Forensic Justification - what's your view about it?

Colossians 2:13-15 – Forensic Justification

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Forensic Justification - what’s your view about it? Since this is a Catholic Forum site, please explain why this Protestant view is incorrect.

I don’t understand the meaning of forensic justification. Does it refer to being saved without works?

Well, if you are exploring the offical Catholic opinion on the topic of justification, especially in the spirt it of christian unity as your handle would imply, you can’t do much better than the 1999 Joint Declaration between the majority of Lutheran Churches and Rome:

If you want a debate with those who disagree with the above, you might be in the right place.

As I understand it, God judges we are absolved of sin because Jesus’ perfect life and His sacrifice on the cross has take our place in judgement. Works are not required for salvation, but are a demonstration of our thanks and gratitude for this.

Thanks, I am very familar with the Lutheran and Catholic Joint Declaration on justification. I am just discussing a forensic justification right now on a Christian Fellowship Facebook group site on this very issue; therefore, I wanted to see what people have to say on Catholic Answers.

I see nothing in the above quotation that contradicts Catholic teaching, so I’m nost sure what you are referring to as a “protestant view”

It has been my experience in discussing these matters that there is some considerable variation in how the concept of “forensic justification” is understood and applied, so it would be helpful if you could perhaps explain how you understand it.

Just a thought or two on the general principle that I believe you are thinking of…correct me I am wrong…
At the time of our conversion and baptism, God’s righteousness is imputed to us…By our faith we receive His graces. But - we are not finished at this point because we are not just called to belief and baptism. We are called to perfection (Mt 5:48). We are called to be new Creatures and to not continue in our old ways. We are called to “run the good race” and to persevere - lest we find that we have run in vein.
We are called to much more than simply crying “Lord Lord” and expecting entrance into heaven.
In short - we are called to perfection in Love.
This perfection takes time. It takes effort and we must not cease in our efforts. And this is where the concept of “infused justification” comes in.

It is interesting that the term “Baptism” - in the Greek can mean to “dip” or to “immerse” for some time. In the preparation of pickles, both things are used. The Cucumber is “dipped” to clean it, but the Cucumber itself has not changed. But then the Cucumber is immersed over time in a Brine solution and then a pickling solution. These immersions over time allow the brine and the sauce to seep into the Cucumber changing it to a Pickle.

For the Christian, being “dipped” at Baptism makes us clean and starts the process, but it is being “immersed”, and remaining “immersed” in God’s Love and grace, in action, in living and seeking unity with our Lord that brings us nearer to the perfection to which we are called…

So in short…the idea of “imputed” and “infused” justifications each have their particular place in God’s great plan of salvation.


I think the legal aspect can be taken too far. It is one of the ways Jesus describes it. I hear some Evangelical Christians saying “Christ fulfills all righteous so they don’t have to do anything” and also “God the Father looks are them and sees Jesus”.

I think the Catholic explanation accounts for all the scripture on Justification. That is past, present and future. That is actual, not a clean garment covering your uncleaness. That faith works through love.

It is not just a legal declaration.

This Colossians passage refers to the obligations of the Old Testament law being fulfilled in Christ. I’m not sure what it has to do with forensic/infused justification. But as to how Catholics view “forensic” justification, we believe God declares us righteous only when that is an actuality. We do not believe God declares us righteous on paper even though we are not actually.

Think of it like this. Many times in Scripture does Jesus heal someone. And many times does he heal someone in juxtaposition to forgiving their sins. The physical healing, we can observe. Jesus actually heals the person’s affliction. Does Jesus just forensically “declare” a person healed when that person is not truly healed? Does Jesus just “declare” a lame person healed when that person is still really lame? Of course not. Thus, we are given that sign that when Jesus heals us spiritually, we can be assured that it’s not merely a declaration that we are healed unless we truly are.

That’s just one example from Biblical theology.

But we aren’t a Facebook site, we are the Catholic Answers Forum, and the special jargon of some group will need to be defined if you want discussion.

I vote, as you brought up “Forensic” justification, YOU be the one to define it and make some sort of statement about it.

Otherwise it’s all just a big guessing game.

You may want to add to this that Christian Unity identify the denomination/communion he or she is referring to, as well. I suspect the definition may vary depending.


My first impression is that it sounds like some kind of legal procedure. :slight_smile:

When I look at the whole chapter, I see that St. Paul is working (he uses the word “struggling”) for the salvation of the Colossians, and he is inviting them to turn away from their sins. It would make no sense to do that, if he believed that they could simply continue in their sins, safe in the presumption that God cannot see their sins any more.

This passage, when taken in that context, seems to mean to say, God has laid out a path for you - He has taken away your sins on the Cross. You are now without sin - so stay that way! It really does not seem to be saying that God is lying to Himself about the state of anyone’s soul, nor letting anyone get away with unconfessed sin.

Hard to understand. Pretty different.

Agreed. And, OP may have their own understanding.

Yes. For example, certainly don’t see forensic justification as a singular one-time event. I surely can’t point to one in my life. It started with baptism, which I don’t remember happening. It isn’t something merely declared on the outside, as the Spirit also continues to put in place the means to grow in grace inside.


How about this?

In part:

What if the question is not, what is the basis for our salvation, but rather what must we do to receive salvation? On a simplistic understanding of “forensic justification”, you would think that the answer would be “Nothing! Christ has done it all”. But that is a misunderstanding of forensic justification, and it is not the Lutheran answer. The Lutheran answer is: repentance, baptism, holy communion, striving for obedience, confession and absolution when we fail, hearing the Word of God, following a discipline of prayer; in short, passing the remainder of our lives in peace and repentance. This is to live the life in Christ, which means to receive forgiveness of sins and the divine life through the means which God has appointed: by hearing and taking to heart the Church’s kerygma and participating in her covenanted mysteries, or (to use Lutheran language) through Word and Sacrament. To think that being saved by grace alone, through faith alone, means that we need not live the life in Christ, that we can just walk away from the means of grace, is a contradiction.

But here is the key distinction: to live the life in Christ (that is, life in the Church) through Word and Sacrament is how we receive, enter into, and appropriate our salvation, but it is not the basis of our salvation. It is the work of Christ that accomplishes our salvation; our participation adds nothing to His work, but serves only to appropriate what he has has done (all that has come to pass for us). It is to safeguard that understanding of the work of Christ, not to exclude the importance of living the life in Christ, that “forensic justification” is emphasized.

All that is necessary to accomplish our salvation has been done by Christ (and I cannot believe that an Orthodox would dispute that). And I have to ask whether there is a difference between “imputation” of Christ’s righteousness to us and our participation, by grace, in the divine nature. For the divine nature, necessarily, includes His righteousness. To the extent that we are deified by grace, we share in His righteousness. So “imputed righteousness” is no more and no less than a particular aspect of our theosis.


Sorry for the lack of clarification. When I mean by a forensic justification, I am using it in the classical reformation theological definition. Please don’t be offended by this link. I wanted to post what a forensic justification meant by historic reformation theology. Certain Protestants use the doctrine of a forensic justification as the line in the sand which prevents unity between Catholics and Protestants.

What you have cut and pasted here from Colossians is a Catholic perspective, written for Catholic believers by Catholics. If it were not Catholic, it would not have been included and canonized by the Catholic Church.

You have not presented any “Protestant view” other than to label the passage “forensic justification”.

You sure take Catholic apologetics seriously. Don’t worry; I’m not here to try to sake the faith of any Catholic siblings. I do believe there will be no Catholic or Protestant distinction in Heaven. I say, live and let live according to your own Christian conscience. One day, we will all be catholic.

Okay that clarifies things quite a bit. Gosh is it difficult to read such dense anti-catholic material!

Here is a link that will help you with the Catholic position.

The basic difference is that Catholics don’t believe God just “cooks the books”. If we are justified, then it is because the case against us is dismissed with prejudice (over and done with once and for all). This is what baptism does for us, which is what is described by your passage in the OP. When we are baptized, those are all the things that happen. We are washed, cleansed, sanctified, justified from all sin, original, and personal.

Okay, maybe that is too much to open a discussion. Let’s start here and see what happens:

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, - Romans 4:5

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