JUSTIFICATION & SANCTIFICATION
Create a clean heart in me, O God:
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy face;
and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,
and strengthen me with a perfect spirit.
Psalm 50, 12-14
You should put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit
of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way
in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Ephesians 4, 22-24
traditional Catholic doctrine of infused righteousness and justification by
faith and good works done in charity and grace, God takes into account an
actual transformation within us. He acknowledges the removal of our old apparel
in exchange for clothes that resemble Christ’s clothing. The faithful take an
active and morally responsible part in their justification by willingly
collaborating with the Holy Spirit and cooperating with divine grace. Human free
will has a vital and decisive role to play in their salvation.
ancient times, Catholics have believed that they have an active life in grace
by allowing it to help them renew their minds and hearts to be righteous as
Christ is righteous in his shared humanity. How well they try to renounce their
old self or overcome sinful habits and live a new life in Christ determines how
they justly stand before God. A person is either intrinsically righteous or
unrighteous depending on how well they respond to the gift of divine grace and
collaborate with the Holy Spirit in keeping Christ’s commandments.
If we are
reckoned as righteous by God, it is because God has made us so by the
regenerative power and influence of His efficacious grace. Since apostolic
time, the Catholic Church has taught that justification is not only the
remission of sins and the removal of guilt but also the sanctification and
renewal of a person. It is an ongoing process of growing in holiness that
involves our willing detachment from habitual sin and thereby the state of
guilt. Justification comprises the purification of one’s soul by the removal of
the stain of sin achieved by a sincere act of contrition and a firm desire for
amendment. The grace of sanctification is essentially the divine quality of the
human soul. Thus, justification includes both reconciliation and healing
through the restorative power of the Holy Spirit, who has made us communicants
in the divine nature and personally justified by His sanctifying grace.
It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses;
your sins I remember no more.
Isaiah 43, 25
“blots out” (exalipho) our transgressions and “washes” (apolouo) us from our
iniquities and “cleanses” (katharitzo) us from our sins, an inner change of
heart and contrite spirit are required (Ps. 51:1-2; Acts 3:19; 22:16; 1 Cor.
6:11; 1 Jn. 1:7, 9). God reckons us holy and just in his sight by removing the
sins that stain our souls because of our change of heart in a true spirit of
conversion and repentance by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and his gifts of
grace. Our sins are not simply overlooked and covered up by the merits of
Christ and the imputation of his righteousness to our account before God. On
the contrary, the righteousness of Christ is “communicated to us” by the
infused grace that transforms our nature and renders us just and pleasing to
God. The righteousness that God sees as intrinsic to us is qualitatively
Christ-like, although we can never attain the personal level of our Lord’s
righteousness in his divinity. In the words of St. Paul: “You must have the same attitude that Christ
Jesus had” (Phil 2:5).
although the initial grace of forgiveness and justification is a grace that
only Christ can formally merit for us, we can “merit for ourselves and for
others an increase in sanctification” to complete our justification and bring
about its realization on a personal level in our relationship with God as we
“grow in grace and charity” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Justification and Grace). Thus, by the infusion of God’s grace into our souls,
we are not just declared righteous, but actually “made” (kathistemi) righteous
as divine grace effects a genuine change of heart and an ontological change in
our being (Rom. 5:17, 19).
But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior
not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
Titus 3, 4-7
on the new self begins by having faith in God and His promises. As a starting
point, our knowledge and love of God are essential requisites for us to welcome
the Holy Spirit in our lives and allow Him to produce for us everything that
pertains to living a life in faith and devotion to God so that the hope of
eternal life with Him can be realized. By allowing the Holy Spirit to transform
our fallen human nature, we come “to share in the divine nature” after having
“escaped” from the snare of our “evil desires” in a “corrupt world.” For this
very reason, we must “make every effort” to ‘supplement our faith with virtue,
virtue with the divine gift of knowledge, knowledge with self-control
(temperance and moderation), and self-control with endurance.” Only then can
our devotion to God translate into being devoted to the interests of others
with an affection that is raised to the height of unconditional love which
takes perseverance in faith.
infused theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity which are manifested by
how we conduct our lives in the Spirit bear fruit (merit) that lasts to eternal
life in and through the merits of our Lord and Saviour. We who are baptized
members of Christ’s body united with the Head mustn’t slumber or be idle in our
knowledge of the Lord who has taught us how to live a life in grace as adopted
children of God. We shall “never stumble” if we “make our call to election
firm” through the perseverance of faith. Those who do stumble gravely risk
being barred from “entering God’s heavenly kingdom” (2 Pet 1:3-11).
St. Augustine advises us that it is not enough we should be formally declared
justified strictly on the merits of Christ’s righteousness. What is required of
us to inherit the kingdom of heaven and be reckoned as just in God’s sight is
the righteousness of our own that is wrought by divine grace made available to
us through our Lord’s meritorious work in his humanity. Unless we cooperate
with God in His dispensation of grace and bear fruit that lasts to eternal
life, our faith in Christ’s merits shall do us no good. “Not everyone who says
to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. But only the one who
does the will of my Father in heaven will enter” (Mt. 7:21). And so, God
declares us to be inherently righteous and just in His sight because of His
work completed in us with our collaboration (Eph 2:8-10).
faith is an active faith on our part. Belief and knowledge are not enough to
render us just. Doing good works in charity and grace completes our faith
making it beneficial to our souls. Our spiritual sacrifices and charitable acts
of self-denial, whereby we substitute our selfish desires for what God wills
and subdue our inordinate love of self for the sake of God’s love and goodness,
confer merit on us because they are the result of His grace. God declares us
just because that is how he has intended to truly make us, provided we are
responsive in a genuine spirit of conversion and invite the Holy Spirit to work
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been
alienated from Christ;
you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith
the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision
nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith
expressing itself through love.
Galatians 5, 4-6
For us to
have a correct understanding of faith as something active and instrumental in
our salvation, we must see how divine grace operates in our lives and saves us
with our cooperation. Faith is the starting point in the process of our
justification before God. Faith takes a concrete form as we act on the wisdom
and knowledge we have received, having placed our trust in God and hope in His
promise. These two theological virtues, faith and hope, enable us to open
ourselves to God’s grace for our minds and hearts to be constantly renewed, as
we become a new creation in Christ by living virtuous lives. Dying to oneself
and to the ruling spirit of this world by casting off the old self requires a
genuine conversion of the heart with the help of divine grace that makes the
righteousness we possess our very own characteristic and thereby pleasing to
We are not passive spectators in the work of the Holy Spirit within us, so the idea of the imputed alien righteousness of Christ to our account in Reformed Protestant theology makes absolutely no sense. Sacred Scripture does reveal that a genuine ontological transformation of our human nature is necessary for us to be reckoned as just in God’s sight. A true spirit of charity – our love of God and neighbor – must inform our faith to make it alive and complete. It is love or charity (agape) through which faith works, that renders it justifiable and profitable for our souls since this infused virtue animates the heart of the believer who has opened himself to the Holy Spirit and the influence of divine grace in faith.
St. Paul advises the Jewish Christians in Galatia that it is the indwelling Holy Spirit who justifies us rather than the external observances of the ceremonial Mosaic law. Sanctifying grace does save us by being the essential means for us to be internally just in and through the merits of Christ who is the living source of all grace. What Christ has achieved for us by his just merits doesn’t eradicate God’s immutable word: Through love and faithfulness, sin is atoned for (Prov 16, 6).
have been created in God’s image, despite our fallen human nature, we cannot be
just in His sight while being unholy in soul and body. God gives us the grace
to be holy and just in His sight as He is holy and just, though not absolutely.
We cannot partake in the divine nature as adopted sons and daughters of God
unless the state of our souls and the conduct of our lives reflect the divine
image in which we have been created. The Greek verb “to justify” (dikaioo)
which Paul uses so often means by its -oo stem that God sees us as
intrinsically righteous when He declares we are just. Our justification involves
an objective change in our nature, not just a relational change in status. What
God declares to be just is as real as the light He created at the beginning of
time by His efficacious decree (Gen 1:3; Jn 8:12). God creates nothing
fictional or synthetic by His Word in the Holy Spirit.
May you be filled with the knowledge of his will through all
spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in
a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit (merit) and
growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for
all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the
inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the
kingdom of his beloved Son.
Colossians 1, 9-13
clearly intends to tell the Colossians that the righteousness required for
their justification before God is one that must be intrinsic to the believer by
the efficacy of God’s grace produced for all by Christ alone. There is
absolutely no indication that the righteousness they must hold to their credit
is one totally alien and extrinsic of themselves. If this were the case, there
would be no point for the apostle to exhort the community to “clothe themselves
with love and a new self.” It would have made more sense for him to assure them
that the filthy garments of their old selves have been covered by the clean and
spotless garment of the unblemished Lamb and leave it at that without any
further specifications on what it takes for a person to be inherently righteous
and reckoned as just in God’s sight.
have been called to actively participate in our redemption and have a real
share in the divine life by the sanctifying grace of God. Christ is “in” us, and
through his Spirit, he works in and through us who truly believe and hope in
Him by exercising our faith in charity and grace leading a life of holiness.
Our Lord does not merely shelter us from God’s justice by diverting His entire
attention away from us wretched sinners to only Him who is supposedly taking
all the credit on our helpless and totally depraved behalf. What Christ alone
has merited for us is the grace that only he can produce by his passion, death,
and resurrection. What righteous believers can merit for themselves or for
others is an increase in sanctification and charity in and through Christ’s
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are
where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above,
not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Letter to the Colossians 3:1-17, perhaps the most powerful and compelling
exhortation of his, St. Paul elaborates on what it means to put on the new
self. It requires all baptized Christians to set their minds on things above
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God and not on things that are on
the earth. Clothing ourselves involves being dead to this world and alive in
Christ in whom our lives are hidden by our not being children of this world.
Only by dying to self can Christ’s glory be revealed to us after we depart from
this life. To avoid the condemning justice of God we must strip off our old
selves by collaborating with the Holy Spirit and His gifts of grace. Casting
off our old self means renouncing our sinful ways and putting to death whatever
in us is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, and greed which is idolatry,
(etc.). We must smash all the idols in our lives that come between God and us
by ridding ourselves of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language
from our mouths.
exchange for our old clothing, as God’s chosen ones, we must clothe ourselves
with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We must bear with
one another and … forgive each other – by being patient and merciful. Just as
the Lord has forgiven us, so we also must forgive. Above all, we should clothe
ourselves with love. The peace of Christ must rule in our hearts. Clothing
ourselves with the new self means letting the word of Christ dwell and act in
us. Finally, we mustn’t forget to thank and praise God the Father for having
blessed us with all His gifts of grace so that we may be revealed with Christ
in glory now that our Lord has been revealed in our lives on earth.
Thus says the Lord,
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless,
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard…
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry,
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
Isaiah 58, 7-10
Early Sacred Tradition
“And since many
saints participate in the Holy Spirit, He cannot, therefore, be
understood to be a body, which being divided into corporeal parts, is partaken of by each
one of the saints;but He is manifestly a sanctifying power, in which all are said to have a
share who have deservedto be sanctified by His grace.”
Origen, First Principles, I:I,3
“He was made man
that we might be made God.”
St. Athanasius, Incarnation 54
depends on God, but not so that our free will is hindered. ‘If then it depends
God,’ (one says), ‘why does He blame us?’ On this account, I said, ‘so that our free will is
not hindered.’ It depends then on us, and on Him For we must first choose the good, and
then He leads us to His own. He does not anticipate our choice, lest our free will should be
outraged. But when we have chosen, then great is the assistance he brings to us… For it is
ours to choose and to wish, but God’s to complete and to bring to an end. Since therefore
the greater part is of Him, he says all is of Him, speaking according to the custom of men.
For so we ourselves also do. I mean for instance: we see a house well built, and we say the
whole is the Architect’s [doing], and yet certainly it is not all his, but the workmen’s also, and
the owner’s, who supplies the materials, and many others’, but nevertheless since he
contributed the greatest share, we call the whole his. So then [it is] in this case also.”
St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Hebrews, 12:3
“Thus, it is
necessary for a man that he should be not only justified when unrighteous by
grace of God, that is be changed from unholiness to righteousness when he is requited with
good for his evil; but that even after he has been justified by his faith, grace should
accompany him on his way lest he fall. On this account it is written concerning the Church
herself in Canticles: ‘Who is this who commeth up in white raiment, leaning upon her
kinsman?’ Made white is she who alone could not be made white. And by whom has she been
made white except by Him who says by the prophet, ‘Though your sins be as purple as
scarlet, I will make them white as snow.’ At the time, then, that she was made white, she
deserved nothing good; but now that she is made white, she walketh well; but it is only by her
continuing ever to lean upon Him by whom she was made white. Wherefore, Jesus Himself,
on whom she leans that was made white, said to His disciples, ‘Without me, ye can do
On Grace and Free Will, 6:13
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its
stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light
shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in
Matthew 15, 14-16