Righteousness and Justification


I am struggling to understand the meanings of the terms ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification.’ I know these are extremely important ideas for Protestants, but I’m not seeing how they work, Biblically speaking. I am not a theologian, so plain English would be great!

The way (I think) it works, is faith makes us righteous, and we are justified, at least according to what I’ve read. Sounds great…what the heck does it mean?

Thank you!


Righteousness to me is simply goodness and holiness.

Justification is what Jesus won for us by His infinite merits and His Holy Sacrifice on the Cross. We are justified by the grace of God- this means that we are made holy and pure in God’s sight and are worthy to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I hope this helps! May God bless you! :slight_smile:


Thank you! The words are not obvious, but they seem very important. I am reading Letter to the Romans, and it seems important to try and understand what Paul is saying as clearly as I can.


I would recommend you read/study/&ponder the Catechism section on “Grace and Justification” – paragraphs 1987-2005. It’s about 3 pages. vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_P6Y.HTM#Z

Just as an example, it starts with:1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism
After reading, then come back with any questions. You may find al lot of your original questions answered.

It’s important to know that most Protestants have a different definition of (saving) “grace” than Catholics do (what for Catholics is called “sanctifying grace”). Thus many of them also have a different understanding of what makes us righteous in God’s eyes. Different Protestant denominations have different views, so it isn’t possible to give just one definition that holds for all Protestants.


To be justified is to be made righteous, something we cannot do on our own, apart from God. In Catholic teaching, this is not a merely “imputed righteousness”, as most Protestants believe, but a real one; we’re made righteous, or justified, at baptism which is our first formal act or profession of faith in God. From then on this righteousness can continue to be confirmed and to grow in us, as we continue to remain with and follow God, to commune with Him, responding to His grace, or we can turn away from Him, and forfeit our vital relationship with Him. In the end, justice, righteousness, holiness are synonymous terms, and can be defined by the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and love, with love really being the crown jewel, encapsulating the rest, that defines mans justice.


Here is a brief answer.

Father John Hardon’s Modern catholic Dictionary:

JUSTIFICATION, THEOLOGY OF. The process of a sinner becoming justified or made right with God. As defined by the Council of Trent. “Justification is the change from the condition in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam into a state of grace and adoption among the children of God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior” (Denzinger 1524). On the negative side, justification is a true removal of sin, and not merely having one’s sins ignored or no longer held against the sinner by God. On the positive side it is the supernatural sanctification and renewal of a person who thus becomes holy and pleasing to God and an heir of heaven.

The Catholic Church identifies five elements of justification, which collectively define its full meaning. The primary purpose of justification is the honor of God and of Christ; its secondary purpose is the eternal life of mankind. The main efficient cause or agent is the mercy of God; the main instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is called the “sacrament of faith” to spell out the necessity of faith for salvation. And that which constitutes justification or its essence is the justice of God, “not by which He is just Himself, but by which He makes us just,” namely sanctifying grace.

Depending on the sins from which a person is to be delivered, there are different kinds of justification. An infant is justified by baptism and the faith of the one who requests or confers the sacrament. Adults are justified for the first time either by personal faith, sorrow for sin and baptism, or by the perfect love of God, which is at least an implicit baptism of desire. Adults who have sinned gravely after being justified can receive justification by sacramental absolution or perfect contrition for their sins. (Etym. Latin justus, just + facere, to make, do: justificatio.)


In my simple naive mind, I see justification as being in good standing with God. In Baptism, my slate is wipe clean and deemed to be in good standing and adopted into his family. After baptism, confession continues to keep us in good standing with God. Of course , all these require Grace. Without Grace, there is nothing we can do to earn/keep us in good standing.

Righteousness is real, not imputed. There is no cloaking device that can slip us through heaven’s doors. After all nothing unclean can enter heaven. It riles me to think Jesus is made to appear to participate in a scam to enter heaven with warts and all (stain of sin). He didn’t sign up for that and has been defamed.:stuck_out_tongue:


Michaeljc4. You stated:

I am struggling to understand the meanings of the terms ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification.’ I know these are extremely important ideas for Protestants, but I’m not seeing how they work, . . .

You are asking about Catholic vrs. Protestant ideas of ‘righteousness’ in terms of justification.

*]Infused righteousness of Jesus Christ (Catholic)
*]Imputed or covered righteousness of Jesus Christ (Protestant)

Remember those two terms (Infused Righteousness v. Imputed Righteousness) as they will eventually come up over and over again in discussions with Protestants about justification.

We cannot be “righteousness” enough for salvation on our own. Protestants and Catholics agree on this.

How can a man be saved then?

By us having the righteousness of Christ—through the work of Christ.

We are sinners. We are saved through grace earned by the merits of Jesus Christ.

OK. But WHAT does that supernaturally mean for us AFTER we get that righteousness?

Protestant view of the Righteousness of Christ:

To (most) Protestants this “grace” means God’s divine favor. God forgives our sins, and we get “covered” or “imputed” (Grk = logizomai) or “credited” with the righteousness of Christ. (There are explicit Bible verses that talk of this.)

So at our judgment, God the Father looks down upon us and sees Christ covering us and so we are saved.

Protestants (at least some of them) see the person as a proverbial dunghill that is covered with “snow”. “Snow” being the covering of Jesus Christ.

BUT . . . down underneath that “Snow”, the “dunghill” remains. There is no real actual transformation of that sinner according to Protestant theology. That sinner is merely covered up. (There are NO verses that talk of this).

On the outside, it sounds pretty good, but taken by itself, it is inadequate theology. It is a partial truth.

OK. Now let’s look at the Catholic view of righteousness.

Catholic view of the Righteousness of Christ:

To the Catholic this “grace” means God’s divine favor. God forgives our sins, and we get “covered” or “imputed” (Grk = logizomai) or “credited” with the righteousness of Christ. There are explicit Bible verses that talk this.

So at our judgment, God the Father looks down upon us and sees Christ covering us and so we are saved.

Q: HEEY wait a minute Cathoholic! You just cut and pasted from the Protestant (changing Protestant to Catholic) view didn’t you?

A: Yes. I am not going to DENY the verses that talk about the covering of us with Jesus Christ. I am not going to deny ANY verses.

Q: OK. So what’s the difference in the Catholic view?

A: The difference is there is MORE. MORE verses too.

Let’s go on . . .

Catholics see us being imputed or covered with Christ’s righteousness to be sure, but NOT MERELY covered with the righteousness of Christ.

This imputation certainly results in God’s “favor” (CCC 1996).

“But wait! There’s MORE!”

Q: OK. What is the “more” that Catholics affirm then?

A: We affirm not only is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, but Christ’s grace REALLY and actually TRANSFORMS us. We are IN the vine. We abide in Him and He in us.

We are INFUSED (not MERELY “covered”) with the righteousness of Christ (see CCC 1997, 1813, 1999, and CCC 2023).

We actually become partakers of the Divine nature! (Which is a lot more than the “Divine covering ONLY”).

Incidentally. This is WHY we can “work” out our salvation with fear and trembling, but our own mere works apart from grace could never save us (but that is for a different thread).

St. Peter talks about us becoming partakers of the Divine nature as well. It is because of God working in us and through us that we can even “make every effort to supplant our faith with virtue”.

2nd PETER 1:3-7 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. 5 For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

So Catholic theology teaches when we are ready for Heaven, God the Father looks down and sees “snow” to be sure . . . but UNDER that proverbial snow is not dung, but more “snow”–more Jesus united to us.

We are really and actually transformed! We are really and actually sons and daughters of God through the work of Christ. And this process begins in this life through Baptism.

I hope this helps.

God bless.


PS When discussing “Protestant theology” you invariably get Protestants that say: “Well that’s not what I believe as Protestant!” And you get accused of misrepresenting the “Protestant position” because in Protestantism, everyone is their own earthly magisterial authority.

If you want to hear the (usual) “Protestant position” enunciated with clarity by a Protestant (and rebutted by a Catholic), listen to the Scott Hahn v. Dr. Robert Knutson debate on the audio: “Practical Apologetics” (listen to it several times—can be found here).


Addendum: “Dr. Robert D. Knudsen” (I misspelled his name on my last post. Apologies).


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