|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1999|
|This four-part series examines some of the differences in belief regarding the doctrine of Justification, especially as it relates to the Catholic church. Key terms defined are. “Synthetic” vs. “Analytic”, “Imputation” vs. “Infusion”.|
Last week we began a discussion of the issues that divide Catholics and Protestants regarding the doctrine of justification. We looked at the first point: “Forensic” vs. “Legal Fiction”. We now pick up the discussion with point 2.
To get a broader understanding of what the Protestant Reformers meant by forensic justification, and why they believed it did not involve God in a legal fiction, we must examine the second word which describes their view. It is the word synthetic. By this term, the Protestant Reformers meant there is a synthesis, a combining or adding of something to the sinner’s account in his relationship before God. Namely, the sinner appears before God, in union with Christ.
When a man or woman believes in Jesus Christ, they become spiritually united to Christ (Ephesians 2:4-6). Because they really are “in Christ,” Christ’s righteousness now becomes theirs. The biblical imagery says that the believer appears clothed with the righteousness of Christ; that is, the righteousness and the merits of Christ are given or imputed to him, and cover him. Thus when God declares a sinner just, He declares him just in Christ. It is not because He looks at the person’s character and good deeds; this has nothing to do with it. It’s the unlimited merits of Christ stemming from Jesus’ perfect life and atoning death which constitute a person righteous—not the merits of the person himself.
Now, across from synthetic, is the Roman Catholic word analytic. This word describes how Catholics understand justification. The word analytic means to analyze, or to study in order to determine the outcome. The Catholic Church believes God declares a person just only after He examines the person and finds within the person genuine righteousness and true justness. So the basic difference here is that the Protestant sees the believer constituted righteous “in Christ” while the Catholic sees the believer constituted righteous in himself. This brings us to our third category.
Now to say that the merits of Christ are imputed, which is point 3 underneath the Protestant side, means that the merits of Christ are reckoned, credited, counted or transferred from the account of Jesus, so to speak, and placed over in the account of the believer. The moment a person believes in Christ, God sees him standing “in Christ” where all the riches and merits of Christ entirely cancel out the sinner’s debts. In other words, the synthesis has taken place: that is, Christ and His merits have been added to the account of the believer. The person offers nothing of his own before God, but only everything that Christ has done for him on the cross. It is on the basis of the merits of Christ alone which are imputed to the person of faith, that allows God to declare that person forgiven and justified.
Now what do Catholics believe at this point? The word infusion describes how Catholics believe a person becomes truly righteous. To understand the term infusion, we must first understand the term “prevenient grace.” Prevenient grace refers to the power of Christ placed within a person, thus, infusion Catholicism teaches that God’s prevenient grace— Christ’s power—is infused or placed into the sinner. When this power is given, and the sinner cooperates with this power, then he can actually attain a state of righteousness. Only then will God declare him to be just. Why? Because he has, in fact, now become just. Catholicism is not teaching a crass view of justification, that a man entirely in and of himself can live a holy and righteous life and earn justification in the sight of God solely by his own ability. But Catholicism is teaching that in the power of Christ, a man can arrive at a point where he will become just within, and then, as a result, God will declare him justified.
To summarize: Catholicism believes the basis of our justification is the righteousness which God finds within us. This is an actual righteousness we achieve by the help of Christ’s power. (This is what Protestants call sanctification.) On the other hand, for Protestantism, the basis of justification is Christ Himself and His righteousness only. It is not something we co-operate in attaining. In Protestantism, any kind of righteousness a person might have is not in any way the basis upon which God pardons us; rather, God pardons us solely on the basis of the merits of Christ.
Thus, this category of imputations vs. infusion also deals with the subject of sanctification and its relationship to justification. What is sanctification in Catholicism? Catholics believe this is both an inner transformation of a person and their subsequent personal righteousness. The key thing to remember is that, in Roman Catholic belief, sanctification must come before a man can be justified.
In Protestantism it is exactly the opposite. Sanctification—or a life of spiritual growth leading to personal righteousness through the power of Christ—comes only as a result of justification, and never is the means by which a man gains justification.
In conclusion, Protestants believe Catholicism has not accepted Paul’s teaching in Romans and Galatians where he clearly defines the only basis upon which God says He will justify a man or woman. Paul says, in effect, “To the one who does not work for salvation, but who simply believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned— imputed, or counted to him—as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
In the next article, we will consider points 4 through 6.