Thursday, July 26, 2012

Credit or Debit? Justification in scripture vs Roman Catholicism

Romans 4:4-5 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

Credit or Debit?
Whenever I go to a gas station or grocery store, the clerk will usually ask the question: Will that be credit or debit?  A New York Times Article on this subject states: "Debit cards are linked to your bank account so the money you spend is automatically deducted from your account."1   Then in distinguishing credit cards, the article defines them: "Credit cards basically allow you to use someone else’s money (the card issuer’s) to make a purchase while you pay the money back later." 2

When we consider the difference between the biblical view of Justification by Faith Alone vs the Roman Catholic view of justification, we can liken both to a Perfectly pure credit based system of salvation vs a debt based system of salvation.

The Biblical View - Credited Righteousness
As we saw in yesterday's post, the Bible teaches that at saving faith, God credits or "imputes" the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the sinner, thus making him or her positionally right with God.  This crediting of righteousness means that all the sinner's debts have been paid in full.  From that standpoint, the Bible then teaches that the saint of God will grow experientially in the practice of right godly living, or sanctification.  The ability to live the Christian life stems from the Holy Spirit working through sanctifying grace, which is distinguished but nonetheless rooted in the justifying grace received by faith at salvation.

The Biblical view of Christ's credited righteousness means the bill for salvation is paid in full for believers
Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."  The Biblical view of justification by faith alone has the righteousness of Christ being credited to the believer.  Unlike the credit of credit cards, there is no bill coming from God, expecting the believer to "hold up his end of the bargain" so as to make payments.  Romans 4:4-5 states: "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."

The Biblical view of Christ's credited righteousness provides the basis for wanting to live right for God
Often I have heard the accusation that for God to credit a sinner at salvation with a righteousness that is not His own amounts to some type of legal fiction.  Furthermore, some will say that the crediting of Christ's righteousness leads to a person living anyway they want, since God forgives no matter what.  True saving faith receives the grace of justification by itself.  However the believer's life from thereon is characterized by a faith that aims to live right for God.  James 2:26 states: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead". 

In the credit based system of biblical salvation, I have the infinite merit of Jesus Christ's righteousness to draw from in living the Christian life.  There is no credit limit, and furthermore, it is by using that credit of His righteousness that I more and more begin to look like the One who issues the credit!  As I use the credit of Jesus Christ, I learn how to live for God plus I gain the desire to want to live for Him. By being in Christ, and he working through me, God's declaration of me as righteous is not fictional - but factual! (Philippians 2:12-13) 

The Roman Catholic System - Debt Based view of salvation
In the Roman Catholic system, the type of righteousness in their view of justification is not Christ's righteousness, but the believer's righteousness.  Furthermore, there is no "crediting" or "imputing" of Christ's righteousness to the sinner's account, rather, in the Roman Catholic perspective, God "infuses" or "begins to pour in" gradual righteousness into the sinner. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells this out:  "The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity." 3

A debt based system of salvation leads to the impossible of finding assurance
This righteousness of the believer is begun in the Roman Catholic rite of baptism, and must be maintained through confession, participation in the Mass and the whole Roman Catholic system.  In short, the individual is always in debt.  Roman Catholicism teaches that one can lose their status of rightness (or justification) before God, and thus must reconnect via confession, paying penance and the Mass.  In Roman Catholic thought, justification and sanctification are one and the same.  This confusion leads to trying to attain right standing before God, since in Roman Catholic thinking, one cannot be declared righteous by God until they are actually righteous. 

So which would you have? Credit or debit?
The Biblical view of Justification by faith alone advocates the crediting of Christ's righteousness to the one who receives salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  Roman Catholicism teaches that in order for God to declare me righteous, I have to become actually righteous by my faith, plus baptism and participation in the Roman Catholic system.  The first one is credit based, meaning the price of my salvation is paid in full and applied to me in saving faith, resulting in me wanting to live right as I draw from the infinite merit of Jesus Christ.  Roman Catholicism is debt based, meaning that I can never be assured of whether I truly right with God, since I'm attempting to achieve right standing through faith in the Roman Catholic system. 

I would urge you today dear friend, if you have not done so, to by faith enter into God's credit based system which is from Jesus Christ and by Jesus Christ.  (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) 
End Notes
1 Jennifer Barrett, New York Times January 6 2009.
2  Jennifer Barrett, New York Times January 6 2009.
3  Catechism of the Catholic Church