This article of Justification focuses on the book of Romans. Click on the
underlined sections to go to that section. The sections are:
“…as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one
understands, no one seeks for God.' ” RSV
Some people look to Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, 3:10-12 as a
defense for the doctrine of “justification by faith alone.” They state that it
proves that no one can do good, and everyone is evil, and that even when we are
Justified by Christ’s grace our sin is only covered over, that we remain full of
sin. To verify what Saint Paul’s intended point might have been we must examine
the original context. The above quote comes from the Book of Psalms, chapter 14.
For fuller context examine chapters 10- 14, especially the verses below.
From the fuller context of chapter 14 in the Book of Psalms we can see that that there are two groups of people. The group of “evildoers” does not comprise the total population of the earth. If it did there could be no “my people” that were persecuted by them. In Psalm 14 King David was pointing out that the fools who do not seek God are all going astray and all doing evil. He is calling upon the Lord to deliver His “my people” from these evildoers.
So, the “All” in “there is no one who seeks God. All have gone
astray…” (Romans 3:11-12 NAB) is a reference to the “fools,”
“the children of men” who do not avail themselves of the help of God’s
grace as opposed to the “children of God.” It is only by the
grace of God that man is able to do God’s will. An individual must
get out of the family of “Adam” (which means man) and into the family of
God. 1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ
shall all be made alive. Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the
Spirit of God are sons of God. RSV
Psalm 14 exemplifies two fundamentally different ways of living. There are:
those who seek God and the help of His grace and are thereby enabled by it to act in a way pleasing to Him, to do good, and be called “my people. ”
Mankind, separated from God and from the help of His grace, is evil and wicked. They persecute God’s people, the generation of the righteous - the second group of people. God’s people are enabled to be righteous because they do seek after God and they avail themselves of the grace that He provides. (Saint Paul points to Abraham as an example of this second group.)
Psalm 14 shows that the group of evil doers, which are characterized as
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God,” does
not comprise the total population of the earth. We know that Saint Paul does not
quote a verse out of context and contrary to its original meaning because that
would be counter productive with the Jews to whom he was speaking. So, Saint
Paul’s point is not that everyone is intrinsically evil and that it is
completely impossible for us to do good - to obey the moral commandments of God.
King David’s life is filled with evils and wars brought on by even his fellow Jews. Saul and his own son Absalom fought against him. Even some Jews were evil ! Therefore, Saint Paul’s point in quoting Psalm 14 in his letter to the Romans is that just because Jews are the descendants of Abraham ( according to the flesh), that does not make them justified. Rather, it is only by faith in God that will avail them of His grace that will enable them to do His will and be justified.
1 Corinthians 6:11
ROMANS 3: 28 - WORKS OF THE LAW VERSES GOOD WORKS
Protestants quote this verse to support their view of Justification by faith alone apart from good works. Many Protestants misunderstand the Catholic Church on this and many of Her other doctrines. They mistakenly believe that Catholicism teaches that a person can earn his salvation and that “good works” are what we do to add to the grace of Christ so that we can be saved. So, three things must be examined in order to consider the accuracy of these Protestant perceptions: 1) the official teachings of the Catholic Church, 2) the meaning of the term “good works,” and 3) the meaning of the phrase “apart from works of the law.”
Justification is a free gift from God. We could never earn it by our own works. There was a heresy called Pelagianism that said a man could work out his salvation by his own efforts. This was condemned by the Catholic Church in the sixth century at the Council of Orange.
And on the Catholic notion of merit the Second Council of Orange stated in
Council of Trent
On January 13, 1547 during the Council of Trent, in the sixth session a Decree On Justification was issued. In Chapter 8 it states,
Some Protestants seem to view justifying grace as something that God
rewards to those who make their choice to have faith in Christ. Whereas,
Catholics view that anything that a man does solely on his own does not result
in or lead to his Justification. Only supernatural faith is a true and
saving faith and that is only possible with the aid of God's grace. Thus,
supernatural faith is a gift that can never be earned. So, the
process of infant Baptism
more clearly shows this freely given aspect of our Salvation. At Baptism
the person (child) is freely given the supernatural gifts of Faith, Hope, and
Charity - the theological virtues. Without the grace of Jesus Christ no
one can enter heaven.
From the above quotation we can see that there are two types of works. There are works that we can do on our own - such as works of the law - which do not save us, and there are “good works” that are only made possible by the infinite power of God’s grace working in our lives.
We know that “good works” are truly good because the Bible tells us that they are “good.” The reason that they are good is because they are the works of God through us. We are not capable of doing “good works” apart from the grace of God, since they are a manifestation of His grace in us. All that is good has God as its origin.
Having faith is a good work that we must do.
The Council of Trent in the sixth session celebrated on the thirteenth day of the month of January, 1547, on its Decree On Justification, chapter XVI, states,
God does not force us to accept His grace. We assent to it by our ongoing yes to Him. Our good works is not some intrinsic good that is added to Christ’s work, rather it is the grace of Christ working through us. However, we must assent to accepting God’s grace in order for this to happen. But, even our Faith and our assenting to God’s grace is only made possible by the help of His grace. God gives to us the gift of free will to accept His grace or to reject it. In our Justification, or Sanctification God's grace is involved from beginning to end. His grace not only enables us to do His will, but it is even necessary to prompt us to choose to do it. So, therefore our good works are a manifestation of His Grace. And it is His grace that makes our faith a truly supernatural, and saving faith.
Catholics do not believe that our works are necessarily of value. This is also true of our faith. If either is of value it is only because God has graciously decided to make it so. They can be made meritorious, truly good, only by God’s grace. Only by grace are they raised to a supernatural and Holy level. When God connects them to Christ and the Cross they become truly good works and saving faith. “Grace… ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men” (CCC 2011). It is God’s grace working through us that enables our works and faith to be pleasing to Him. Augustine put it this way, “All our good merits are wrought through grace, so that God, in crowning our merits, is crowning nothing but his gifts.” We must cooperate with God’s gift of grace: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” (1 Th 5:19).
Justification may seem complicated at first, but it is as simple as a
child obeying his father because he has faith in his father to save and protect
him. God says to obey the moral commandments. To have faith in God
is to believe that His way is best. When I disobey I am showing that
I am no longer walking in [perfect] faith. That is, if I sin
in a serious way, mortal sin, I am saying that I believe this way other
than God's way is better for me and hence, this is a rejection of faith.
True faith involves doing the moral law, by God's grace working in love in us
for Him. We cannot separate faith and good works as Martin Luther
tried to do. The Bible never uses the term “good works”
in a context outside of faith and God's grace.
Justification involves the opening of ourselves to the workings of God in our lives - good works.
Isaiah 55:11 “…so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
God’s word manifests whatever it declares. When God declares us to be justified we actually become justified.
We see that justification is an ongoing process involving obedience and the doing of good works. The source of goodness of these good works is the grace that was won for us by Jesus Christ. Further, this verse shows that this grace is not just imputed, that is covering over us, as Protestants contend, but actually infused, that is within us.
Sin is a spiritual disease. God’s grace not only forgives us, but it also heals us of this retched state by removing our sin. To fail to appreciate the power of God’s grace is a mistake. We are not only covered by His righteousness, but we are also filled with His righteousness, His Grace, or in other words His Life. His grace transforms us and makes us righteous. He washes us clean as snow.
Psalm 51:7 (verse 9 in NAB)
He makes us holy. To be filled with His grace involves picking up our cross and following Him. It means to die to our sins. If we really have faith in God then we believe that His way is best and out of love we choose His way instead of sin. In the book of Revelation we read that in order to enter heaven we must not only have our sins forgiven but we must also be transformed from the inside, by God’s grace, to be pure and without sin.
1 Corinthians 13:2
If we are justified by “faith alone,” then, Saint Paul would have been
constrained to say that, if we only have faith, then at least we are justified.
OLD TESTAMENT CEREMONIAL RITUAL LAWS AND THE MORAL LAW
1 Corinthians 9:20-21
In order to help win their conversion Saint Paul identifies himself with the Jews, who are “under the law” that is, the Old Testament ceremonial laws, even though he, himself was not bound by them. He also identifies himself with the Gentiles who are not bound by these laws. However, he also says that he is bound by the “law of Christ” - which is the moral law of the 10 commandments. So, here we can see the term “the law” being used to mean two different things, the Old Testament ceremonial law, and the law of Christ.
The “law of Christ” is keeping the 10 commandments.
This quotation from Hebrews is an example of “the law” being used to mean the Old Testament ceremonial ritual law rather than the Moral Law. The Levitical priesthood (see Ex. 32:29, Deut. 9:16, 10:8, and 18:1.) comes after the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. The Moral Law - the 10 commandments - comes before it. Therefore, the “Law,” which was received under the Levitical priesthood, can’t mean the moral law. Instead, it means the Old Testament ceremonial ritual laws, e.g. the animal sacrifices, circumcision, dietary and Levitical observances, etc. See Leviticus. Again this illustrates the two different “laws ” that the Bible speaks about. (Deuteronomy comes from “deutero” - meaning second, and “nomy” - meaning law.)
Galatians chapter three states how we are justified by faith and not by “works of the law.”
From the context of Galatians, see below, we can see that the “works of the Law” refers to the Old Testament ritual laws like circumcision
The Judaizers had claimed that all of the Old Testament rituals, “works of the law,” like circumcision were a requirement for Christians. Saint Paul corrects this by contrasting the two types of works. Notice that Saint Paul does not separate faith from good works done in love, that is, with the empowerment of God’s grace.
The phrase “works of the law.“
When interpreting Romans 3: 28 we need to find out what Paul means by the phrase “works of the law.” We want to consider the context. Paul is talking about “circumcision.” He is explaining what circumcision means and what it doesn’t mean. He was correcting the misunderstanding of the Jews of his day who thought that circumcision had assured their justification before God, and was a requirement even for the Gentiles. In Romans 2: 25 through 3:1 he mentions circumcision ten times.
The phrase “works of the law” primarily means the old testament ceremonial laws like circumcision which no longer apply in the New Covenant. [ In a secondary sense it can apply to the whole law when we try to do the work of following it on our own power and apart from the grace that was won for us by Jesus Christ, and apart from His love working in our hearts.]
Following the discussion in chapter 3 Saint Paul gives Abraham’s life, in chapter 4, as an example to prove his point. Again he talks about circumcision over and over. In verses 4: 9 through 4: 12 he mentions it 11 more times and points out how Abraham was not circumcised when he was justified. The phrase “works of the law” is a reference to circumcision and the other out dated ceremonial ritual laws of the Old Testament. Notice what Saint Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t mention feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or the spiritual works of mercy. He is not talking about good works here. Saint Paul is pre-occupied with the ceremonial laws that were dispensed with at the Council of Jerusalem, and how they are no longer necessary. This truth was in contrast to the Judaizers who were claiming that circumcision and the other Old Testament rituals were still in effect.
Protestants will look at this verse and contend that it supports their belief in Justification by “faith” apart from obedience to the moral law, that is good works. This is the moment, they contend, that Abraham was first justified. But, if Saint Paul is using Abraham’s life as an example to prove that a person is Justified by Faith alone, apart from obedience, then Saint Paul is wrenching a text out of context and trying to make it prove something contrary to its original meaning. This line of reasoning would have completely backfired with the people to whom he was speaking because they knew the Old Testament like the back of their hand.
Romans 4: 3 is a quote from Genesis 15: 6. However, we read in Hebrews 11: 8-9 “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.” RSV Abraham left his fathers home in Faith and obedience. But, this happens way back in Genesis 12, three chapters before Genesis 15: 6. And from the context in verse two we can see that the author of Hebrews is talking about a saving Faith. Hebrews 11: 1-2 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval.”
From Genesis 12 up to Genesis 15: 6 we see Abraham performing works of obedience to God’s commandments and living a life full of all kinds of good works. Abram is called by God to leave the land of his kinfolk and his father’s house when he is 75 years old in Gen. 12. God gives to him his promise to bless him in verse 2. Chapters 12 through 14 show Abram walking in obedience to the Lord. Abram builds holy altars for the Lord again and again, and invokes the Lord by Name, Gen. 12: 7, 8, and 13:18. God gives him the promised land. And Abram fights the battles of the Lord and defeats the four kings that had beat the five kings and frees his nephew Lot. Also in chapter 14 he worships God with Melchizedek who was a “priest of God the Most High.” Melchizedek in turn gives to Abram a blessing. Abram gives him a tithe on everything. All these acts of obedience, or good works, are done in faith before Genesis 15:6.
If Paul is trying to demonstrate that Abraham was justified apart from obedience in Romans 4:3 then Paul’s own example contradicts his point. When Paul says that a person is Justified apart from the “works of the Law,” he is not referring to good works but instead the Old Testament ceremonial laws like circumcision. When a Jew was circumcised, that initiated him into the Old Covenant and he was obliged to fulfill all the ceremonial laws, for example, the temple sacrifices, the Jewish Sabbath, and the dietary laws, etc. It is important to note that Abram was not circumcised until Genesis 17 and that is Paul’s point to the Judaizers, that the Gentiles don’t need it.
NAB If Paul is not referring to good works by the phrase “works of the
law” in Romans 3:28 then by his reference to Abraham in Romans 4:3, he is: A.)
respecting the context, B.) drawing proper conclusions from the context, and
The Holy Spirit inspired James to give us this teaching on Justification. From the context we can see that James has something different in mind from Romans 3:28 when he is talking about works.
James is not talking about circumcision or the other ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant. James is talking about the corporal works of mercy, that is good works, works that are a manifestation of God’s grace within us.
Someone might point out that Paul does speak about coveting later on in Chapter 7. However, notice what Paul doesn’t do. He doesn’t dispense us from the law against coveting like he does from the ceremonial laws like circumcision, Sabbathing, and the dietary laws.
Within the past eight or so years, with the help of a recently translated Dead Sea Scroll document, 4QMMT, they have been able to verify that the phrase “works of the Law” is an idiomatic phrase, or a stock formula, meaning Old Testament ceremonial, ritual laws.
NOT ONLY A PAST EVENT
Some Protestants understand Justification in the life of the believer as only a past event. Some will even quote John 19:30 “… 'It is finished'; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” and claim that this means that they cannot lose their salvation because it is past tense.
John 19:30 “…It is finished…” The
here cannot be a reference to our Justification because we read in Romans 4:25 ”
…who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
We saw in Hebrews 11: 9, quoted above, how Abraham’s Justification was on
ongoing event in his life. James also makes this same point.
Salvation has past, present, and future aspects in all of our lives. This is why the Bible speaks of it in the past, present, and future tense.
1 Corinthians 7:18-19
Here, in Corinthians, Saint Paul contrasts the ritual law, circumcision, with the Moral Law of the 10 commandments. What counts is the Moral Law. If he had meant to say that we are justified by faith alone, apart from the good works of keeping the commandments, he would not have spoken this way. The keeping of the commandments is our life long journey of Justification. If we fail in a mortal way, 1 John 5: 16-17, we lose our salvation.
If a person could not lose their salvation the warning would be meaningless. The breaking of these commandments leads a person to hell, (unless he is subsequently renewed by God’s grace. Cf. Jn 20: 21-23, James 5: 13-16, Lk 15: 23-24, and 1 Jn 5: 14-17.)
Those who wish to separate faith from good works are taking a position that Saint Paul never takes. Saint Paul not only begins but also ends his discourse on faith in the context of obedience. Saint Paul never separates obeying the moral law, from faith. Christ’s obedience of the moral law does not excuse us from obeying it, rather by it He won the grace for us to enable us to obey it.
St. Paul states how he could lose his salvation
We know that Saint
Paul is a Christian (Galatians 2:19-20), but even he points out how he could
lose his salvation if he were to turn from the Gospel.
Protestants will contest that the word
“disqualified” refers to Paul loosing his extra merit and glory and does
not refer to Paul loosing his salvation. So, the key is to prove what this
word means. The word “disqualified” is
translated from the Greek word “ADOKIMOS” (Strong's
# 96.) Saint Paul makes the meaning of this word clear in his
second letter to the Corinthians.
Salvation can be lost.
Imagine a man saying to his wife, “I still love you, I just love these other women so much more.” Sin can break this covenant that we make with God.
The story of the Prodigal Son tells how a person can give up his
inheritance of everlasting life.
Therefore, this verse teaches that we could fail in kindness, i.e. love, and be cut off, that is lose our salvation.
In the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us in the same
measure that we forgive others
If a person claims that Romans 3: 10-12 teaches “justification by
faith alone” apart from good works he is implying that Saint Paul is quoting a
verse of the Old Testament contrary to its original meaning. He is also forced
to explain away why Saint Paul “contradicts” himself when in Romans chapter 2 he
says Romans 2:6-11 (emphasis added) “For he will render to every man
according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing
seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but
for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey
wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress
for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first
and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.”
Such a person would also have to explain away the “contradictions” above
such as Romans 16:26 as well as Jesus’ own account of the final judgment in
and 2 Corinthians 5:10
Whereas the Catholic position shows the harmony of all these scriptural passages. Our justification is solely by God’s grace. Good works, which are only made possible by the saving grace Jesus Christ won for us, are indeed that grace manifested in our lives.
1 Corinthians 13:2-3
Now if St. Paul believed that we are saved by faith alone he would have had to say, “If I only have faith at least I am a saved Christian.”
Martin Luther misunderstood “good works” and the Catholic Church’s position. He thought that they were like our side of the bargain, the good that we supposedly added to grace and work of Christ. What he did not realize is that “good works” are the grace and work of Christ lived out in us. Martin Luther added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 even though that word was not in the original Greek.
Romans 3:28 - “modified
by Martin Luther”
Luther’s German translation of the book of Romans
Now, it is true that Saint Paul says that in order to be Justified we do not need “works of law” - Old Testament ceremonial rituals like circumcision - but Martin Luther intended to say that we don’t need good works either. Martin Luther added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 in his German translation even though it does not appear in the original Greek.
He admitted that the word is not in the original Greek, but he thought that he was justified in adding it.
James 2:24 says “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” But, Martin Luther did not accept the book of James as the infallible inerrant Word of God because it contradicted his theology. Rather than alter his theology he “just” altered the Bible. In his preface to James he claimed,
However, when God declares something He causes it to be so. He Created the world with His Word. If God said, “You are a cat,” you would start to meow. When God declares us to be Justified He actually makes us Justified.
The Catholic understanding of Justification, as defined at the Council of Trent, Session VI, chapter 4, is the gift of divine sonship. Our heavenly Father shares with us His own Divine Nature. “To father” means to give or to share your nature with your offspring. For example, a man could not adopt, nor could he father, a dog because he could not bequeath his nature to that animal.
1 John 3:1
2 Peter 1:4
The Catholic model for Justification is not the courtroom but the family
room, where God adopts us as his sons. The background for our understanding of
our Justification is not the Roman courtroom, but instead, the family covenant
bonds that God had made with Adam, Noah, and Abraham, Etc. This does not call us
to a lesser standard, because a father demands more from his son than a judge
does from a defendant. According to the Protestant understanding the guilty
criminal is still full of sin. It is just that his sin is covered over and
overlooked. Whereas, according to the Catholic understanding God’s grace not
only covers over the sin, but it also removes the sin. The sinner is filled with
God’s grace and transformed and made clean and whole again by that grace. The
Protestant view of Justification is one of legal fiction, where God just
pretends that the sinner is cleansed because of Christ, whereas the Catholic
view is that of a reality. Our Loving Father adopts us as His sons and makes us
holy by putting His Grace within us !
(All scripture verses are from the RSV - Revised Standard Version - unless otherwise noted and all underlining is emphasis added to the original works.)
Most of my notes above come from talks by Scott Hahn. For greater clarity listen to Romanism in Romans - CD by Scott Hahn, Ph.D.