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The Catholic Definition of Justification is not Biblical, and thus Heretical.


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First and Foremost, I am a Protestant in definition only, as in, someone protesting the beliefs and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Theologically, I am non-denominational, subscribe to the Solas, and believe in the doctrine of perspicuity. I fully believe that Christians are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed by Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.

Before we can get into the theological debate about Justification and Sanctification we must first define them, with both the secular definitions AND the theological definitions. The theological definitions come from the secular definition being interpreted and expanded upon from a religious perspective in the context of the direct and surrounding text.

Justify (root of Justification):

Secular Definition: show or prove to be right or responsible; i.e. “The criminal was justified in the eyes of the law when new evidence proved his innocence.”

Theological Definition: to be legally (declared or made) righteous in the eyes of God; i.e. Romans 3:21-31,

Sanctify (root of Sanctification):

Secular Definition: set apart as or declared holy; consecrate; i.e. “The bishop consecrated (aka sanctified) the cup before serving the Eucharist”

Theological Definition: To be set apart for a special purpose or use for God; i.e. “The ancient Israelites would sanctify their land before crop season”

These are the literal definitions of these words, both secular and theological. These are not interpretations in any way, shape, or form.

I will reiterate that I am only “Protestant” in the essence that I am a Christian who is in protest to the Roman Catholic Church. I do not belong to any denomination of any religion. I am simply a Bible-believing Follower of Christ Jesus. I do believe in the Solas, that Christians are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed by Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.

The main points I will cover in this argument are:
1. The definitions of these words as they apply to Protestants
2. The beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church and their definitions of these words
3. Where the Roman Catholic Churches teachings and doctrines based off of their definitions contradict the Bible

This is my first debate on this website so this may be a bit of a learning curve for me, so I apologize in advance if I struggle with some aspects of using this website.

Round 1
I will start with my first point:
  • The definitions of these words as they apply to Protestants
I’ll start with Justification. I already defined it above so I won’t do it again here. Justification is a one time, external declaration from God that we are now made righteous in His eyes. It is an objective, forensic, judicial (non-experiential), legal position. Christ’s righteousness is imputed onto us, and we receive it judicially. It instantly removes sins guilt and penalty, but does not change character. All Christians share the same legal standing of justification. Justification is a single, instantaneous completed act: one act for all time, never repeated. I’ll now go over what Justification is NOT. Justification is NOT us being made righteous. Justification is NOT based upon what we do. Justification is an external declaration from God, not an internal process of being made “more” righteous. It does not change our character as it is NOT internal. To expand even more onto this, Justification has to be forensic compared to intrinsic, as the Old Testament Law is only reason we know what sin is, and God is not contradictory, so the just punishment for sin is death, and the only way to go to Heaven before Jesus was through following the Law. Jesus Himself said the He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Since we know that Jesus led a perfect, sinless life, then we know that He perfectly kept the OT Law. He never directly disobeyed the OT Law, only the man-made traditions that the Pharisees added onto it. Since OT Law required imperfect sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, it could only offer an imperfect forgiveness for those sins. Because Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, along with being 100% God and 100% man, Him being the perfect sacrifice for us is the only way we could attain a perfect, just forgiveness for our sins.

Now on to Sanctification. Likewise with Justification, it is already defined above so I won’t go over the definitions again.

So sanctification essentially means growing in righteousness. However, our righteousness is NOT compared to other humans, but to Jesus. Therefore, we can “increase” in righteousness in the same way that numbers increase towards infinity, no matter how much we “increase” in righteousness, from Gods perspective, we have no righteousness, except through the imputed righteousness of Jesus whenever we die and enter Heaven.

Since God is All-Holy, the word “sanctify” cannot mean “make holy”, when applied to Him.

However, there is a lot more to sanctification than just this alone. There are multiple tenses and phases of Sanctification that need to be known before you can fully understand the meaning of the word. There are 3 tenses for Sanctification; Past tense, Present tense, and Future tense. I will cover all of these in depth in this article. There are 3 phases of Sanctification as well; Positional sanctification, Progressive sanctification, and Perfected (or Final) sanctification.

I will start with the phases of Sanctification:

Firstly, Positional Sanctification is an absolute, perfect, and objective thing that happens alongside our Justification. It takes place immediately at salvation, irrespective of how much or how little it shows in our lives. For example, Paul called the Corinthians sanctified or “saintly” people, even though from reading 1 and 2 Corinthians, they were most definitely NOT good people, they were incestual, orgy-loving sinners! And yet, Paul still called them sanctified in 1 Corinthians 6:11. The word Christian is used only 3 times in the NT, but the word “saints” (plural, not as in Saint John, Saint Michael, Saint Paul, etc) as a term for all believers is widespread in the NT (Acts 9:13, Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:2, Eph 4:12, Phil 4:22, Col 1:4, Philemon 7, Heb 6:10, Rev 13:7).

Next up is Progressive Sanctification, which is the continuous practice of turning away from immorality, towards God. It is a continuous, everyday process of us turning away from immorality and setting ourselves apart from evil FOR Gods good use and purpose. This is the most common phase mentioned in the NT, and 1 Thessalonians 4:3 speaks of it this way as well.

The final phase is Perfected (or Final) Sanctification, which is an event yet to come, and does not takes place until we leave this planet, either through death or the Rapture. It is when we assume our glorified, perfect bodies in Heaven.

Now onto the Tenses of Sanctification; Past, Present, and Future.

First up is Past Sanctification. Positional Sanctification is past (and permanent): we were set apart in Christ, FOR His good works, at the moment of our conversion.

Next is Present Sanctification. Progressive Sanctification is present: we are daily being more and more conformed to His image in holiness.

Lastly is Future Sanctification. Perfected sanctification is future: one day we shall see Him as He is and we shall be like Him. There will be no more sin in thought, word, or deed at all.
An Alternative Interpretation from the Catholic Perspective

Your explanation of justification and sanctification, as understood by Protestant theology, is indeed thorough and presents an understanding of these concepts rooted in your perspective. However, I'd like to present an alternative interpretation of the same biblical principles, coming from the Catholic perspective.

The Complexity of Justification

Let's first address justification. You stated that justification is a one-time external declaration from God that we are made righteous in His eyes, achieved through faith alone. This perspective rests heavily on interpretations of Paul's letters, such as Romans 4:5, which states: "However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness."

Nonetheless, the Bible presents a more complex picture of justification. In the book of James, it's written, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?" (James 2:14). In a later chapter, it proclaims, "One is judged righteous by their actions, not solely by faith" (James 2:24). The Catholic view is that faith and works are connected in the justification process. This includes the forgiveness of sins and transformation of the believer.

Sanctification and Justification as Twin Components of Salvation

Regarding sanctification, you describe it as a progression towards righteousness that occurs in three phases: Positional, Progressive, and Perfected Sanctification. Rewritten text:Although the Catholic Church acknowledges that the process of becoming more like Christ is a lifelong journey, it does not distinguish this journey from justification. They view these as twin components of one salvation process.

The Essential Role of Collaboration with God's Grace

For instance, in Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells believers to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Our collaboration with God's grace is crucial to achieving salvation.

In 2 Peter 1:5-11, the Apostle Peter urges Christians to add to their faith virtues like goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. He states that "if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." We witness a continuous process of sanctification, which is collaborative and related to our awareness of Christ and our redemption.
Round 2
Thank you for your response!

James is a common topic that is brought up in this argument, but I have an easy solution to the apparent contradiction. Throughout the entirety of his Epistle, James is speaking to believers, people who have already placed their trust in Christ. Previously in James, in chapter 1 and the first half of chapter 2, James is talking about tests of our faith that we can/will go through throughout our life, and how we should respond to those tests as Christians. In the initial parts of his Epistle, James says that failing these tests is a violation of God's Law, more specifically, James calls it the Law of Christ and in James 2:12, James calls it the Law of Liberty. From James 2:9 onward he talks about our responsibilities to that Law. To use James example, when we fail that Royal Law, we not only fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, we also fail to love God with all of our being. (James 2:9-11). In that sense, our faith and love for God IS closely interconnected with our behavior/works. When we fail in our behaviors, we are working against/in opposition to our confession of faith, therefore weakening our confession and limiting its usefulness to both us and God.
(In regards to our transition from the Law of Moses into the Law of Liberty, Paul describes it in multiple places ex Romans 7:1-6 and 2 Cor 3:5-6, 15-17, showing that this is James' intention for calling it the Law of Liberty). From James 2:12-13 we are given the consequences for failing to live out our faith in keeping with God's expectations, being judged by the Law of Liberty. Liberty here does not mean freedom to sin, but the freedom to obey God to the best of our abilities, therefore becoming a test of our love for our Lord. Thus going forward with this information, when James is speaking of save and salvation, he is not speaking of salvation from sin but salvation from the Judgement Fire in front of the Bema Seat of Christ. The word James uses for use in vs 2:14 is ophelos, which means profit or advantage. So what James is asking is, how can faith without works profit a believer? We know that there is a profit for our faith in heaven, that the profit for our faith is NOT heaven itself, and we know that James has not been talking about true faith vs false faith at all either. So when James is speaking of save and salvation, he is asking if a faith lived without works will save the believer when he stands in front of the Bema Seat of Christ. When James is speaking of a dead faith later, he is speaking of how it is lifeless, or without benefit to men or God or even to the believer itself. He is not speaking of a faith that requires works for salvation from sin, but of a faith that requires works for salvation in front of the Bema Seat of Christ.

Therefore, if faith and works are distinctly separate (but connected), they cannot together be for the purpose of salvation from sin, but faith saves from sin, and works are essential for the edification of the believer.

As for Philippians, if you look a couple verses earlier in Phil 3:8-9, Paul says that our righteousness comes from God on the basis of faith. Peter is speaking of adding those qualities to a faith the believer already has, for their growth and edification.
Failure to Address Previous Points & Nuances of Faith and Works

Firstly, I must emphasize that your response, while thoughtful, does not successfully address all the points I previously introduced. Specifically, you failed to address the nuanced relationship between faith and works as presented in the Catholic interpretation of James 2:24, and the comprehensive understanding of justification and sanctification as two aspects of one salvation process.

Interpretation of the Letter of James and the Nature of Faith

Your explanation of the Letter of James focuses on an interpretation where faith and works are connected but not intertwined in the salvation process. Nevertheless, the fundamental message remains that faith without works is dead and ineffective (James 2:26). The words of James are not merely advisory or cautionary for the believer's potential rewards, but constitutive of the faith itself. If faith without works is dead, it indeed impacts the believer's salvation state.

Implications of the Bema Seat and Judgment of Believers

The concept of the Bema Seat, or judgment seat of Christ, refers to the judgment of believers' works (2 Corinthians 5:10). However, the implication of this judgment on our eternal fate cannot be understated. In Matthew 25:31-46, Christ's judgement distinguishes between those who acted with love and compassion (righteous deeds) and those who did not, with eternal consequences hinging upon these actions. This scripture underscores that works indeed bear significantly upon our eternal salvation.

Righteousness, Virtues, and Their Role in Salvation

Addressing your reference to Philippians 3:8-9 and 2 Peter 1:5-11, you propose that righteousness is an outcome of faith, while virtues are supplementary for believers' edification. While faith is undoubtedly integral to our righteousness, it doesn't preclude the necessity for good works. In fact, these verses underscore that the virtues added to faith make one's "calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10), suggesting that these qualities are integral to salvation, not merely edifying appendages.

Furthermore, the biblical perspective on justification and sanctification is more intertwined than your initial assertions suggest. In Romans 6:22, we read: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." Here, holiness (sanctification) and eternal life (justification) are closely linked. The Catholic perspective sees these processes as different aspects of a single salvific journey, rather than distinct, independent phases.

The Doctrine of Sola Fide and Biblical Complexity

Your argument appears rooted in the solafidian doctrine—salvation by faith alone. While this doctrine has historical and theological merit within Protestant traditions, it's worth noting that the phrase "faith alone" appears just once in the Bible—in James 2:24, where it says that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. This critical passage is harmonious with the Catholic understanding that faith and works coalesce in the process of salvation.

In conclusion, while your perspective on justification and sanctification is rich and resonates with many believers, it doesn't fully encapsulate the biblical complexity of these processes nor the nuanced theology presented within the Catholic tradition.


I apologize for having forgotten to cite my sources in my previous argument. I cannot believe I have made such a begginer's mistake. Here are all the passages I have taken from the Bible:

  1. James 2:24
  2. James 2:26
  3. 2 Corinthians 5:10
  4. Matthew 25:31-46
  5. Philippians 3:8-9
  6. 2 Peter 1:5-11
  7. Romans 6:22

Round 3
Points said in my previous submission.
Round 4
Round 5
I forfeited all other rounds in consideration of my opponent.