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Category Archives: Pope visit

The definition of justification

With all the enthusiastic media coverage of the papal visit this week, I thought it best to post a simple reason why I do not share in the same enthusiasm. Nor would any of the eariler reformers who died opposing the doctrines of the papacy.

This reason is found in a single word, justification, as it relates to the salvation of your soul. It is one of, if not, the most significant differences in the doctrine of the papacy and the church reformers. Reformers teach that we are justified by faith apart from works (Rom. 3:20-28; 4:1-5; 9:30-32; Gal. 2:16; 3:1-14), but once we believe with true faith, the good works will flow out of the changed heart (Eph. 2:8-10; Js. 2:14, 17). The papacy teaches that we are justified by faith and the good works that come from that faith. Did you catch that little word “and“? That little word is a huge word relative to these doctrinal differences. I would contend that the word has eternal ramifications. The following is a very understandable definition from Ra McLaughlin: 

Part of the disagreement between the Calvinists and Roman Catholics on the issue of the relationship between faith, works, and justification, stems from a disagreement over the definition of “justify.” Roman Catholics generally argue that to justify someone is to recognize that the person really is righteous. Thus, they read James 2:21-22 to teach that Abraham reached a point of actual righteousness when he passed the test of being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22. Calvinists, on the other hand, recognize two definitions for “justify” (most words may have more than one meaning), seeing that it sometimes means “vindicate” or “validate,” and sometimes it means “to count a person as if he were righteous, even though he really isn’t.” For example, when Abraham believed God, God counted Abraham as if he were actually righteousness (Gen. 15:6), even though Abraham had not yet done any good works since believing. Calvinists teach that the only one who is truly righteous enough to be saved is Christ himself (Rom. 3:9-20; 5:15-19), and that Christ shares his own status as “righteous” with those who are united to him by faith (Gal. 3:17-29). The first definition, “vindication,” is the one Calvinists apply to James 2:21-22. Calvinists believe the context in James 2 is not contrasting, on the one hand, true faith plus good works, and, on the other hand, true faith without works. Rather, Calvinists argue that James is contrasting two kinds of faith, one that produces good works (true faith) and one that does not produce good works (false faith). “Vindication” seems the best definition in this passage, according to Calvinists, because Abraham was already reckoned as righteous when he believed God in Genesis 15 — many years before God “tested” (Gen. 22:1) his faith. The test was to determine whether or not Abraham’s faith was true (Gen. 22:12), not to cause Abraham to do enough good works to earn his justification.

Just something to discuss with your more enthusiastic friends.

Sola fide!