Love and The Christian’s Justification I: Opening Remarks

This series of posts will examine the Christian doctrine of justification, a subject  that has been brought up in the dialogue of this blog more than once. As such, I hope to address this topic and try to outline the Catholic understanding. In addition, I also want to compare the Catholic doctrine with the Protestant stance on the subject. It would be incredibly inefficient to take the Catholic position and compare it with the thousands of individual Protestant denominations; for this reason, I have chosen to consider primarily Martin Luther himself to be the most adequate and efficient method to compare and contrast the Catholic and Protestant positions. Let us begin.

“[I]f I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing”, writes the Great Apostle (1 Cor 13:2). Saint Paul, in multiple passages of his writings, exhorts the greatness of love. Ultimately, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10). When we talk about justification, then, a proper hermeneutic of the subject must stem from love, which is the greatest of the three theological virtues (cf. 1 Cor 13:13). Moreover, it is important to see that love, which is the principle of holiness, denotes something about justification: that justification is intimitely tied up with becoming holy, i.e., sanctification.

In the Judaic tradition, the law was directed toward living a just and pious life. Thus, the fulfillment of the law, which Saint Paul identifies as love, is about justification and sanctification. So, justification and sanctification both require Love as the atomical unit. Moreover, the redemptive message of Jesus Christ is that He has brought God: following the path of life toward God, in Jesus Christ, is opened to a totally new level that supercedes the Judaic Law. In that sense is His teaching the fulfillment of the law: the object of the Law—God—is shown to the eyes of the disciple in a new light and closeness in Jesus Christ. Additionally, the awaited Messiah of the Hebrew Testament was to bring a new Torah. The Torah of Jesus Christ is Himself: He is the Word. Now, the Torah was perhaps the greatest medium into God; hence, in Jesus Christ—the New Torah, the Word of God in person—a central component of living justly and piously is the Word of God Himself, who, in Jesus Christ is Love incarnate. Consequently—and this is of no surprise—Jesus Himself preaches that the road to perfection lies in following him (cf. Mt 19:21): “Perfection, the state of being holy as God is holy, as demanded by the Torah, now consists in following Jesus.”[1] And what this means is that Love is the “true morality of the Christian”[2], the “fire that purifies and unifies…making man one with himself, inasmuch as it makes him one in God’s eyes…This is how man enters God’s dwelling place and becomes able to see him. And that is just what it means for him to be ‘blessed’”.[3]

There is a further implication if love is the center of this theological structure: precisely because it is love that is the principle ingredient of justification, sanctification, and salvation, it is true and necessary that an orthodox understanding of soteriology stems from the gratuity of God.[4] In the descent of God to the Cross, He opens up a bridge into Himself; He gives that we may give; it is by His grace that man ascends into the Divine (cf. Rom 3:24). And, moreover, just as God reaches man through a humble descent, so man reaches God through that same path: through the Spirit, in Christ, to the Father. Here it cannot be stressed enough: the ascent into God is a path. It is a journey, an adventure, and it requires one’s life. Simultaneously, it is clear that Christianity is about an authentic relationship with the other, namely, God, and precisely because of that, Christianity is also about genuine transformation, renewal, and the elevation of being to a supernatural level within the heart of God Himself.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007) 105

[2] Ibid., 99

[3] Ibid., 95-ff.

[4] cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶ 1994

5 thoughts on “Love and The Christian’s Justification I: Opening Remarks”

  1. This post is a solid start to tackling a big topic. Justification is something which is often misunderstood, so I am thankful for your clarity and insight. Keep up the good work!

  2. Brother, based on your intro, I would preemptively caution you against combating a caricature rather than the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. This doctrine does not pit faith against holiness or love. Instead, it tells us the only way to receive the endowments needed for holiness are by receiving the free gift of Christ as our righteousness and salvation in him by faith.

    You get the value of love. What has not clicked is the how. Love is the goal and essence of holiness, but not the means! You desire the apples but have no tree! Read Eph. 2:8-10. Invert that order and you have descended into something that is frankly sub-Christian and unbiblical.

    You seem to be advocating salvation by following the “new law” of Christ or fulfilling the law by love. Standing alone, this is not Christianity or the gospel. Paul talks about fulfilling the law by the Spirit, but only for those who have first “died to the law” through Christ and received the free gift of abundant grace and justification (being declared righteous before God).

    He speaks of faith working through love. But what is this faith that can work in love? The faith that one has received righteousness and sonship apart from works. Only when Christ says, “Your sins are forgiven”, can you go and sin no more. Only when you discern that you are poor in spirit and yet receive a kingdom by grace, asking, seeking and knocking by faith, will you live in love.

    God did not just make a path for you to walk so that you, by good effort and love, could merit everlasting life. Christ did not come to be your model but your redeemer. He does not enable you to save yourself but saves! He gives the “gift of righteousness” you could never merit so that you may then walk in his ways in freedom and authentic love. This is what it means to follow Christ. Go read Romans 3:19 – 8:39 and Galatians 2:15-4:7 several times prayerfully. Then go love.

    1. Josh,

      Thanks for the comments. Please stay tuned to the following posts of this series, as I think some of your concerns may be answered, or at least hopefully clarified from the Catholic perspective.

      Can man truly love apart from God? Of course not. I hope I do not come off as proclaiming that. I think, in fact, this is something that Benedict XVI tried to address in his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate: “Charity…’rejoices in the truth’ (1 Cor 13:6). All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person. The search for love and truth is purified and liberated by Jesus Christ from the impoverishment that our humanity brings to it” (1). He opens the encyclical as following: “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person”. Click here for the encyclical online.

      Christ is not a mere model, but has come as redeemer. Great remark. This is very true. It is actually quite upsetting when Jesus Christ is diminished into a mere ethical teacher-Christianity is so much more!

      1. I will be sure to stay tuned. I hope I didn’t come across as trying to size up your position too quickly. There’s nothing like being critiqued before you’ve really said anything.

        Anyway, I really do appreciate your insights and like the way your mind works. Just receive my counterpoints as my contribution to your journey. Some of the greatest growth in my own life has come from engaging those who have perspective that are very different from mine. They either change me or confirm me in my stance. Either way I come away better for it.

        In any event, there’s no better way to spend your time than in pondering divine truth and seeking to translate that into your own heart and life. May God bless you in your search, Tommy. He is the only one who can teach you his truth in all its fullness.

        1. Josh, sorry that I didn’t get a chance to respond here. Just wanted to say thank you for you words. Please be assured that I do receive your counterpoints. I have much to learn, and given that truth is discovered, we all must be willing to deepen our search for truth! Thank you for your comments, and though we have much disagreements, I pray that one day we may find unity and all may be one. Peace be with you, and may God bless and guide you on your search, as well. As you said beautifully: “He is the only one who can teach you his truth in all its fullness”. May all dive into relationship with the God of Love, and so see the Infinite that sets our hearts free!

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