What Scripture teaches us about justification
Catholics believe that justification is the true destruction of sin brought about by the grace of God and the re-creation of the person in the image of the Incarnate Word Jesus Christ. Catholics hold to the belief that true faith in Jesus Christ will bear fruit in the form of good works and thus the Christ-likeness of the believer is inseparable from justification.
What is justification and how does it work? It is the process of being made holy and righteous in the eyes of God. It begins at Baptism and is aided by the reception of the Sacraments, chiefly the Eucharist, prayer and acts of charity. The process has no end in this world but is something that belongs to the world to come and is completed upon beholding the risen Christ face to face in the kingdom to come. The whole process is brought about by the grace of God which is first poured out upon a person in their Baptism. Grace is the free gift of participation in the life of God that instils in us his divine energies and calls us on to eternity with him. It has been won for us by the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Can you find justification in Scripture? Of course! The Scriptures speak clearly of the actual eradication of sin in the individual. Here are just a few examples:
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”Ps 51:2,7,9-10
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”Ps 103:12
“Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out [‘εξαλειφθηναι].”Acts 3:19
The Scriptures clearly speak of a total destruction of sin in the individual, not just a covering over of it or the forgiveness of it but the undoing of it. It is worth noting that the word ‘εξαλείφω, which appears in the New Testament and is often translated as ‘blot out’ translates literally as eliminate, erase or obliterate.
Scripture also makes clear the importance of good works in justification:
“Each shall receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers, you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Cor 3:8-9
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Jas 1:22
“For the Son of Man is come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.” Mt 16:27
The following verse written by St Paul about his own justification summarises the process that each of us goes through day by day now, as he did 2000 years ago:
“…that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider I have made it my own… I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:11-14