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Reconciliation with God.
The primary purpose of justification is the honor of God. The secondary purpose is the eternal life of mankind. The efficient cause is God’s mercy. The instrumental cause is baptism. The essence is sanctifying grace.
Infants are justified by baptism. Adults are justified for the first time by baptism, or by perfect love for God which is an implicit baptism of desire. Adults who have sinned gravely after justification may receive justification through sacramental absolution or perfect contrition.
The most frequent use of this term arises between Catholics and Protestants. The Catholic Church follows Jesus’ teaching on the saving power of faith expressed in works.
Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
Mt 25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ’Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
St. James explained: Jas 2:14 “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” He repeated for emphasis, Jas 2:26 “Faith apart from works is dead.”
Nonetheless, Martin Luther fixed upon this statement by St. Paul, Rom 3:28 “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law,” and imagined that we can be saved by faith alone, without works. But Luther could not find Scriptural authority for faith alone; the only place in Scripture where faith alone appears is, Jas 2:24 “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” So when translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into German, at Romans 3:28, Luther brazenly falsified the teaching by adding the word alone so it read “faith alone apart from works of law.” But those clarifying words, “of law” were still in there. What did St. Paul mean by “works of law?”
St. Paul proclaimed in the Hebrew language, Acts 22:3 “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cili’cia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gama’li-el, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day.” He knew and lived and breathed Torah, and observed all the laws. But he also knew that Jesus’ new and everlasting covenant fulfilled and completed the old covenant based on Torah. Acts 15:1 “Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.” At the Council of Jerusalem, James ruled, Acts 15:19 “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.” This was a reference to the simple Noahite Covenant Gen 9:1-7 which Jews consider God’s law for all the world, not to the Mosaic law which Jews believe applied only to the Israelite people.
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans was very clear. He meant by “works of law” the commands of Torah such as circumcision, kashruth (kosher), animal sacrifice, etc. Jesus Himself had declared that it was no longer necessary to eat kosher. Mk 7:18 “’Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” So, following the clear teaching of Jesus Himself, and the Church gathered at the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15 St. Paul taught, had to teach, that a man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ apart from circumcision or kosher or animal sacrifices.
When we say we have faith in Jesus, what does that mean? It means we know that what He says is true? Jesus said, Mt. 7:21 “Not every one who says to Me, ’Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” If we believe He is God, we believe that His words are true. That means doing what He said to do will get us into heaven, but just saying “Lord, Lord,” alone will not do it.
Also see Vatican documents on the agreement between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation on justification by faith.
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