Fullness of the Truth Pt. 2.1: Sola Fide

by Sep 17, 20200 comments

Link to the entire series of posts

The doctrine of sola fide which Lutherans claimed the Church stands or falls on ended up being, in fact, the doctrine that the Lutheran system of theology fell for me. This post will deal with what I discovered when I compared the Lutheran and Catholic claims of justification (the doctrine of how we are saved).

This issue over how we are saved was the key issue for me in the debate between the Reformers and Catholics because if Catholics were wrong about justification, it shows that they couldn’t possibly have the unique authority they claimed.  This is because the Catholic Church claims it is infallible when it makes dogmatic declarations.  It claims that God will protect the Church from ever making an error in pronouncing a universal teaching that is supposed to be binding for all Christians.  If the Reformers were correct that the Catholic Church taught grave error on this most important doctrine of how we are saved, then Catholicism must be false.  On the otherhand, if the Reformers were mistaken and Catholics did not teach heresy on justification, then given all the troubles I was beginning to see with Protestant thought in the realm of ethics and natural law and how Catholics were almost the sole voice today still holding on to these truths against the tide of irrationality in the modern world, this was a strong indicator for me that maybe the entire Reformation was a mistake and that I needed to seriously reconsider everything.

As I began to dig into these topics then, as a Lutheran, I found there were a great deal of many things I had been mistaken about with Catholicism and especially their view of justification. I suspect that for the average Lutheran or Protestant, this is likely to be the same.

That being said, my plan is to do the next few posts in the style of a disputation. I will give a list of thesis along with a short annotation to each. I do not mean these theses to be full-fledged defenses of everything in Catholicism, but serve as a string of conclusions in my thought, hopefully inciting a desire for further investigation for anyone reading this.

This section on sola fide is quite long so I broke it up into 3 sections.  In this post, I will start by laying out what Catholics teach about justification. Next, I will cover 4 key areas that are often disputed between Catholics and Protestants in justification followed by a few other important ideas.  Finally, I deal with a few other issues and some give some general concluding thoughts.

Note that while I will pull from a variety of resources throughout these posts, I will rely heavily on the Lutheran Confessions (the Book of Concord) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (also denoted as CCC throughout).


i. The main dispute over justification is whether God justifies us by infused righteousness vs. imputed righteousness.

First, I think it is most important to specify at the beginning the key dispute between Lutherans and Catholics in justification is over what the essence of justification actually is. It is a dispute over what happens to us at justification.

Lutherans teach through our faith in Christ alone (sola fide) Christ’s very own righteousness is imputed to us. Our righteousness before God is Christ’s alien righteousness imputed to us, existing outside of us (extra nos). We are not found righteous before God based on anything good within us. We are forgiven of original sin, but it still is a part of us and is “covered” by Christ’s righteousness. This is why Lutherans often say we are saint and sinner (simul iustus et peccator).

Formula of Concord Epitome Chapter III

4] 2. Accordingly, we believe, teach, and confess that our righteousness before God is (this very thing], that God forgives us our sins out of pure grace, without any work, merit, or worthiness of ours preceding, present, or following, that He presents and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ’s obedience, on account of which righteousness we are received into grace by God, and regarded as righteous.1

Catholics, on the other hand, have always taught that at baptism God truly cleanses us of original sin by infusing sanctifying grace inside of us. This makes us truly righteous interiorly before God. This sanctifying grace is only given to us on account of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. On the Catholic view, the actual thing that we call justification (also known as the formal cause of justification) is this infused sanctifying grace.

CCC 1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life [emphasis mine].2

I will also declare my main takeaways from this research upfront. I think the Catholic Church’s teaching on infused righteousness is actually more biblical and much more in agreement with the Church Fathers. It just seems to fit all the theological data we have better. It also seems to me that this teaching of imputed righteousness was a novelty of Luther’s. I am very suspect of a teaching that arose 1500 years after Jesus, reversing what came before, that is supposedly the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.3

I will have more to say on this in a later section, I just wanted to make sure that the entire discussion on sola fide is framed with the context of this key dispute over infused vs. imputed righteousness. In my mind, this is the single linch pin for both positions.

ii. Richard White’s Paper on Justification and other Key Resources

Second, I would like to point people to a few key resources that heavily influenced my thinking right at the outset.

  • Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification by Dr. Richard White: I highly recommend everyone to read a short 9 page paper by Richard White called Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification. Dr. White wrote this paper when he was in a Protestant Seminary (he later converted to Catholicism and is now a Catholic theologian). Dr. White lays out one of the best summaries of Catholic justification I have ever come across, and many popular Catholic theologians recommend this paper as a good place to start for people who are not familiar with Catholic teaching. It will help give some basic terminology Catholic theologians use, which is slightly different from what Protestants are used to using. It will also hopefully make clear that Catholics do not teach works righteousness or any other heresy of earning one’s justification before God.4
  • Engrafted in Christ by Dr. Christopher Malloy: This book argues that the Joint Declaration on Justification (1999) was not an accurate portrayal of either the Lutheran or Catholic positions on justification. If you are not familiar, the Lutheran World Federation and some Catholic Theologians had a conference that produced this document supposedly showing there is now substantial agreement between the two on justification and the anathemas that each party issued one another at the beginning of the Reformation no longer should apply. This book claims (and I now agree) that the crux of the difference between the two views is over what both sides see is the formal cause of justification: is it the imputation of Christ’s righteousness extra nos (Lutherans) or is it the infusion of sanctifying grace into the believer (Catholics)? Dr. Malloy makes his case by surveying the two side’s positions on justification throughout history, including the failed reconciliation attempts at the Diet of Regensburg, the Council of Trent, modern Lutheran views, and finally a critique of the Joint Declaration. This was one of the most important books for solidifying my views that the Catholic Church is actually right about justification and does not teach any form of “works righteousness” or Pelagianism. It seems to me that Dr. Malloy does a very good job potraying Lutheran ideas fairly and heavily cites directly from Lutheran Confessions. This work also showed me that the Catholic Church has consistently taught the same core ideas about justification from the beginning of Christianity and the Council of Trent is probably the most theologically precise formulation of justification the church has ever produced.5
  • Paul, A New Covenant Jew (especially Chapter 5): This is a fantastic study on modern Pauline scholarship by 3 very prominent modern Catholic scholars. It presents the case for Paul being a new covenant Jew and contrasts this with other modern Protestant views, including sola fide and the New Perspective on Paul. Understanding the Jewish context that Paul was writing in, along with reading how the church fathers interpreted Paul demonstrate that this New Covenant view of Paul has great explanatory value of all the biblical and historical data we have of Paul. This also happens to be the same view that the Catholic Church has taught for 2000 years.6

St. Augustine’s Works: Reading St. Augustine’s works, in particular, were very instrumental in helping me to see the Catholic Church has been teaching the same thing about justification since the very early stages of Christianity. Augustine even speaks directly against sola fide in many places (more come on that below). St. Augustine’s views on grace opened my eyes to how carefully crafted the Catholic view of justification is to avoid any Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. It also was so helpful to see where the Church received its beautiful teachings on how grace works in our lives.

  • St. Augustine on Faith and Works. Translated and Annotated by Gregory J. Lombardo, C.S.C., S.T.D.
  • Also, On Nature and Grace, On Grace and Free Will, and On the Spirit and the Letter by St. Augustine.

iii. Our increased access to information, dramatically changes the ability we have to research these topics.

I also think it is worth reflecting on the fact the Reformers simply didn’t have access to all the information we have now. We have so much more information at our fingertips with a 5 second google search than any of the Reformers ever could have dreamed of. I think this alone should make people go back and reconsider what our Christian forefathers were teaching and make sure their Protestant narrative lines up with the current historical record. I think the historical record is much stronger in favor of the case for the Catholic Church, but each should dig into this matter for themselves.

I know not everyone will agree with this statement, but I find this quote to be true.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”

— Cardinal John Henry Newman

The claim is certainly worth grappling with considering everything we have available to us on a website like www.newadvent.org and the countless others of a similar nature.

St. John Henry Newman

Catholic Teaching

1. First, I realized the Catholic Church does not teach the heresy of works righteousness, or earning your way to heaven. Once I realized this, I was completely open to learning more about what they actually taught.

I was taught that Catholicism is anti-gospel. I was told that Catholics teach works righteousness or were Semi-Pelagian7, in that they taught that man has the power to earn his own justification by doing good works and keeping the law of God. Here are a couple statements from Phillip Melanchthon, a contemporary Lutheran theologian of Martin Luther, writing to this effect in the Apology of the Augsburg Confessions:

7] Of these two parts the adversaries select the Law, because human reason naturally understands, in some way, the Law (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind); [the natural law agrees with the law of Moses, or the Ten Commandments] and by the Law they seek the remission of sins and justification. 8

— Phillip Melanchthon

9] Here the scholastics, having followed the philosophers, teach only a righteousness of reason, namely, civil works, and fabricate besides that without the Holy Ghost reason can love God above all things. For, as long as the human mind is at ease, and does not feel the wrath or judgment of God, it can imagine that it wishes to love God, that it wishes to do good for God’s sake. [But it is sheer hypocrisy.] In this manner they teach that men merit the remission of sins by doing what is in them…9

— Phillip Melanchthon

When I finally read from Catholic sources directly, I found out this couldn’t be further from the truth. Once I realized I had a very poor understanding of Catholicism, it made me really want to dig in to understand what they really taught.10

2. Omnia Gratia: I quickly found out that Rome teaches a view of justification where God’s grace is the beginning, middle, and end of the salvation process. It is all God’s grace.

Only by God’s grace are we initially justified. It is solely the grace of God at our initial conversion that gives us faith, makes us repent for our sins and instills a desire to be right with God, a desire for baptism.

CCC 1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.46

CCC 1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification:

CCC 2001 The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace.

God’s grace is also what enables us to do truly good works through out our lives.

CCC 2003 Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church.11

This shows that the Council of Trent recognized our ability to stay in God’s favor (in a state of justification) until the end of our lives (perseverance) is only possible with God’s help too.

CANON XXII.-If any one saith, that the justified, either is able to persevere, without the special help of God, in the justice received; or that, with that help, he is not able; let him be anathema.12

3. Faith is the root of justification.

Catholics believe that faith is the root of our initial justification before God. It is faith that calls us to seek God, to repent to God for our sins. It is on account of this faith in Christ’s work on the cross that God receives us into His family, and through the means of baptism, engrafts us into the vine of Christ (John 15:1-11).

Council of Trent Session VI. CHAPTER VIII.

In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously.

And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, *because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification*; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace 13[emphasis mine].

4. Faith is a gift. Even faith, which is the root of justification is a grace given by God.

Lutherans teach faith is a gift from God, so as our acceptance of the Gospel in no way may seem like a work on our part. It is all God.

11] This faith is a gift of God, by which we truly learn to know Christ, our Redeemer, in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him, that for the sake of His obedience alone we have the forgiveness of sins by grace, are regarded as godly and righteous by God the father, and are eternally saved.14

This may surprise some, but Catholics actually teach that faith is a gift from God too.

III. The Characteristics of Faith

Faith is a grace

CCC 153 When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come “from flesh and blood,” but from “my Father who is in heaven.”24 Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. “Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.’ “25 (552; 1814; 1996; 2606)15

See also Council of Orange Canon, Vatican I, Dei Verbum, Summa Contra Gentiles, and many other places.16

5. Justification is a complete renewal of the person, a complete cleansing of original sin.

As mentioned above, initial justification is a complete renewal of the person and cleansing of all sin, including original sin, accomplished at baptism when God infuses sanctifying grace into us.17 Here are some Bible verses that paint this complete inward transformation of the justified person.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (RSVCE)

26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Galatians 6:15

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSVCE)

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Romans 5:5 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)

CCC 405 Although it is proper to each individual,295 original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin—an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.” Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (2515; 1264)

6. Salvation is a past, present, and future event.

For Catholics, justification isn’t just a one-time event. It encompasses the whole of the process of salvation. This can be one of the problems in dialoguing on the topic with Protestants, as we often mean different things when using the same words, like justification.18

We should also recognize that Scripture speaks about salvation in various words and phrases. Salvation is understood in terms of “justification,” “redemption,” “entering the kingdom,” “eternal life,” and so on. As Schreiner and Caneday have ably shown, many of these ideas are also spoken of as both past, present, and future realities. 9 Thus “justification,” a concept with clear soteriological meaning in the New Testament (e.g., Rom. 5:9; 10:10; Titus 3:5–7), can be identified as something that has already occurred in the life of the believer (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:11) as well as taking place in the future (e.g., Matt. 12:36; Rom. 2:12–13).

Thus, it should be clear that, despite the way many Christians speak about it, salvation is not simply a “past event.” Salvation is something that is experienced in the here and now. As Peter explains, baptism “now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21). Paul explains, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified” (1 Cor. 6:11). However salvation also occurs in the future. Thus some Protestant scholars describe salvation in terms of a pilgrimage (Stanley) 10 or a race to be won (Schreiner, Caneday). 11 A Catholic understanding would agree with this essential outlook, though perhaps our view would be better summed up with another image: spiritual maturation, i.e., “growing up.”…

• “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified [ dikaiōthēsē ], and by your words you will be condemned [ katadikasthēsē ].” (Matt. 12:36–37)
• “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified [ dikaiōthēs ontai].” (Rom. 2:13)
• “And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment , so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time , not to deal with sin but to save [ sōtērian ] those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Heb. 9:27–28).

To understand the role of works at the final judgment, therefore, involves understanding the nature of salvation itself.19

— Micheal Barber

7. God expects us to be obedient and do good works, but we are only able to do truly good works through and with God’s grace.

John Barclay wrote a recent book that has made a lot of waves in Pauline studies, Paul and the Gift. This work was a giant word study on the word grace (charis in greek) and shows that in Biblical times, a gift/grace was usually given with expectations of reciprocation and obligations back to the giver. In this way, many of the passages in scripture that speak of grace given by God make sense of why God also expects His gift to transform us so that we will with our free will cooperate and give our obedience and love freely to Him in return.

According to Barclay, Pauline grace is unique in that it is both (1) countercultural and (2) transcendent. First, it is countercultural because the gift is given to the unworthy. Yet, even though it is given to the unworthy, it nonetheless entails expectations. Barclay writes: None of Paul’s hearers would thus be the least surprised that God’s supreme gift in Christ (the charis here spoken of ), even if it was given without regard to worth (given, indeed, to the utterly sinful and ungodly), carried with it expectations and obligations which resulted from the gift. It was, if you like, unconditioned (based on no prior conditions) but not unconditional (carrying no subsequent demands).12Thus while grace is a free gift it is inherently ordered towards a response.20

Luther presented a break with the Augustinian tradition and their view of grace, instead seeing grace as a pure gift with no strings attached or reciprocation required. Again, a Jewish reading of Paul shows that grace had a reciprocal connotation.

Because of its origin in divine graciousness, the cross is inseparable from the concept of “grace.” To appreciate this more fully, it is helpful to return to John Barclay’s work on the concept of “grace” in Paul. Barclay emphasizes a point that is often overlooked: the Greek term translated “grace,” charis, originally had the connotation of “gift.” 13 Paul also uses charis synonymously with other words linked to gift-giving. 14 Barclay shows, therefore, that the apostle’s teaching about “grace” (charis) must be interpreted against the backdrop of ancient gift-giving; otherwise, it will be easily misconstrued. As Barclay explains, this is no hypothetical interpretive danger. Modern readers have often misunderstood the apostle’s message due to a lack of familiarity with gift-giving in the ancient world. For example, many interpreters assume all gifts were conferred with “no strings attached” that is, without expectations of reciprocity. Barclay demonstrates that such a perspective is peculiarly modern, influenced especially by Martin Luther:

[Luther’s] distinctive construal of grace constituted a significant break with the Augustinian and medieval tradition, and contributed to the emergence of a new perfection of gift-as “pure altruism” -that has become widely influential in the modern era.

The truth is, Paul’s original audience would not have assumed that giftgiving was motivated by ” pure altruism.” While ancient gifts were bestowed freely, it was also understood that they were imparted with certain expectations. Barclay explains, “It was extremely common in antiquity for recipients of gifts to feel themselves obliged to their donors; in fact this is so much taken for granted that it forms the subject of delicate negotiation from both sides (see Seneca, De beneficiis passim).” 16 As we shall see, this has important implications for unpacking Paul’s teaching about grace and clarifies his view of the cross.21

Grace enables us to return love back to God. This has the ability to side-step the entire monergism vs. synergism debate in justification.22

This account of grace is able to address another major challenge in contemporary Pauline studies, namely, the apparent problem of how, on the one hand, salvation is the result of God’s free gift of grace (for example, Rom. 3:24; 11:6) and, on the other, his clear teaching that works will serve as the criterion of righteousness at the final judgment (for example, Rom. 2:12–13; 2 Cor. 5:10). In light of Barclay’s work, it appears safe to say that it is by means of the gift that those in Christ are enabled to do the works requisite for being declared righteous at the final judgment, making it possible for them to receive eternal life as recompense.17 In sum, Pauline grace operates on the basis of a non-competitive account of divine and human agency. God actually empowers the recipient of the gift so that the very obligations of the gift can be met.

Barclay’s work represents a significant contribution to the complex discussion of divine and human agency in grace, that is, whether the relation-ship should be understood as properly “monergistic” or “synergistic”? Two of Barclay’s students, Kyle Wells and Ben Blackwell, have also made significant contributions regarding Pauline participation. In their work, “participation” is more fully explicated in terms that, on the one hand, maintain a non-competitive account of divine and human agency and, on the other, emphasize the transforming nature of grace.23

And see also here:

In sum, Barclay shows that Paul avoids viewing the divine and human actors as somehow in competition with one another. Instead, the apostle believes God is doing nothing less than transforming human agency. The works believers perform are now truly Christ’s works-but they are not only Christ’s works since believers are “co-workers” with him by grace. Barclay depicts this in terms of “the intertwining of agencies,” going on to highlight many other passages where this dynamic appears evident (cf., e.g., 1Thess1:3; 3:10; 4:10; 5:23-24). 20 This analysis leads Barclay to a startling conclusion:

Grace does not just invite “response” but itself effects the human participation in grace, such that “every good work” can be viewed as the fruit of divine power as much as the product of believers themselves. From this perspective, the old conundrum of justification by grace and judgment by works is perhaps less problematic than is commonly claimed. The works for which believers are accountable at the judgment seat of Christ are themselves the product of the grace that has transformed their agents and empowered their performance.

This is an extremely profound insight and helps to properly situate Paul’s contrast between the torah and the new covenant in 2 Corinthians 3:1-9. The reason that the new covenant must empower obedience is Israel’s corporate ” heart problem,” a problem that the law alone could not solve.24

8. God demands the impossible of us, perfection

What God expects in return from us for His free gift of justification is perfect love. Pefect love is demonstrated through being obedient to His commands: “be perfect as your father in Heaven (Matt. 5:48)” and “If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).”

This call to perfection through grace is exemplified by Jesus in the Gospels in the story of The Rich and the Kingdom of God. Here, we have Jesus answer someone who asks what we need to do to be saved with the call to perfection. Although it sounds impossible to us, Jesus doesn’t respond with “well it is impossible, so I have come to fulfill this request for you and you will be saved through me by faith alone.” Instead, Jesus says, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). With God’s help, we can do the impossible.25

Matthew 19:16-26

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

9. Perfection is impossible on our own, but with God’s grace all things are possible.

As already alluded to above, Matthew 19:16-26 is one of many places that shows us God demands perfect obedience of us and this is impossible for us to do without Him.

Finally, it is worth noting Jesus’ response to the disciples’ complaint about his teaching: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Here we have two critically important ideas. First, believers must do the impossible to be saved: we must be perfect. Jesus holds believers to this same standard in the Sermon on the Mount: “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect ” (Matt. 5:48). Note here that the perfection Jesus points to is not just human perfection but divine perfection (“as your heavenly Father is perfect”). This, obviously, is an unattainable goal for human beings. Second, God makes it possible for us to attain what Jesus is calling us to achieve. With him, somehow, we can do the impossible26.

I think Michael Barber sums this idea well up with a pithy summary here:

If becoming like Christ sounds “difficult,” you are being too optimistic. If this sounds “challenging,” you are missing the point. Humanly speaking, what God calls us to is completely beyond our reach. It is truly impossible.

The good thing is, as Jesus reminds us, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). God makes the impossible possible by his assistance. To make this point the New Testament authors use a critically important word: grace.27

— Michael Barber

This ancient commentary on Matt. 11:28-30 also shows how what seems impossible, with God, is in fact not impossible. This is because Jesus is yoked with us, just like two horses or ox are yoked together to work in the fields. With Jesus yoked to us, our burden becomes light.

Matthew 11:28-30 New International Version (NIV)

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Here is an ancient commentary on Matthew explaining how we are yoked to Jesus:

“My yoke is easy and my burden light…” The prophet says this about the burden of sinners: “Because my iniquities lie on top of my head, so they have also placed a heavy burden on me” (Ps 37:4 LXX). “Place my yoke upon you, and learn from me that I am gentle and humble of heart.” Oh, what a very pleasing weight that strengthens even more those who carry it! For the weight of earthly masters gradually destroys the strength of their servants, but the weight of Christ rather helps the one who bears it, because we do not bear grace; grace bears us.”28

10. Any merit we earn is due to God’s grace, so it is really God’s merit.

Our works don’t merit the gift of justification. As already shown above, justification is a free gift given to us on account of faith in Christ. Our works are our obligation in response to the gift. We keep this gift by doing good works and lose it by failing to do so. But, all of our good works are only possible because God gives us the grace to do them. This is why St. Augustine can say we do not merit for ourselves justification by good works for even our good works are God’s gifts, enabled by His grace.

“If, then, your good merits are God’s gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts.”29

— St. Augustine

11. We cooperate with grace

One of the great mysteries in salvation is how everything is grace, and yet God gave us free will to be able to cooperate with His grace. Though many try to understand how this fits together, we don’t know for sure. But we do know that scripture and the Church teaches it is so.

2 Corinthians 6 New International Version (NIV)

6 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

Here is Augustine explaining that though God created us without our help, he saves us with it. We work with God after initial justification. We work with God in the total process of justification.

“He who made you without your doing does not without your action justify you. Without your knowing He made you, with your willing He justifies you, but it is He who justifies, that the justice be not your own”30

— St. Augustine

2 Corinthians 9:8

8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Blog End

  1. FC Ep. III 4. http://bookofconcord.org/fc-ep.php#III.%20The%20Righteousness%20of%20Faith%20Before%20God. 
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1992 
  3. For more on that well-known Lutheran idea see this article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/luthers-saying/. Here is a quote: “We don’t have record of Luther using the exact phrase, but very close: quia isto articulo stante stat Ecclesia, ruente ruit Ecclesia—“Because if this article [of justification] stands, the church stands; if this article collapses, the church collapses.” (WA 40/3.352.3) Luther certainly expressed the same thought in numerous ways, but this is the closest I’ve seen to the famous quote. 
  4. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/569543b4bfe87360795306d6/t/58dbc5b946c3c49f85078623/1490798012796/White+-+Justification.pdf 
  5. https://www.amazon.com/Engrafted-into-Christ-Declaration-University/dp/0820474088 
  6. https://www.amazon.com/Paul-New-Covenant-Jew-Rethinking/dp/0802873766 
  7. Pelagianism is a heterodox Christian theological position which holds that the original sin did not taint human nature and that humans have the free will to achieve human perfection without divine grace… Pelagianism was decisively condemned at the 418 Council of Carthage and is still regarded as heretical by the Catholic Church. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagianism#:\~:text=Pelagianism%20is%20a%20heterodox%20Christian,human%20perfection%20without%20divine%20grace. While there are many variations of semipelagian thought, the main idea is there is a distinction is made between the beginning of faith and the increase of faith. Semipelagian thought teaches that the latter half — growing in faith — is the work of God, while the beginning of faith is an act of free will, with grace supervening only later.[8] It too was labeled heresy by the Western Church at the Second Council of Orange in 529. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semi-Pelagianism 
  8. Melanchthon. Apology of the Augsburg Confession: IV. 
  9. ibid. 
  10. This isn’t to say that Lutherans weren’t reacting against false teachings of Catholicism. I think this is very likely and a book like Janz, D. (1983). Luther and late medieval Thomism: A study in theological anthropology demonstrates, for instance, how Luther likely was reacting against people that were not teaching Thomas Aquinas as he meant to be taken, in a much more Augustinian fashion. The bigger point for our purposes is that the overall magisterium of the Catholic Church claims indefectibility, that it will not fall into error. This isn’t necessarily true for all individuals throughout church history, though. While Luther may have been right on some particular things (e.g abuses with indulgences), he was not right to publicly disobey the Church and ultimately start his own church. 
  11. Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 228). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. 
  12. Council of Trent. Session VI. 
  13. ibid. 
  14. Formula of Concord. Solid Declaration. III. The Righteousness of Faith. <http://bookofconcord.org/sd-righteousness.php> 
  15. Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 228). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. 
  16. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chap. 3, “On Faith:” Denzinger 1789 (3008). Second Council of Orange, Canon 7: Denzinger 180 (377); First Vatican Council, loc. cit.: Denzinger 1791 (3010). First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chap. 2, “On Revelation:” Denzinger 1786 (3005). Summa contra gentiles (Vol. 4, pp. 190–192), Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum #5-#6. In Vatican II Documents. 
  17. The cleansing of sin is really just a metaphor, as it is more apt to say original sin is a privation of the graces of original justice that Adam and Eve lost when they sinned. We all are lacking this original justice and friendship with God but receive it back at justification when we become united with the Holy Spirit and receive sanctifying grace and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. 
  18. This isn’t to say that all Protestants view justification the same, because they definitely do not! Lutherans, in particular do view justification as a continual process, though they mean something different than Catholics. They mean we are always justified (declared righteous) before God through faith and this happens continously as long as we have faith. Catholics, on the other hand, include our growth in holiness (often called sanctification) as a part of the process of justification. Lutherans make a hard distinction in sanctification and justification is another point of difference between the two views. We will deal with this very topic in a later section. 
  19. Wilkin, R. N., Stanley, A. P., Barber, M., & Schreiner, T. (2013). Four views on the role of works at the Final Judgment. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. loc.190 
  20. John A. Kincaid and Michael Patrick Barber. CONFORMED TO THE IMAGEOF HIS SON”:Participation in Christ as Divine Sonship in Romans 8. Letter & Spirit 10 (2015): 37. ** 
  21. Pitre, B. J., Barber, M. P., Kincaid, J. A., & Gorman, M. J. (2019). Paul, a new covenant Jew: rethinking Pauline theology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 134 
  22. To try and make complex and nuanced positions as simple as possible, monergists generally believe God is the sole actor in our salvation. Humans can contriubute nothing to the process – God gives us faith and God keeps us in the faith. It is all God and no part of man the entire way. Synergists beleive humans contribute something to their salvation by some form of cooperation with God in process. There are several variations on both of these positions and I would argue that the concerns each camp have of each other are not applicable to the Catholic view of grace and justification. 
  23. Pitre, B. J., Barber, M. P., Kincaid, J. A., & Gorman, M. J. (2019). Paul, a new covenant Jew: rethinking Pauline theology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 38-39. 
  24. ibid, p. 167-168. 
  25. Doing the Impossible. To reiterate, achieving salvation through good works is not simply difficult; humanly speaking, it is impossible apart from grace. Jesus underscores this idea in his encounter with a rich man in Matthew 19. Let us take a careful look at the story. The rich man asks Jesus: “Teacher, what good must I do, to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16; cf. Mark 10:17). Strikingly, Jesus does not correct the man for thinking works are necessary to enter eternal life. When Jesus reminds him of the commandments, the young man insists that he has kept them. Remarkably, Jesus accepts this answer. In the end, he tells the man, “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” (Matthew 19:21). Some have suggested that Jesus here is giving a standard Jewish answer and is not speaking directly to his disciples. Yet Matthew’s presentation makes no such distinction (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).Others have argued that the rich man’s salvation itself is not at stake in the story. This is unconvincing. After the man declines Jesus’s invitation and walks away from him, Jesus says that it is “hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24). The disciples then marvel at Jesus’s words and exclaim, “Who then can be saved (sothenai)?” (Matthew 19:25). This leads Jesus to talk about “inheriting eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Throughout the passage there is no doubt that the issue at hand is the man’s very salvation. This is how the Catechism understands the passage (§308 and §1058).When the disciples marvel at Jesus’s words to the rich man, he responds: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The perfection Jesus asks for is something beyond human perfection. Jesus calls his disciples to be perfect “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This, obviously, is an entirely unattainable goal for human beings. Nevertheless, Jesus emphasizes that God makes it possible for us to attain it. With God’s help, somehow, we can do the impossible. \*\*Barber, M. P., & Pitre, B. J. (2019). Salvation: What every Catholic should know. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press. loc. 162\*\* 
  26. Wilkin, R. N., Stanley, A. P., Barber, M., & Schreiner, T. (2013). Four views on the role of works at the Final Judgment. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. loc.196. see also: Barber, M. P., & Pitre, B. J. (2019). Salvation: What every Catholic should know. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press. loc. 162 
  27. Barber, M. P., & Pitre, B. J. (2019). Salvation: What every Catholic should know. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press. loc. 27 
  28. (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 29; trans. M. Simonetti, Matthew, 1.233) 
  29. Augustine, On Grace and Free Will 6. 15. 
  30. (Serm. clxix, c. xi, n.13). Regarding St. Augustine’s doctrine cf. J. Jausbach, “Die Ethik des hl. Augustinus”, II, Freiburg, 1909, pp. 208-58. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08573a.htm 

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