Confessions of a Converted Catholic: Justification

March 5, 2010

In this series, Confessions of a Converted Catholic, we are exploring some of the basic precepts of Christianity through the eyes of someone who, for the better part of my life, was raised Catholic.  Our first exploration was on the topic of salvation, this time, I thought we would delve into the process of justification.  Again, I would like to state this is not an attack against the Catholic church or meant to provoke hostility.  My desire is for those who either grew up Catholic and are now lost or those who are still practicing Catholics with questions to have some honest conversations about the basic precepts of Christianity.

Trying to explain the doctrine of justification can be, in itself, a weighty subject and often confusing.  If you are anything like me, I often do better with analogies or metaphors.  With this in mind, let me use an analogy I think best describes the basic, rudimentary differences in the understanding of justification.  To do this, I would like to define insurance and assurance.  I believe examining the difference in these two terms will help in this discussion.

Insurance -promise of reimbursement in the case of loss; paid to people or companies so concerned about hazards that they have made prepayments.

Assurance – : the state of being assured: as a : security b : a being certain in the mind c : confidence of mind or manner : easy freedom from self-doubt or uncertainty.

In being in the insurance business, I often distinguish the two by thinking of insurance as something you pay into.  It is protection against a what-if.  Also, it is something that is owed to the insured, by the insurer.  This is a key difference: it is owed to the insured because of payments they have made into the policy. For the purposes of financial provisions, a life insurance policy provides cover for a set period of time. If the worst were to happen during that time (and there are no complications), then the insurance company will be required to pay out the agreed sum to the beneficiary. The only time the policy has any real monetary value is if there is a claim made for payment as a result of an event triggering that claim, such as the death of the person covered. If the person outlives the term of the policy, then the insurance policy will cease and no payment will be made.  In this case, there are a number of provisions or what-ifs involved in the payment of the insurance policy.

Life assurance is different from insurance, and will always result in a payment. This is achieved by combining an investment element along with and an insured sum.   Very similar to the Biblical view of salvation, those who believe Christ to be Lord and Savior, have the security, peace of mind, guarantee, etc of salvation.

So, what is the Catholic view of justification?  Well, Justification and Sanctification are seen as one.  Justification is seen as being “infused” into us.  Example: pumping gas.  By the merits of Christ and grace obtained by obedience and adherence to the sacraments, by one’s own efforts, they can attain grace to “fill up their tank”.  This is the idea that we have to do things to earn grace and then still be imperfect.  True Catholics cannot believe or rest in the grace freely bought and given by Christ for those who believe. This is the most significant difference and in this case, it is very much like insurance.  You have to pay into it in order to “hopefully” have enough paid in to avoid eternal disaster.  In fact, this is one of the biggest aspects of Martin Luther’s challenging of the Catholic church.  In reading Scripture, he, along with most, read faith alone, nothing more, nothing less.  I too, struggled with the weight of this and wrote about it in my post on Salvation.

Justification is clearly defined as an instantaneous, legal act of God where he thinks our sins as forgiven, and Christ’s righteousness is bestowed on us and God counts us as righteous because of Christ.  If you read this definition closely, you will see the benefactors’ actions have nothing to do with this transaction.  It is clearly God’s grace and mercy at work.  Other than believing in the saving power of Christ’ death and resurrection, there are no other “requirements” or “payments” we have to make to justify ourselves before God.  For me, as a cradle Catholic, this was a complete and utterly transforming mind-bend.

If you have questions about this difference, I would challenge you to explore the following verses and pray for Christ to open your eyes to His definition.  And you have not already, I would urge you to submit to Him and declare Him as Lord and Savior.  Here are your verses:

  • Luke 7:29
  • Romans 4:5
  • Romans 8: 33-34
  • Proverbs 17:15
  • Romans 8:1 No condemnation
  • Romans 4:6-8 -Lawless deeds are forgiven and God doesn’t count the sin.

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About the Writer:

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help churches and other Christian organizations incorporate some common business practices into their ministries to enable them to better serve the Kingdom. He currently works for SourcePointe, an HR Outsourcing Agency while continuing to own and operate Christian Management Consulting as a ministry. In his free time, he also writes a lot on Church Development as a Church Consultant.

As a husband and father of three, Trent Cotton has a passion surrounding the role Christian Men are to play in their families, communities, churches and businesses. This particular blog is dedicated to helping men take back the role that we have lost in society.



  1. I’m a catholic. And believein christ alone and his omnipotent grace.
    We believe in moral assurance. Romans 4 is teaching grace alone. Not faith alone view of salvation. Abraham believed and obeyed. He surely cooperated with grace. Romans 2:6-13. Romans 4:5 isn’t referring to his initial salvation or belief in God. Cross reference james 2:20-25 and. you’ll discover Abrahams faith was completed by his works.
    Faith alone is denied in Scripture. Luther was simply wrong! Augustine and aquinas were right! As were the early Fathers of the Church.

    • Actually, if you were to read the Catechism you will find there is no assurance until the day of judgment which is the reason for the doctrine of purgatory or the purging of remaining sins after death. If you read in Hebrews about Abraham, it states his actions did not make him righteous, but his belief in God and God’s selection of him made him righteous. It was nothing done by Abraham except for his faith. I am very familiar with James 2 and I agree that Abraham’s faith was completed by his works which where a manifestation or result of his faith in God. One cannot come before the other. Faith alone is supported throughout Scripture and even Jesus confronted the religious figures who touted their works and knowledge of God rather than their faith. There are several instances where Christ acknowledged someone’s faith, forgave them of their sins, and called them to Himself. This is the call of the Gospel. Not trying to provoke anger, simply address some fallacies in your statement. Thank you for reading and thank you so much for taking the time to respond.

  2. “reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty” CCC par.#2005

    I’m truly sorry that the Catholic faith has been made to seem “weighty” to you. I’m a Catholic at a Protestant university. I have been learning more and more about Protestantism and it has really forced me to confront my own faith and come to a better understanding of it. I’m currently writing a paper comparing Catholic and Calvinist views of justification and, honestly, it makes me so happy to be Catholic. I wish you could see the beauty of the Catholic doctrine. God loves us so much that He gives us the dignity to choose to love Him (because if it’s not a choice then it’s not love). He gives us the dignity to be able to keep choosing our whole life; He makes what we do really matter. God loves us so much that He actually makes us righteous, rather than just “covering” us with Christ’s righteousness as the reformers taught. Yes, it is a responsibility, but it is our freedom and our responsibility that makes us human. And that responsibility is not ours alone by any means. We can do nothing without Him.

    Well, there’s my inadequate little love song to the Catholic faith. Please consider coming back. I’ll pray for you. Please pray for me too.

    ps. I would rethink the insurance metaphor. I really don’t think it’s a true representation of Catholic doctrine.

  3. You said Catholics believe: “By the merits of Christ and grace obtained by obedience and adherence to the sacraments, by one’s own efforts, they can attain grace to “fill up their tank”.”

    But in actuality Catholics believe that we are: “said to be justified be faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and to come to the fellowship of His sons; because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification” (Council of Trent, Chapter 8).

    As Catholics, we do not believe that any works can merit justification. We believe as Luther did that one must be “freely assenting to and co-operating with that grace” in order to become justified (Council of Trent, Chapter 5).

    Catholics believe that because we are justified by faith, this entails an “obedience of faith” that is included in faith (Rom 1:5). It is not that our works merit any justification, but because of our faith calls us to be obedient to God and to do what he says. This is why “good works” is so often promoted in the Catholic Church but “works without faith is useless” (James 2:20). Instead, faith is “completed by the works” (James 2:22).

    You are correct in saying that Catholics believe in “infused” righteousness, as oppose to Luther’s “imputed” righteousness.

    “Imputed” righteousness is where righteousness is put on an individual because of their relationship with Christ. So Luther believed that although we were sinners, because of our faith in Christ, God justifies us by looking through the “lens of Christ’s merits” to overlook our sinfulness. Luther believed that no matter how terrible we sinned (even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day), just as long as we had faith in Christ we are justified (American Edition of Luther’s Works, vol. 48, p. 282).

    Catholics believe that although we are fallen humans (from Adam and Eve), that we were not “able to be liberated or to rise therefrom, though free will, weakened as it was in its powers and downward bent, was by no means extinguished in them” (Council of Trent, Chapter 1). We still have free will to co-operate or surrender to God’s grace so that he may work within us, or we can reject his grace.

    I feel that the analogy of “pumping gas” is somewhat incomplete to describe “infused” righteousness. It is best described as this: “the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in the justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is in-grafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope, and charity” (Council of Trent, Chapter 7). Basically it is only by God’s grace that we are able to be justified, it is up to us to surrender to that grace so that Christ’s merits can work in us and make us new persons.

    So in general the difference is this: “imputed” we are still seen as unrighteous, but God overlooks our sinfulness through Christ’s merits and we are justified or seen righteous, while “infused” is that through Christ’s merits, we receive justification if our faith allows us to submit to Christ, and that justification changes us into new persons and thus by the grace of God we are made righteous.

    I hope this helps. There are lots of misconceptions about the teachings of the Catholic Church, and it is understandable when looking at the small amount of education Catholics receive today. It’s best to do some research about what Catholics believe either at newadvent.org or catholic.com.

    God Bless!

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