The Seed of Glory: Catholic Teaching on Theology of Grace Pt. 2.1 – Cardiac Righteousness

by Aug 7, 20210 comments

2. Modern Catholic Theologians on Romans 4 and The Nature of Grace

Link to the full series of posts here.

2.1 John Kincaid on Cardiac Righteousness

A man’s works are not proportioned to causing the habit of this righteousness; rather, a man’s heart needs first to be justified inwardly by God, so that he can perform works proportioned to divine glory.[1]

Cardiac Righteousness – the Key to Understanding Catholic Soteriology

Of all the ideas surrounding Catholic teaching on soteriology, I would say the cornerstone idea is, as Catholic Theologian John Kincaid calls it, cardiac righteousness. It is worth setting the entire stage of the following discussion with this idea in mind. Here is the idea laid out from a very helpful article by John Kincaid in the 2017 Letter & Spirit Journal which we will spend more time with further below:

For our overarching purpose of seeking to illuminate how Augustine’s account of justification can help the post-Sanders world of Pauline scholarship, it is important to ascertain how is it possible that, being justified by grace, the believer is able to “fulfill the law.”

In order to answer this question, it is helpful to return briefly to Augustine’s previous statement that righteousness is both a gift and a human activity. What makes such a noncompetitive account of divine and human agency possible for Augustine? First and foremost, it centers on the role of the Spirit. Augustine states that, through the work of the Spirit, the will of the believer is “helped and raised up.”23 In fact, Augustine follows Paul’s language in Romans 3:27–31 and suggests that through the law of faith believers are able to accomplish what the law commands.24 At another point, Augustine connects these various pieces together and suggests that, “The law is not done away with, but strengthened by faith, because faith obtains the grace by which we fulfill the law. In the same way, free choice is not done away with by grace, but strengthened, because grace heals the will by which we freely love righteousness.”25 After citing 2 Corinthians 3:3, in section 17.30 Augustine underscores the difference between the Mosaic law and the new covenant by suggesting that while the Mosaic law is written outside of human beings, the life of the new covenant “is written in human beings so that it justifies from within.”26 Augustine further clarifies what this means, namely, that God transforms the hearts of believers by grace and so justifies them, for “the New Testament he calls the ministry of the Spirit and the ministry of righteousness, because through the gift of the Spirit we do the works of righteousness.”27 In fact, Augustine continues to argue that Paul’s account of salvation directly aligns with Jeremiah and his promise that God would write the law on the heart in the age of the new covenant.28 It is here that Augustine’s account is able build on the insights of both Barclay and Gorman by further specifying how justification actualizes character renovation in the believer. I would suggest that Augustine’s account of justification can be summarized as follows: the saving righteousness of God is a “cardiac righteousness” that is comprehensively empowered by grace and operative by the virtue of faith through the Spirit.29 Augustine’s account sharpens Gorman’s by highlighting that justification brings the promised cardiac righteousness of the new covenant while also sharpening Barclay’s contribution by arguing that just actions are both entirely a gift and completely our own, produced by a comprehensive empowerment.[2]

How is grace a gift and a principle of free human action? Kincaid says that Augustine teaches it is through God’s grace poured into our hearts that our wills are healed allowing us to then keep/fulfill God’s law. This grace is not earned; it is freely given at our initial justification apart from any works we do (think how true this is for infants when we baptize them!).

Augustine certainly would agree with Barclay to a degree: nothing good lies in believers that is not a gift and, in particular, that believers are entirely dependent upon God’s gift of Christ crucified. However, Augustine’s principle that grace is a gift that is most our own allows him not to downplay the reality of graced faith in the believer, viewing faith rather as a virtue that grants the believer a divinely empowered capacity for obedience. It would be a mistake to read Augustine as suggesting that God gives the power and then leaves believers to act autonomously. Rather, all acts are both fully a gift and fully our own, produced by a comprehensive empowerment. We can see this dynamic at work when Augustine turns to address the Pelagian claim that one is able, through the effort of the will and the guidance of the law alone, to achieve righteousness.19 In response, Augustine draws on Romans 5:5 and claims that the Holy Spirit must be poured into one’s heart in order to achieve righteousness.20 In order to validate this claim, Augustine draws on 2 Corinthians 3, particularly 3:6—“the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Rather than taking 2 Corinthians 3:6 as a hermeneutical principle, in The Spirit and the Letter Augustine takes it as principally a soteriological one, and, as a result, makes a particularly Pauline argument that true righteousness is possible only as a divine gift through the work of the Spirit. In section 5.7 Augustine states that “human righteousness itself must be attributed to the action of God, though it is not attained without the human will.”21 In drawing on Romans to highlight the rationale as to why the law is unable to produce righteousness, Augustine notes:

But notice, people, what follows: “But now the righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the law, though the law and prophets have borne witness to it” (Rom 3:21). Is that not loud enough for deaf ears? He says, “the righteousness of God has been revealed.” This is the righteousness to which they [Pelagians] refuse to be subject. He said, “The righteousness of God has been revealed.” He did not say: The righteousness of human beings or of our own will. He said: “The righteousness of God,” not that by which God is righteous, but that with which he clothes a human being when he justifies a sinner…. They were not, then, justified by the law; they were not justified by their own will, but gratuitously justified by his grace. It is not that this comes about without our will; rather, the law shows that our will is weak so that grace may heal our will and so that a healthy will may fulfill the law, without being subject to the law or in need of the law.22[3]

FN: 22 Augustine, De spiritu et littera 9.15 (CSEL 60:167–8):

It is highly important to note here that Augustine states this righteousness of God given to believers is not “that by which God is righteous”. This is the same idea that is picked up by the Council of Trent when they say “the alone formal cause [of justification] is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just…(Trent Session VI Chapter VII). Here, is obviously a big difference from Lutherans who think it is Christ’s very own righteousness imputed to us that God declares us righteousness by.

Also note that while Augustine says God “clothes” a human being he is most certainly not speaking of an extrinsic righteousness as he will again and again say he is talking specifically about a righteousness that is infused inside the believer to heal them.

Kincaid goes on to show that the metaphor with the heart is used because in the Old Testament, “The heart (καρδία) is the inner core of the embodied person, the primary place of either obedience or rebellion. As a result, it stands as one of the central metaphors in Israel’s scriptures. In fact, true obedience to the law must come from the heart, and perhaps no part of Israel’s scriptures makes that as clear as Deuteronomy (Kincaid, p. 48).”

Ezekiel - Wikipedia

Kincaid then gives some examples from Deuteronomy that show this connection to the heart. This leads us to why it is likely that the prophets Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:33) and Ezekiel (Ez. 36:25–27) spoke of God writing the law on our hearts, pointing forward to the time when God would restore man through an inner grace instead of the external law.

This Deuteronomic tradition helped to shape the eschatological hope mentioned above in Jeremiah and Ezekiel that God would solve Israel’s corporate heart problem upon return from exile.34 In fact, Jeremiah records the promise that God will establish a new covenant wherein Israel will no longer be subject to the condemnation that follows from ἀδικία (unrighteousness), for the law will be written on their corporate heart (Jer 31:33–34 [LXX: 38:33–34]). It should come as no surprise that the heart plays an important role in Paul’s corpus. It is the location where the Spirit resides in believers (Gal 4:6; Rom 5:5), as well as an object of assessment at the final judgment (Rom 2:5; 1 Cor 4:4; see also 1 Thess 2:4; 3:13).[4]

Finally, Kincaid connects all these ideas of cardiac righteousness to some specific ideas in Paul’s writings. He does so by looking closely at 2 Corinthians 3:1–11:

In light of Paul’s use of the term “condemnation” (κατάκρισις) for the first side of the antithesis in 3:9a, there seems to be a clear juridical bent to Paul’s use of δικαιοσύνη in 3:9b. In general, κατάκρισις means “a judicial verdict involving a penalty, condemnation,”38 which is how Paul employs the term later in the same letter (cf. 2 Cor 7:3). Before moving to the second side of the antithesis, it is important to ask on what basis this juridical verdict is made in 3:9a. The answer is not explicitly given in the passage itself, although the answer is implied in 2 Corinthians 3:2–3. The ministry of condemnation comes on tablets of stone, and this is a problem because of Israel’s heart problem, referred to by Ezekiel as hearts of “stone” (Ezek 36:26).39 As a result, the Torah is a ministry of condemnation because it is unable to effect heart renovation. As Richard Hays notes:

The problem with this old covenant is precisely that it is (only) written, lacking the power to effect the obedience it commands. Since it has no power to transform the readers, it can only stand as a witness to their condemnation. That is why Paul remarks aphoristically, “The script kills, but the Spirit gives life” (cf. Rom 7:6–8:4). As Paul’s earlier allusion to Ezekiel 36 and 37 indicates, the life-giving power of the Spirit is shown forth precisely in the creation of the enfleshed eschatological community. That is the sense in which the Corinthians are a letter from Christ: they are a breathing instantiation of the word of God. Paul is a minister of the new covenant of the Spirit because he proclaims the message that brings this eschatological community into being.40

To build directly on Hays’s suggestion, the letter from Christ is written by the Spirit on the tablets of “fleshly” hearts, the same language used by Ezekiel to describe how God overcomes Israel’s heart problem (Ezek 36:26). As a result, it appears to follow that the ministry of righteousness is the work of the Spirit within the new covenant community producing the promised heart renovation of Deuteronomy 30:1–6; Jeremiah 31:31–34, and Ezekiel 36–37. If so, it also seems right to conclude that Paul’s ministry of righteousness actualizes righteousness within the hearts of believers in a way that could be termed the “cardiac righteousness” of the new covenant. This is not to negate a juridical element to Paul’s use of both condemnation (κατάκρισις) and righteousness (δικαιοσύνη). Rather, it is to highlight that Paul’s a fortiori argument requires a genuine moral realism in order to overcome the ministry of condemnation (at the final judgment), for as we just noted, the heart will be judged at the final judgment (Rom 2:5).

The apparent moral realism of Paul’s use of δικαιοσύνη in 2 Corinthians 3:9 is remarkably consistent with the moral nature of δικαιοσύνη language in antiquity, as can be seen both throughout the Septuagint and in various Hellenistic sources. For instance, it was commonplace to regard δικαιοσύνη as a moral quality or virtue, as can be seen in Aristotle’s definition of what “everybody means by justice” when he states, “Now we observe that everybody means by justice (δικαιοσύνην) that moral disposition which renders men to do just things, and which causes them to act justly and to wish that which is just.”41 While one may be tempted to dismiss this account of δικαιοσύνη as merely “Hellenistic,” it bears a certain resemblance to a common way of accounting for δικαιοσύνη in the Septuagint.42 To offer a few examples, in Genesis 18:19 the Lord states that Abraham will teach his sons to keep his ways, that is, “by doing righteousness” (δικαιοσύνην), and two chapters later Abimelech pleads his moral rectitude toward Sarah by saying he acted with both a “pure heart” and “righteousness of hands” (ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ χειρῶν; LXX: Gen 20:5). In fact, Deuteronomy 9:5 states that it was not due to Israel’s righteousness or holiness of heart that they came to inherit the land of Canaan; it was due to God’s faithfulness to Abraham. Moreover, in 1 Samuel (LXX: 1 Kingdoms) 26:23 David tells Saul that God will return to each “his righteous deeds and his faith” (τὰς δικαιοσύνας αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν πίστιν αὐτοῦ), while in 1 Maccabees 14:35, the people see the faith of Simon (τὴν πίστιν τοῦ Σίμωνος) and make him high priest due to the righteousness and faith (τὴν δικαιοσύνην καὶ τὴν πίστιν) he preserved in the nation. Many more examples could be marshaled, but suffice it to say, δικαιοσύνη very often carries with it moral weight in the Septuagint and could rightly be called a virtue in its own right.43 Therefore, when Paul speaks about the ministry of righteousness, I would contend that this ministry brings about the justification of believers by what could be termed the “cardiac righteousness” of the new covenant. With this being said, there are three alternative ways of accounting for Paul’s ministry of righteousness that need to be addressed in order for our reading to stand.[5]

Paul, a New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology | Logos Bible Software

Here is a good summary of these same ideas from a book Kincaid co-wrote with three other prominent Catholic theologians, Paul: A New Covenant Jew: rethinking Pauline theology:

This appears confirmed by the wider context of 2 Corinthians 3. As we have seen, Paul contrasts the manner in which the two covenants are written-while the torah is written on tablets of stone, the new covenant is written on tablets of human hearts (2 Cor 3:3). As a result, the ministry of condemnation is one that operates on the basis of a “ juridical realism.” The legal condemnation Paul speaks of is aligned with the reality of Israel’s heart problem. When Paul speaks of the torah as a “ ministry of condemnation,” he is employing the word katakrisis (condemnation) with both juridical and moral implications-the legal decree of condemnation is inextricably bound up with actual disobedience.

The implications of this should not be glossed over. For the “ministry of condemnation” to be overcome, the new covenant “ ministry of righteousness” -mentioned in the same verse-must also be both juridical and concerned with the moral character of the believer. If the ministry of righteousness is only juridical and not moral, then it suffers from the very same problem as the ministry of condemnation, namely, it is only extrinsic. If this is so, the problem that the new covenant is meant to rectify is not solved because the heart remains unchanged. But Paul maintains that his new covenant ministry is one that is written “ on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor 3:3) and, as a result, is able to accomplish what “ the ministry of condemnation” could not. It seems safe to conclude, therefore, that Paul’s ministry of righteousness involves this heart-writing effected by the Spirit such that new covenant justification can rightly be said to be by “cardiac righteousness.” This cardiac righteousness must therefore be both juridical and moral at the same time.

This approach, which views “ the ministry of righteousness” as having both a juridical and moral dimension, aligns well with the way terms relating to “righteousness” are used in the scriptures of Israel. As Stephen Westerholm rightly notes, righteousness language is there indisputably connected to a person’s character. The Hebrew term for “righteous” (tzaddiq) is used for the person “ who does what he or she is morally bound to do.” Westerholm goes on to point out that the deeds performed by such a person are specifically spoken of as “righteousness” (tzedeqah). 32 Moreover, in the description of the faithful person, the term “righteous” (tzaddiq) is used in parallel with the notions of being “blameless” (Gen 6:9; ]ob 12:4), “ innocent” (Job 22:19; Ps 94:21), and, notably for our discussion above, “upright in heart” (Pss 32:11; 64:10 [MT 64:11]; 97:u). The opposite of being “ righteous” is being “wicked” (Gen 18:25; Ps 1:6). Westerholm thus says, “The first thing to be said about these words [i.e., terms relating to ”righteousness“] is that they are perhaps the most basic terms in the ethical vocabulary of the Hebrew language. ”33

Of course, the Greek term Paul uses for righteousness is dikaiosyne. In support of our argument, it is important to note that ancient writers commonly used it to signify the moral quality or “virtue” of justice. For example, Aristotle indicates that “everybody” took it as a reference to virtue. 34 The Septuagint, the Greek translation of Israel’s scriptures, mirrors this understanding of the word. For example, in Genesis 18:19 the Lord states that Abraham will teach his sons to keep his ways, which is described as “doing righteousness” (dikaiosyne). Two chapters later, Abimelech defends his moral rectitude by saying he acted with both a “ pure heart” (kardia) and “righteousness [dikaiosyne] of hands” (Gen 20:5 LXX). Numerous other examples could be piled up. 35 Therefore, if Paul used the term “righteousness” to signify only juridical right standing, he would have been using it in an unexpected way-even in a way that contradicted its meaning in the scriptures of Israel.[6]

So how does Kincaid deal with the counter argument that Paul is not speaking about an internal, cardiac righteousness, but is rather speaking of a purely extrinsic, imputed righteousness? Here, Kincaid gives what I find to be very compelling alternative readings to the imputation of external righteousness interpretations of the same passages.

The third and final alternative view is the most comprehensive of all: justification occurs through the exclusively extrinsic imputation of Christ’s righteousness.46 As for the biblical rationale for imputation, scholars normally base their case on a number of passages from the Pauline corpus, particularly 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:2–11; 1 Corinthians 1:30, and Romans 4:3–5, together with Paul’s use of the verb δικαιόω. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul states that Christ was made to be sin and, in him, believers become the righteousness of God. In short, the argument is that just as Christ was considered to be a sinner and was not, so believers are only considered to have righteousness. As for Philippians 3:2–11, it is argued that Paul states that he does not have a righteousness of his own, but that which comes through Jesus Christ. The source of this exclusively extrinsic righteousness can be found in 1 Corinthians 1:30, where Paul states that Christ is “our righteousness.” Proponents of the old perspective account of imputation argue that an exclusively alien righteousness is necessary due to the sinfulness of man, for no one can be justified by the works of the law (Rom 3:20), but instead only by a faith like Abraham’s in Romans 4:3–5.

In reply to the case for an exclusively extrinsic imputation of Christ’s righteousness, it is important to state up front that in 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:2–11, and 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul is indeed arguing that believers’ righteousness is extrinsic and alien in origin, for it comes through Christ, who is “our righteousness.” However, nowhere does Paul argue for an exclusively extrinsic imputation of Christ righteousness, but only that it is extrinsic in origin. In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul’s statement about Christ being “our righteousness” says nothing about whether that righteousness remains extrinsic to the believer, only that it is originally extrinsic. In fact, the passage itself points toward a transformative reception of righteousness, for Christ is not only the source of the Corinthians’ “righteousness” but also their “holiness.” As a result, if believers receive real holiness from Christ, why would they not also receive real righteousness?47

As for Philippians 3:2–11, it is important to recognize that the primary contrast Paul is making is between two different sources of righteousness: righteousness through the law and righteousness through faith in Christ. As Jean Noël Aletti notes, “the believer’s justice is not exterior to himself, only its origin, which may be either the Law or God.”48 Instead, the righteousness that Paul has from Christ comes by means of faith, and as we will see below, Pauline faith includes fidelity. As for 2 Corinthians 5:21, it is crucial to recognize that Christ “becoming sin” is directly connected to the sacrifice of the Cross. This means that God did not merely consider Christ as having died for sin, but Christ really bore in his body the consequences of sin on the cross. In fact, I would argue that becoming “sin” in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is very likely a “sin-offering,” meaning that Christ’s sacrifice was “atoning.” As Jay Sklar has shown, atoning sacrifice in the Old Testament both pays the penalty of sin and purifies the worshipper, such that atoning sacrifice is inherently transformative.49 Viewing Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice helps to clarify Paul’s statement in the second half of 2 Corinthians 5:21 that believers become the righteousness of God.50 Since Christ’s death is an atoning sacrifice, it should come as no surprise that Paul could state that believers actually become the righteousness of God, for the gift of Christ’s death is able to be applied to believers such that they are empowered to become truly righteous. This leaves only Romans 4:3–5, the most difficult of the four passages. To rightly account for its content requires accounting for πίστις (faith).[7]

And here is how Kincaid explains how cardiac righteousness fits into the reading of Romans 4. The short answer is “pistis” is a much more complex word than some may see at first glance. It can rightfully be thought of also as “faithfulness” and that faith brings about a real physical righteousness.

As the recent work of Teresa Morgan has ably demonstrated, πίστις (faith) language in antiquity signified more than simply belief in content or persons. While πίστις language is employed to signify belief, it is also employed to signify both trust and fidelity or faithfulness. Ranging from friendships, patron–client relationships, military oaths, and familial bonds to divine–human relationships, πίστις language is used to signify a virtue of profound social, political, and cultic significance.51 In general, Morgan concludes that πίστις is never used “purely in instrumental terms. It is always a virtue: an intrinsic good; an end as well as a means.”52 For our purposes, it is particularly important to note that the Septuagint employs πίστις language in a similar manner.53 As we noted above, in 1 Samuel (1 Kingdoms) 26:23, David tells Saul that God will return to each “his righteous deeds and his faith” (τὰς δικαιοσύνας αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν πίστιν αὐτοῦ), while in 1 Maccabees 14:35, the people see the faith of Simon (τὴν πίστιν τοῦ Σίμωνος) and make him high priest due to the righteousness and faith (τὴν δικαιοσύνην καὶ τὴν πίστιν) he preserved in the nation.54 As Morgan notes, “overtones of both hope and obedience are common in Septuagintal pistis language; above all, obedience to God and hope in what Israel’s relationship with God will bring.”55

In turning now to Paul’s use of πίστις language, we find that he employs the term in ways that demonstrate both profound continuity and Christocentric discontinuity (uniqueness) with his wider context. As for continuity, Paul employs πίστις language to signify not only content believed and personal trust, but also fidelity.56 In fact, God himself has πίστις in Romans 3:3. As for Paul’s Christocentric discontinuity with his wider context, Paul employs πίστις language in a properly apocalyptic manner to signify the “revelation” of an eschatological age defined by the coming of God’s own Son. In fact, in Galatians 3:23–25, Paul uses πίστις and Christ interchangeably, such that he can speak of the revelation of the coming of faith together with the coming of Christ. Therefore, it is important to recognize that Pauline πίστις cannot to be limited simply to belief in Christ, but is remarkably comprehensive and Christocentric. As for comprehensive: Paul tells the Galatians that his entire existence in Christ is defined by living by faith (Gal 2:20–21), yet that is not to be simply unique to Paul, for he tells the Romans that anything that does not come from faith is a sin (Rom 14:23). As for Christocentric: not only is Christ the object of faith within the Pauline corpus, but in Galatians 3:23–25, he is faith.57 As a result, it seems right to connect Paul’s statements about Christ’s entire life of obedience to his identity as “faith” in Galatians 3:23–25, such that Pauline faith entails full obedience to the will of God. Or as Paul himself puts it, he himself is called as an apostle to call all nations “to the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5).

In summarizing faith in the Pauline corpus, Joseph Fitzmyer rightly suggests that, in the end, Pauline faith “far transcends the OT idea of fidelity.”58 This accords very well with our analysis of the cardiac righteousness of the new covenant noted above, for true πίστις allows one to live according to the righteousness called for by the law, or put differently, to have the law written on one’s heart. In Romans 10:10, after a Christocentric rereading of Deuteronomy 30:12, 14, Paul states that whoever believes in their heart has righteousness. In light of the close proximity of Deuteronomy 30:12 and 14 to Deuteronomy 30:6, it is certainly plausible to suggest that one’s heart is circumcised through justifying faith. However, it is also clear that faith comes only by grace (Rom 12:3), a grace that is both comprehensive and empowering (1 Cor 15:8–10; Eph 2:8–10). As a result, when Abraham believes God and it is considered righteousness (Rom 4:3–5), it is Abraham’s faith that allows the divine reckoning to be realistic, for as Paul states just verses before, faith upholds rather than nullifies the law (Rom 3:31). Therefore, when one has true faith they have true righteousness.[8]

Dr. John Kincaid | University of Mary

Dr. John Kincaid | University of Mary

Kincaid goes on to say that because Paul is speaking of a real ontological justification in Romans 2:13, we can likewise make a connection to Romans 4 in that Paul is also speaking of being made righteous via a cardiac righteousness (circumcision of the heart). He also connects this cardiac righteousness to baptism. Of course, Paul also does speak of justification juridically in some instances, but Paul doesn’t seem to mean to limit justification to a purely forensic nature – it is just one aspect of a multi faceted reality of how we are saved by God from our sins.

In light of our analysis to date, we are in the position to offer an admittedly preliminary response to the objection that Paul’s use of the verb δικαιόω cannot be reconciled with our account of cardiac righteousness. There is no doubt that Paul employs the verb δικαιόω juridically, particularly in Romans 2:13. However, Paul is not employing δικαιόω in reference to Christ or Christ’s righteousness, but in regard to believers, and in particular in regard to their works in accord with their heart. As a result, it is crucial to highlight that Paul’s use of δικαιόω in Romans 2:13 is realistic, not counterfactual. The significance of this point cannot be overestimated for rightly accounting for Pauline justification, for as many scholars across a wide range of Pauline perspectives suggest (old perspective in particular), justification is something like a preview of the final judgment. If this is correct and the final judgment of the “righteous” is in accord with having cardiac righteousness, then it would seem to follow that justification must include the cardiac righteousness required to be accounted righteous at the final judgment. However, it is possible to object to this line of reasoning and suggest that Paul’s use of the verb δικαιόω is normally in reference to faith rather than works as in Romans 2:13, a passage that some scholars argue is meant by Paul as a hypothetical.60 In reply, in light of the nature of Pauline faith itself, when one has true faith they also have true cardiac righteousness, for Pauline faith includes fidelity/obedience. As a result, when Paul employs δικαιόω in regard to one who has faith, it functions much as it does in Romans 2:13, where it is realistic rather than exclusively counterfactual.61 What is more, it is absolutely clear that Paul does hold to a real judgment by works, for in a context unrelated to setting up a merely hypothetical scenario, Paul states that each person will receive recompense from Christ at the final judgment according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:9–10). Therefore, it is my contention that Paul employs the verb δικαιόω realistically, that is, in a manner that either confirms or creates the cardiac righteousness that comes by faith.62

A realistic account of δικαιόω is also confirmed by the way Paul’s use of the verb is connected to cultic settings, especially in connection with baptism in Romans 6:7, in 1 Corinthians 6:11, and in Galatians 3:24, 27. As Prothro rightly notes:

In every undisputed letter in which δικαιόω occurs, it occurs in proximity to baptismal traditions (1 Cor 6:11; Gal 3:24, 27; Rom 6:3–4, 7). This connection extends beyond Paul’s Law-polemic, which is not prominent in 1 Cor and is certainly not the impetus for his justification-talk there. Especially given that in these letters Paul assumes his audiences have been baptized, it is unsurprising if Paul assumed they would have been familiar with his vocabulary.63

As a result of such a connection between baptism and δικαιόω, Douglas Campbell has suggested that δικαιόω is employed by Paul in a baptismal manner, exclaiming: “How much changes if we carry this liberative, ‘baptismal,’ and basically ‘resurrectional’ meaning of the verb δικαιόω into the other texts where it occurs in Paul!”64[9]

And here is Kincaid’s conclusion that Augustine and Paul taught a cardiac righteousness that is both a gift and an activity in believers empowering them to do the good works required at the final judgement:

As for what an Augustinian reading of justification offers the world of contemporary Pauline scholarship, I would suggest that it is able to connect together aspects of Pauline justification that are often disconnected, particularly the juridical and moral dimensions of Pauline δικαιοσύνη and initial justification by grace and final judgment by works. The reason that Augustine is able to connect these areas together is his understanding of grace as both entirely a gift and entirely belonging to the believer. Through the gift of cardiac righteousness, believers are both truly righteous and comprehensively empowered to do the works required to be righteous at the final judgment. As a result, it is my contention that an important way forward for the post-Sanders justification debate is to look back, not to the old perspective on Pauline justification, but to the ancient perspective, particularly as articulated by Augustine.[10]

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.


Blog End


  1. Thomas Aquinas, Lectures on the Letter to the Romans (trans. Fabian Larcher, O.P.; available online at the website of Nova et Vetera: The English Edition of the International Theological Journal,,4; lect. 1.  ↩
  2. Kincaid, J. A. (2017). New Covenant Justification by Cardiac Righteousness: An Augustinian Perspective on Pauline Justification. Letter & Spirit, 12, 40–44.  ↩
  3. ibid. p. 42–43.  ↩
  4. ibid. p. 48.  ↩
  5. ibid. p. 49–51.  ↩
  6. **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. 172–174**  ↩
  7. Kincaid, J. A. (2017). New Covenant Justification by Cardiac Righteousness: An Augustinian Perspective on Pauline Justification. Letter & Spirit, 12, 51–53.  ↩
  8. ibid. p. 53–55.  ↩
  9. ibid. p. 53–57  ↩
  10. ibid. p. 57–58  ↩

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