it. The Wikipedia article explains:

Paul’s letters contain a substantial amount of criticism regarding the “works of the Law“. The radical difference in these two interpretations of what Paul meant by “works of the Law” is the most consistent distinguishing feature between the two perspectives. The historic Protestant perspectives interpret this phrase as referring to human effort to do good works in order to meet God’s standards (Works Righteousness). In this view, Paul is arguing against the idea that humans can merit salvation from God by their good works alone (note that the “new” perspective agrees that we cannot merit salvation; the issue is what exactly Paul is addressing).

By contrast, new-perspective scholars see Paul as talking about “badges of covenant membership” or criticizing Gentile believers who had begun to rely on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship. It is argued that in Paul’s time, Israelites were being faced with a choice of whether to continue to follow their ancestral customs, the Torah, or to follow the Roman Empire’s trend to adopt Greek customs (Hellenization, see also AntinomianismHellenistic Judaism, and Circumcision controversy in early Christianity). The new-perspective view is that Paul’s writings discuss the comparative merits of following ancient Israelite or ancient Greek customs. Paul is interpreted as being critical of a common Jewish view that following traditional Israelite customs makes a person better off before God, pointing out that Abraham was righteous before the Torah was given. Paul identifies customs he is concerned about as circumcisiondietary laws, and observance of special days.

Due to their interpretation of the phrase “works of the law,” theologians of the historic Protestant perspectives see Paul’s rhetoric as being against human effort to earn righteousness. This is often cited by Protestant and Reformed theologians as a central feature of the Christian religion, and the concepts of grace alone and faith alone are of great importance within the creeds of these denominations.

“New-perspective” interpretations of Paul tend to result in Paul having nothing negative to say about the idea of human effort or good works, and saying many positive things about both. New-perspective scholars point to the many statements in Paul’s writings that specify the criteria of final judgment as being the works of the individual.

Use of these passages to imply that the Apostle Paul was against all human works whatever, is misguided. Many other passages (some of which I will cite in due course) prove that he wasn’t against them at all, and indeed commanded them and attached them to sanctification, justification, and salvation alike.

Francisco stated: “No antithesis would be created between faith and works if the two contributed to justification.” But “works of the law” has a different meaning from just “works” or “good works.” Therefore, the antithesis of Romans 3:28 and Galatians 2:16 is different from what Francisco thinks it is, and therefore, doesn’t support at all the viewpoint (classic Protestant sola fide soteriology) that he wishes to set forth.

If we want to discuss biblical indications for or against the Protestant belief in “faith alone” I have several to bring forth in favor of the Catholic point of view. Let the reader judge which position is more biblical and plausible!
Matthew 19:16-22 (RSV) And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” [17] And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” [18] He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, [19] Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [20] The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” [21] Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” [22] When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
This is probably the most compelling, unarguable sustained refutation of “faith alone” in the New Testament (though the James 2 passages come very close), because the rich young ruler asks Jesus the very question that is at the heart of the Catholic-Protestant dispute on faith and works: “what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” If “faith alone” were a true biblical doctrine, and good deeds have nothing directly to do with salvation, then this was the golden opportunity for Jesus to clear that up, knowing it would be in the Bible for hundreds of millions to read and learn from (and knowing in His omniscience the sustained disputes Christians would have about these issues).
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But He never mentions belief in him or faith (even in a sense that isn’t “alone”). All He does is talk about works: asking if he kept the Ten Commandments, and then telling him to sell all he had and to give it to the poor.
Romans 2:6-8 For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (cf. 2:13: “the doers of the law who will be justified”)
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Galatians 6:7-9 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.
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1 Timothy 6:18-19 They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

Hebrews 5:9 and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,

Hebrews 12:14 . . . Strive . . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

1 Peter 4:17 For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?

In all six of these passages we are informed that “well-doing” and “works” and “do[ing] good” / “good deeds” and “obey[ing]” and “holiness” are what will “reap eternal life” and “eternal salvation” or lay the “foundation” for same; not faith alone. The truth, the gospel, and God, all have to be “obeyed”: not merely believed in.
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This is contrary to Protestant doctrine, which holds that works fall under the category of sanctification, which in turn supposedly has nothing directly to do with either justification or salvation. In Protestantism, such “deeds” are done in gratefulness for a justification and salvation already received and assured. In Catholicism (and I say, in the Bible, which is precisely why we believe this) they are organically connected to faith and justification and salvation; never alone; always with faith.

James 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

The phrase “faith alone” appears exactly once in the RSV: in this verse. Justification by “faith alone” is expressly denied! This is one of three times (along with James 2:21 and 2:25 further below) that the Bible also expresses the notion of “justified by works” (in context, along with faith). Four other passages in James directly, expressly contradict “faith alone” but with different words:

James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?

James 2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?

James 2:26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

From these five passages in James 2, we learn that:

1) Faith alone doesn’t justify.

2) Faith alone is “dead”.

3) Faith alone is “barren”.

4) Faith alone cannot save.

And these are only the best and clearest Bible passages, in my estimation, that refute “faith alone.” I have many more that also do so. I compiled 200 such passages in a recent paper.

Based on Galatians 2:21:

The righteousness of Christ can only be apprehended by faith, it cannot be by love, hope, or any other means than faith: “I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness comes from the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal 2:21).

Righteousness does not come from the law, therefore it cannot come from the fulfillment of the law, but only from faith in Christ Jesus.

No one disagrees with this. It’s merely a variation of the notion of depending on “the works of the [Mosaic] law” for righteousness or salvation, that was discussed above. Paul expressed this more succinctly later in the same epistle:

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.

Based on Gen 15:6:

And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness 

In the New Testament this fact is recalled several times (Rom 4:3; Rom 4:22; Gal 3:6; Jas 2:23) and is used by the apostle Paul as an example that justification in both the Old and New Testaments is one. This truth, as well as the exegesis of other texts, demonstrate that when Saint Paul speaks of works of the Law, he is not speaking only of the Jews, but of all men, since Abraham lived before the Law, moreover, all sinned, not only Jews, and all need justification. Thus, what happened to Abraham happens to all people, by faith alone has righteousness imputed to him, not an infused righteousness as the papists think, but an imputed righteousness as the reformers defended. There is not here a language of infusion of justice or of virtues, but of an imputation of justice. Justification is forensic: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).

Based on Romans 4:6:

David says the same thing, when he speaks of the happiness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

St. Paul refers back to Genesis 15:6 (see 4:1-4 for context):

Romans 4:5 And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Here is what the Navarre Commentary (Catholic) states about Romans 4:5 and by extension, Genesis 15:6:

The act of faith is the first step towards obtaining justification (= salvation). . . . This first act of faith moves the person to recognize and repent of his sins; to put his trust in God’s mercy and to love him above all things; and to desire the sacraments and resolve to live a holy life . . . God reckons this faith “as righteousness,” that is to say, as something which deserves to be rewarded. It is not, therefore, good works that lead to justification; rather, justification renders works good and meritorious of eternal life. Faith opens up for us new perspectives. [bolding my own]

Paul uses the example of Abraham in Romans 4, in emphasizing faith, over against the Jewish works of circumcision as a supposed means of faith and justification (hence, he mentions circumcision in 4:9-12, and salvation to the Gentiles as well as Jews in 4:13-18). But this passage, too, goes back to the issue of “the works of the law.” A regular commenter on my blog who goes by “Adomnan” explained:

When Paul says that Abraham “does not work,” he isn’t saying that Abraham has not done good works. In fact, Abraham had been justified since he responded to God’s self-revelation in Ur and had done many good works worthy of being reckoned as righteous. Romans 4:5 is describing but one instance of a good work (an act of faith) that was reckoned as righteous.

In context, “does not work” means “is not doing the works of the Law:” that is, Abraham has not yet been circumcised and is still a Gentile. He does not do works of Jewish Law, works of Torah.

In Greek the phrase “the one who does not work” could be translated — clumsily — as “the non-working one,” non-working not in the sense of not doing good works but in the sense of not doing works of Torah. Paul’s use of the definite pronoun suggests he has a definite person in mind (Abraham). . . .

Or, to paraphrase all of Romans 4:5: “And to Abraham before he had done any works of Torah but still believed in Him who regards the Gentile as righteous, his belief was credited as an act of righteousness.”

James 2:20-26 also refers back to Genesis 15:6, and gives an explicit interpretation of the Old Testament passage, by stating, “and the scripture was fulfilled which says, . . .” (2:23). The previous three verses were all about justification, faith, and works, all tied in together, and this is what James says “fulfilled” Genesis 15:6. The next verse then condemns Protestant soteriology by disagreeing the notion of “faith alone” in the clearest way imaginable.

James 2 is usually applied by Protestants to sanctification, but that is not what the passage says. It mentions “justified” (dikaioo: Strong’s word #1344) three times (2:21, 24-25): the same Greek word used in Romans 4:2, as well as 2:13; 3:20, 24, 28; 5:1, 9; 8:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 2:16-17; 3:11, 24; 5:4; and Titus 3:7. If James actually meant sanctification, on the other hand, he could have used one of two Greek words (hagiazo hagiasmos: Strong’s #37-38) that appear (together) 38 times in the New Testament (the majority of times by Paul himself).

See how much we can learn by cross-referencing and systematic theology? Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin also offers some great commentary about Abraham, and the multiple instances of his justification, as seen in these passages and others in Genesis:

Genesis 15:6 . . . states that when God gave the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky (Gen. 15:5, cf. Rom. 4:18-22) Abraham “believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). This passage clearly teaches us that Abraham was justified at the time he believed the promise concerning the number of his descendants.

Now, if justification is a once-for-all event, rather than a process, then that means that Abraham could not receive justification either before or after Genesis 15:6. However, Scripture indicates that he did both. First, the book of Hebrews tells us that “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) Every Protestant will passionately agree that the subject of Hebrews 11 is saving faith—the kind that pleases God and wins his approval (Heb. 11:2, 6)—so we know that Abraham had saving faith according to Hebrews 11.

But when did he have this faith? The passage tells us: Abraham had it “when he was called to go out to the place he would afterward receive.” The problem for the once-for-all view of justification is that the call of Abraham to leave Haran is recorded in Genesis 12:1-4—three chapters before he is justified in 15:6. We therefore know that Abraham was justified well before (in fact, years before) he was justified in Gen. 15:6. . . .

But just as Abraham received justification before Genesis 15:6, he also received it afterwards, for the book of James tells us, “Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar [see Gen. 22:1-18]? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:21-23) . . .

As a result, justification must be seen, not as a once-for-all event, but as a process which continues throughout the believer’s life. (“Salvation Past, Present, and Future”; a somewhat expanded printed version of this argument occurs in his book, The Salvation Controversy [San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2001], 19-21)

If the imputation of righteousness is independent of works, then it is by faith alone that righteousness is imputed to man.

Based on Romans 5:9:

So much more now, having been justified by his blood

Christ’s merits are perfect, his sacrifice is perfect, and satisfies all divine justice. No work can complement such justice satisfied on the cross, for the Lord Jesus said, “It is finished” (tetelestai) is complete, nothing else is lacking, the price has been paid. If works do not make us deserve the merits of Christ, it remains that it is only by faith that we receive the blood and merits of Christ that justifies us.

At first, yes (initial justification). But then we must “work out” our salvation and complete our faith. Many verses expressly teach that:

Acts 2:40 And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

Romans 8:13 for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.

1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Galatians 5:1 . . . stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery . . .

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 3:11-14 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 1:22-23 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, [23] provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, . . .

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save . . .  yourself . . .

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Hebrews 3:14 For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 6:11-12 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, [12] so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. . . .

Hebrews 10:39 But we are . . . of those who have faith and keep their souls.

1 John 3:3  And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. . . .

2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall;

As St. Paul says: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies them” (Rom 8:33). Christ himself is our righteousness: therefore you are of him in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written: , glory in the Lord.” Preaching in the power of the Spirit. (1 Cor 1.30-31). Christ is the perfect righteousness that is apprehended by faith alone, we must glory in Him, in His works, and in His merits.

This was all good, except when it got to faith alone, which is unbiblical, as already abundantly shown. We must conform our views to the Bible, not vice versa.

Based on Philippians 3:9:

And be found in him, not having my righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, even the righteousness which is from God by faith

Once again the apostle makes an antithesis between works of the law and faith, they do not have the same purpose of justifying before God.

Yes; no Christian disagrees with the notion that the Mosaic Law is not what saves anyone.

Coram Hominibus vs. Coram Deo

We will now deal with the double angle of justification: the angle of the law (Coram Deo) and the angle of the gospel (Coram hominibus). Some passages in Scripture imply that a man cannot be justified by faith alone, but also by works. Does the text of James 2:21-26 teach that Abraham (as well as Rahab and men in general) was justified by works? Let’s see:

Was not our father Abraham justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith co-operated with his works, and that by works faith was made perfect. And the scripture was fulfilled, which says, And Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in like manner was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she gathered up the emissaries, and sent them away by another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” James 2:21-26

The text is not contradictory to Paul’s texts. Note that the text itself deals with works, not only of the Law, but works. St. James is fighting libertines, while St. Paul was fighting legalists. If, on the one hand, Saint Paul had to prove that works do not justify, but that the works of Christ justify us through faith, Saint James had to prove that it was not enough to say he had faith and not have works. So the same cites the example of men who were justified before men showing the life of their faith through works. Here I emphasize that St. James at no time teaches that such men had faith, but that they said they had faith, but did not demonstrate that faith with good works, they were like demons who have a dead faith.

The text is not dealing with a Coram Deo, with a justification under the divine gaze, but under the human gaze.

The problem is Francisco’s contention that James was dealing with “libertines”: ones who “were like demons who have a dead faith.” That would seem to me to be non-Christians, who they don’t have an authentic, living faith, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and God’s grace, rather than a dead belief akin to that of the demons. But the actual text (in its overall context) doesn’t assert these things.

James refers in 2:1 to his readers as “My brethren” who “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then he calls them “my beloved brethren” (2:5) and “my brethren” again in 2:14. This is in line with the epistle before and after chapter 2. James refers to them as “brethren” (4:11; 5:7, 9-10, 12), “my brethren” (1:2; 3:1, 10, 12; 5:19), and “my beloved brethren” (1:16, 19). St. Paul also massively used the title of “brethren” to all the Christian in the congregations that he loved and wrote to and shepherded.

So this is Francisco’s problem: the text doesn’t support this particular argument of his. When James refers in 2:19 to “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder” he is referring to the same people that he called “my brethren” five verses earlier. It’s no doubt a rhetorical flourish, but it seems to me that it still relates to what was before.

It’s much like Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He calls the Galatian Christians “brethren” ten times. And he writes:  “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:26-27) and “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir” (4:6-7) and “Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise” (4:28) and “For freedom Christ has set us free” (5:1).

But then, writing to the very same people, he also states: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (1:6) and “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? . . . Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (3:1, 3) and “but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? . . . I am afraid I have labored over you in vain” (4:9, 11) and “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (5:7)

These are undeniably fellow Christians in the book of James as well; therefore, the argument that James is writing to libertines or some form of antinomians is not supported. Thus, when faith and works are written about, it’s related to fellow Christians, just as Paul does in, for example, Romans 2:5-13, which is all about the necessity of good works, or in Galatians. There is no reason that I can see, for James to write his entire letter to “libertines”; he’s writing to Christians. And so what he says to them won’t be substantially different from what Paul writes to those in his charge. He’s not going to write about faith only in terms of what other people think of them, but of authentic faith in God.

The Navarre Commentary observed about James 2:23:

“It was reckoned to him as righteousness”: St. Paul (cf. Gal 3:6 and note) uses these words of Genesis 15:6 to explain that righteousness is attained not just by Abraham’s descendants but by all who believe the word of God, whether they be Jews or not; St. James, from another perspective, quotes this text to show that Abraham’s faith made him righteous, that is, holy. Both teachings are complementary. Abraham believed in the divine promise that he would be the father of a great people despite his age and his wife’s sterility; but that faith was reinforced and manifested when it met the test God set — that of sacrificing his only son, while still believing in the earlier promise. The same thing happens in the case of the Christian: his initial faith is strengthened by obedience to the commandments, and he thereby attains holiness.

St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, writing when he was still an Anglican in 1838 (Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification: rev. 1874; London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 3rd edition, 1908), has several insightful things (as always) to say about this general issue and James in particular:

St. Paul says, we are justified without works; what works? “works of,” or done under, “the Law,” the Law of Moses, through which the Law of Nature spoke in the ears of the Jews. But St. James speaks of works done under what he calls “the royal Law,” “the Law of liberty,” which we learn from St. Paul is “the Law of the Spirit of Life,” for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;” in other words, the Law of God, as written on the heart by the Holy Ghost. St. Paul speaks of works done under the letter, St. James of works done under the Spirit. This is surely an important difference in the works respectively mentioned. Or, to state the same thing differently: St. James speaks, not of mere works, but of works of faith, of good and acceptable works. I do not suppose that any one will dispute this, and therefore shall take it for granted. St. James then says, we are justified, not by faith only, but by good works. Now St. Paul is not speaking at all of good works, but of works done in the flesh and of themselves “deserving God’s wrath and damnation.” He says, “without works;” he does not say without good works; whereas St. James is speaking of good works solely. St. Paul speaks of “works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of His Spirit;” St. James of “good works which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification.” (ch. 12)

St. Paul never calls those works which he says do not justify “good works,” but simply “works,”—”works of the Law,”—”deeds of the Law,”—”works not in righteousness,”—”dead works;” what have these to do with works or fruits of the Spirit? Of these latter also St. Paul elsewhere speaks, and by a remarkable contrast he calls them again and again “good works.” For instance, “By grace are ye saved through faith, … not of works, lest any man should boast; for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” This surely is a most pointed intimation that the works which do not justify are not good, or, in other words, are works before justification. As to works after, which are good, whether they justify or not, he does not decide so expressly as St. James, the error which he had to resist leading him another way. He only says, against the Judaizing teachers, that our works must begin, continue, and end in faith. But to proceed; he speaks elsewhere of “abounding in every good work,” of being “fruitful in every good work,” of being “adorned with good works,” of being “well reported of for good works,” “diligently following every good work,” of “the good works of some being open beforehand,” of being “rich in good works,” of being “prepared unto every good work,” of being “throughly furnished unto all good works,” of being “unto every good work reprobate,” of being “a pattern of good works,” of being “zealous of good works,” of being “ready to every good work,” of being “careful to maintain good works,” of “provoking unto love and to good works,” and of being “made perfect in every good work.” [2 Cor. ix. 8. Eph. ii. 10. Col. i. 10. 2 Thess. ii. 17. 1 Tim. ii. 10; v. 10, 25; vi. 18. 2 Tim. ii. 21; iii. 17. Tit. i. 16; ii. 7, 14; iii. 8, 14. Heb. x. 24; xiii. 21.] Now surely this is very remarkable. St. James, though he means good works, drops the epithet, and only says works. Why does not St. Paul the same? why is he always careful to add the word good, except that he had also to do with a sort of works with which St. James had not to do,—that the word works was already appropriated by him to those of the Law, and therefore that the epithet good was necessary, lest deeds done in the Spirit should be confused with them? St. Paul, then, by speaking of faith as justifying without works, means without corrupt and counterfeit works, not without good works. (ch. 12)

“By works,” says St. James, “a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Now, let me ask, what texts do their opponents shrink from as they from this? do they even attempt to explain it? or if so, is it not by some harsh and unnatural interpretation? Next, do they not proceed, as if distrusting their own interpretation, to pronounce the text difficult, and so to dispose of it? yet who can honestly say that it is in itself difficult? rather, can words be plainer, were it not that they are forced into connection with a theory of the sixteenth century; . . . (ch. 12)

Similarly, he wrote again on 26 January 1840: still over five-and-a-half years before becoming a Catholic:

The way of salvation is by works, as under the Law, but it is by “works which spring out of faith,” and which come of “the inspiration of the Spirit.” It is because works are living and spiritual, from the heart, and by faith, that the Gospel is a new covenant. Hence in the passages above quoted we are told again and again of “the law in our inward parts;” “a new heart;” “a new spirit;” the Holy “Spirit within us;” “newness of life,” and “circumcision of the heart in the Spirit.” And hence St. Paul says, that though we have not been “saved by works,” yet we are “created unto good works;” and that “the blood of Christ purges the conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Salvation then is not by dead works, but by living works. . . . And thus there is no opposition between St. Paul and St. James. St. James says, that justification is by works, and St. Paul that it is by faith: but, observe, St. James does not say that it is by dead or Jewish works; he mentions expressly both faith and works; he only says, “not faith only but works also:”—and St. Paul is far from denying it is by works, he only says that it is by faith and denies that it is by dead works. And what proves this, among other circumstances, is, that he never calls those works, which he condemns and puts aside, good works, but simply works: whenever he speaks of good works in his Epistles, he speaks of Christian works; not of Jewish. 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. (Parochial and Plain Sermonsvol. 5, Sermon 12: “The New Works of the Gospel”)

CONCLUSION

In order not to be exhaustive, I believe that these texts are sufficient and can be expanded as necessary.

It serves as a good introduction to the topic. There are many more relevant Bible verses (about 150 more, I think!) that can be unpacked in due course. I don’t want to force readers at this early stage to “drink Lake Superior” either (to use a local Michigan metaphor). There is so much to draw from that I had to be highly selective.

Now Francisco’s task will be to counter-exegete, one-by-one, all the texts I have provided (just as I have done with his). I wish him all God’s blessings in that endeavor. Again, I highly commend and respect him for being willing — and having the guts — to go down this road, and to engage the biblical texts that we Catholics bring forth to support our views. And that’s where the debate becomes very serious and challenging indeed, and also (for those of us like myself and Francisco who love debate), fun, too.

All Protestants are welcome to come discuss this paper under its link on my Facebook page, or in the combox underneath the blog paper. You’ll be treated with respect and cordiality, and I make sure (as moderator of my forums) that other Catholics besides myself act that way, too, or else their posts will be deleted, and in incorrigible cases, they will be blocked and banned. We’re all Christians, so we ought to be able to discuss these important matters with mutual respect and without rancor and hostility. I’ll block an obnoxious, judgmental, trolling Catholic just as soon as anyone else. In fact, I blocked three last night in an unrelated incident. I don’t suffer fools easily, and I am a firm but very fair and impartial moderator. I don’t tolerate incivility on my sites.

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Summary: Brazilian Protestant apologist Francisco Tourinho presents a summary of Protestant justification & faith alone. I reply with numerous contrary biblical passages.

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