Luther Fundamentally Misunderstood St Paul, Part 2: Clarity

By November 30, 2015 Apologetics 30 Comments

My daughter Blythe was four or five at the time. We were sitting at the table eating breakfast when I decided to introduce her to the cosmological argument for God’s existence.

“Sweetie,” I began, “can you tell me where bacon comes from?”

“Pigs,” she answered.

Simple enough.

I continued, “And where do pigs come from?”

Again, her response was effortless: “From God.”

So far, so good.

At this point I leaned forward and put the twist on her brain: “And where does God come from, sweetie?”


Now, I suppose there are some parents out there who would have attempted at this point to explain what “equivocation” means and then the precise sort of equivocation involved in answering that last question as Blythe had answered it. “Honey, when I used the word from, I didn’t mean…”

Not me. Her demeanor was so relaxed and confident; she was so obviously pleased with having known the answer that I just broke out laughing.

Clarity before Argument

But I love clarity. And when it comes to issues of the faith, sometimes I think I spend most of my conscious hours working on this one thing.

What I want to do in this post is seek clarity. If I make an argument, it will (almost) be by accident. My goal is more modest: It is to describe in simple terms how Catholicism thinks about the doctrine of “justification”, how Luther came to think about it, and how the two ways of thinking differ. Not in detail but in simple terms.

Clarity before argument. If I succeed, you can chalk it up to the extensive practice I’ve received raising a daughter who thinks God comes from Jerusalem, and conversing almost daily with five grandchildren, none of whom ever make one single lick of sense.

Speaking of torment…

The Tormented Monk

We begin our story in Germany in the early 16th century in the cell of an unhappy Augustinian monk.

Although Martin Luther had entered the monastery, become a Catholic priest, earned a doctorate in theology and become a professor of Scripture at the University of Wittenberg, he could not find peace with God.

Actually, this is an understatement.

Luther lived in such a state of spiritual depression and, often, despair that he admitted to having “hated” the God he believed he could not please, no matter how hard he tried.

And apparently, he tried. In the monastery Luther would fast for days without a crumb of food. He would throw off the blankets from his bed and nearly freeze himself to death as a spiritual discipline.

He later described this time: “I was a good monk and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his ‘monkery’, it was I. All my brothers in the monastery who knew me will bear me out. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other works.”

Essentially, Luther believed he had to work to make himself worthy of salvation. But the more he worked, the more his conscience tormented him: Have you done enough?  Have you fasted enough?  Have you prayed enough?  Is God pleased with you?  No matter what he did, for Luther God was always an angry, impossible-to-please father.

Not everyone seems to have felt as Luther felt about God. In fact, Luther’s good friend, confessor and mentor Johann von Staupitz, vicar general of the Augustinian order at the time, loved God and appears to have done everything he could to convince Luther of God’s love for him.

Staupitz was exasperated by Luther’s continual spiritual depression and on one occasion is known to have blurted out in frustration, “Man, God is not angry with you. It is you who are angry with God!”

And Luther was angry with God. Later in life, he wrote: “I was more than once driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”

So how did Luther find peace with God?

It was by coming to a new way of looking at what it means to be “justified” in Christ, a new conception of the nature of justification.

Justification as a Process

In Catholic teaching “justification” had always been taken to refer to the entire process by which those who trust in Christ are made internally righteous and fit for heaven. It included the forgiveness of sins, but it also included regeneration (the new birth) as well as our being sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ. “Justification” was the theological term used to describe the whole thing.

Now, it was understood that all of this — even the “good works” we perform along the path of sanctification — was a work of God’s grace.

After all, what had God promised through the prophets when he spoke of the New Covenant he would make with his people? “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes…” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Justification was understood to be God’s work, a work of God’s grace.

At the same time, it was never conceived as something that takes place mechanically and without our involvement. Rather, we must “cooperate” with God’s grace in the work of our being made fit for heaven. God gives us new hearts of flesh. He gives us the Holy Spirit. God provides a way for us to be forgiven and washed and stood on our feet again whenever we fall.

But we have to want this, and we have to persevere in wanting this.

And so the author of Hebrews, to take one example, warns Christians of the danger of becoming entangled in sin and “falling away from the living God” (Hebrews 4:12), in effect ceasing to want God’s mercy. He reminds them that they will “share in Christ if only [they] hold [their] first confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:14) and admonishes them to strive after holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Anyway, this is how Catholics think about the doctrine of justification.


Now, it’s hard to know exactly what Luther believed about all this when he was a Catholic. What is clear is that he had a hard time with the idea that his salvation was dependent in any way on his free cooperation with grace, on what he did or didn’t do in the way trusting obedience, keeping himself from becoming entangled in sin, striving after holiness.

Because of how deeply sinful Luther felt himself to be, any passage of Scripture commanding him to do anything was essentially a passage preaching condemnation and little else.

Justification as a Legal Declaration

So how did Luther find peace?

A key event occurred in 1515 while lecturing through St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Luther was meditating on Paul’s statement in Rom 1:16,17 that in the gospel “the righteous of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.'”

He had always thought that the phrase “the righteousness of God” referred in Scripture to the “strict justice” by which God would judge the world and punish sinners. And since he knew himself to be a miserable sinner, he was terrified by those words and “hated” to hear them.

But as Luther mulled them over again and again, suddenly the thought came to him like a flash of bright light from heaven: The righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel, it dawned on Luther, it isn’t the strict justice by which God will judge sinners; rather it’s the righteousness God gives to those who simply believe. Justification is a gift received “sola fide” – by faith alone!

Describing this event, Luther later wrote: “Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet…. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven…”


OK, great, but Catholicism also taught that justification was a gift. So is the difference between the two simply the “faith alone” part?

No, and this is crucial: Luther’s key “insight” (which I will argue was his crucial error) was not about how one receives justification (whether by faith alone or some other way) but about how one defines justification, about how one understands what justification is. Rather than understanding justification to refer to the entire process by which we are “made righteous” (the Catholic view) Luther came to understand justification as referring to a legal transaction that takes place the instant one believes and by which we are “accounted” as righteous in God’s sight.

As Luther came to see it, the moment we believe, our sins are “credited” to Christ’s account (think legal transaction) and Christ’s own perfect righteousness is “credited” to our account (think legal transaction). His righteousness is “imputed” to us and from that moment we are “reckoned” or “accounted” to be as righteous as Christ himself.

Luther referred to this as the “glorious exchange”. This was Luther’s revolutionary idea.

Now, what this meant was that from the instant Luther had looked to Christ in faith and this glorious exchange had taken place, in terms of his “legal standing” before God, justification was a “done deal”. He was saved. Christ’s righteousness covered him and all his sinfulness like snow covering a dunghill. When God looked at him, from that moment, he saw only Christ.

It’s no wonder, then, that with this discovery, peace flooded Luther’s soul. No more need to struggle against sin. No more need to strive after holiness. No more need to fast and pray and perform acts of contrition. No more need to even think of justification as something to be achieved.

Only believe. Christ’s righteousness will be imputed to you and your justification will be an accomplished fact. Past tense.

Two Thought Experiments

In our next post we’re going to see how crucially important Luther believed – and Protestants since have believed – this “legal” understanding of justification to be. For now, I leave those of you who may be wondering how in the world such a fine theological distinction could have any practical import with two thought experiments:

(1)  Imagine you believe that justification is a process and that your free cooperation with grace is essential to whether or not you will enter heaven. How are you going to tend to respond when you read a passage of Scripture calling you to “strive after… holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)?

(2)  Now, imagine you believe instead that justification is a legal transaction that took place the moment you first believed in Christ ten or twenty or thirty years ago, and that your salvation is a settled issue? How are you going to tend to respond to that same passage?

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  • Edmund Yamba says:

    I am a catholic and digging for answers to matters like this. Thank you for making my day with this write up. I am eagerly looking forward to part three.

  • Mark O'Rosky says:


    I eagerly await the next installment. I am positive you are going to work in sanctification. As I hear when I make this process argument is “I am justified and now I am working on sanctification.” Hmm.. Not and either or but.. an AND BOTH.

  • John says:

    Thank you for this exposition. I found it very helpful.

  • Hector Serrrano says:

    Fantastically clear exposition of Luther’s misunderstanding. I have a lot of Lutheran friends and in my very simple and elementary understanding of my faith try to present the difference between the Catholic understanding of salvation and theirs and this series of articles will help me tremendously . Thanks so much.
    I even used one time Moses’ example while parting the waters of the sea in Exodus. I argued the need for God to have Moses use his staff to part the waters as an example of “obedience” to achieve salvation from a sure death by the Romans. On the same token, Moses never made it to the land of milk and honey because he did NOT obey God’s instructions when told to tap the rock with his staff once. I did not get an answer on that from those listening . Perhaps a good thing, because I did not know how to follow my argument.
    Can’t wait to your next article. Thanks again

    • Sam DiCarlo says:

      Maybe the time when Moses struck the rock in the desert a second time can be used to show that God wants strict obedience. Did Moses exhibit impatience with how long it was taking for God to make the waters flow? Did Moses think he had to do something in addition to the first blow. Obviously God wasn’t pleased with Mose’s addition………God apparently was expecting exact obedience/action., nothing more, nothing less?

      Isaias (Isaiah) 55:8
      For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

  • Dena Kelley says:

    I am a new Catholic and struggling with the higher demands my Catholic beliefs place on me, plus I struggle with mild scrupulosity. This post gave me food for thought but it also made me pray for Luther’s soul because reading your post it sounded very much like Luther might have suffered from OCD and scrupulosity. I know that I have totally lost the peace I used to feel as a protestant, *knowing* I was saved. It wasn’t that I denied by sin, I knew I was a sinner, but I believed completely in Christ’s mercy. As a new Catholic, I no longer feel that peace. I am much more in fear of hell, and much more in fear that I might end up there. I have a bit of sympathy for Luther, here.

    • Br. David says:

      ” I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!” ~ Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 3

      “Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy. My daughter, write about My mercy towards tormented souls. Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. Write: before I come as a just judge, I first open wide the door of My mercy. He who refuses to pass through the door of My mercy must pass through the door of My justice…” ( Jesus to St. Faustina, Diary, 1146) I never reject a contrite heart (1485). Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul (1777).

      St. Therese wrote“I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266)…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son”

    • Victor McGuire says:

      Hi Dena, I myself am a reverted Catholic and struggle with scrupolocity myself. I have found much treasure in the Catholic faith in helping me deal with this disease. I may be able to help you or at leadt be a brother in Christ while you continue your journey. Luther did struggle with scrupolocity but so did many other Catholic Saints. My email is (no spaces) Victor . Mcguire @
      In Christ,

    • Ashley says:

      Dena, I completely agree on your opinion of Luther. I also believe he definitely had a mental illness that interfered with his ability to clearly see God’s love and mercy. Mental illness is such a cross to bear, and when it cues in on spirituality it makes it very hard to distinguish between Gods voice and Anxiety or OCD’s voice. Have you been formally diagnosed? Being treated is so important to your overall well-being. I am a RN. My father-in-law and brother-in-law are both Psychiatrists. I have struggled with anxiety myself and feeling as though I have not pleased God. I also come from a Protestant background and converted to the Catholic Church in 2013. I just saw your post and my heart goes out to you. I know this is extremely personal to be posting on a blog but I really want to give your encouragement and hope to seek any sort of medical treatment you may need.

  • Tim Sonnier says:

    Ken, the last two questions really hit home for me. It is what I have come to see in the differences between our faith and that of our separated brethren. I love my Protestant brethren with all my heart and wish they could see how personal holiness is the Way. Once you embrace Catholicism you see the beauty of your own Exodus. He who endures till the end will be saved. Thanks and keep it coming!

  • Anonymous says:

    At the end of Part 2, Ken seemed to imply that if Protestants believes that justification is a one time, legal act of God, which seals one’s salvation, well then, one could theoretically not work out salvation (i.e. conform to the image of Christ). Even non-Christians use this line of argumentation against us. ☺
    In reality, the call for holiness (Hebrews 12:14) and perseverance to the end (Matt 24:13), Protestants say it is a work of grace for which those have been justified (one time act) WILL eventually conform to the image of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s grace produces a heart that desires to please God. God’s grace is active, transforming the heart and achieves its intended results, which is ultimate sanctification.

    When justified, Protestants obey the Lord in confidence, in love, and without fear of condemnation (Rom 8:1) knowing that we are already saved. Protestants call this the doctrine assurance and doctrine of perseverance. Catholics “hope” they will be saved, but can never be 100% sure as it is works based. A Catholic may say, “I hope that I am saved because I believe in Jesus Christ and **have the necessary works to prove it.**” What I just starred is the sticking point for Protestants; we would interpret that as a person having to earn their salvation.

    • Ken Hensley says:

      Well, you’ve stated the Protestant position, yes, but whether this is the teaching of Scripture is another thing.

      Here’s one thing I found as a Calvinist for many years: Everyone on all sides knows that the New Testament clearly teaches that only those who persevere to the end will be saved. This is taught in myriad ways in every book of the New Testament. What this means is that if the Catholic finds himself drifting from God and living in sin, he can worry about his spiritual state and return to God in repentance and faith. But if the You point out that the Protestant who holds to your view finds himself drifting from God, becoming entangled in sin, he can worry that maybe this is evidence that the faith he’s thought he had all these years wasn’t “true faith” and that this is evidence he’s never been justified. So I think you’re wrong to paint it as though Catholics worry and Protestants don’t. In fact…

      My experience is that the sort of “worry” a Protestant can feel is even more confusing and troubling than what a Catholic can feel. Sure the Catholic will worry if he knows he’s living in sin. On the other hand, The Catholic always knows he can return to Christ if only he wants. God is like the father in the prodigal son, always willing to run and meet us on the road. But the Protestant believes, as you’ve stated it, that “those who have been justified (one time act) WILL eventually conform to the image of Christ.” What this means is that the Protestant who finds himself living in sin is twisted into mental and spiritual knots: “I think I believe and therefore am justified. But if I were justified I would be evidencing that in my life. Maybe this means it will turn out that my faith wasn’t true faith and that I’ve never been justified. But if I’ve lived all these years thinking I had true faith when I didn’t, then how can I know that my repentance and faith today will be true repentance and faith?”

      In other words, however one defines justification, everyone knows the Bible teaches we must fight the fight of faith and persevere to the end.

      What this means in practice is that if I fall away from God and into deep sin and remain in that sin, Catholics will worry that maybe I’ve lost my faith and am no longer on the path to heaven; Protestants will worry that maybe this is evidence I never had true faith and have never been justified. Only those Protestants (and they exist) who take the position that once you pray the sinners prayer you’re SAVED and it doesn’t matter whether you ever show any evidence of belonging to Christ will not experience “concern” that my salvation is in question.

      • Ryan says:

        That is precisely my experience as an evangelical. But it went even further about the faith; if my Salvation is based on faith and that faith comes entirely from scripture, then what is the true scripture? and the true understanding of it? It was an endless pursuit that could be settled only by deciding arbitrarily on whatever standard I would.
        Then there was the search for the true Gospel of Paul and not a false one.

      • Anonymous says:

        My point is that the Catholic can only hope they are saved. Protestants can know (I John 5:13). From a Christian living perspective, if one is living in sin, one should worry whether they are in the faith. Both sides would agree with this. Practically, we are coming from different perspectives are arriving at the same conclusion: Works matter. For Catholics, it is for justification; for Protestants, it is for validation.

        When Catholics say that works are a prerequisite to have a righteous standing before God, that is when Protestants say Catholics are teaching a “salvation by works”. Protestants claims that if Catholics believe justification is a process, then it is practically salvations by works.

        1. I married my wife in 2002. It was made it official in the eyes of God.–a la Justification
        2. Once married, my actions only validated that I am her husband. God is working in me to love my wife;(Conforming to the likeness of Christ)
        4. While married, I never had to hope or question that I was married to her. My challenge was to continue to love my spouse as Christ love His bride (the Church), because I was already married.

        #4 is where Catholics and Protestants disagree. Many people on both sides debate without knowing the perspectives and throw false accusations. I am thankful we both know each other’s side and are fine tuning the understanding the hope of having the Lord speak to us in His Word. I welcome your feedback on #4.

        PS: I understand that the doctrine of losing one’s salvation would strain the above analogy. So I left it out to keep our discussion simpler for now. Actually, Protestants like Luther and Pentecostals hold also believe in losing one’s salvation.
        But to be extreme for the purposes of the above analogy, there is nothing I can do that will separate my marriage to wife, not even my sin. Why? Because, the gift of salvation is a promise from God. It is something He starts; it is not something that I initiate.

        • IprayIam says:

          Sorry Anon, but I lost you on point #3 🙂

        • Jordan Brod says:

          Legally you would still be married, even if you abandoned your wife and shacked up with another woman, unless you filed for divorce. You would be living outside of your marriage if you were committing adultery and even if you were still married your wife might not take you back. By Baptism we are made part of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, we are adopted children of God. Nothing we do from that point would divorce this adoption, we can always come back as the prodigal son did, but we can choose to act as if this was not the case. The idea of justification and sanctification being an ongoing process does not equal itself to a one time transaction. Christ gave us a one time event, baptism, that gains us access to His Body. We fully have the free will to wrench ourselves away from Him and to come back. That’s why the vines are grafted on to Him, not new branches growing out naturally, one can come loose only to be grafted back on. Catholics believe that nothing of our own doing, alone and without grace, can ever merit us Heaven. Works are a natural offshoot of conforming to Christ, the building up treasures in Heaven. As we become this new being in Christ and say yes to God’s will, the works become a natural part of this change. The key is we can simply, by our own will, make a 180 and run away. This does not negate the process if we do another 180 and come back. We hope, like Paul, to run the race well and receive our crown, but we know we have to run the race, we have to obey our Father, we should strive, with His help, to be pleasing to Him as His Son is.

          • Ken Hensley says:

            While I would agree with what you say here, the “legality” you are describing in the “one-time event” of baptism is quite different than the legality and one-time event Protestantism is talking about. There’s is irreversible and based on the legal imputation of Christ’s righteousness, you’re talking about the grace and adoption that takes place in baptism which CAN be walked away from.

        • Jordan Brod says:

          Further legality and reality are not always the same thing. Legally I may be married but my life with my spouse may, in reality, be anything but a marriage.

        • Poor Knight says:

          Hi Anon,
          I just want to comment on the first line that “Protestants can *know* they are saved.” (cf 1 Jn 5:13). I was in a Calvinist Presbyterian community for nearly 8 years before reverting back to Catholicism. This was one point of contention that I think I can shed some light on.

          1Jn 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (NIV)

          The first thing any good exegete should do is ask this question: “What things?” John tells us this line is based off of something else. Similarly when we see the phrase “Therefore” we should always ask, “What is it there for?” So we need to look at previous verses.

          In the entire letter there are over 20 “if’s” prior to 1 Jn 5:13. If you love your brother. If you keep the commandments. If you help brethren in need. If we abide in Christ by loving our brothers, obeying the commandments, if you listen to what you have heard from the beginning… etc. etc. etc.

          Are you doing all these things perfectly?

          Secondly, the key word in 1 Jn 5:13, “know” in Greek is ‘eidete’ which literally means, ‘confidence.’ This is how it is translated several other times in the letter. 1 Jn 5:14 – the exact next verse – says, “And this is the confidence (eidete) which we have in him that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” Continuing, ‘eidete’ is used several more times: 1 Jn 5:15 “And if we know (eidete) that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know (eidete) that we have obtained the requests made of him.”

          So if we stay consistent with the Protestant understanding of “absolute certainty” in 1Jn5:13, then we must have “absolute certainty” that we get whatever we ask for in prayer. The problem is, we both know that doesn’t happen.

          What ‘eidete’ means is the kind of “know” like when we study really really hard for a math test. Then someone asks us, “Are you ready for the test?” and our response can be “I just KNOW I’m going to get an ‘A’ on that test!” We have confidence. It’s not meant as an absolute certainty. That’s what ‘eidete’ means.

          So when a Catholic says “I hope I’m going to heaven” first realize this ISNT just some “cross my fingers” kind of thing. This is the THEOLOGICAL VIRTUE hope. As in “Faith, Hope and Love”. Second, that means “hope in Christ”, so we are relying solely on Christ. Third this is a confidence. If I were to die right now, I have confidence that I would go to heaven. But to say I have absolute certainty, would be playing God. Only God can know for certain who is going to heaven and who is not.

          I ‘hope’ that helps 🙂
          God Bless,
          Poor Knight for Christ and His Church

    • John says:

      A Catholic may say, “I hope that I am saved because I believe in Jesus Christ and **have the necessary works to prove it.**” Absolute hogwash, a typical misstatement of the Catholic position, once again, once again, once again, once again. I am so tired of the protestant twisting and turning. The Catholic is saved, by the grace of God, through total obedience to the Gospel which includes things other than “Faith” and ‘Works” as well — the sanctifying Grace of the sacraments, which comes of course as a free, unmerited gift, which protestants more or less spit upon, trample upon, ignore, or bypass the sacramental priesthood in the true Church and pantomime on their own. A Catholic should NEVER fall into the faith/works trap with one of these heretics.
      And moreover, who the hell are YOU to presume your own salvation??? You usurp God’s role, Christ’s role, as solemn judge? Where is your respect? It’s not over til it’s over. Can you imagine going before a human judge and saying, “Your honor, you know and I know you’re just going to wave me through since I made a single act of Faith on the Gulf Coast Highway in 1968 so please, just let’s get on with it please.” Outrageous. He’d throw in the clink. All of it, Luther’s disgusting ‘forensic justification’ — all of it — Satanic lies. And the worst thing is the modern Church won’t give it to you straight. Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. As Augustine put it, “A man can have absolutely *everything* outside the Catholic Church [including totally nutty and delude protestant notions about salvation] EXCEPT salvation.” That’s reality. Stop playing games with your salvation and receive the Holy Eucharist as you have no life within you without it. John 6:53. Luther was mentally ill and suffered from severe scrupulosity and good not fathom the mystery of God’s grace AND justice working together so he invented a way based on a woefully partial reading of scripture to call himself “saved” now, totally usurping Christ’s role as judge of his soul. He is likely in hell as are all his followers.

      • Mark. says:

        I don’t think that God puts madmen in Hell. This is why I don’t despair of Martin Luther’s salvation, and I pray for him when I remember to. Luther’s family was also notorious for violent rage before him and after…

  • Ryan says:

    Thank you! This is a fantastic topic and very helpful for understanding the Catholic position.

    I have had the privilege of working with both Protestant and Catholic Christians who struggle with understanding the nature of their justification and thus the surety of their salvation.

    In both kinds of instances my summary is that righteousness and justification are gifts of grace given according to the person and work of Christ through faith. Faith being trust.

    Trust in Christ’s life (humanity & divinity) to achieve righteousness for mankind.
    Trust in Christ’s death to redeem us from our unrighteousness.
    Trust in Christ’s resurrection to make us righteous.
    Trust in Christ’s ascension to fill us with His Spirit; the One who applies to us what Christ has accomplished for us, making us able to do righteousness (mind, word & action).

    Ultimately, the Christian trusts in God’s promise that “salvation is the Lord’s.” This gives us the confidence to trust in Him in the midst of our sins and when facing our inabilities. He who made me righteous (positionally) is also making me holy (functionally) as I trust (believe) in His completed work.

  • Douglas Kraeger says:

    I am a revert of 32 years, and I have an idea I hope you will pass along so others can help make it better and implement it so that every church, of every faith has a poster of some form that encourages all to seek to believe everything that God wants everyone to know and believe.

    You spoke of clarity, clear thinking and speaking. If the following is implemented would not there be some sequences of questions that would help parents teach clarity, which they need help doing?

    To build up the foundation of civilization (the family) with a simple, new paradigm for helping spouses to do what they should be doing but many are not, to wash each other with a “bath of water with the Word” (Eph. 5:23) (truths that God has revealed that He wants all to know and believe)” and by helping them demonstrate a true love of (all) truth so that they may be saved (2Thes. 2:10)
    Please: How can this be improved?
    Suggested Poster for all churches to put up and remind people of periodically:

    “All truly good parents are seen wanting to pray ever more perfectly, are seen washing each other with a “bath of the water with the Word” and committing themselves to a lifelong effort at being open to all Truth from God, through anyone. All truly good parents are seen eager to know and believe whatever it is that God wants everyone to know and believe and therefore these parents, in order to share them with others but especially with their children, are looking for GOD’S ANSWER to the best sequences of questions from people of all faiths with the best verifiable information and who are eager to share such in the sure faith that God’s answers for these questions will lead all, by peaceful means, to the one Faith God must will all to have and for them to thereby reject violence and all man made additions to this Faith.
    There are many in this church eager to help and encourage all spouses to wash each other with a “bath of water WITH the Word” the way GOD WANTS IT DONE (and they have some very good suggestions for questions and ways to do this) and to help anyone start or continue in this quest to pray as perfectly as possible and in the lifelong search for Truth and to help any who are now seeking to find everything God wants everyone to know and believe, one step, one question at a time.” (names, telephone numbers, email addresses)

    Obviously people will eventually know everything in the poster no matter how long it is if the minister makes a monthly, strongly worded comment reminding all that there are members of the church who are eager to help anyone find God’s answer to all questions from anyone. Parents and children will each know (because the poster and the monthly reminders put a “spotlight on the parent’s actions”) whether or not the parents are, or are not, doing what they should already be doing but many times today, in this world, are not doing (washing each other with a bath of “water with the Word” and eager to know and believe all that God wants all to know and believe). Is this not a good way for ministers to frequently remind all (without pointing a finger at any one person) of the importance of truly accepting the love of, and therefore being open to truth, from God through anyone and eagerly seeking ALL the truth that God wants all to love so that they may be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10)? If you cannot think of a better way, and this idea might help many, many parents, and many children, should you pass this on so others can help improve it?
    To help ALL parents be better helpers of their children, ONE STEP AT A TIME.
    This idea has three aspects:
    1. A poster (similar to the one on page one above) in all churches, put up by their minister for passive but powerful reminding of what everyone can know for certain.
    2. Superb questions (God’s questions) that will improve with each succeeding generation with verifiable evidence on slips of paper with a web address
    3. all ministers of all faiths will be expected by their flocks to publicly show they trust God’s answer to all such questions will lead people, by God’s grace, to the one faith God wants all to know and accept (or explain why they do not), and each minister will be expected to make available their own sequence of questions or endorse other sequences.

    Do you see the potential for good if a few lay Christian groups (Knights of Columbus, St. Joseph Society, and non-Catholic groups) started working together and expected their ministers to support this idea? What minister would explicitly, publicly say, “I do not want to publicly, explicitly encourage husbands and wives to wash each other with a ‘bath of water with the Word’ the way God wants it done”?

    I believe this idea cannot be publicly opposed by any leader of any faith, and all will publicly support it (maybe some because they will not want to be seen not supporting it) once a few religious leaders PUBLICLY call on all other religious leaders to support this.
    How has your Priest or Minister explained God’s meaning and the practical implementation of Ephesians 5:25?
    “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word”. What does God want husbands and wives to do in order to bathe each other with “the bath of water with the word” and to pass the desire for such bathing onto the next generation and all their friends and their children?
    Are there any problems facing families today that a healthy dose of Husbands and wives washing each other with a “bath of water with the word” would not help alleviate because of the graces God would likely send in response to such washing?

    Second aspect of Idea: Slips of Paper to help evangelize others and especially children?
    The second aspect requires the minister or a moderator (or team of moderators) who will write, or find, and post suggested sequences of questions, perhaps using the Socratic method (with verifiable, unassailable evidence) on a particular part of the church webpage (numbered and grouped according to topic) for people to be able to read and print out the questions on slips of paper and carry them in their wallet or purse. Then, when a person has an opportunity to dialogue with someone, (for spouses to share as they wash each other with “a bath of water with the Word, or when a parent and child have “one of those” discussions) they have these carefully worded, superbly well thought out questions, that they can hand to the other person and ask them if God might want to give them HIS ANSWER to this question and if they should therefore seek and find God’s answer to that question in their heart in the security of their home. The intent of each question will be to help people (spouses) take one step at a time, one issue at a time, towards believing whatever God wants everyone to know, believe, and understand the way GOD WANTS IT UNDERSTOOD BY ALL, rather than trying to get them to read an entire book (which is a very good thing but few do this today). There will be groups and individuals who will offer services (almost always free) where many different approaches to questions on each particular “step” are put side by side for comparison purposes. Parents, especially fathers, will be expected to arm their children with the best examples and to demonstrate being open to knowing and believing everything God wants all to know and believe and to help their children check out the arguments, questions, posted by other faiths to see if they have any questions that God’s answer to seems to appear to lead to this other faith only. Hopefully, many people will include related questions to be found on the web page also listed at the bottom of the slips of paper.
    Think if all religious schools made sure that all children knew where to go for the best questions for people of any faith.
    This idea does not negate everyone’s responsibility to know their faith and be eager to share it. It merely helps them be better armed, gives them a sense of confidence, so that even if they do not have all the answers at any given time (fear of which keeps many from engaging in dialogue) they know that they are armed with several well worded questions that the other would know they should seek God’s answer to, and which we can be hopeful will lead them to the One Faith God wants all to have when they find His answer to all questions, hopefully checking out the web address on the slip of paper.

  • Morrie chamberlain says:

    What is so sad is that Luther’s great revelation concerning justification was really not a revelation at all so that more that 400 years later modern Lutheran theologians would realize that their teaching on justification was essentially the same as the Catholic Church’s.

  • Brian GREAVES says:

    What I find difficult to follow, is the point that Protestants know they are saved, irrespective of what they do. They have no need to worry about ‘good works’. Yet the very by-word for repressive behaviour and dourness is in the very terms of protestantism, e.g.., Puritanism, Calvinism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism. In spite of Luther’s advice to ‘sin on bravely’, they seem to get no joy from their freedom to do as they like. Catholics have all kinds of feasts and celebrations whereas Protestantism forbade all these expressions of joy. many sects avoid celebrating even Christmas.

  • John Stevens says:

    For justification to be an event which guarantees salvation logically requires one to loose their free will: that they are bound to God from that moment on, and they no longer have a choice in the matter. That is utter nonsense. God wants our love, love requires us to have free will, therefore it must always be possible to stop loving God at any point in one’s life.

    Justification really isn’t all that difficult: one’s true beliefs can be parsed out of one’s actions. If one believes in a thing, but does not act as one rationally would if they truly believed that thing, then either one does not truly believe, or one is not acting rationally.

    Not acting rationally is another way of saying that one has succumbed to temptation and lapsed into the error inherent in every sinful choice. If we truly have free will, then we will always have the power to reject God in both our beliefs and actions, or in just our actions, or just our beliefs.

    Reconciling with God is thus analogous to reconciling two different accounts: to conform one’s actions to one’s beliefs (the most common form of reconciliation) or to conform one’s beliefs to one’s actions (a much rarer thing). Logically, the act of reconciliation has a number prerequisites . . . all of which are listed in the instructions on how to make a good “confession” (Catholic slang for properly partaking of the Sacrament of Reconciliation). The third form of reconciliation, that of correcting both one’s actions AND one’s beliefs is much rarer, though of course possible.

    Or, in short: orthodoxy and orthopraxis are two sides of the same coin. Any attempt to separate them is a logical fallacy, in exactly the same way as claiming that it is possible for a quarter to only have one side. Works and faith are those two sides.

  • MikefromED says:

    To the Protestant who claimed that a Protestant can know that he is saved, can I ask you about Jonathan Edwards? Jonathan Edwards was an athlete (he won a gold medal in the Olympics) who became a Protestant Christian. He believed that he was saved so he had the kind of assurance that you talk about. Jonathan Edwards is now an atheist. Presumably he’s no longer saved. Now my question is this: How can any Protestant be sure that the same thing that happened to Jonathan Edwards won’t happen to him?

  • karl leinfelder says:

    It would appear that Martin Luther was a very intelligent individual filled with a high level of sincerity. Part of the problem associated with his decision to be schismatic in the early fifteenth century was certainly related to his psychological makeup. He always carried out his thoughts and actions in a manner that was either black or white. There were no shades of gray. He had good ideas and intentions but unfortunately he was overcome with a strong tendency towards a compulsive obsessive behavior. Furthermore, after reading a considerable amount of literature about his personal life I also believe that he suffered from a serious state of scrupulosity. It must have been very painful and depressing for him as he tried to sanctify his life. I am sure that this problem was sufficiently grave to cause him a great deal of mental sorrow. When he made a decision to take action against something that he seriously opposed regarding the Catholic Church, he worked towards attacking these differences with every sinew in his body. These actions then lead to even deeper antagonism and many of the things for which he unfortunately was in error. He ended up publishing a creed that in many respects were in serious conflict with Catholic dogma. One of the biggest errors he made was that related to faith alone. He professed that regardless of what one did from a moral point of view, acceptance into heaven was based solely and only one one’s acceptance of Christ. He was so driven by his beliefs that he gave up the priesthood and took on a secular life.

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