Semper Reformanda Pt.4

In March, I introduced a correspondence written to a dear friend of mine in which I labored to lovingly but biblically explain why my conscience prohibited me from attending his ordination to the Catholic priesthood. In light of the 500th anniversary of  the Protestant Reformation, I hope to serve you all by way of a comparative analysis between the Biblical and Roman Catholic doctrines of man and justification. In this installment, a brief overview of the biblical doctrine of justification is outlined.  The next installment will treat the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification. For the previous installments, see:


We now come to the doctrine over which inestimable pages have been written, tears have been shed, and blood has been spilled: the doctrine of justification.  While the doctrine of original sin answers the question “What is man?” the doctrine of justification addresses “How can man stand before a just and holy God?”  John Murray defined justification as “a declaration or pronouncement respecting the relation of the person to the law which he, the judge, is required to administer.”[1]  Therefore, the term deals with forensic realities in the courtroom of God. Thus, justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein He, as the divine Judge, pardons all our sin and declares us righteous in His sight.  But by what means can the sinner, totally wretched and defiled, be constituted and declared to be righteous?

It was this question that plagued the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther.  In his Bible he often read of the righteousness and holiness of God, “without which, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).  Dreadfully self-aware of his sin, that word, “righteousness,” brought him not comfort but dread.  One day, Luther opened to Romans 1 and read of the gospel of Christ which “is the power of God for salvation” (1:16). The next verse, however, contained that awful word, “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.”  Luther went on to read of the wrath of God that is unleashed because of the “unrighteousness” of men (Romans 1:18).  Luther, wrenched with grief and fear, wondered, how could Paul have written such dark and ominous words?  Upon reexamining verse 17, the light dawned in Luther’s soul as he read, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17)[emphasis mine].[2]   Anthony Hoekema explained, “The ‘righteousness of God’ Paul here had in mind was not God’s punitive justice which leads him to punish sinners, but rather a righteousness which God gives to the needy sinner, and which that sinner accepts by faith.”[3]

 Is that not precisely the point that Paul is driving at in Romans 5? 

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through [Adam’s] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For  the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  For 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.  (Romans 5:15-17)

The Apostle makes a pivotal connection between Adam and original sin, and Jesus and justification!  The sin of the first Adam brought corruption and guilt for all those whom he covenantally represented, the whole human race descending from him by ordinary generation.  But the obedience of the Second Adam brought righteousness and life as a free gift for all those whom Christ represented, all those whom the Father elected from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 14, John 17:2,6,9, Romans 9:14-24). What then, must a sinner do to be saved?  Paul answered,

"…If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

You see, faith alone is the instrument by which a sinner can receive the free grace of God!  “Ah yes,” you might say, “but the sinner must exercise faith.  He must choose to move towards God in love and contrition out of his strength and by the power of his own will.”  Paul explained to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Thus, even the faith that is required is graciously given as a free gift by God.  He bestows that which He requires so that no man can boast of his contributions to his own salvation!  The sinner is given a new heart and is spiritually quickened.  He is regenerated and born again.  He is made to be a new creation with a new nature, a nature that is no longer bound fast by the shackles of sin.  He has been set free to believe and repent.  No, X, salvation is wholly and entirely an act of God’s free grace.  If the Lord’s salvation was dependent upon man decision’s to love God, “heaven would be empty and hell would be bursting at the seams.”[4]  The only thing sinners contribute to their justification is their own defilement and sin.  God does it all!






              [1] John Murray, Redemption, Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975), 119.

              [2] Story borrowed from Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 152.

              [3] Ibid., 152.

         [4] John Estorge, “The Grace That Leads to Virtue,” John Estorge's Blog,, August 22, 2011, accessed May 4, 2015.