The Catholic Doctrine of Justification by Grace
Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
–Acts of the Apostles 2:38
What does Justification mean?
“In Catholic theology justification is a term that means the cleansing of sin in a person, and the communication by grace of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22) ” through Baptism. Catholics believe that mankind has inherited original sin through Adam. The original sin destroyed the righteousness originally attributed to our first parents and created the chasm of sin between God and man. Sin separates us from God and thus by justice causes death of the soul in hell. “For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)”. The Council of Trent affirms that original sin creates a weakness in human nature and calls this weakness of will concupiscence. Concupiscence weakens the will of man toward evil and warps his nature towards selfish passions rather than the love of God. Human nature and the Jewish law of the Old Covenant are incapable of allowing man in his natural faculties to rise above the fall of mankind and the temptations of Satan.
Because of the infinite love and mercy of God, Jesus Christ willingly paid for our sins by his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection and thus merited the redemption of humanity. This means that provided humans cooperate by act of free will with God’s grace, a person can be justified by the grace of God and become a new creature in Christ. Justification of the soul is a work of grace by the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, we can define justification as the transformation of the soul from the state of original sin to that of grace and divine sonship through Jesus Christ.
What is Grace?
God’s gift of salvation was one of pure love. He desired humanity to join him in heaven, but he could not force us to accept his gift of love. Upon creating humans, he endowed us with free will so that we could freely return his infinite love with love. Thus God could only attribute the salvation of Christ’s passion (his crucifixion and resurrection) to those who freely returned his love in faith and hope.
Grace is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call. The Church teaches us that grace moves us to participate in the life of God and moves us to begin and sustain a relationship with our Creator.
Justification by Grace
The theology of the Church holds that Christ’s passion not only merited the forgiveness of sin, but also the gift of grace. Grace, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is a gift that heals the soul and sanctifies it. Sanctifying grace, the grace that communicates supernatural life into the soul, is received through the sacrament of Baptism. Baptism marks the beginning of justification by forgiving all personal and original sin as well as communicating sanctifying grace. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, a person receives supernatural disposition to live and act with God’s call.
Justification and Sanctification are one
The Council of Trent helped to clarify and reinforce the Church’s doctrine of justification, by focusing on sanctification as part of justification. The Council’s decrees laid to rest the heretical doctrines of the Protestant Reformers by insisting that justification of the believer is not a forensic declaration of a person’s righteousness, but an actual interior purification of the soul. Justification truly makes the soul just through grace. Thus the sanctification of the soul is a necessary part of justification. Sin is not covered or concealed, but is literally cleansed away by purification of sanctifying grace. [THROUGH BAPTISM]
The Council further explains that the instrumental cause of grace is by the holy Sacraments of the Church. The Sacramental system, instituted by Christ, is one of the means by which grace is transmitted. Baptism, which we have already explained, is the necessary means by which a person receives sanctifying grace. Because grace can be lost by mortal sin, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the normative way by which a person can receive sanctifying grace after it has been destroyed through mortal sin. The sacraments also serve to increase justification of the soul, through the increase of grace. The holy Eucharist, especially, is the nourishing food of the soul. The doctrine of increasing grace means that the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity can be strengthened and increased. St. John notes that “…he that is just, let him be justified still: and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still (Rev 22:11
The Doctrine of Increasing Justification
The Ecumenical Council of Trent, definitively proclaimed that “Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, [Meaning freewill sacrifices and GOOD Works] and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified
St. Paul explains to the Christians in Rome, “For we account a man to be justified by faith, without the works of the law (Romans 3:28).” In this epistle to the first Jewish Christians, Paul warns the people not to consider themselves justified by the Mosaic Law expounded in the book of Leviticus. Because Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, St. Paul tells us that Christ’s Passion has merited the gift of grace, “But now without the law the justice of God is made manifest, being witnessed by the law and the prophets. Even the justice of God, by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe in him: for there is no distinction: For all have sinned, [1 John 1:8-10] and do need the glory of God. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21-24).”
St. Paul explains that works of the law such as circumcision and ritual cleansing are not required for justification, because grace is the perfect gift of Christian justice and faith. St. Paul’s reference to “the Law” does not include the works of righteousness done through grace and the theological virtue of charity. St. James’ epistle attempts to clear up the difficulties of those we mistakenly feel that justification is imputed by faith alone without consideration of works of righteousness in grace. He tells us, “What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself. But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith. Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:14-17).”
Is obeying the commandments and precepts of God necessary for Justification?
In the Gospel of Matthew, a young rich man asks Christ, “Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? [Jesus] said to him: Why asketh thou me concerning good? One is good, God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. [The young man] said to him: Which? And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man saith to him: All these I have kept from my youth, what is yet wanting to me? Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me (Matt 19:16-21)”.
Contrary to the doctrine of the Reformers, we must note that Christ never said that faith alone would supplant good works and obedience to God’s laws. Jesus message in the Gospels tells us that if we truly believe in Christ we will obey his commandments, be baptized into a life of grace and thus receive divine sonship in Christ. The gift of grace imputes forgiveness of sin, sanctification of the soul and the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. God’s grace works within us to move us to new, divine heights of faith, hope and charity. By cooperating with the grace of Baptism, we can do good works out of faith and love for Christ.
The Theological Virtues [FAITH; HOPE; and LOVE]
Justification of the soul imputes the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. These virtues make Christians capable of acting as the children of God and meriting eternal life.
Faith, hope and charity prior to Baptism
The Catechism notes that “the faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop…For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism. (CCC 1253).”
Baptism of Infants and small children
The Catholic understanding of justification by grace calls all men, women and children to justification by the cleansing water of rebirth. Since Baptism is normatively necessary for justification by grace, baptism is not reserved exclusively for adults or children who have reached the age of reasoning. Christ said, “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such (Matthew 19:13).” Although faith in Christ leads to Baptism in adults, infants cannot be expected to harbor intellectual faith in Christ. Instead, the faith of a child’s family is asked so that the child can grow in faith with the loving support of the family. Baptism is the sacrament of faith, and through supernatural grace leads a growing child (or adult) to deeper faith, hope and love for his Creator. It is a precious gift that should not be with held from any person, be they young or old. Indeed, it is a sad thing that some Protestant denominations such as Baptists and evangelical Protestants withhold Baptism from their infants. For those and other children, who are denied Baptism by no fault of their own, the Church offers its prayers and commends those infants who have died without Baptism to the mercy and love of God.
Merit is defined by the Catechism as “recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment (CCC 2006).” In Catholic doctrine, merit is a result of God’s fatherly decision to associate man with the work of his gift of grace. It must be emphasized that the original work of justification and sanctification must be attributed to God himself. Man cannot merit the initial grace of the Holy Spirit. It is a free, undeserving gift of God. However, by the grace of Baptism, as adoptive sons and daughters of God, we can merit for ourselves additional graces of sanctification through Christian charity and good works.
We must not believe that, “God owes us something.” For the gift of grace is exactly that, a free and undeserved gift. It is only by our acceptance of grace through Baptism, that we can associate our works with that of grace from God. St. Paul tells us, “And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him (Romans 8:17)”. St. Paul emphasizes that by the grace merited from Jesus Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection we can be co-heirs with Christ and participate in merit by grace. Thus good works done in faith, hope and love for God, after justification of Baptism, can merit further increases in grace, justification, and sanctification. We participate with God in good works because of our love for him as our heavenly Father.
The Redemptive Role of Suffering
Christ desires for us to participate in his Passion, and thus suffering within the Body of Christ has a redemptive role. Because baptized Christians are part of the mystical Body of Christ, Jesus Christ the head of the body asks its members to participate not only in his resurrection and grace, but also in the suffering of his Passion. …. This does not mean that Christ’s redemption is lacking, or that his suffering was not enough for the redemption of the world. It only means that we are chosen to offer up our sufferings for the expiation of the temporal punishment deserved by our sin and the free participation in the life of Christ. Christ merits our redemption and forgives our sins but the punishment and penance for our selfish actions must still be. Paul’s letter to the Colossians notes that by offering our own sufferings for the body of Christ, we can make up for those members of the body of Christ whose sufferings are lacking.
Can Justification be Lost?
St. Paul warns us that justification and sanctification are a life-long process, and we should be vigilant not to turn against God and lose our justification. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is particularly powerful, “For if we sin willfully after having the knowledge of the truth, there is now left no sacrifice for sins, But a certain dreadful expectation of judgment, and the rage of a fire which shall consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).” Paul assures us that those who take justification of grace for granted and continue to rail against God and defy cooperation with grace can lose their justification. Paul also warns Christians to be vigilant, “But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway”. Paul tells us that he himself must resist the temptations of the flesh lest he be cut away from the Body of Christ.
Like St. Paul, we must constantly guard against mortal sin, [1 John 5: 16-17] the sin of will against God. Mortal sin is that which cuts us off from Christ. Those who have been justified through the grace of baptism can still sin against the Lord. Grace does not take away the gift of free will and because of this a Christian can still choose to sin.
Can we have a definitive assurance of our Salvation?
No, St. Paul and St. John’s epistles warn us that justification can be lost. Thus without an extraordinary revelation from God, we cannot be assured of our salvation or justification. The Council of Trent tells us, “If any one says, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end, -unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema [CONDEMNED] (Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Cannon 16)”.
Assurance of salvation is a presumption upon God that we can infallibly judge the state of our souls. The Bible is very clear that only God and God alone can judge a person’s soul. Paul writes, “For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done,
Instead, the Holy Spirit offers the theological virtue of hope that leads us to desire the kingdom of heaven, the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit. By hope a Christian can ask God for perseverance in his friendship and love. Even if a person mortally offends God and rejects his grace, Christ offers us the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of sin and the recovery of sanctifying grace. [John 20: 19-23] God is always willing to embrace his prodigal sons and daughters provided they repent and ask of forgiveness in his holy Sacrament.
The Virgin Mary is the supreme model of grace in all of God’s creatures
The holy Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the epitome of Christian grace. Her willing participation in the birth of Jesus Christ, her life of Christian virtue and the sorrow endured by her in Christ’s Passion provides the ultimate example of faith, hope and charity for the Body of Christ. The angel Gabriel proclaims to the Virgin Mary, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women (Matthew 1:28). Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, is thus granted the fullness of grace from God and attains the highest perfection of any created creature. In her humble love for God, she willingly participates in the redemption of Christ (the second Adam) as the second Eve. Thus Catholics venerate Mary as the role model by which we give undying love to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Since this article was quite long and thorough let us recap:
Justification is a term that means the cleansing of sin in a person, and the communication by grace of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22) ” through Baptism.
Christ has redeemed the whole world, but we must freely choose to cooperate in the redemption.
Justification includes the forgiveness of original and personal sin, restoration of the interior man and sanctification of the soul through grace. Thus justification and sanctification occur together and are not exclusive of each other.
Grace is a free gift of God that imputes divine life into the soul as well as the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
Sanctifying grace of the soul must normatively be received through the sacrament of Baptism. Through baptism, God adopts us as his sons and daughters. This is why Catholics baptize infants.
Jesus Christ alone can merit our initial justification and sanctification through his Passion and Resurrection.
Once grace is imputed in the soul, faith, hope and charity can merit the increase of justification and sanctification.
Faith without good works is dead faith (James 2:17).
The seven Sacraments of the Church increase grace and thus justification in the believer.
Prayer for those of the Body of Christ and ourselves can merit increasing grace for others and ourselves.
Christian suffering has a redemptive role by allowing us to cooperate with Christ’s Passion and suffering.
Rejecting God’s love and grace through mortal sin results in lost justification.
Venial sin weakens charity, but does not cut us off from Christ because venial sin (although offensive to God) is not a rejection of the heavenly Father.
No person can have an assurance of their salvation unless they receive an extraordinary revelation from God.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, full of grace, is the perfect model of Christian faith, hope and charity in God’s created creatures.
By the grace of God, we commend ours to participate in the divine life of Christ. Let us pray for the conversion of souls and give thanks to Jesus Christ for his loving and willing redemption of the world.”
–SMM [END of QUOTES]
by Pat Miron
Who’s right on the topic of Justification?
If all one does is read the bible; and carefully select passages that seem to affirm there own preconceived position; it is possible to do so. This is certainly true of the issue of our “personal Justification” which most agree is essential for ones personal salvation.
The RISK are extreme: God will, because a “JUST GOD” MUST Judge on what He makes available for us to know; to understand and to believe. All of us have a Grave- Moral obligation to have a CORRECTLY informed conscience. [CCC 1789] If one insist on “my way” and its NOT God’s way; one will be judged as actually knowing and denying the truth.
The Most important and yet most often denied rule for correct Bible understanding is: NO ONE PASSAGE MAY CONTRADICT ANOTHER PASSAGE. Were this even a slight possibility [IT is NOT!], then the bible would have no merit for faith teaching and understanding. AND YET this is exactly what happens in the protestant community despite being given clear warning NOT TO DO THIS. But Because they either cannot or perhaps in a few cases choose not to understand the right and truthful meaning of Gods Holy Word, they reach wrong conclusions.
The MOST COMMON error is to incorrectly connect “works of The law” and “Good WORKS.. Charity” as being one and the same. NO! Two separate issues and effects.
2 Peter 3: 14 –17 14 Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures
2nd. Peter 1: 16-21 “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
Matt.13:9-12 “He who has ears, let him hear.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. “
Eph.3: 9 to 12 “And to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church [SINGULAR: meaning THE CATHOLIC Church] the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him. “
Justification Bible Passages
Romans 5: 8 -21 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation. Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned — … But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. … For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord
James 2: 14-26 “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,
and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, … You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.
Romans 8:28-30 “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Matt.12:  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Luke 18: 10-14 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Rom.2:13 “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”
Rom.3: 4 By no means! Let God be true though every man be false, as it is written, “That thou mayest be justified in thy words, and prevail when thou art judged.”  For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,  For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.
Rom.5: 9 Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Rom.10: 4 For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.
1Cor.6: 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, [BAPTIZED] you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Gal.2: 16 yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.
Gal.3: 11 Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for “He who through faith is righteous shall live”; 24 So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith.
Tit.3: 7 so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
Rom. 4: 24-25 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
God Please Grant all of TRUE Wisdom and Understanding.