Different Views of Justification Defended by their Preferred Scriptural Texts

We continue our series by trying to defend each position using the preferred texts that each side uses to defend its position. For part one, please refer to the initial post on setting this brief series up.  Again, I am not a Roman Catholic and in this post I am trying to use the most widely preferred text that I found in research that support this view. I am sure there are a number of texts on justification that any Roman Catholic believer could point to in addition to the few listed here. The same argument about additional texts to support the Protestant position could be argued as well.


Defend each view using their preferred scriptural texts

Roman Catholics maintain that James 2 is basic to the Catholic denial of imputed righteousness based on faith alone. The Catholic Church attempted to reconcile Romans 3 with James 2 by declaring that faith begins the process of justification whereas works complete it. Catholics maintain that through the on-going process of justification, the righteousness of God through Christ is infused by the Holy Spirit in a believer. Romans 5:19 says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Thus, a believer is made righteous and justified by obedience.[1] Both Psalm 15:2 and Matthew 25:46 speak of being righteous and doing deeds entitles a believer to enter heaven. First Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” meaning that God gave the believer grace and we cooperated with God to accept Jesus and the offer of salvation.[2] Romans 5:1-2 indicates that after having received the grace of justification a believer now has access to God’s grace by which they stand in Christ and can then rejoice in the hope (something that is not yet possessed) of sharing God’s glory (Rom 8:24). Ephesians 2: 10 points out that a believer must continue to work in Christ and only by the grace of God can believers do so. However, this grace can be resisted (2 Cor 6:1).

Protestants see the words of Paul in Romans 3 as referring to works of the law by which a person attempts to justify himself. James is speaking of works that demonstrate the genuineness of one’s justification. Where Catholics see works combining with faith to complete the process of justification, Protestants view works as evidence that one has actually been justified by God. A Protestant view of James 2 sees that a justified believer proves their faith by acts of obedience. In other words, faith is justified or made evident by works. Romans 5:1 says a believer is justified (made righteous) by faith. The faith that saves a person is not alone. It inevitably produces good works. Works are not a condition of salvation but a consequence of it. Someone who is truly saved will manifest good works. If there are no good works present, then there is no reason to believe that true saving faith is present either.

Roman Catholics view that a person is not justified by faith alone, but rather through works and faith together. This view contradicts Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Catholics may also argue that a person is justified by faith, and is preserved or kept in a state of grace through works. However, this too contradicts what Scripture says. Galatians 3:1-3 points out if the people received the Spirit by works of the Law or by hearing with faith. Ultimately, it is by grace through faith alone that justifies a person. Romans 11:6 says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” This supports the Protestant theology that justification is not by works in anyway but is by grace through faith in Christ and His sacrifice alone.

The Catholic view of justification seems to contradict passages such as Romans 4:1-12 and Titus 3:3-7 among others. Both of these passages speak to be justified by faith by the mercy and grace of God, not by works or anything of man. According to the Roman Catholic view, a person must await a final justification at death to know whether they have eternal life and will not see God’s condemnation. In contrast, Protestants view the Bible guaranteeing eternal life as a present possession of those who believe (John 3:36; 5:24; 1 John 5:13). John further states the only condition for obtaining eternal life is belief (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 20:31).


[1] See Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1991: “Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or ‘justice’) here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to divine will is granted us.”

[2] See Council of Trent: Decree on Justification, Chapter XVI: “For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God.” Also see Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1993.

JUSTIFICATION IN CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT THOUGHT

We continue to look at the concept of soteriology and what are the different parts that make up the whole of salvation. Over the next few posts, we will look at the differences between catholics and protestants on their views on justification. Many years ago now, a group of leaders from both the catholics and protestants got together to try to bring unity to the different parties. They discussed their differences but also wanted to lay out what both parties believe and share and celebrate the similarities.

One of the many splitting points during the reformation and subsequent split from the Catholic church was on salvation and in particular justification. This led to many discussions on what is sanctification, how does communion work, and what does justification mean and how is it imparted to a believer and when. These are just a few of course.

So when the catholic and protestant leaders met, they created a joint declaration where all individuals involved signed off and approved it (document can be found here). Some evangelicals had issues with what was signed and the same can be said for catholics. Essentially, this was trying to bridge a gap and create a united community.

One of the questions that we must ask is what exactly are the beliefs of both sides. Secondly, how does each side defend its position. Third and finally, which view does a person hold and why. So today’s post will focus on summarizing the Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings of justification by faith. The next two post will focus on the second and third post respectively.

We must remember it is important to understand an alternate view in order to create conversation and have greater understanding of where that person is coming from. Below is a collection of my thoughts, research, and collaborative efforts to summarize a broad doctrine into a summary statement.

Personal Note: This is not a slamming of either side or specifically of catholicism. This is researching a particular view in an effort to understand what a catholic seems to believe (in general). I am not here to condemn any views or say one side is better than the other. At the end of the day, I will present my personal view as to why I hold to the salvation and justification, but I understand the importance of a united Church and the love and grace that God has provided. I am thankful for the open dialogue between the two sides to try to bring unity.


Protestants view justification as a specific point upon which God declares the believer as righteous. It is the moment when God declares a guilty person righteous because of what Christ has done. This point is where the believer enters into the Christian life. Protestants hold to the view of sanctification as the process or development of being made more righteous throughout a believer’s life. Justification encompasses the forgiveness of sin, acceptance by God, and the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness.

In contrast, the Roman Catholics believe that Christ’s righteousness is imparted to the believer “by grace through faith,” but in itself is not sufficient to justify the believer. The believer must supplement the righteousness of Christ imparted to them with meritorious works. The Roman Catholics view justification as a point and a process, dependent on the grace that a believer receives by participating in the Church. Grace is often seen as something that can be distributed through various possibilities of change and means. Roman Catholics reject that there is an imputed righteousness of Christ to a believer at the moment of salvation; that is, that a believer is counted as fully righteous in the eyes of God. A person is prepared for justification with the help of actual grace. This disposition toward righteousness occurs through cooperation between a person’s will and the grace that assists them to move toward God. Although grace is present, a person cannot reach this justified state apart from their own efforts. Justification involves being made righteous and holy. The person believes that faith in Christ is only the beginning of salvation and that the individual must build upon that with good works because God’s grace of eternal salvation must be merited.

Roman Catholics hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation where they believe as they partake of the elements of the Eucharist, the literal body and blood of Christ becomes a part of the believer, transforming them, and making them more righteous. On the other hand, Protestant partake of the Lord’s Supper by holding to either the memorial view – the elements are seen as symbols and the believer commemorates Jesus’ death – or the consubstantiation perspective – Jesus is spiritually present in the elements but is not in the elements or are they the physical body and blood of Christ.

While both believed a person is saved by grace, the biggest difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic view is how a person receives that grace and whether it is the point at which a person becomes a Christian or if it is the point and a process that is continually moving toward salvation.