This is no insignificant topic of discussion. To be sure, to explain in full detail why I do not side with the Vatican and its views on matters such as apostolic succession, ecclesiology, sacramentalism, and dual-source theory of doctrinal authority would take more than one blog post. Besides, who would take the time to read a lengthy, comprehensive, doctrinal dissertation in digital format? Blog posts should be on the shorter side, don’t you agree? So, my aim here is not to be exhaustive. But though I will be concise, I do intend to be substantive, especially when the Roman Catholic Church and Christianity are pervasively, and unquestionably, seen as the same thing. This is tragic.
Simply put, I am a Protestant because of a word I live by. That word is “justification.” It’s a Biblical term referring to God’s declarative, forensic act whereby He, God the Father, reckons sinners righteous in Christ. He forgives all their sins and transfers the perfect righteousness of Christ to their account. This objective, irrevocable, legal, just judgment and transaction is by grace alone (it is pure, undeserved gift) through faith alone (apart from any work or religious ceremony or preparatory obedience or contrition brought on by a certain kind of preaching) in and because of Christ alone. As the Apostle Paul writes, sinners “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:24-25). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The Great Exchange! Christ gets my sin and my deserved punishment. I get His righteousness and merit and reward!
The Roman Catholic Church profoundly messes this up. First of all, without Biblical warrant, its Catechism attributes justification to the work of the Third Person of the Godhead. It states: “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3, Section 1, Ch. 3, Article 2.1, line 1987). However, at no time does Scripture credit justification to the Holy Spirit. It is true that apart from the Spirit’s working there is no faith through which one is justified. But this is an entirely different matter. Scripture is clear. And despite the Roman Catholic position, Scripture alone is the final and sufficient authority in these things.
Furthermore, the CCC’s very definition of justification is wrong as it conflates justification with sanctification. In other words, the objective, one-time, irrevocable declaration of a sinner’s legal position in heaven’s court is combined with the ongoing, progressive, subjective, experiential work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. The Catechism states, “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” Yes, justification involves the remission of sin. That much is fine. But justification is not “sanctification and renewal!” According to the Bible, progressive sanctification is the Spirt-caused, life-long pursuit of personal holiness. Those already justified are commanded to walk in and by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25). Nevertheless, the Catechism repeats the grievous error, insisting, “The Holy Spirit is the master of the interior life. By giving birth to the ‘inner man,’ justification entails the sanctification of his whole being” (line 1995, italics mine).
This is remarkable in that it absolutely fails to express what the Bible actually teaches. While justification and sanctification are two aspects of salvation from sin, they are two very distinct realities. Justification is a legal, forensic, declarative, objective acquittal from guilt and the crediting of Christ’s perfect righteousness to the believer. Sanctification is the ongoing progressive flight from sin and conforming to Christ by the indwelling Spirit of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 2:20; 4:6). Conflating the two is not just a manifestation of dreadful exegetical method, it turns the gospel into a gospel which is no gospel! How is it good news when my legal standing before a thrice holy God depends on my advance in righteous living? When is enough obedience ever achieved? Could I ever obey God enough to merit my justification before God? No! The Bible is crystal clear on that. The blood of Jesus underscores it; for if righteousness could be had any other way, Christ died for nothing (cf. Gal. 2:21; 3:21).
So, Roman Catholicism flounders on the Author of justification and the definition of justification. And it also errs on the means of justification. “It is granted us through Baptism,” it says. Scripture disagrees vehemently, dogmatically, and unapologetically. As I cited earlier, Paul writes we “are justified by his grace as a gift… to be received by faith!” Faith! Not baptism! God does not reckon righteousness by any work done by the hands of men, but through faith alone (Romans 4:6). What is justifying faith? It is simply looking to Jesus, trusting His Person and Work for that perfect righteousness you could never attain, but God nevertheless requires from each and every person ever born without exception. What God requires from us, He grants to us in Christ. And it is received by personal faith. Faith alone. Not works. Not ceremony. Not baptism. Faith.
This is but one example of the confusion and foundational error that keeps me, and countless others, from joining the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church. It confounds me to no end when I learn of those who leave Protestantism for Roman Catholicism, for in doing so they exchange the riches of Christ in justification for utter bankruptcy and poverty in a justification which is no justification. “Here I stand. I can do no other.”