Saint Paul’s Teaching on Justification Being a Process

by David Gray, July 23, 2011
    Brothers and sisters:
    We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

    And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.

~ Romans 8:28-30

In this Sunday’s Second Reading at Mass, Saint Paul perfectly describes the Catholic Christian understanding of how God sets us on a course after our Baptism to be conformed to the image of Christ His Son.

In my book Cooperating with God: The Bridegroom’s Prayer, I go in great detail concerning the process of we cooperate with God’s desire to make us perfect, so I included an excerpt below from Chapter 10 (The Eighth Petition, ‘To Be Missionaries | Finding & Accepting our Vocation) which treats Romans 8:28-30:

“In regards to Cooperating with God, the disciple who is sent can almost expect for his/her self-will to struggle against the will of God. Such is the nature of an Israelite, but one of the fruits of the Sacrament of Baptism is continuous repentance on our part. As we proceed from the point of rebirth to matriculate through grace and draw nearer to that point in the center of the Circle of Grace, God consecrates us, which then allows us to always persevere (regardless of the matter or form of our suffering) and this perseverance can lead us to perfection.

“St. Paul spoke of this process (consecration) that all disciples of Christ go through, in this way, “For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the first-born of many brothers.” That is, through the Baptism of Adoption (becoming new creatures) God sets (ordains, predestines) the soul on a course to take on the new Adam, just as the Christ took on the old Adam. Then the Apostle added, “And those He predestined [[Baptized/adopted]] He also called, and those He called He also justified, and those He justified He also glorified.” That is, the Adoption of Baptism, the cleansing from humanities’ ‘Original Sin’ is what makes the disciple eligible to receive the grace to persevere in holiness to the end (justification), and those who persevere to the end are the same victors who will be glorified in Heaven.

“Justification is a perpetually gracious act from God through which the Holy Spirit works to conform (mold/shape) the disciple into the image of Christ Jesus through the remission of sins, sanctification, and renewal of the interior man. We faithfully participate and Cooperate with God in this great work by conforming our self-wills and self-desires to His. Whatever our self-interests are, they are nothing in the light of living only for God’s will, God’s interest, and God’s desires.

“In his The Instructor of Children, written in 202 C.E., St. Clement of Alexandria spoke about how the process of justification begins with the Sacrament of Baptism in this way:

    When we are Baptized, we are enlightened. Being enlightened, we are adopted as sons. Adopted as sons, we are made perfect. Made perfect, we are made divine. “I say,” He declares, “you are gods and sons all of the Most High.” This work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing. It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins; a gift of grace by which the punishments due our sins are remitted; an illumination by which we behold that holy light of Salvation – that is, by which we see God clearly; and we call that perfection which leaves nothing lacking. Indeed, if a man knows God, what more does he need? Certainly it were out-of-place to call that which is not completed a true gift of God’s grace. Because God is perfect, the gifts He bestows are perfect.

“Now, in the light of clearer language, we can transliterate Paul’s verses to read, “Those who freely responded to God’s loving grace (loving mercy), He also adopted, through Baptism, to be conformed to the image of His Son . . . And those He adopted He also called to holiness (consecrate), and those He called to holiness He also sustained (propelled) through the lifelong process of justification, and those He justified He also glorified (made holy) on earth and in Heaven.” See the chart below for a visual clarification of this process.

“There are two vital themes here for the disciple of Christ to consider in respect to what has been written above. The first is that we must take heed of such words in Scripture as persevere, victor, and race, because the only thing that God will use to sustain us along the long road of justification is His grace. Moreover, we must remember that this life-long race (or marathon) cannot be won through our own self-determinism. The theme of perseverance is synonymous with the virtue of patience, in that the disciple must be prepared to hunker down in the trenches and look forward to a long battle. Taking the Kingdom of God with violence begins with a prolonged siege.

“The second is that God truly does expect all of the Baptized to achieve holiness through Christ, and that process of justification begins here on earth. For us to actually believe that God is content with a merely mediocre effort, on our part, to Cooperate with His grace is ridiculous, to say the least. What parent is happy that his/her child disobeys them or brings home failing grades from school?
~ ~ ~ end excerpt

Eternal Father,
Conform me into the image of your Son.
Establish my path to victory.
Guide my steps into holiness.
And love me into your glory

Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


    • Jack
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    • January 5, 2012

    The RCC is confused about justification and sanctification. Justification is a one time event with continuing results that when a person believes into Christ and His Spirit comes to a live in-abide in that person' soul forever. It is His Spirit that sanctifies i.e. sets us apart from the world, works sin out of our lives and conforms us to the image of Christ.

    • Jack isn't not a matter of confusion - it a matter of speaking two different languages. You believe in the process that we describe, but you wouldn't use the same word to describe the process. So here again we are talking about apples and oranges that can't be reconciled. And you see again that it wasn't a Protestant reformation - it was a Protestant reformulation - two completely different things.

    • Jack
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    • January 6, 2012

    Yoseph-- justification is not a process. It is a one time event with continuing results. See Rom 5:1 for example. Sanctification is a process by which we are conformed more and more to the image of Christ.

    • Jack, you are speaking from the Protestant reformulation playbook. Apples and Oranges on that subject. Let me put it like this. If you read a Stephen King novel and you have questions about what he meant, then smartly you would seek out Mr. King to answer your questions and clean up your confusion. What you wouldn't do is go ask Spike Lee what Stephen King meant. Similarly, if you want to know understand Scripture then go to the Church whose own members wrote the Bible, the Church that preserved and protected the Scriptures, and the Church that canonized the Bible in 382AD. If you want to know what Paul meant then go to the Church who Paul helped to found and whose students became Bishops of that Church. What you don't do is skipped forward 1,500 years and believe the rambling reformulations of a number of lunatics and heretics who we don't know whether they are in Heaven or Hell. Be smart about this whole thing, be humble and don't make the Bible fit into your own understanding. By the way - why is your Bible missing 7 books? By what authority were they removed and by what authority do you even know what books belong in the Bible?

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