Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Justifying the Doctrine of Justification: Part IV of VI

After so many weeks separating my previous column and this column, it may be wise to do a quick review of where we’ve come regarding the Catholic Church’s teaching on Justification. Of the two previous columns I’ve written we’ve come to see that justification is in fact a process by which a person is brought into a transformative covenantal relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. This divine relationship which is established, maintained, and perfected through the process of justification, is far more than a “right standing” with God as the relationship demands faithfulness to the Creator of all that is. This “faithfulness” is nothing more than a life lived according to ones own dignity. Unfortunately, the human condition has been compromised through original and personal sin leaving the individual unable to fulfill their final vocation; namely to become partakers of the divine nature (cf. 2 Ptr. 1.4). Justification, then, is the process by which one is both immediately declared and eventually transformed into the righteous person he or she was created to be thus ushering the Christian through that threshold of hope which is intimate communion with the mystery of God! Another way of saying this, although less eloquent, is that justification is by faith and charity/good works.

Mentioning the word “works” in a doctrinal context with a non-Catholic Christian can cause some undesired tension. As mentioned in a previous column, marshaling works with faith in the context of justification appears to diminish the value of Christ’s meritorious act on the cross to the non-Catholic. To the ears of the Evangelical, such a doctrine infers that one must be saved by grace received by faith along with works which occur outside the scope of grace since the person is doing it him/herself. Thus, a misunderstanding of the Catholic position ensues by creating a false dichotomy between grace and works. Such a misunderstanding can be easily corrected by looking at how faith is viewed through the lens of an Evangelical.

Thinking about the doctrine of “faith alone” may be easy enough when it is isolated from reality, but have you ever tried to think about it as it pertains to individual persons? What does it mean for an individual to be saved by faith alone? When observing the faith of others, one is quick to take notice that there is a large range of qualities to faith. Some people have unwavering faith while others have an anemic faith that borders on skepticism. The challenge for the Evangelical is to determine which faith is “saving faith.” Those who initially had faith but fell away are deemed as not having the particular faith that saves. If this is the case, what kind of faith is acceptable to God? Doesn’t Christ ask us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Mat 5.48; 19.21)? Doesn’t John tell us that nothing unclean will enter into heaven whether in thought or deed (cf. Rev. 21.27)? Clearly perfection is God’s standard for He cannot deny Himself. If that is the case, then no man can be saved since no one has perfect faith. The answer to this riddle is in the fact that man is saved by grace alone, which means that man’s feeble faith is accepted, sustained, and perfected through grace. What Evangelicals understand about the relationship between faith and grace, Catholics understand about the relationship between faith, works, and grace. It is only through grace that both our feeble faith and works are accepted, sustained, and perfected. Both Catholics and Evangelicals agree that salvation is by grace alone. Where we begin to disagree is in how grace is administered to works as it relates to the act of justification.

In light of the justification debate, one would think that Jesus Himself would have spoken often about the necessity of faith for salvation. After all, to be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, when Christ teaches about the kingdom of God/Heaven He is nearly silent about the roll of faith for salvation. Rather, it will be the humble of heart and those who undergo persecution for righteousness’ sake who will enter the Kingdom of God (cf. Mat. 5:3,10). We are told that if our eye causes us to sin, it would be better to pluck it out than to live with it in hell (cf. Mk. 9:47). We are exhorted to recognize our gifts and talents and to use them for the kingdom less we risk eternal damnation (cf. Lk. 19.12-27). Christ cautions the rich not to become too attached to their material wealth if they want to live in God’s kingdom (cf. Mk. 10.23). If anything, the evangelical reader may conclude that Christ has an “exaggerated” view of works being a condition for justification. In fact, Christ takes the Old Testament laws and intensifies them, never diminishing them. While in the Old Law adultery was considered a sin, Jesus adds that even if you look at another person lustfully you have committed adultery in the heart (cf. Mat. 5:28). If Jesus is advocating a faith alone theology, He has chosen a very confusing and misleading pedagogy.

The reason why Christ spends so much time on works is because He has come to redeem the heart, the source of all moral and immoral acts (cf. Mat. 6.21-22, Mat. 15:17-20). Christ has redeemed us in His blood and has called us to live in his redemption so that our hearts may be restored, and that we may live according to the dignity that is ours in Christ. The law has been intensified not to condemn us, but to call us to excellence. This excellence is only achieved through a life in submission to Christ our Lord. Thus, salvation is ours if only we continue to strive in saying ‘yes’ in faith to Christ and His Church, and ‘yes’ in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit which affords us the opportunity to live out our dignity in holiness/good works. Both are necessary for salvation for both are gifts from God in which we will be held accountable for.

Next week we will turn to St. Paul who speaks of faith much more often than Jesus. Paul is considered the chief defender of “faith alone” so it is with all the more importance that we spend a fair amount of time exploring his writing and his understanding of justification. Until then, may we continue to strive for excellence through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit so becoming one with the mystery of God who is love itself. May God be Praised!

1 comment:

730A_ngelinaRabideau0 said...

偉大的致富萬能之鑰,正是幫你充分掌握自己心志所必須的自律自制 ..................................................