The Heart of Justification

Justification is one of the most important questions facing Catholics and Protestants alike. Today, I’ve invited a guest blogger, Matthew Rensch (a seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont) to explore an aspect of justification that you might not have considered. I’ll let Rensch take it from here:

Fra Angelico, The Coronation of the Virgin (1435)
Fra Angelico, The Coronation of the Virgin (1435)

St. Paul reports that when he went to Corinth to preach the Gospel, he experienced fear and trembling in the face of such a great task, the task preaching the good news of justification. Nothing less than the fate of their souls hung in the balance. In much the same spirit of trembling I write to you today, hoping to propose anew the good news of justification. Specifically, I propose for your consideration that justification, rightly understood, resonates with the desire of the human heart to be truly good and approved as such.

Let me give an example of this desire: when I was in college, we students were solicitous to earn an employable GPA. Distinct from our practical motive, however, which looked to the objective letter grade and no further, was another criterion. This complementary criterion was based on the marked diversity between professors’ grading. Some professors were demanding; others were pushovers. This (hardly unique) situation gave rise to the curious result the same letter grade given by two different professors had very different import. In fact, the grade that I was most pleased to receive during my college days was not an A but rather an A minus. The professor who rewarded me with that grade was one of, if not the, most demanding grader at the school. As such, his A- represented a much higher degree of competency than many another’s A.

This experience of mine is one simple manifestation of the significant truth that human beings have a desire to be approved—but not with simply any approval. We are not satisfied merely with being called good. The A of a pushover professor does not content us. Passing a flimsy standard gives no reward; we desire to be truly good. We desire to measure up to a real, firm standard. When one receives that precious A- from the exacting professor, it rewards the student who knows that his work earned every point of the grade.

The desire for real approval extends not merely to our grades and our accomplishments but to our qualities and very person as well. Our most profound desire, and deepest fulfillment, occurs when one who knows us well approves us for who we are. In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie Atkinson attempts to convince Atticus Finch’s children of Atticus’ worth by listing his ability in checkers and the Jew’s Harp. It does not do much good. Much later, she voices her definitive approval for Atticus. It is not in virtue of any of his talents, but for his character. She says to his children, “I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.” And shortly thereafter, “We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.” This is the type of approval for which our hearts pine: the approval that recognizes the strength and goodness of character.

Our longing for our very person to be approved is perhaps clearer when its lack is felt. The disappointment never fails to be acute and bitter whenever an approval fails to affirm who we are. An example of this is the disappointment that one feels when he thought a friendship was developing, only to realize that his supposed friend was interested more in a business partnership, or his expertise on some subject, or his other friends, his position, etc. The affirmation we receive from business partners or associates is well and good, but the core desire is for approval from our closest friends and family—because they know us best. Their approval of us is not as a clever businessman, or an intelligent student, but much closer to home—an approval of our strength of character, our uprightness, our person.

Now at this point some readers might suspect, not without legitimate cause, that this desire for real approval stems from nothing other than the capital sin—pride. Is it not clear, one might ask, that one looking for praise and approval is motivated by pride? He would not be alone in his concern. C. S. Lewis recounts that he too was skeptical when he first grappled with the idea of the desire for approval. He thought that evil might lurk in desire for “approval or (I might say) ‘appreciation’ by God” (Weight of Glory). But he began to reconsider the topic more carefully when he realized that Christian writers as varied as Milton, Johnson, and Aquinas all treat of this desire in positive terms. Finally, he adjusted his view when he saw that this idea comes from the very pages of the bible. For example, in one of the parables on stewardship, the faithful servants hear their God say to them, “Well done, my good and faithful servants” (Mt 25:23). And again a few verses later the sheep, separated from the goats, receive the accolade: “Come, O blessed of my Father” (Mt 25:34). The joy to be praised by God himself! Lewis concludes his reflection by ecstatically suggesting that we “shall actually survive that [final] examination, shall find approval, shall please God . . . [and] be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son.”

In this roundabout way we have arrived at the theme of justification and how it ought to be understood. There are two understandings to be distinguished. The Catholic one emphasizes a real transformation of the saved person. A differing view offers an image of justification using descriptions such as simul iustus et peccator, snow covered dung-heap, forensic justification. Only the idea of justification which includes a real transformation of the sinner into a son of God provides an adequate foundation for the fulfillment of the human desire to be really good and to be approved of as such. If I’m right that this desire is fundamental to the human heart, then the second option of justification cannot but fail to satiate our hearts. It remains profoundly dissatisfying. For if, when God says, “well done, my good and faithful servant” he is looking not at me but at the Word that conceals my real self, or if God’s eyes at that moment do not gaze into mine with approval but rather turn away to approve something else, or if God’s words correspond not to a real worthiness in me but to something extrinsic, then my heart cannot but break for disappointment. And if this is the beginning of the existence that I will live for all eternity, then surely I have gained entrance into a meaningless heaven. For there He will never know the real me, and we will never gaze face to face with the joyous familiarity of lovers.

20 Comments

  1. “For there He will never know the real me, and we will never gaze face to face with the joyous familiarity of lovers.”

    Wonderful!

  2. I wonder if this was the post that was supposed to address my questions on Christian perfectionism?

    “Only the idea of justification which includes a real transformation of the sinner into a son of God provides an adequate foundation for the fulfillment of the human desire to be really good and to be approved of as such. If I’m right that this desire is fundamental to the human heart, then the second option of justification cannot but fail to satiate our hearts.”

    I think that the yearning of our hearts is ultimately irrelevant. I remember what my heart yearned for before I was a Christian: sin. Pride, sex, lying, blasphemy. I was pretty good at getting As in school though, despite this sin! In fact, I calculated how many hours I needed to get an A and still graduate in three years, so I purposely took a couple of classes that were nearly impossible to get As, but were easy A-s, so that I can concentrate on the classes that can give me As and require the time investment.

    In the end, none of it really got me anywhere in life from a worldly perspective, but I will tell you what I did get (other then set on a course where I met my lovely wife!)

    I got saved. I literally repented of my sins when I heard Augustine’s Confessions read in class. I didn’t know what repentance was, or that all the things that I was doing were sins. It literally felt like an otherworldly experience, like in Dante’s Purgatario where they throw off the weights off their back when doing their penance for pride. I literally felt lighter even.

    Yet, I still did not know my Lord and Savior for another two years. As you may guess, I read a lot of Dante, Augustine, and the Bible (including the Deuterocanon) in the meantime. I even read The Seven Story Mountain. You would honestly think I would have become a Catholic due to the resources I was using.

    People noticed a change in my life. I did. I was happier, I was nicer, more patient…a million things. Yet, I did not know Christ, I did not really believe He rose from the dead.

    On that fateful evening when I did accept Christ, and knew I was really a Christian, there was not a subsequent outward change in my works. I still strived for righteousness as ardently as before, and since being married a few years later even more so. However, I no longer strived to attain, I strived out of gratitude. I was willing to strive in the face of suffering and danger, and praised God for it because He sustained my faith.

    This is why, without getting into the Scripture (which will not emphasize that the point of becoming a Christian is to fill that big God-shaped hole in your heart), I can take issue with the idea that justification should in some sense satiate any real desire that we have. I wouldn’t want to exchange the feeling of satisfaction in my striving to transform myself for the reality that I have already been transformed, that I am already seated in the heavenly realms, that I can say with Marius Victorinus that “I am Christ,” because I am sealed in the Holy Spirit and exist in union with Him.

    Our hearts are deceitful, we often do not desire what is right. I don’t look for the path of justification that will appeal to satisfying my desire. I know the path of justification that is real, that puts me in right standing with God, that makes His love an ever-present reality where there is no striving to attain more, but striving to do His will in gratitude that He has given me everything. I want to be like Paul who says “having nothing yet possessing all things” is possible for the Christian now.

    There are so many rabbit trails we can go on this. Forensic justification, penal substitution, etc. etc. However, because the post is not really a Biblical argument in favor of the idea, I simply add my $0.02 from an emotional standpoint.

    1. “I still did not know my Lord and Savior for another two years”.

      I actually think that you might have known Him better than you state. To be inspired by the writings of a servant of God, such as Augustine, is to be inspired by Christ who was speaking through Augustine. It’s almost the same idea as when St. Paul says “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ”, and also when Jesus teaches “Those who hear you Hear Me”, and St. Augustine was a great Bishop in the Church of Christ when he wrote.

      Moreover, when a Christian is “born again” so-to-say, he is often not even aware of the graces that are being given at the time. St. Paul describes immature spirituality in a general way in Hebrews 5:11:

      “11 About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”

      By the way, I was ‘reverted’ to the Catholic Faith by randomly picking up a book on the Life of St. Francis of Assisi (The Little Flowers, Mirror of Perfection and the Three Companions, Everyman’s Edition) in a library. The second book I read after that one was the “Confessions”. The Bible came about 2 months later. However, after reading St. Francis I really wanted to be a Friar Minor! I changed my college major almost immediately, thinking I would be a Franciscan in 2 years after I graduated. And I tried too! But they didn’t want me. I think they would have preferred someone who might be able to coach football, or something like that. I was probably too religiously radical for them, and might cause trouble income way. 🙂 But it was an instant ‘reversion’ after I finished that book. I knew what a Catholic was.

      1. Thanks for some more comments on your background, I always find these things interesting.

        “I actually think that you might have known Him better than you state. To be inspired by the writings of a servant of God, such as Augustine, is to be inspired by Christ who was speaking through Augustine.”

        True, and at the time I probably thought I was in God’s good grace, because it literally felt like it and in my opinion I was given the supernatural ability to break sins and habits relatively without a struggle. For example, to go from lying on an hourly basis to almost not at all was such a radical change in character, I honestly do not know what else to ascribe it to.

        In retrospect , I believe I was not saved until a point two years later when I knew Christ. For one, there was still sexual sin in my life, which due to my ignorance I did not know it was actually sinful. Ironically, the day when it dawned on me that it was I vowed never to sin like this again, prayed to God for faith, and literally the next day became a Christian. So, I am aware there are parallels between this and Augustine’s story (though Augustine might have not considered that he was actually a Christian until he was baptized quite a few months after his conversion experience).

        So, I chalk of the two years from the beginning of my repentance to my confession of Christ and all that He did for me to something like that I ” tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made [a] partaker of the Holy Spirit,” (Heb 6:4), but not that I was indwelt by the Holy Spirit:

        In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph 1:13-14).

        As we see in Ephesians we are sealed “having also believed.” So, those in Hebrews 6 in my opinion were like me during those two years. They experience a degree of God’s grace, but not the radical transformation of having the Holy Spirit indwell you and in effect become your pledge that guarantees eternal life. Those sealed cannot lose their salvation, but those that merely experience grace but no such faith can lose their salvation.

        Hence I have a confidence not in what I have done or continue to do, but what God has already done for me in the cross and the pledge He has given me with the Holy Spirit. So, there is no longer a striving to attain or earn anything, this has already been accomplished and done in my life.

        As for Matt, I need to give some thought to what you said in light of what I said, to try to explain them better. Being that I am very afraid that this is going to become a debate on perseverance of the saints, which I would rather not address now, I will say this: I am one flesh with Christ, because I am a member of His Body, the Church, which is His bride. The existence of the Holy Spirit in me is proof of this and gives me confidence in my confession. So, I don’t strive to earn approval for any goodness I wrought in holiness of heart–not because such goodness is bad. I strive for goodness, but not approval. My oneness with Christ guarantees approval irrespective to works, so my approval is guarenteed on the basis He had done and was accomplished 2000 years ago on the cross.

        If this were not to be true, then we run into the problem of actually having to worry about attain God’s approval. However, God’s standards are complete perfection for He is completely perfect (“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” “You must be blameless before the Lord your God”). So, to be approved, we would either have to be perfect (which is impossible), God has to have imperfect standards, or imperfect perception so that He does not know we fall short. These possibilities are unacceptable.

        God bless,
        Craig

    2. Hi Craig,

      Thanks for your comment. In reply to your question, this post was not written as an explicit reply to our discussion about Christian perfection, but obviously is very closely connected.

      Would you do me the favor of summarizing the antepenultimate and penultimate paragraphs of your comment? I can’t seem to get the gist of what you’re saying. Especially puzzling to me were the sentences that start “I wouldn’t want to exchange . . .” and ” I know the path of justification . . .”

      Thanks,
      Matthew

        1. Hi Craig,

          Yes, your comment cleared up my question about your position, and about mine. There are a few points I’m not trying to make, and I think those are being mixed in and confusing the issue.

          First, there is the question of HOW we are made to be good. Catholics would mention works. You emphasize faith, the cross, “irrespective of works.” That’s one question, but not my point.

          Second, after justification, there is the question of one’s MOTIVATION for striving to be or remain good. Catholics might propose a number of reasons. You emphasize, it seems to me, that any striving for goodness you do doesn’t add to your approval-rating. You strive for holiness out of thanksgiving and gratitude — out of love for Christ who has already given you the gift of justification. Fine, another topic, but not my point.

          My point is, rather, that our goodness is real. What IS the goodness in justification? Well, first and foremost, its real. Let me propose a metaphor. A person’s hair does not come from his own efforts. It comes in naturally. And yet, though his effort isn’t involved, we say things like “oh, nice hair” etc. Now, if someone were to wear a wig, he could really accept those comments. He would know that, really, he was wearing someone else’s hair.

          So, for justification, God makes us just. As you say, his perception is keen; he’s not overlooking anything. Sooner (or later) God makes the heaven-bound person a perfect creature. Not by putting the wig on our head and pretending that it is our own hair, so to speak, but by recreating us with new hair.

          This point, that the reality of justification is real, makes all the difference. In the same way that the wig wearer knows he’s a fake, the forensically justified man knows he a cheat. And who can endure life as a cheat?

          ~Matthew

          1. To sum it all up, it appears that your view is that one is justified by being increasingly Godlike. Now, this is “grace upon grace” so we know that it is the Holy Spirit that does it, so the Catholic believer would have no grounds to boast.

            It is a similar idea to Theosis in Eastern Orthodoxy (which really is a more mystic take on it). However, it also has parallels with Mormonism, Buddhism, and many belief systems that essentially teach that as we empty ourselves and become more like the divine, we are in effect saving ourselves. The crucial difference between Eastern Orthodoxy/Catholicism and these other “religions” is that Christianity teaches that one’s spiritual ascent is the work of the Holy Spirit, so in effect God is the one saving you all the way while they teach that the individual saves himself.

            However, I simply do not believe the Scripture teaches that our transformation in Godliness is process of continual justifying. You can probably even tell that the verbage sounds unbiblical. Christians are justified, they are sanctified, there is no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ. Hence, justification and sanctification are not ongoing events in the life of the believer, and thereby the increase of Godliness is not something in which we can take pride in upon our judgment by God, but rather it is a fruit of the Spirit who saves us, making them totally irrelevant in our justification and only relevant in judgment because we are justified to begin with.

            It’s all about union with Christ. The believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Hence, as his life is increasingly conformed to the Spirit who indwells him, it is not as if the union with Christ is increasing. Nor, can it be undone.

            God bless,
            Craig

          2. Craig Truglia says:
            June 22, 2015 at 2:15 am
            To sum it all up, it appears that your view is that one is justified by being increasingly Godlike. Now, this is “grace upon grace” so we know that it is the Holy Spirit that does it, so the Catholic believer would have no grounds to boast.

            Correct.

            It is a similar idea to Theosis in Eastern Orthodoxy (which really is a more mystic take on it).

            Same exact thing.

            However, it also has parallels with Mormonism, Buddhism, and many belief systems

            Totally different. Mormons believe in a different trinity. Buddhism is essentially atheist. Don’t know to which others you refer.

            that essentially teach that as we empty ourselves and become more like the divine, we are in effect saving ourselves.

            Again, don’t know to which other religions you refer. But that summarizes Catholicism very well:

            2 Peter 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

            1 John 3:2Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

            The crucial difference between Eastern Orthodoxy/Catholicism and these other “religions” is that Christianity teaches that one’s spiritual ascent is the work of the Holy Spirit, so in effect God is the one saving you all the way while they teach that the individual saves himself.

            Christianity teaches that salvation is a synergistic process. We save ourselves by turning to Christ, our Saviour:

            1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

            Philippians 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

            Hebrews 5:9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

            However, I simply do not believe the Scripture teaches that our transformation in Godliness is process of continual justifying.

            It is true whether you believe it or not:

            2 Corinthians 4:16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

            You can probably even tell that the verbage sounds unbiblical.

            It is your verbiage which sounds unbibical.

            Christians are justified, they are sanctified, there is no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ.

            As long as they live according to the Spirit. But they can be condemned if they fall away:

            Hebrews 6:4-6King James Version (KJV)

            4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

            5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

            6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

            Hence, justification and sanctification are not ongoing events in the life of the believer,

            I don’t know how Protestants miss this Teaching. Entire sections of the Bible are dedicated to showing how man’s faith is perfected in trials and suffering. The entire story of Israel, walking through the desert and walking through the red sea, constantly falling away and turning back to God. St. Paul himself says to you:

            Hebrews 2:1-3King James Version (KJV)

            1 Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.

            and thereby the increase of Godliness is not something in which we can take pride in upon our judgment by God, but rather it is a fruit of the Spirit who saves us, making them totally irrelevant in our justification and only relevant in judgment because we are justified to begin with.

            On the contrary, Scripture says:
            2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

            It’s all about union with Christ.

            True. But some are more perfectly united than others. This is why God loves some more than others.

            The believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Hence, as his life is increasingly conformed to the Spirit who indwells him,

            You just disproved yourself. “Increasingly conformed” means that we are more perfectly united to Christ. Therefore, we grow in charity and in sanctity and justification.

            it is not as if the union with Christ is increasing.

            It is precisely that.

            Nor, can it be undone.

            What does this mean, then?

            2 Corinthians 6:1 We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.

            It sounds very much as though a pig can return to his sty and a dog to his vomit:

            2 Peter 2:20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

            God bless,
            Craig

            You too.

  3. The problem with discussing the topic of ‘justification’ seems to be that a focus is put on a desire for assurance of our salvation, or even a guaranteed assurance that how we live is acceptable to God in any way. The problem is, that we have teachings from Christ in the Gospels, that stress not only the importance on complete trust in God the Father (ie..”Father, into your Hands I commend My spirit” ), but that our ability to judge ourselves, or conclusively assess our spiritual condition, is subject to a great degree of uncertainty and so a wide margin of error in the analysis should be assumed. There is too much relativity involved if we would compare ourselves with others and then, on those comparisons, make conclusions to whether we are great saints, or great sinners. Even Jesus alludes to this mystery and uncertainty when He says:

    “When thou art invited to a wedding, sit not down in the first place, lest perhaps one more honourable than thou be invited by him: [9] And he that invited thee and him, come and say to thee, Give this man place: and then thou begin with shame to take the lowest place. [10] But when thou art invited, go, sit down in the lowest place; that when he who invited thee, cometh, he may say to thee: Friend, go up higher. Then shalt thou have glory before them that sit at table with thee. [11] Because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.” (Luke 14:9)

    So, no matter how much we would like to consider ourselves ‘saved’ or ‘virtuous’ or ‘justified’ or ‘good’, it is best to opt on the side of being “the least and servant of all” which is the humble position, and then trust the Lord to put us in the place that He Himself desires for us.

    But, this absence of absolute certainty doesn’t indicate that we can’t have a general, or rough, idea of our relationship with God. To get the rough idea we must follow what Jesus teaches in the Gospels, and then obey the Church to whom He said : “Those who hear you , hear Me”. And to refine this rough idea of our spiritual condition even further, we can listen to what St. John writes in his 1st Letter, Ch.2:

    “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just: [2] And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. [3] And by this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments. [4] He who saith that he knoweth him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. [5] But he that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected; and by this we know that we are in him. [6] He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also to walk, even as he walked.

    [7] Dearly beloved, I write not a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you have heard. [8] Again a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true both in him and in you; because the darkness is passed, and the true light now shineth. [9] He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. [10] He that loveth his brother, abideth in the light, and there is no scandal in him.”

    These types of scriptures, such as John Letter 1 above, have frequently caused me to wonder how it is that so many Evangelicals, and other Protestant Christians, can be so presumptuous in proclaiming their “once saved, always saved”…’justification’ ideology. It seems to neglect completely so many excellent and essential teachings found throughout the New Testament Scriptures.

    1. Hi Al,

      I agree with your comments about “once saved, always saved.” It just doesn’t hold up. As the case turns out, however, there are versions of “once saved, always saved” which do not give assurance of salvation. Take, for instance, the case in which someone turns to a life of horrendous crime after having accepted Christ. Is he still saved? Some answer that he never was saved. So once saved, always saved, remains true, but you just don’t know until you’re dead.

      On the other point that spiritual self-assessment is a dubious business at best, yes, I agree.

      Both these points, about the permanence of salvation and one’s assurance of it, are well taken. In case, though, they acted as red herrings to the point of the post, allow me to summarize. My point is that salvation, whatever one’s assurance or assessment of the current situation, only has meaning for us if it is truly transformative. If we come to the pearly gates and God says: “yeah, I guess you can come in” and then whispers on the side “though, between you and me, you know that you’re a wretched sinner, right? Your sin, which is still there, caused the death of my son” then the entrance into heaven will not be a cause of joy but of shame.

      In a word, if God is not pleased with us, how can we endure his presence and his gaze?

      Thanks,
      Matthew

      1. “The problem with discussing the topic of ‘justification’ seems to be that a focus is put on a desire for assurance of our salvation, or even a guaranteed assurance that how we live is acceptable to God in any way. The problem is, that we have teachings from Christ in the Gospels, that stress not only the importance on complete trust in God the Father…but that our ability to judge ourselves, or conclusively assess our spiritual condition, is subject to a great degree of uncertainty…”

        I totally agree. “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it” (Jer 17:9)? People can deceive themselves and think that they are elect. However, simply because people are deceitful it does not mean that God does not seal believers with the Holy Spirit. John presumes this when he says that those who leave the Church “went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us” (1 John 2:19).

        The presumption is that those who left were never part of the true Church of God to begin with, even if they were visibly part of the membership. Those who are part of the Church were predesetined, elected by God and their perseverance is assured because of God’s ability to give believers the gift of perseverance. None who are predestined fail to persevere. Augustine writes:

        “Whosoever, therefore, in God’s most providential ordering, are foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, glorified—I say not, even although not yet born again, but even although not yet born at all, are already children of God, and absolutely cannot perish. These truly come to Christ, because they come in such wise as He Himself says, All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and him that comes to me I will not cast out; John 6:37 and a little after He says, This is the will of the Father who has sent me, that of all that He has given me I shall lose nothing. John 6:39 From Him, therefore, is given also perseverance in good even to the end; for it is not given save to those who shall not perish, since they who do not persevere shall perish” (On Rebuke and Grace, Chapter 23).

        “Even Jesus alludes to this mystery and uncertainty when He says…”

        Indeed, there is a degree of uncertainty because we are not God, and so we don’t know our own hearts as well as Him. That is why we are called to make our election sure (2 Peter 1:10), because by our own works we know that we a children of God (John 13:35). Those who live by the “Spirit…are putting to death the deeds of the body” (Rom 8:13). So, our works act as verification that when we examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, that it is indeed true. So, we look for fruits of the Spirit as seen in Gal 5, you shall know them by their fruits.

        Aquinas concurs: “Now the works of the spirit are called fruits, not as something earned or acquired, but as produced. Furthermore, fruit which is acquired has the character of an ultimate end; not, however, fruit which is produced…For the Holy Spirit is in us through grace, through which we acquire the habit of the virtues; these in turn make us capable of working according to virtue.”

        Paul did not hesitate to express confidence in the salvation of others for this reason. In Heb 6:9-10 Paul writes: “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” So, Paul saw their love for the saints, something that Christ said that the world knows we are Christians, as proof of their salvation, so much so that he was “convinced.”

        Writing to the Corinthians, despite all of their problems, he wrote that he knew “that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you” (2 Cor 4:14).

        So, to express constant doubts about one’s salvation appears to show humility, and perhaps it is indeed true humility, but it also shows a lack of trust in God’s promise that He saves us in the utmost by faith in His Son, irrespective to works.

        John indeed expressed that we should have “confidence,” because the confidence itself is also proof of God’s work in the heart of the believer:

        By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:17-18).

        So, if I have no fear, it’s not because I am a great guy or smart, but like a little child I take Christ at His word.

        “So, no matter how much we would like to consider ourselves ‘saved’ or ‘virtuous’ or ‘justified’ or ‘good’, it is best to opt on the side of being “the least and servant of all” which is the humble position, and then trust the Lord to put us in the place that He Himself desires for us.”

        Being the least of all and being the servant of all is about serving, not about confidence in salvation, you are interpreting the verse incorrectly. John, above, actually addresses confidence in salvation and actually warns against lacking such confidence.

        “But, this absence of absolute certainty doesn’t indicate that we can’t have a general, or rough, idea of our relationship with God.”

        I totally agree.

        “These types of scriptures, such as John Letter 1 above, have frequently caused me to wonder how it is that so many Evangelicals, and other Protestant Christians, can be so presumptuous in proclaiming their “once saved, always saved”…’justification’ ideology. It seems to neglect completely so many excellent and essential teachings found throughout the New Testament Scriptures.”

        To be fair, you quoted a parable that really was not addressing the issue and then quoted the “servant of all” teaching which was likewise not addressing the issue. I believe between Heb 6, 2 Cor 4, and 1 John 4, that we can conclusively say that “confidence” in salvation is something a Christian may have, not because he is good, but because His Savior is.

        God bless,
        Craig

        1. Hi Craig,

          The humility and confidence in regards to one’s own salvation are not incompatible. The confidence in one’s own salvation is possible because of the “hope” that is instilled within us by the Holy Spirit in our baptism. It’s one of the gifts in the sacrament of baptism, together with faith and agape. So we Christians ought to be humble in saying that we are not 100% sure that we are saved, but we have this hope that we will be saved because of the on-going redemptive action of Christ that makes it possible for us to brush of the fear and tremble that we have as we work out our own salvation (Phil 2:12).

          In Christ,
          Kristian

          1. Our confidence is that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Hence, where there is fruit of the Spirit, there is grounds for confidence, because He is at work in us to will and work for His good pleasure.

            Can I tell you that I am certain I am not deceived, and thereby I will persevere? No. But I can tell you if I am not deceived by myself, by His grace, then my salvation is assured.

          2. Craig Truglia says:
            June 15, 2015 at 12:53 pm
            Our confidence is that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Hence, where there is fruit of the Spirit, there is grounds for confidence, because He is at work in us to will and work for His good pleasure.

            Can I tell you that I am certain I am not deceived, and thereby I will persevere? No. But I can tell you if I am not deceived by myself, by His grace, then my salvation is assured.

            That’s the Catholic Doctrine, Craig. We are assured, but not absolutely.

            1 Thessalonians 5:8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

            CCC1820 Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the “hope that does not disappoint.” Hope is the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: “Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” It affords us joy even under trial: “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation.” Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire.

        2. Craig, Your faith and love for God is commendable, and every Christian should strive and pray for such great gifts from the Lord. I only hope that you can add to it, so that your “joy may be full”, by approaching the Catholic Eucharist which Christ gave to the members His Church wherein they might be able to “be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect”.

          And part of this road to perfection is the leaving of the milk and honey and starting to consume more substantial foods. Because, even after faith and baptism Jesus instructs His disciples to “teach them to carry out all that I have commanded you”. And this particularly pertains to the Eucharist: “Do this in remembrance of Me”. Even children who are baptized and have love and faith in God, do not receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist until the age of reason. This is because the Eucharist is stronger spiritual nourishment and union with the Lord, and an understanding of the Sacrament and an acknowledgement of the “true presence” of Christ in the Eucharist is necessary for it’s reception.

          So, I believe that you will greatly benefit by the reception of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist provided by the authority of the Catholic Church (in any of it’s many rites). But also, I again say that every Christian should strive for your great love and faith in God, and your knowledge and charity are an inspiration to many on this blog site. I’m just pointing you towards the words of Christ “teach them to carry out all that I have commanded you”….so that in doing so, your love, and joy, and faith may grow even more, such as to “be full”.

          Best to you in the Lord.

          1. Though we disagree doctrinally, I appreciate the compliments and well-wishing. We are perfect not in what we do, but in Christ because what He has done for us. I became righteous the day 8 years ago when I trusted in Christ.

            I pray that we can all say:

            I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

            Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

            Amen.

          2. Craig, when you say,

            “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

            You again express the Catholic Teaching, exactly. We don’t boast of having saved ourselves by our faith alone. We don’t boast of having become perfect or made ourselves perfect. We boast in what Christ has done.

            That is the Catholic Teaching.

  4. “I became righteous the day 8 years ago when I trusted in Christ.”

    Do you consider ‘ becoming righteous’ the same as ‘born again’? And ‘justified’? Are they basically synonyms of each other?

    1. Good question. Most Protestants believe that justification is a legal fiction (i.e. snow covered dung hills). Whereas, we believe we are actually washed of our sins and born again in Baptism. I wonder what Craig will answer.

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