Engaging views and analysis from outside contributors on the issues affecting society and faith today.

CP VOICES do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

Assessing ‘growth in justification' with Bishop Robert Barron

Unsplash/Jukan Tateisi
Unsplash/Jukan Tateisi

Robert Barron serves as bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, and is the founder of the Catholic media organization Word on Fire. He has been called the “bishop of social media” and “bishop of the Internet.” With 3 million followers on Facebook and 116 million views of his YouTube videos, the highly sought-after bishop is even scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Hillsdale College on May 13. 

In this revealing video, Bishop Barron discusses the Council of Trent and the Catholic teaching on justification.

He states, “(Martin) Luther made it central to his teaching that we are justified, set right with God by grace through faith. It’s by faith alone. When I accept in faith the grace offered to me, I am justified, apart from works of the Law” (9:01).

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

In explaining the Catholic position, Barron asks, “Do we need a higher power to save us? Yes, and here Trent is clearly nodding toward Luther approvingly … we can’t save ourselves … we need a Savior, not just a teacher … Jesus is not just someone that teaches us nice moral truths that now we can imitate … He is a Savior who has to go into our dysfunction and set it right” (9:30).

Barron continues: “Trent here is clearly acknowledging the primacy and necessity of grace. I think it’s saying to Luther, “You were right about that. You were reflecting the mainstream of the great Christian tradition” (10:18).

He then adds: “Luther taught a version of forensic or imputed righteousness. That means we’re not really made righteous by grace. We are declared righteous. God imputes as it were righteousness to us. Trent balks at that. The Catholic church has always balked at that because we hold to a real transformation” (10:39).

Balking at a believer's imputed righteousness, while holding to the necessity of a real transformation, sure seems like a straw man argument. After all, I don’t know a single Christian who believes that a person can be converted and justified by Christ’s imputed righteousness without there also being a real transformation that accompanies the spiritual conversion. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Barron then expresses an idea that conflates justification and sanctification even further. “But then it (Trent) speaks of an increase in justification, which can happen through our cooperation. And in this we get, if you want, the Catholic difference … the difference is the capacity to cooperate with the energy of grace so as to grow in justification” (11:45).

This theory of “growth in justification” does indeed reveal a significant Catholic difference from what much of Christendom teaches regarding the doctrine of justification. When the Apostle Paul wrote “to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,” (Romans 1:7) he declared: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1-2).

The word “saints” in the New Testament refers to those who have been converted and “have gained access by faith into this grace.” Every believer (saint) has already been justified, saved, redeemed, born again, and forgiven. Spiritual conversion is instantaneous, similar to the birth of a baby. The Christian life immediately follows conversion and is known as sanctification. 

The Holy Spirit enters a believer's soul at conversion. In fact, the third Person of the Trinity is the One who works the miracle of conversion in the first place. Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). Sanctification is a lifelong process in the life of a Christ follower, whereas justification occurs at the beginning of one’s relationship with God through faith in Jesus. Was the thief on the cross justified the moment he trusted Jesus to save him? (Luke 23:40-43) Of course.

Jesus used the term “born again” in the third chapter of John because spiritual birth is similar to physical birth. The notion that a Christian can “grow in justification” is comparable to saying that part of a teenager still needs to be born physically, be it a hand, foot, ear, etc. Physical birth doesn’t work that way, and neither does justification.

I suspect Bishop Barron would agree with my 2013 CP op-ed titled, “Salvation Without Good Works Is an Oxymoron.” In similar fashion, I suspect he would largely agree with these CP op-eds I wrote in 2018:

1. “Galatians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian” deals extensively with justification.

2. “Philippians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian” deals extensively with sanctification. 

3. “Ephesians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian” deals extensively with both justification and sanctification.

Healthy babies crave milk, and healthy Christians crave the Word of God. Committed followers of Christ sincerely serve the Lord and perform many good works, whereas pretend Christians live for sin rather than for Christ. The Bible identifies these fake Christians as unconverted hypocrites. And those in the Church who are attempting to earn their way into Heaven are also unconverted and in need of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Interestingly, the Apostle Paul referred to certain believers as “infants in Christ” due to their “jealousy and quarreling” (1 Corinthians 3:1,3). They were justified, saved, born again, forgiven and redeemed, but were nevertheless terribly immature in their life of discipleship.

In a CP op-ed dealing with faith and good works, I wrote, “Apple trees produce apples, and Christ produces good works in the life of every Christian. It’s what happens if you are truly connected to the vine.”

Anyone who turns to God in repentance and rests their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross is justified, and immediately begins to do good works as a result of their spiritual conversion. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), and growth in sanctification is the fruit of faith. Growth in justification, on the other hand, is impossible. You are either completely justified, or completely unconverted.

A simple way to test your grasp of the biblical teaching on justification would be to check out my recent CP op-ed involving three chairs. As the Apostle Paul exhorted those in the Church: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More In Opinion