I’m trying to compare justification from a Catholic and Protestant standpoint. I’m not asking about the definitions and doctrine behind how each group explains it, but I’m wondering more about how each group thinks about the particular topic of “proclivity to sin”. One way I describe the difference between the Protestant and the Catholic view of justification is that both groups believe a person is cleansed of sin by the blood of Jesus, but that the Catholic view (generally through Purgatory) also addresses the removal of the proclivity of sin whereas the Protestants remain silent about that. Am I wrong? I don’t have a hidden agenda and I’m not trying to stir anything up. It was just the way my simple brain thought about the difference between the two besides the actual doctrine.
“Protestantism” is undefinable in any practical sense. The term has become about as broad as the category of “living things.” I do note that many Protestant sects remain absolutely obsessed, virtually consumed with the concept of justification. Apparently preferring to compartmentalize their theology, they place both Jesus’ atonement and their own justification solidly locked in the past, preferring to believe that they possess some form of absolute “security.” To me, it reflects only on an underlying level of insecurity in their own beliefs.
The Catholic Church teaches that, as a result of the Fall of man, we are born with a proclivity or tendency to sin, aka “concupiscence”, aka “disordered desire”. We actually lost self-mastery as we gained freedom from God and His authority. She also teaches that we will struggle with this tendency all our lives, and that it’s a good fight which tests and refines us to the extent that we ultimately prevail. Purgatory may well be needed to finish the process. This teaching aligns with Scripture’s insistence that no sinners enter heaven. Man is expected to become “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect”, “holy because He is holy”. Authentic justice or righteousness is infused at Baptism and expected to be retained and even cultivated and grown throughout whatever time we have left in our lives, with the help of grace, even as it’s acknowledged that we will often fail. But in any case God’s purpose is not to ignore justice but to restore it to His creation, by restoring communion between ourselves and Him, ‘apart from Whom we can do nothing’-John 15:5. He never created us to sin after all.
The Protestant view, generally speaking, is that the Fall resulted in man having a new nature, a “sin nature”, where concupiscence became the chief hallmark of Original Sin in us. IOW we are sinners by nature now and the only way that can be overcome is for Christ’s righteousness to be “imputed” to us. We remain sinners in fact while appearing to be saints in God’s eyes, so long as we have faith in Christ and what he’s done for us. Faith, alone, IOW.
OK, so if Christ’s righteousness is credited to believers that means there is no inner change so does that mean their proclivity to sin remains? If not, why not? If so, how do those that believe in this reconcile that with being in heaven?
Again, speaking generally of the Reformed position, they insist that nothing they can do can contribute to their salvation anyway -aside from faith, which itself is a gift that cannot be refused according to some denominations. Anyway, they remain sinners whose “righteousness” is still filthy rags but, in God’s eyes, they are not sinners, due to their faith. Takes some mental gymnastics IMO. Additionally most will maintain that sanctification, the process of God making us holy, will occur anyway for those with true or “living” or “saving” faith, as evidence or fruit of their salvation (a one-time event) but not as a necessary part of it. In Catholicism justification and sanctification are not separated, Justification involves a continuous renewal of the inner man, as the Catechism puts it. Faith is also a gift for us, but one that can be resisted or refused, as all grace can be in Catholic teaching.
Ok, I can only speak in general terms because, as has been said, “protestantism” is such a large umbrella you can find almost any take on justification. I’ll try to focus on the proclivity of sin since it seems that’s what you’d like addressed. For most protestants it’s not an either/or, but a both/and. We are both justified by Jesus, and upon faith, we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is then the one Who begins to change (sometimes suddenly, sometimes over time) the person from the inside out, so to speak, which is sanctification.
Sanctification lasts the person’s whole life, and then we are indeed changed in the twinkling of an eye completely (meaning physically) at the resurrection. Many times it is seen to be the flesh that is weak, the flesh that needs changed. Jesus’ blood washes the spirit/soul clean, but our flesh is still imperfect. (The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.)
All change, inside and out, spiritual and physical is because of the grace of God, the Holy Spirit, and the blood of Christ. We become a new creature in Christ, and our flesh is literally changed in the resurrection. Also most protestants believe that a person’s works are tried, and the bad burned away, the good are rewarded (the person isn’t burned, but the works are). So, we do believe that one’s soul/spirit is cleansed, our body glorified, and our works tried.
As to our lives here on earth, and our tendency to sin, that is what takes time and sanctification to change, as mentioned earlier. There is that split in view of justification and sanctification. Many protestants (not all) do believe in a one-time justification but an ongoing sanctification. It’s the justification that most focus on when they ask if someone is “saved.”
Thank you for this back and forth and I apologize for my denseness, but I’m still not quite getting it. It’s one thing to say I’m not considered to be a sinner anymore, but it doesn’t seem to address my propensity toward sin. If I still have a proclivity to sin then, in theory at least, couldn’t I possibly sin while I’m in heaven? If not, then why not? What prevents a person from sinning if Christ’s righteousness has only been credited without a change in their nature (i.e. proclivity to sin)? My head is starting to hurt! Hahaha!!
Thanks for your response. As I understand Protestantism from a general standpoint sanctification is important but not critical from the standpoint of whether you’ll get to heaven. So assuming that most people who are in heaven are justified, but not fully sanctified, wouldn’t their proclivity of sin remain?
That’s exactly the point. In Catholicism sin must be definitively dealt with prior to heaven. It’s a matter of the will; as Adam willfully disobeyed we must come to willfully obey. This happens as we come to know God, which translates into coming to love Him, whereby obedience is automatic. This is true justification for man, to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Think about, it: the problem with man is that, to one degree or another, he’s turned away from God and towards sin, at odds with God’s will. He hasn’t come to acknowledge God’s existence to begin with, let alone His wisdom and goodness. This is all an anomaly in nature, not meant to be, an injustice. And until we finally, fully turn away from ourselves and created things to worship God first above all else, then we’re still attracted to those lesser, created, things before Him. And so we’re distracted, we’re incapable of seeing God; we don’t even want to see Him, still preferring* ourselves* to Him in one way or another, as the Catholicism teaches that Adam did with his first sin. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. Not sinners.
Sanctification is not critical to justification, but justification is critical to sanctification. The world, the flesh, and the devil are enemies to our souls; when we die, they have no more power over a believer. The world falls away, the flesh is left behind (until resurrection when it is glorified), and the Devil has no power. Jesus has washed away the sin itself, and we are a new creation in Christ, so whence comes the proclivity after death?
I would add that most protestants probably wouldn’t have an issue with an instant purgation that happens in the blink of an eye upon death that washes away any remaining will to sin, but what is mainly pushed back against is a place “not quite Heaven” where there is fire and temporal punishment for sin after death. Most believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, so wherever He is, we will be there an in instant.
It actually helped a lot, thank you for sharing. I found it to be a very well thought out argument for having free will yet no proclivity to sin. The net to me was that it was argued that our damaged will (the one with the proclivity to sin) is replaced by a new one that can’t sin (through the grace of God). I may disagree with this position as a Catholic (where we believe our existing soul is transformed), but that wasn’t the purpose of my initial question. Thank you for the civil discourse.
Thank you for the good questions. I’m the first to say I don’t know how it all works. I read recently of Pope Benedict’s thoughts that the “fire” of purgatory may be the light of Christ, that when we first meet Him after death, it is that Light burning away any vestige of a will to sin… I kinda like that thought. I also enjoy CS Lewis’ writings and he was a fan of “purgation” of some sort after death… I’m always trying to learn and find out the truth.
I must admit that “the light of Christ” has a much better ring to me than being “purified as is by fire”! I’m going to say something maybe a little nuts, but I’m looking forward to Purgatory (now if it is by fire I may change my mind…just kidding…haha!!). I say I’m looking forward to Purgatory because I not only deserve it (punishment as a consequence similar to how I parent my children…unconditional love and total forgiveness when they disobey, but there are always consequences for their actions), but also I like the thought of a transformed soul rather than a new one. Not because I want my own efforts to be recognized, but because I like the thought of my free will choosing to perfectly accept the grace of God (by the grace of God). To be of my own free will made perfect as my Father is perfect is an incredibly cool thought for me. And that it is all because of the grace of God is just awe inspiring to me! The fact that the early Christian Church and the Catholic Church have always believed this is definitely a bonus!!
Sorry, I thought of one more question…if a person is receiving a new soul then why would purgation even be necessary? It doesn’t make sense to me why CS Lewis would feel any purgation is necessary. If there is no new soul then I’m back to the proclivity of sin question since we’re again talking about someone’s unchanged soul coupled with free will. I’m feeling that pain in my head again…haha!!