As we contemplate a transition to Roman Catholicism, there's a lot to think about, and some of the differences are pretty intimidating.
But the doctrine of justification doesn't bother us at all.
All Christians believe that we're not saved by our own merits, but by the meritorious work of Christ. (Catholics affirm this in every mass!)
It's all grace. All of it.
Moreover, all Christians believe that the God's saving grace inexorably draws us into ever increasing conformity with Christ.
Salvation is a free gift, not a thing earned. And true Christians are characterized by their active fruitful love. It's impossible to take the Bible seriously without affirming both of those things, but there are a number of different ways of talking about it.
Because of Jesus, God forgives our sins and makes us holy. When we talk about salvation, do we mean just the forgiveness part, or do we mean the holy-making part as well? Is sanctification part of justification, or something separate that comes afterward?
It all depends on how you define your terms.
Words matter. But I'm pretty sure that our salvation doesn't depend upon our deft definitions and delineations.
We're saved by grace, and we can't earn God's favor by our cognitive merits. Whatever the words "justification" and "sanctification" ought to mean, it's safe to say that God regularly gives both of these gifts of grace to people who define them imperfectly.
Which is actually one reason that I was quite content to remain Protestant long after I became convinced that the Catholic way of talking about salvation is more helpful.
Careful Catholics and careful Protestants agree that the process of growing into love (sanctification) is a gift of grace. It's not something you can bootstrap yourself into. Trying harder doesn't work. You have to wait upon the hope of righteousness.
But even though we all agree that it's all gift, it's easy for a protestant to slip into the habit of thinking that we're sanctified by our own efforts.
I'm sure that Catholics are not immune to this pitfall, and I know that not all Protestants fall into this trap.
But even though I've never met a protestant who seriously thought that we can sanctify ourselves by our own efforts, that's the logical implication whenever the Catholic view is characterized as "earning your salvation."
Thinking of sanctification as a part of justification has nothing to do with earning, unless sanctification is something we do for ourselves.
But it's not. It's all gift. It's all grace.
Day by day, I'm struggling to remember that God alone can rescue me from my sin. I need all the help I can get, and it really helps to think of my journey into love in salvific terms.
I don't see this as something to break fellowship over. But it does seem like a good reason why maybe we don't really need to go out of our way to avoid fellowship with the Christians in our neighborhood.
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