JUSTIFICATION:  How then can man be righteous before God?


The Reformation of the 1500's saw Martin Luther and others recover and emphasize JUSTIFICATION by faith, the truth of Sola Fide, meaning "by faith alone." The Greek word is dikaioo, and is translated as the context demands, by various forms of two words; 1. justification (justify), and 2. righteousness (righteous). 


Bildad asked the question (Job  25:4), "How then can man be justified with God?" Various English translations help develop his -and our- underlying question and its problematic implications:


Darby:  And how should man be just with God?
CEV:   How can anyone be innocent in the sight of God?
ERV:   How can anyone claim to be right before God? No human being can really be pure.
NKJV:    How then can man be righteous before God?
TLB:    How can mere man stand before God and claim to be righteous?
NASB:   How then can a man be just with God?


Justification is a legal term, a courtroom term. In the Bible sense it means "to declare righteous". This differs from what grew out of the Roman Catholic system, which was more an infused righteousness. In short, the Reformation recovered the fact that justification is forensic...ie...a declaration. Whereas Rome taught (and teaches today) an infused righteousness (which in practice becomes a human merit based system). The implications and differences play out into two opposing systems best summarized as:


Rome: Good works plus faith in Christ plus faithful adherence to the Roman Catholic church and its sacramental system...yield in the end -  a hoped for justification & salvation
Bible: By faith alone in Christ alone, a believing sinner is declared to be justified by God and good works necessarily follow as a necessary result of the new life in a believer.


The Reformers rightly saw in scripture a view of justification by imputed or extrinsic righteousness. They denied the Catholic teaching that the believer in Christ is saved by becoming internally righteous. But rather, that it was the imputation of Christ's righteousness to that person (Romans 3:21-31; chapter 4). The new believer then grows in grace and knowledge and good works, but they rightly saw that Justification happens at the very beginning where true faith in Christ is present.


The fact that (new and long time) believers still occasionally lapse and sin was fully understood by Paul and John (see Rom. 7:7-25; 1 John 1:8-10). This provides evidence that to be declared righteous in God's sight does not imply a total, internal righteousness has been infused (ie..the Catholic position) or is attained over time.


[note: though the gist of this article contrasts Catholicism with the Bible teaching on justification, the issues of justification and sanctification go well beyond the Protestant Reformation conversation. Many divergent groups emerge from time to time that confuse the grace of God for works and law/Torah/works based justification.]


When we become children of God (which is the blessed relationship that justification introduces us into), sin is never far away, because despite the fact that the new believer has a new nature, the old nature is still present. (Rom. 7:21-25). The development of Christian character where one evidences being more 'Christlike' is viewed from scripture as 'Sanctification,' This is a separate, yet related truth, compared to Justification.  Roman Catholicism tends to merge justification and sanctification instead of contrasting them.  


This merging brings into play Catholic "merit" and "good works" as well as the whole sacramental system that are part of a lifelong goal of justification. It is therefore a process in the Roman system, rather than a declaration by GOD. Catholic theology would argue that this protestant idea of a declaration is a kind of legal fiction, meaning protestants are wrong (and anathema) to suggest that God would say a person is just, who is not just (in themselves). In contrast to the protestant (and would should change our term from "protestant" to "biblical") declaration by God of a believer being just before God IN CHRIST, Catholic theology says that there is an analytical sense to justification. Meaning....after analyzing a person, God declares them just only after finding within the person a real righteousness or justice within, brought about by infusion. In other words, a man can "arrive" at a point where he lives a life that is fitting for God to grant him justification. Such an one has cooperated in what is called congruous merit. We of course here do not have space to discuss the error initial justification by infant baptism of the Catholic system.


In the Bible, the declaration of a right standing before God depends on the person and work of Christ alone. Notice: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21). Notice those last two words. IN HIM. The Christian does well to never think of himself too far from Christ. In the matter of a right standing before God, it is IN HIM, rather than in ourselves that we are justified in the sight of God.


We beg the reader to reread that last sentence.


This ties into the biblical fact of a declaration of righteousness rather than a process or infusion demanded in the Roman system. Roman apologists will often argue that we hereby misrepresent their position. But in the outworking of Roman Catholic salvation, justification ultimately becomes the efforts of man to achieve what God demands (ie...works, and faithfulness to the "church" and its sacraments). It is a works-based system. This was the issue in the Reformation of the 1500's, a protest against works-based salvation. Martin Luther saw it clearly in scripture..."the just shall live by faith."

In contrast to works-based ideas, Christ as a substitute, bore the believers sin on the cross, and the believing sinner receives a righteous standing in Christ -not because the believer has done anything, but because God declares him so (righteous in Christ). Of course personal acceptance and appropriation by faith of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ does not mean that the new believer becomes internally righteous IN HIMSELF. This evidenced by the above discussion about ongoing battles with the sinful nature that is present even after conversion, even after one has been declared righteous by God (justification). But in a true believer there is always progress in sanctification, either by obedience to God, or by the discipline of God.


The Roman system -- regardless of what some say -- sees a justification process ongoing and therefore the works of man become essential to ultimately attain that justification. This also makes the Roman Catholic priest, who is the dispenser of the sacraments, to be essential to salvation.



Now in the conversation we are having, the Roman apologist will bring up James 2:24. We too must take it into account since the book of James is God-breathed as is Romans. But in our study we shall find that instead of being contradictory, James 2:24 provides a beautiful harmony. To begin:


Reformers and Bible believers emphasize:  Romans 5:1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:  Romans 3:28   Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith   Romans 3:24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Roman Catholics emphasize:  James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.


In Paul's epistle to the Romans, what is in view -with regard to justification- is the example of Abraham many years before the events James describes. Paul strongly insists that Abraham was justified before GOD by faith alone. In answer to those who say the bible never says "by faith alone", we propose that the following verse excludes works, and if works are excluded, then it is by faith alone:


Rom. 4:5  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.


Notice too, before proceeding, that God justifies whom?  The ungodly (not good people, nor sincere, nor those "doing their best").


In the Roman Catholic emphasis of James 2:24, notice that it has in view the offering of Isaac. In that momentous event from Genesis 22, we must pay attention to the fact that 40 years have elapsed after scripture says Abraham was justified by faith (by believing God).  


40 years earlier, Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (there is that imputation again). 40 years later, Abraham evidences his faith and is justified by works by obeying God in the matter of offering Isaac. And this is what James is emphasizing-something 40 years later. Thankfully, and in a wonderful provision showing substitution, the Ram is offered in the stead of Isaac, present a beautiful picture of the substitution of Christ in the sinner's stead. It is this act by Abraham, long after he was declared just by God, that he evidences that justification by works.


What we learn from comparing scripture with scripture is that James 2:24 is an essential warning to those professing the name of Christ (see also the emphasis of "good works" in Titus), that while faith alone saves, but faith that saves is not alone...ie...good works follow justification as a necessary evidence and fruit. They are not a helping cause of justification but a necessary fruit. A fruit is not a cause, it is an evidence. VERY DIFFERENT CONCEPTS!  What a great chasm would there be on this teaching and a great danger of profession alone, had not James given such teaching. Let us not take what James wrote and misapply it. The harmony in scripture is blessed indeed.


Here is an illustration of the outworking of the two systems:


Bible:              Faith results in -----> Salvation + good works

R.Catholicism:  Faith + good works result in -----> Salvation


The outworking of the Roman system is hereby understood in all its dangerous implications. A person seeking to have peace with God, to have the sin issue settled, and to be "right" before God, has placed before himself the utter necessity of his own works rising to help meet the required standard (that Jesus started). Instead of resting in a finished work by another (Christ) this system tells him that he must work to attain that which he needs. It also places him in the position of dependence upon the RC priesthood and sacramental system, making both the "priest" and the Roman "church" essential to his salvation. This is a deadly fruit of a false system and false teaching. This is also the kind of discussion that angered Roman church leaders and led to the inquisition.


The reason works (for justification) are insisted upon by the Catholic is because his whole religious superstructure is built upon the priesthood, the sacramental system, and adherence to "the church" of Rome. If his underlying foundation of process-justification and infused-righteousness is undermined, the whole Roman system becomes unnecessary-in its entirety. The author of this article once had a conversation with a staunch Romanist, who at the end of such a conversation said "if you take away all these things (sacraments, etc.) what will you put in its place?"  He said this to me with much alarm. A simple, precious, safe, and complete answer was given:  "Christ." Put Christ in its place, if you have him, what is lacking?




What about Eternal Security?


Can a person lose their justification or their salvation? The biblical position is that once a person is in Christ, they are in Christ forever. Their just standing in Him is permanent.


Catholicism believes that justification can be destroyed by mortal (ie... more serious) sins committed by the individual. In order for him to then regain lost justification he must come back into justification via the sacrament of penance (confession, absolution, satisfaction). Fear and apprehension thus envelope the Catholic system, with an increasing need for the sacramental system and therefore the indispensable Roman Catholic priesthood. They alone can administer the sacraments and bring a person back to completeness before God and the church. This also feeds into the elevation of Mary, as someone who seems to be less harsh that can mediate between a person and Christ. 


The Bible answers this simply, Colossians 2:9-10 says "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in him." Romans 3:28 says "for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of law". One can only therefore conclude from the Bible that justification before God is by faith alone. And if by faith alone and based on the person and work of Christ, the believer is safe IN HIM.


Paul's epistle to the Romans tells us: Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness...but to him who does not work (for it) but believes on Him (God) who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.


This last portion from Romans 4:5 tells us that it is not a person with infused Catholic righteousness (someone who has merit in themselves or has received a certain measure of merit by their own merit [think that one through]) that is declared just by God, but it is the ungodly person who repents & believes who is declared just. This is not infusion. Catholicism is structurally in gross error.


If (and it is) justification is God's declaration, then that person is safely just, in Christ, depending upon Christ and not himself. Should he have failures and sins, he will be brought to the disciplining hand of his heavenly Father but will not lose his standing in Christ.


Catholicism would declare anathema those that hold the position stated herein. We would suggest with all love and firmness- that the opposite is true. And it may also be said that the wonderful epistle to the church in Rome, is now more an epistle against the church in Rome. Not to mention the book of Hebrews, but that is another discussion.




Further helpful teaching from scripture on justification is presented below. It is borrowed somewhat from William MacDonald's exquisite book "Here's the Difference" available from Gospel Folio Press.




We heartily recommend the reader purchase this book in hardcopy or e-book.




JUSTIFICATION does not mean "to make righteous". It means "to declare righteous" Romans 8:33 says: Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. It is a legal term, coming from the courtroom.


When, by faith alone, we are "in Christ", God can and does declare us to be righteous in Him, because full satisfaction has been made a the cross. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21).


The bible elaborates on the doctrine of justification as follows, where we learn justification is by grace, faith, blood, power, works, and by God.


   by Grace Romans 3:24 "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."  This means man doesn't deserve to be justified. He cannot merit nor earn it; he must receive it as a gift. Grace is term by which God gives justification to man-completely undeserved and unbought- freely- as a gift.
   by Faith Romans 5:1 "therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."   The sinner must receive justification by a definite act of trust in the Savior. God in grace stoops down to guilty ungodly man offering him a gift. Faith is repentant and depraved man reaching up and receiving the gift apart from any thought of deserving it by his character and works.
   by Blood Romans 5:9  "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." This refers to the price paid for justification. The sinless Savior by His precious shed blood settled the debt of my accumulated sin. The enormous value of my justification is seen in the staggering price paid to secure it.
   by Power While there is no scripture that says specifically that we are "justified by power", the truth is set forth in Romans 4:25  "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Justification is directly connected with the resurrection of Christ. If He had not risen, our faith would be futile and we would still be in our sins.  (1 Cor 5:17)  So our justification is linked to the POWER that raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. Thus we can say we are justified by power.
   by Works James 2:24  "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."  Paul unmistakably taught justification by faith alone. James seems to say "not so! we are justified by works." However that is not what James is saying. He does not say that justification is obtained by good works, nor that justification is by faith plus good works. What he is saying is that we are justified by the kind of faith that results in a life of good works. For a person to say he has faith and has no good works to back it up, people will not believe him and see that kind of faith as worthless (James 2:14-17) Rahab proved the reality of her faith by harboring Israeli spies and helping them escape (James 2;25). So justification by works means that good works are the outward manifestation that we have been justified by faith. They are not the root, they are the fruit.
  by God Romans 8:33  "who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies."  HE is the one who declares the believer righteous.



Man is justified therefore by faith, unto good works.  The following verse elaborates on the great implications of a false view of justification & salvation. One has man meriting and working...out of fear; the other has man resting in Christ and serving...out of love.


Ephesians 2:8-10 :   For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto (not by) good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.



See also:



used by permission & adapted


Post Note: some in the Roman Catholic religion will say with some (inital seeming) accuracy:

1. I was saved

2. I am being saved

3. I will be saved


These are somewhat blended together in Catholic thinking instead of being distinct. The error is a failure to distinguish that biblical justification is a category (#1) by itself. In the RC system is merged justification and sanctification (especially) and glorification together. In practice this makes for a salvation system that requires adherence to the Roman church's sacraments (after all, you cannot have #2 take place without the priest and the sacraments). In other words I was saved/I am being saved/I will be saved are all dependent upon man's works, his adherence to the "Catholic Church" and its sacraments.


In this system therefore, instead of the work of Christ being the bottom line essential thing for justification, the "church" and the "priest" become absolutely essential, since the latter is required for the administration of those sacraments that help the person in #2 of "being saved." 

In biblical Christianity, if a person is justified by faith alone (which is #1) they will be sanctified (which means SET APART) by God's work in their lives and by the word of God (in other words they will grow and "WORK OUT" their own salvation-that they already possess), and #3 WILL come to pass in which they are glorified. 

The merging of the three different things (Justification/Sanctification/Glorification) in the Roman system is where the error lies, and man cannot therefore KNOW he has settled peace with God, and that he has a RIGHT standing in Christ in his position....why?....because he must also "do his part" in the sacramental and "good works" system in order to obtain and maintain that so-called justification. And this is the error of the Roman system, in that it turns the eye AWAY FROM Christ, to the system of the Roman Church.

Here is some excellent information about a true believer's position in Christ, because he IS justified in God's sight: