Explain Justification

I’d love to have a very honest, civil conversation about justification. I think I have a good understanding of it, but I have been told I’m wrong, so I’d like to learn more.

How is a person “justified” before God? How does a person maintain that justification? What happens if a person commits a mortal sin and loses that justification?


How does a person maintain that justification?

Avoiding sin and doing good works.

What happens if a person commits a mortal sin and loses that justification?

It separates that person form union with God.

Initially, we are baptized through Christ’s sacrifice when we are baptized, then continuously through our lives after that. In Catholic theology, justification is not just a one time event, it is a life-long process of purification and development of personal holiness (the extent to which we reflect God’s Will in our everyday life.)

How does a person maintain that justification?

By living in accord with God’s Law.

What happens if a person commits a mortal sin and loses that justification?

Christ gave us the gift of Reconciliation for just this situation. When we sin, we confess those sins to a priest and receive absolution. The only requirement is that you have to be sorry for the sin, and intend to avoid the sin in the future. You can’t forgiven if you’re not sorry.

Faith, repentance and Baptism into Christ (we are saved by grace through faith not works).

(when asked by the crowd on Pentecost after he Preached about Jesus and his Resurrection -what are we to do brothers - Peter responded - repent and be baptized …and you will receive the Holy Spirit).

Then the Christian who is now “in Christ” …in “true life”…a “temple of the Holy Spirit”…a “new creation” “baptized into Christ…into his death and resurrection” etc etc is to remain living in Christ…and “walk by the Spirit” putting to death the “works of the flesh” and “walking in love” - follow Christ more and more and become by grace and his cooperation (which is still by grace) more holy.

If he should fall into a mortal sin - he is to repent and turn back to the Lord in the Sacrament of Confession - and so be restored in that Sacrament (or prior if there is the grace of perfect contrition) by Christ …by the Holy Spirit (and of course by the Father) to that “true life”. Returned to that state of “justification”.


Justification By Faith
By Dr. William Marshner

Stages of Justification
Catholic and Protestant views on the respective roles of grace, faith and works cannot be compared meaningfully, unless one specifies what stage of the justificational process one is talking about. In the preparatory stage, for instance, in which prevenient graces first stir a person towards an interest in religious truth, towards repentance, and towards faith, Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists are at one in saying “sola gratia.”2 A second stage is the very transition from death to life, which is the first stage of justification proper. Here the parties are at one in saying “sola fide,” though they seem to mean different things by it. Protestants tend to mean that, at this stage, by the grace of God, man’s act of faith is the sole act required of him; Catholics mean that faith is the beginning, foundation and root of all justification, since only faith makes possible the acts of hope and charity (i.e. love-for-God) which are also required.3 However, since most Protestants have a broad notion of the act of faith, whereby it includes elements of hope and love, it is often hard to tell how far the difference on this point is real and how far it is a matter of words. Finally, however, there comes a third stage, that of actual Christian life, with its problems of growth and perseverance. The man justified by faith is called to “walk” with God, to progress in holiness. It is at this stage that the parties sharply diverge. Catholics affirm, and Protestants strenuously deny, that the born-again Christian’s good works merit for him the increase of grace and of the Christian virtues. As a result, Protestant piety has no obvious place for the self- sacrifices, fasts, and states of perfection which are prominent features of Catholic piety. At each stage, neither the apparent agreements nor the apparent disagreements can be understood without looking at certain metaphysical quarrels, the chief of which is over the very existence of what
Catholics call “grace.”

One becomes justified when he receives the grace of baptism, which, as the name implies, is ordinarily received in the sacrament of baptism. Obviously, not everyone knows about the sacrament of baptism and not everyone who knows about the sacrament is able to receive the sacrament. For them, there are two extraordinary ways that they can receive the grace of baptism apart from the sacrament of baptism, namely suffering Christian martyrdom, so-called baptism by blood, and so-called baptism by desire. There are two forms of baptism by desire: (1) baptism by explicit desire, where a person becomes a catechumen in preparation to receive the sacrament of baptism, and (2) baptism by implicit desire, where a person manifests what is called perfect love or perfect contrition, i.e., he manifests a love for God such that he is sorry for all his sins because they offend God; he desires to do everything that God wants him to do; and he would believe in Jesus Christ and receive the sacrament of baptism if he knew that they are things that God wanted of him and if the sacrament was available to him.

A person maintains his justification by not falling into mortal sin. A mortal sin can be one of commission, such as committing murder or adultery, or of omission, such as failing to honor one’s parents of the things mentioned in Matthew 25:31-46. For a sin to be mortal it must concern a serious matter, it must be done knowingly and willfully.

In order for a baptized person who has committed a mortal sin to be re-justified, he must receive the grace of reconciliation, which, as the name implies, is ordinarily received in the sacrament of reconciliation. Obviously, not everyone knows about the sacrament of reconciliation and not everyone who knows about it is able to receive it and for them there is an extraordinary way to receive the grace of reconciliation apart from the sacrament of reconciliation, namely by manifesting perfect love or perfect contrition, as described above.

This is by far the best description I have seen on this, thanks for it, and thanks to everyone else for providing their input.

I think the real divide between Protestants and Catholics is on what happens once a person seriously sins. Can they lose that justification, how do they get justified again, etc.

As many people have pointed out, the RCC teaches a person returns to a justified state by doing penance, etc. But doesn’t this conflict with Romans 3:21-28 and other similar passages?

21But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness is given through faith inh Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,i through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

I’m not sure how doing a work (penance and all that requires) can justify, if we are “justified by faith …” Thoughts?

I don’t think you have the correct understanding of Church teaching. Doing “penance” does not return us to justice. Contrition, confession and reconciliation are required.

I’m not sure how doing a work (penance and all that requires) can justify, if we are “justified by faith …” Thoughts?

It is not “doing a work” that justifies the person again (returns them to life) - they do not “earn” forgiveness. Jesus does that. The Holy Spirit does that. The Father does that.

A person CANNOT - go from a state of mortal sin - back to a state of grace by their own work as if they “earn” such. Tis the gift/work of God.

Now of course just as with entering into that state - there are things that a person does (by grace) such as repent and receive the Sacrament. It is though GOD who restores the person to that life.

Pope Benedict XVI on Faith and Works in Paul:

(Earlier audience)

(Two audiences from the Year of St. Paul–Faith and Works)


vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20081126_en.html (begins a bit down

Here this short video from Jimmy Akin the Senior apologist at Catholic Answers can help catholic.com/blog/jimmy-akin/how-to-go-to-heaven

Justification at it’s essence is reconciliation with God, meaning that we are orphaned children that need to be adopted by God. As the Council of Trent says:
A brief description of the justification of the sinner, as being a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior.
This is the Catholic/Biblical view. Justification is about entering into a personal relationship with God. As such, this relationship can either grow by acts of love, or it can be weakened by acts of hate. Just like a marriage grows stronger with love and weaker by sin. Mortal sin is the choice to be adulterous/rebellious to our intimate relationship with God.

The Protestant view is very different that this. Justification in the Protestant mind isn’t about relationship with God at all, but rather more of a business transaction. In the Protestant mind, getting justified is about Jesus fulfilling our work obligations in our place, namely taking the punishment our sins deserved and living a perfect life in our place. This ‘perfect life of Christ’ (“Christ’s Righteousness”) is then “imputed” to the sinner, such that God looks on his ledger and sees us as if we lived a life of perfect obedience. This then entitles us to go to heaven. Of course, none of this is Biblical, but it explains why justification cannot be lost, since in the Protestant mind salvation isn’t about a relationship that can grow or weaken by acts of love, but rather an already completed business transaction that the sinner has zero involvement in.

Catholic view of justification: entering into and maintaining a relationship with God.
Protestant view of justification: checklist of obligations that Jesus completes in our place.

I understand the church’s teaching very, very well on this particular issue, thanks.

I understand that. No one said anything about whether a person needs or doesn’t need God’s grace. But to say a person doesn’t receive grace by “doing something” is a bit misleading. You do have to do something to receive the justification. Having faith is not enough. You have to have faith and then do something as well, correct? Just because you’re doing something by God’s grace, doesn’t mean you’re not doing it.

Very interesting, thanks!

Thanks for this. I won’t go into your analysis of the Protestant view, but I don’t agree with everything you’ve said about it. Protestants often compare it to a relationship in the same way you have in regards to the Catholic Church, and I’ve never heard anyone ever refer to it as a “business transaction.” Law-court language is often used when discussing the punishments people escape because of the righteousness of Christ, so I see where you’re coming from, but I think your view is a little bit of a caricature.

My concern is that the Bible over and over and over refers to a person having been “justified” in the past tense, as if he or she is already justified, and the justification is said to come by faith. Catholics definitely agree faith is absolutely necessary for justification, but it’s just one part of the requirement, as Jimmy Aiken says in his video posted above by another user. More than faith is needed to be justified in Catholicism, even though there are numerous passages of scripture that suggest faith is the only requirement.

Yes, James flatly says “you are not saved by faith alone,” but then he goes on to say that faith without works is “dead faith,” indicating the person doesn’t really have faith at all. Of course people need to do good works, but the question is: Does God justify a person because of those works or because of the faith? Do the works flow from the faith or are they completely separate, as the Council of Trent suggests?

On the surface, it all seems so similar that it doesn’t appear to matter much, in my opinion, but when you start to apply it to real-life situations, that’s when I think things get very troublesome. For instance, a person, no matter how holy they live their lives and no matter how much time they spend worshiping God, is said to have committed a mortal sin if they knowingly and willingly (without ignorance) say openly that they disagree with the Catholic Church’s position on any number of things, such as certain Marian teachings. In these cases, their faith, no matter how strong it is, won’t save them. I just don’t see anywhere in scripture where this sort of thing is even remotely suggested.

Read again all my posts -]and watch the video from Jimmy Akin that I posted - it is short/-]. (edit - I see that later on you watched it…)

I never said a person does not “do anything”…read them again (slowly :slight_smile: I know when there are a number of posts one can tend to read sometimes too quickly…and you may have missed some of them.)

Your welcome

Speaking broadly we’re justified by cooperating with God’s grace. He will not force it upon us. It’s a continuous process even as it begins with a one-time faith/conversion/Baptism event. We’re expected to produce something: more justice in ourselves and our world-with the gifts given. The Parable of the Talents and Luke 12:48 shed much light on this. We’re expected to grow nearer and nearer to God, being transformed into His image, persevering in that work of His and ours (Phil 2:12). This work is initiated by Him, initiated on the Cross where reconciliation between man and God was wrought so that we may commune, as was always intended, and His grace therefore made available. Mortal sin and persistence in it is the opposite of that; it’s a turning away from God and His love/grace.

Justification is not merely some get-out-of-hell-free card. It’s a way of life.

Small typo in paragraph 2. It should say, “…honor one’s parents or the things mentioned…”

Also, just to clarify, before a person receives the grace of baptism in the sacrament of baptism, he first renounces sin and Satan and professes faith in Jesus Christ, by affirming the statements of the Apostles Creed. In the non-emergency case of an infant or small child, his parent(s) or godparent(s) renounce sin and Satan and profess faith in Jesus Christ, as above, on his behalf.

And, before a person receives the grace of reconciliation in the sacrament of reconciliation, he first confesses his sins, expresses his contrition, and expresses his firm purpose of amendment to God and the priest.

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