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October 30, 2014

Martin Luther transformed Paul’s teaching about justification into a Protestant dogma about salvation. For Luther, salvation meant being saved from his guilt through the forgiveness found only in Christ’s death. This salvation was then equated with justification, understood as Christ’s righteousness (especially his sacrificial death) being imputed to the sinner–who then continued to be a sinner, albeit a justified sinner, a saved sinner.

The result is a long history of Protestant churches who preached “cheap grace.” The grace of justification could be received by simple confession of sin and belief in Jesus’ death as the means of becoming righteous. Accept Jesus as your personal Savior and your sins will be forgiven and you will be saved for eternity.

Luther was the first to separate justification (and salvation) from regeneration. One could become a Christian with no expectation of being transformed by God into a new creation, into a child of God who has the Spirit and is led by the Spirit of Christ. Luther’s reductionism isolated a partial view of justification (“reckoned as righteous”) to the point that Paul’s full teaching on righteousness/justification was downplayed. Thus Rom. 3 and 4–about justification through Christ’s death and Abraham’s justification of being reckoned as righteous–were elevated far above Rom. 2 and 6.

For in Rom. 2:13 Paul writes that it is the doers of the law (of Moses) that will be justified. This relates to final judgment, a final reckoning, but note that it takes seriously what one does. God’s righteous judgment will give to every one according to his works, to what one has done (2:5-6). In Rom. 6:4 Paul says baptism (the very beginning of being a Christian) includes dying and rising with Christ, with the result that one then walks according to a new way of life. Such a one is no longer enslaved by sin; instead, having died with Christ, one is “freed” from sin (6:6-7). The Greek word translated “freed” in many translations (in 6:7) is the same word translated as justified earlier in Romans. Even in Rom. 3 justification is linked with “redemption,” a word used especially for being freed from slavery (3:24). In Rom. 6:12-23 this new life is a life of righteousness and sanctification/holiness; having been set free from slavery to sin, one can now–through the power of God’s grace–become obedient to the teaching of Paul and Christ (who affirm only a small part of the law of Moses).

Rom. 8 is a beautiful commentary on Rom. 5:6 (God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us). Because of this powerful grace of the Spirit, the “righteous requirement” of the law (of Moses), namely, “love” (as summarized by Jesus–love your neighbor–and by Paul, in Rom. 13:8-10) can be fulfilled in us, who walk according to the Spirit. This is so important to simply being a Christian that Paul can say in Rom. 8:9 that “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” So, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (8:14).

All of this is what Paul means by righteousness and salvation–and justification.


From → The apostle Paul

  1. Hi, I agree with your entire article. It is consistent with the Catholic Teaching on justification. How do you feel about Baptism? Do you consider it the means which Christ instituted to bring about the renewal and regeneration of the Holy Spirit?

    • I did agree with you that justification is not just declaring sinners righteous, but includes regeneration and being made righteous, with a new life in Christ. As for the baptism Christ instituted, I understand his great commission in Mt. 28:19-20 to include baptizing with water in (into) the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. In Mt. 3:11 John the Baptist predicted the more powerful one coming after him would baptize with the Spirit. Thus the all-powerful risen Jesus will baptize new disciples with the Spirit, whose personal presence and power will enable them to keep Jesus’ commandments. So I think water baptism in (into) the name of the ruling Father, Son, and Spirit affirms–and reveals to other disciples–the presence of this baptism with the Spirit, the beginning of their new discipleship of Jesus, and the privilege of being children of the Father.

      I think later churches have put too much emphasis on the baptism of water, resulting in many baptized babies and adults who thereby became members of churches–but with little evidence of renewal or regeneration of the Holy Spirit. This emphasis seems to have begun even in some churches in Corinth, since they boast about having been baptized by Paul; and Paul’s response is that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach the gospel, though he did baptize a few of them (1 Cor. 1:13-17). In 1 Cor. 10:1-12 Paul warns the church that they should not think they “stand” just because they have been baptized and partake in the Lord’s Supper–using Israel’s baptism and supernatural food, and following idolatry and immorality as an example.

      • This is very true. We consider Baptism a Sacrament of initiation into the life of faith. Thus we begin to live as members of the Body of Christ. We must continue in our life of faith, as the Scripture says:

        2 Corinthians 4:16 King James Version (KJV)

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

        Thanks for your reply.

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