6-Part Series on the Process of Salvation (Part 1: Justification and Grace)

This six-part series will discuss justification by God’s grace through faith and works with St. Paul’s letters as a springboard for the entire discussion.  St. Paul’s letters, especially his letter to the Roman Church, are most relevant because they teach many truths about the process of salvation. 

Because of St. Paul’s writing style, however, they can also be confusing and are often misinterpreted.  Many Christians are unsure about how to grapple with St. Paul’s writings on this issue, especially when St. James seems to contradict him in the Letter of James chapter 2.  This first article will discuss what justification is and how we are justified by God’s grace.

Justification

Justification is the “gracious action of God which frees us from sin and ‘communicates the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through baptism.”  It is “not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.”  It is the “acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ,” who merited justification for us by his Passion.[1] 

Romans 4:25 (RSV-CE) says that our Lord “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our righteousness,” and Romans 5:15-16 adds, “But the free gift is not like [Adam’s] trespass.  For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God, and the free gift in the grace of that one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the effect of [Adam’s] sin.  For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.” 

Finally, Romans 5:19 says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”  There are a few points here worth unpacking.

Grace

Grace is the unmerited gift of supernatural life and “is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons.”[2]  “The divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, prepares and elicits the free response of man.”[3] 

We have not done one thing to merit this gift.  In fact, there is nothing we could ever do to deserve the gift of His grace.  If grace depended on our works, it would no longer be grace (Rom 11:7).  When we speak of the love of God, grace is the way in which He communicates His love to us.  By grace we were made and by grace we are remade. 

“…the free gift in the grace of that one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for many.”  St. Thomas Aquinas elucidates this point when he says, “That through which one makes something is also that through which one repairs it.  In practice, if a house has fallen in, one repairs it on the model through which it was originally made.”[4]  Jesus is that model, and grace is the way in which he repairs our fallen nature. 

Further, Romans 5:19 teaches that God doesn’t simply “cover” us with his righteousness, he actually makes us righteous.  Re-read this verse above and notice the connection between the actual state of sin through one man’s disobedience and the actual state of righteousness through one man’s obedience.  These are actual states of the human being, not simply a covering.  In the next article, we will discuss how grace is received.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), paragraphs 1987-92.

[2] CCC, 2021.

[3] CCC, 2022.

[4] Giles Emery, O.P. The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 199.

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