Righteousness Before God—How?
“GOD ’e say ’im alrite.” Such is apparently the way “justification” has been presented in a recent New Guinea Pidgin version of the “New Testament.” As quaint as this may seem, it does express the basic idea behind the word translated in many English-language Bibles as “justification,” or “declaration of righteousness,” as expressed in Romans 5:16.
On the other hand, some people say: ‘I lead a decent life. I do good to others when I can. I am prepared to meet my Maker.’ They apparently understand justification to mean self-justification. According to the Bible, the doctrine of “justification” relates to the way God regards us and the way he deals with us. Jehovah is “the Creator.” (Isaiah 40:28) He is “the Judge of all the earth.” (Genesis 18:25) Nothing, therefore, could be more important than the way he considers us.
Why We Need to Be Put Right With God
The Bible says of Jehovah: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) He is the embodiment of righteousness. As the Creator and Life-Giver, he has the right to set the standard, or norm, for determining what is right and what is wrong. That which is in conformity with God’s standard is righteous.
Thus, God sets the mark that his intelligent creatures must reach if they wish to live in harmony with their Creator. Missing that mark, or standard, is what the original languages of the Bible call sin. Sin is, therefore, unrighteousness. It is a failure to conform to God’s definition of right and wrong. Consequently, sin is also a form of disorder, a form of lawlessness.—1 John 5:17; 3:4.
Jehovah “is a God, not of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33) Originally, all his creatures in heaven and on earth were perfect. They were endowed with free will. (2 Corinthians 3:17) They enjoyed “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) As long as his righteous standards were respected, peace and order prevailed throughout the universe. Disorder intruded into the universe when, first in heaven, later on earth, some creatures became lawless before God, rejecting his right to rule over them. They deviated from God’s standard of right and wrong. They missed the mark and thus made sinners of themselves.
This was the case with our first parents, Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3:1-6) “That is why . . . sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) Ever since their rebellion, sin has “ruled as king with death,” because all Adam’s descendants “have sinned and fall short” of God’s righteous standard. (Romans 5:21; 3:23) Hence our need to be put right with God.
The Catholic View of “Justification”
This need for reconciliation with God is recognized by all the churches that claim to be Christian. However, the understanding of the way in which it is attained and of the Christian’s standing before God differs in Catholic and Protestant doctrine.
As to Catholic dogma, The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Justification denotes that change or transformation in the soul by which man is transferred from the state of original sin, in which as a child of Adam he was born, to that of grace and Divine sonship through Jesus Christ, the second Adam.” A Catholic Dictionary further explains: “We confine ourselves here to the process by which adults are elevated from a state of death and sin to the favour and friendship of God; for with regard to infants the Church teaches that they are justified in baptism without any act of their own.”
Briefly put, the Catholic Church teaches that “justification” is an act of God whereby a person who is baptized in the Catholic faith is really made righteous and sanctified by the gift of divine “grace.” It also claims that such justification can be (1) increased by personal merit, or good works; (2) lost by mortal sin and by unbelief; (3) regained by the sacrament of penance. Within this arrangement, the justified Catholic must confess his sins to a priest and receive absolution. Any “temporal punishment” still due after absolution can be atoned for by good works or remitted by means of an “indulgence.”*
The Protestant View
The abusive sale of indulgences in the early 16th century sparked the Protestant Reformation. Catholic monk Martin Luther attacked this practice in the 95 theses he posted on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. But, in reality, Luther’s disagreement with official Catholic dogma went deeper than that. It embraced the church’s entire doctrine of justification. Confirming this, A Catholic Dictionary states: “The difference of belief on the way by which sinners are justified before God formed the main subject of contention between Catholics and Protestants at the time of the Reformation. ‘If this doctrine’ (i.e. the doctrine of justification by faith alone) ‘falls,’ says Luther in his Table Talk, ‘it is all over with us.’”
What, exactly, did Luther mean by ‘justification by faith alone’? As a Catholic, Luther had learned that man’s justification involves baptism, personal merit, and good works, as well as the sacrament of penance administered by a priest, who hears confession, grants absolution, and imposes compensatory works that can involve self-punishment.
In his efforts to find peace with God, Luther had expended all the resources of Roman dogma on justification, including fasting, prayers, and self-punishment, but to no avail. Unappeased, he read and reread the Psalms and Paul’s letters, finally finding peace of mind by concluding that God justifies men, not because of their merits, good works, or penance, but solely because of their faith. He became so enthused by this thought of “justification by faith alone” that he added the word “alone” after the word “faith” in his German translation of Romans 3:28!*
Most of the Protestant churches basically adopted Luther’s view of “justification by grace through faith.” In fact, this had already been expressed by the French pre-Reformer Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples. Summing up the difference between Catholic and Protestant views on justification, A Catholic Dictionary states: “Catholics regard justification as an act by which a man is really made just; Protestants, as one in which he is merely declared and reputed just, the merits of another—viz. Christ—being made over to his account.”
Neither Catholic nor Protestant “Justification”
Catholic dogma goes beyond what the Bible teaches when it claims that “a man is really made just,” or righteous, by the gift of divine grace bestowed at baptism. It is not baptism that washes away original sin, but it is Christ’s shed blood. (Romans 5:8, 9) There is a big difference between really being made righteous by God and being counted, or considered, as being righteous. (Romans 4:7, 8) Any honest Catholic, struggling in his fight against sin, knows that he has not really been made righteous. (Romans 7:14-19) If he were really righteous, he would have no sins to confess to a priest.
Furthermore, if Catholic dogma followed the Bible, the sin-conscious Catholic would confess his sins to God, asking forgiveness through Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:9–2:2) The intercession of a human priest at any stage of “justification” has no foundation in the Bible, no more than the accumulation of merits upon which the doctrine of indulgences is based.—Hebrews 7:26-28.
The Protestant concept of justification, as meaning a Christian’s being declared righteous on the merits of Christ’s sacrifice, is without a doubt nearer to what the Bible teaches. However, some Protestant churches teach “justification by faith alone,” which, as we will later see, overlooks specific reasonings presented by the apostle Paul and by James. Those churches’ spiritually smug attitude is summed up by the phrase “once saved, always saved.” Some Protestants believe that it is sufficient to believe in Jesus to be saved and, therefore, that justification precedes baptism.
Further, certain Protestant churches, while teaching justification by faith, follow the French reformer John Calvin and teach personal predestination, thus denying the Biblical doctrine of free will. (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20) It can, therefore, be stated that neither the Catholic nor the Protestant concepts of justification are totally in harmony with the Bible.
What Does the Bible Teach?
Yet the Bible definitely teaches the doctrine of “justification,” or the way in which a human can be granted a righteous standing before God. We have earlier seen why we need to be put right with God, since we are all born, not as God’s children, but as “children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3) Whether God’s wrath remains upon us or not depends upon our accepting or refusing his merciful provision for reconciliation with him, the holy, righteous God. (John 3:36) That loving provision is “the ransom paid by Christ Jesus.”—Romans 3:23, 24.
The apostle Paul showed that Christ’s ransom sacrifice opens up two hopes, one “upon the earth” and the other “in the heavens.” He wrote: “God saw good for all fullness to dwell in him [Christ], and through him to reconcile again to himself all other things by making peace through the blood he shed on the torture stake, no matter whether they are the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens.”—Colossians 1:19, 20.
To share in either of these two hopes, it is necessary to have a righteous standing before God, and this involves much more than merely “believing in Jesus.” Just what is involved for Christians who have the heavenly hope and for those whose hope is to live forever in a paradise on earth will be considered in the following two articles. Please read on, and do not hesitate to ask the witness of Jehovah who supplied you with this magazine to discuss these articles with you, Bible in hand.
According to Catholic dogma, sin involves guilt and two kinds of punishment—eternal and temporal. Guilt and eternal punishment are remitted by means of the sacrament of penance. Temporal punishment must be atoned for in this life by good works and penitential practices, or in the next life in the fire of purgatory. An indulgence is a partial or a full (plenary) remission of temporal punishment by the application of the merits of Christ, Mary, and the “saints,” that are stored up in the “Treasury of the Church.” The “good works” required to obtain an indulgence can include a pilgrimage or the contributing of money to some “good” cause. In the past, money was thus raised for the Crusades and for the building of cathedrals, churches, and hospitals.
Luther also cast doubt on the canonicity of the letter of James, considering that his argumentation in Jas chapter 2, that faith without works is dead, contradicts the apostle Paul’s explanation of justification “apart from works.” (Romans 4:6) He failed to recognize that Paul was speaking of works of the Jewish Law.—Romans 3:19, 20, 28.
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THE CATHOLIC CHURCH teaches that justification makes man really righteous, but that justification can be lost by mortal sin or enhanced by personal merit
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MANY PROTESTANTS believe in justification, or declared righteousness, by faith alone, and that belief in Jesus ensures salvation. Some believe that justification is predestinated
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THE BIBLE teaches that man has free will and that Christ’s ransom sacrifice opens up two hopes, one heavenly and the other earthly. Both hopes involve receiving a righteous standing before God