In 2000 or 2001, I came to hold what I called an "Augustinian" doctrine of justification and to oppose what I considered the classic "Protestant" doctrine. Mostly, this had to do with the question of imputation vs. infusion with regard to the righteousness of Christ. I felt concerned that the Protestant doctrine of justification too much separated imputation from infusion, insisting that we are right with God wholly by means of the imputation of Christ's righteousness apart from the infusion of Christ's righteousness that constitutes regeneration and sanctification. I held, rather, that it is both the imputation of righteousness and its infusion and effects in us that makes us right with God. Until Summer of 2003, I felt myself to be at odds with the Protestant position on these matters. This was resolved when I came to see that I could reasonably interpret the Protestant doctrine and language in such a way as to avoid this conflict. This is a large subject, and I won't go into details here, but suffice it to say that I felt reconciled with the Protestant position after the Summer of 2003. . . .
My commitment to an "Augustinian" view of justification has been justified (no pun intended), as this is the form of the doctrine in the Catholic tradition. But my attempts to see my views as in harmony with the Protestant view has given me a helpful awareness that will serve well as I continue to work to help Catholics and Protestants understand each other better.
Since this document was written when I was a Protestant, not everything in it is necessarily in conformity with Catholic doctrine, and I don't necessarily vouch for every detail of it. But I have left it as it was when I wrote it without changes (except for the addition of section headings) in order to preserve it as a testimony to my views on this subject back in 2001.
The Augustinian and the Protestant Doctrines of Justification Compared and Contrasted
“By [the guilt of reatus poenae] is meant desert of punishment, or obligation to render satisfaction to God’s justice for self-determined violation of the law. Guilt in this sense is not of the essence of sin, but is rather a relation to the penal sanction of the law. If there had been no sanction attached to the disregard of moral relations, every departure from the law would have been sin, but would not have involved liability to punishment.”
- Louis Berkhof
“In the last analysis sin is always against God, and the essence of sin is to be against God. The person who is against God cannot be right with God. For if we are against God then God is against us. It could not be otherwise. God cannot be indifferent to or complacent towards that which is the contradiction of himself. His very perfection requires the recoil of righteous indignation. And that is God’s wrath.”
- John Murray
The Augustinian and Protestant doctrines of sin and salvation are, on the whole, very similar. Both Augustinians and Protestants agree that, ever since the Fall, mankind has been dead in sin and in rebellion against God. Both agree that man is sinful by nature, and that there is nothing man can do to even in the slightest degree initiate a return to God and to righteousness, and both agree that this inability in no way lessens the culpability of man in sin. Both hold a compatibilist notion of the will and a belief in the absolute sovereignty of God, over against Arminian and Pelagian systems of theology. Both hold that only God, by grace alone, can free a sinner from bondage to sin and convert him to Christ by effectual grace through Christ’s atonement. Both agree that there is nothing man can do to merit God’s favor or the grace of salvation, and that God gives his special saving grace only to those he has unconditionally elected and passes by those he has unconditionally reprobated. And both agree that because of all of this, all the glory and credit for salvation and eternal life go to God and to God alone.
Where Augustinians and Protestants differ is in their understanding of the relationship between the guilt of sin and the power and presence of sin, and the relationship between the righteousness of justification and the holiness of sanctification. Protestants hold that, in the process of justification, the guilt of sin is removed but not the power and the presence of sin. These are removed in a different (though necessarily connected and inseparable) process of sanctification. The righteousness of justification, which is the righteousness that provides us with acceptable merit before God, is held to be imputed but not imparted. That is, it is not a righteousness given to us internally but is one given to us legally. It involves a change in our legal status, but not in our nature. The righteousness of sanctification is imparted and involves a change of nature, but it is not the grounds of our meritorious acceptance before God, because it is imperfect in this life and because even if it were perfect, it could not outweigh the debt of sin. It would leave us under the wrath of God. Augustinians, on the other hand, hold that the guilt of sin and the power and presence of sin are not distinct things which can be separated, but are all necessary characteristics of a sinful disposition which exists in us internally. Likewise, Augustinians do not believe that having a righteous disposition and having a righteous status before God are two different things which can be separated, but that they are necessary characteristics of a righteous disposition which exists in the justified internally. So for Augustinians, justification and sanctification are not two processes, but are one; and the righteousness of justification is, therefore, an imparted righteousness (though of course it is also imputed, since it is Christ’s righteousness intrinsically and not ours, and becomes ours only by being undeservedly given to us as a free gift, and because justification, for Augustinians as well as for Protestants, involves God’s legal declaration of the righteous state of the believer).
So the questions before us in our examination of the Augustinian and the Protestant doctrines of justification are these: 1. Is the guilt of sin so connected to the presence of sin that you cannot have the presence of sin without guilt or guilt without the presence of sin? 2. Is a righteous status before God so connected with an internal righteous disposition that you cannot have a righteous status without an internal righteous disposition or an internal righteous disposition without a righteous status before God? As you can see, these two questions ultimately resolve into one, since you cannot answer the first question one way and the second another without a contradiction. It is their different answers to these questions, and whatever implications flow from their answers, which constitute the difference between the Augustinian and the Protestant doctrines of justification. I would like to argue that it is the Augustinian doctrine and not the Protestant doctrine which finds the support of both Scripture and reason.
My intention is to be very concise (though I hope thorough) in my examination of Scripture, so I am going to simply assume that my reader knows the texts and has them before him as I discuss them.
A Look at Scripture
In my examination of Scripture, I want to look first at the Book of Romans, since it is here that the most systematic description of sin and salvation are given. Augustinians and Protestants agree, for the most part, on their interpretations of Romans 1-3:20, where Paul deals with the sinfulness of all mankind. (One disagreement might come in chapter 2, however. Paul says that everyone will be judged according to their deeds, evil to evil and good to good, and that “the doers of the law will be justified” (2:13). Some Protestants suggest this is merely hypothetical. If a person could be good, he would be rewarded in this way. However, there is no evidence that this is hypothetical, and there is evidence that it is not. Paul is not speaking hypothetically, as if there were no gospel, because in verse 16, he speaks of judgment as being by Christ, according to the gospel. In verse 29, he relates the fulfilling of the law to the Spirit and the circumcision of the heart, showing that the whole discussion in chapter two is speaking realistically, taking into account the truths of the gospel. This would imply that, through the Spirit, one becomes a doer of the law and so is justified, obviously indicating an internal righteousness as the basis for justification.)
One of our big questions, however, comes up in their interpretations of 3:21-5:21. It is clear from what Paul says that no one can be saved by his own righteousness, but that he must receive a righteousness coming from outside of himself as a gift of grace through the propitiation of Christ, which enables him to be forgiven of his sins and received into favor with God. It is clear that this righteousness cannot be earned but must be received through faith alone. It is also clear, I might add, that the “works of the law” which can’t save us are not merely ceremonial works but are moral works as well. The question raised in these chapters is, Is the righteousness which believers receive through faith alone only a change in status, or is it a righteousness that exists inside us as an internal sanctification? The arguments raised by Protestants against the latter option do not seem convincing to me. Protestants argue that, because the atonement which provides the righteousness by which we are forgiven of our sins is a propitiation, that it must refer to a change in status, since the propitiatory sacrifices of the Old Testament did not change the nature of the one offering but merely removed his guilt. I would argue, on the other hand, that, for one thing, the propitiatory sacrifices of the Old Testament changed neither the nature of the offerer nor his status; they didn’t change anything, because they were not the real cleansing of sin but were only types of the real sacrifice to come. The Protestant argument would prove too much even for Protestants - The Old Testament sacrifices did not change the nature of the offerer, therefore Christ’s sacrifice does not change the nature of one to whom it is applied. But Protestants do believe that Christ’s sacrifice changes the natures of those to whom it is applied; they just don’t believe that the process of justification refers specifically to this change. In the Old Testament, there is a promise of the removal of the guilt of God’s people through the sacrifice of the coming Messiah, and there is also the promise that one day God would circumcise the hearts of his people (in other words, change their natures), so that they would become internally righteous. Both elements are fulfilled in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Another Protestant argument raised against the same “latter option” is that the description of how justification works in Romans 4:1-25 using the example of Abraham implies an imputed rather than an imparted righteousness. Does it not explicitly say that Abraham’s faith, not his works, was reckoned (imputed) to him as righteousness? And doesn’t David’s quote show that this justification is not the absence of sin in our lives, but the covering and forgiving, or the “blotting out”, of sin that is present? Does David not say that it is because God does not “take into account” our sin, and not because there is no sin to take into account, that we are acceptable to God? First of all, I would answer that the text does say that Abraham was justified by faith rather than by works. But this is saying nothing more than what is agreed upon by both Augustinians and Protestants, that we must turn from trust in our own works to a trust in God’s work in Christ. Abraham had faith, and on account of his faith, Christ’s righteousness, worked out in the atonement, became accounted his. The idea of righteousness being counted to Abraham here probably means that Christ’s righteousness came to belong to him on account of faith; it is an issue of ownership. The phrase may also imply the fact that through faith, Abraham gained the declaration of righteousness before God the Judge, because through faith he gained the righteousness which warranted that declaration. The text doesn’t specify, however, whether this righteousness we receive through faith is only a legal status or whether it is the production of an internal change as well. It just says that Abraham was not justified by his own works but by God’s righteousness in Christ received through faith. If it is argued that this righteousness was received before Abraham was sanctified and that it therefore must be a different thing from sanctification, I answer that the gift of faith is a part of sanctification and that the Bible elsewhere does not allow justification to exist without sanctification, which is something that Protestants agree with, and so if Abraham had faith, he must have been regenerate (which is the beginning of sanctification). David’s quote is also ambiguous as to whether the righteousness received was external or internal. He says that the man’s “lawless deeds have been forgiven,” and his “sins have been covered,” but it does not specify how this occurred, and so it could be read in either a Protestant or an Augustinian way. Protestants would say that the man’s sins have been covered by their external non-imputation, which allows him to be forgiven. Augustinians would say that the man’s sins have been covered by being internally removed, allowing the man to be forgiven. In both cases, the man’s sin is not “taken into account” (or imputed) because it has been in some way removed. The question not answered by this text is how it was removed. (The idea of “taken into account” here may also refer to the fact that, in deciding to save us, God decides not to give us the punishment due to our sins.) To sum up, I do not believe that Paul gives us enough information to clearly decide one way or another on the Augustinian-Protestant issue in 3:21-5:21. I believe this is because he wishes to focus in this section on the fact that it is not our righteousness but Christ’s which justifies us. It is not until chapter 6 that he shifts focus to the effect God’s salvation has within us.
In chapter 6, verse 1, Paul begins to deal directly with the issue of how works fit into the salvation scheme. Paul’s imaginary debating partner (one of his favorite rhetorical devices) asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” If our sin causes grace to increase, then why not go on sinning so as to get more grace? Paul answer to this objection is basically, “May it never be! How shall we who have died to sin still live in it?” In Paul’s mind, there is something logically contradictory about the objector’s question. The objector paints a picture of people who have died to sin (are no longer under its condemnation) but are still living in it (are still themselves personally characterized by sin in their lives). Why does Paul find such a picture to be logically contradictory? It is because he does not think of the sin we have been freed from through forgiveness as being something different from the sin which dwells in us internally. If these two aspects of sin are not something different but are identical, then what the objector suggests is just as absurd as suggesting that a man can be made more free from jail by having thicker bars lock him into his cell. “Deadness to sin” or “to the law” in Paul refers to the basis of our not being condemned - 6:7: “For he who has died has been justified (i.e., acquitted) from sin”; 7:4 - but it is at the same time the renewal of our sinful nature - See the rest of chapter 6; 8:12-17, etc.
Chapter 6 continues with more statements about how our death to sin and freedom from its slavery consists of our freedom from its power internally and the new life which we live since we have died to sin in Christ and now live to God in him (see especially 6:5-11, 12-14). Verses 12-14 and 17-19 show that the logical outworking of our death to sin is our presenting our members no longer as slaves to sin but as slaves to righteousness. Verses 20-23 are especially interesting: In verse 20-21, Paul says that the result of being a slave to sin is death; in verse 22, Paul says that the outcome of being a slave to righteousness, or to God, is sanctification leading to eternal life. Verse 23 caps off Paul’s argument here: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul is saying that our internal slavery to sin (which refers to the state of our fallen nature) is what brings death, and that our internal slavery to righteousness (referring to our change of nature, or sanctification) is what brings eternal life. Death is the punishment for sin, and eternal life is the reward for righteousness (though the righteousness which earns it is a free gift and is itself unearned by the sinner). So Paul is linking the punishment due to us with the state of our internal nature, and the righteousness which earns eternal life with the new life we live as sanctified believers. This is why Paul insists that we cannot live in sin and that we must be sanctified by God’s grace - because the former brings the punishment of death and the latter brings the reward of eternal life. There is no indication here that eternal life comes as a reward for some external righteousness which we do not internally possess and which is distinguished from our internal righteousness of sanctification. Neither is there indication that the believer can possess inward sin which deserves death but which is passed over by God on the basis of something external to the believer. Both of these ideas are affirmed by Protestantism, but both are contradicted by Paul’s thought here.
7:4-6 confirms this conclusion. Paul says, in verse 4, that believers have died to the Law through the body of Christ that they might be joined to Christ, who was raised from the dead. What did this accomplish? That we might bear fruit for God. Continuing in 5-6, Paul explains that our sinful passions, aroused by the Law, were bearing fruit for death. (Note, again, that the sinful state of our nature is what brings the punishment of death.) Paul explains in verse 6 that God solved this problem by uniting us to Christ so that we serve in the newness of the Spirit rather than in the oldness of the letter. What does this mean? Paul gives further information in 8:3-4: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” In other words, because of our sinful nature we could not obey the Law and were thus condemned by it (see 3:19-20), but Christ condemned sin in the flesh, taking it upon himself and destroying it, so that we who have through him been joined to the Spirit and who thus walk according to the Spirit can meet the Law’s requirements, and (see 6:22) thus receive, instead of death, eternal life.
There is absolutely no indication here that our fulfilling of the “requirements of the Law” through our union with Christ, which brings us eternal life, refers merely to an external status we receive apart from any inward righteousness. Rather, this is contradicted by what we have already seen in chapters 6 and 7: The righteousness which brings eternal life is identified with our “newness of life” (6:4), our being “slaves of righteousness” and “presenting our members as slaves to righteousness” (6:18,19), our “bearing fruit for God” (7:40), and our serving “in the newness of the Spirit” (7:6). 8:4 identifies those who fulfill the “requirements of the Law” with those “who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit,” implying an identity between these two things. Continuing on, chapter 8 provides us with more evidence that the righteousness which brings us eternal life is identical with the sanctification brought to us by God’s Spirit: In verses 5-8, Paul continues to explain how our walking in the Spirit and in the flesh is related to our fulfilling the requirements of the Law: “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the Law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Those who are in the flesh cannot please God, because the flesh disobeys the Law. This is the same as what Paul said in verse 3. Those who can please God are those who obey the Law, so redemption from guilt must consist in redemption from the flesh. Verses 9-11 explain that those who are in Christ have the Spirit of Christ, which causes their spirits to be “alive because of righteousness.” Paul sums up how our union with the Spirit through Christ constitutes our redemption admirably (if I may be so bold as to complement the apostle) in verses 12-17: “So then, brothers, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh - for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God . . . The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him [see 6:4-6] in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Paul again makes it clear that the flesh, and living in the flesh, brings death, and that it is our putting to death the deeds of the flesh through the Spirit which brings life. The Law’s obligations upon us have not changed - we must still fulfill them. What has changed is that we are now made able to fulfill the Law by being freed from our sinful nature (the flesh) and given a new, sanctified life through our union with Christ in the Spirit which lives in holiness and righteousness.
There are many other confirmations that I have outlined Paul’s doctrine correctly from other parts of the Pauline writings as well as from other scriptures. (For the sake of time and brevity, however, I will not quote all of these passages but will only mention and discuss some of them. Please look them up if possible for the full effect of my argument.) One of the most powerful indications of this doctrine, I believe, comes from the enormous amount of moral warning and instruction given us in the Scriptures. It is difficult to see, under the Protestant doctrine of justification, where the importance of the internal righteousness of believers lies, since God’s wrath is held to be abated and he is held to be completely satisfied with an imputed righteousness which has nothing to do with the inward state of the believer. Not only this, but a large number of the passages which exhort believes to morality and warn them against immorality make a clear identification between inward sin and divine wrath and between inward holiness and God’s acceptance of the believer. Ephesians 5: 5-10 explains that no immoral person will inherit the kingdom of God, because it is “because of these things that the wrath of God is comes on the sons of disobedience.” Now believers are to “walk as children of the light,” learning “what is pleasing to the Lord.” Colossians 1:21-22 says, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, in evil deeds, yet he has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” This idea of the Church being sanctified through Christ to be “blameless” also occurs in Ephesians 5:25-27. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 and 5:21-23 explain more explicitly, though it was already clear in the Colossians and Ephesians passages, that the “blamelessness” the Church will have at the coming of Christ is an internal righteousness. Philippians 1:9-11 is even clearer.
Titus 2:11-14 and 3:3-8 are a couple of the most astounding passages clearly pointing toward an Augustinian understanding of justification. They also relate clearly the relationship between our not boasting and yet our being made internally righteous. 2:14 says that Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good deeds.” God’s finding us acceptable here is connected with our being “purified from every lawless deed” and being “zealous for good deeds.” These things are what make us beautiful to God, which implies he is not simply satisfied with an outward status. 3:3-8 gets even clearer. We are saved not on the basis of our own righteous works, but according to his mercy. How? “By the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by his grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life,” We are saved by our sanctification (regeneration being synonymous with sanctification here), and this process is spoken of as how we are “justified by his grace.” The very word justified is used here, in a Pauline passage, to refer to our inward sanctification. Paul explains in verse 8 that this doctrine should cause believers to “be careful to engage in good deeds.” It is no mystery why this would be the case.
I Corinthians 6:9-11 parallels the above passages from Titus: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Clearly, not inheriting the kingdom of God is a moral affair. And so is inheriting the kingdom of God: “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” Again, the word justified is used in a Pauline passage synonymously with inward sanctification: Clearly the phrase, “such were some of you,” indicates that this washing which allows believers to avoid being rejected from the kingdom of God because of immorality is an inward cleansing which causes them not to be immoral anymore, and this is why they are now morally acceptable to God and thus can inherit his kingdom.
The Book of Galatians presents us with some interesting passages pointing toward Augustinianism. 3:2 describes “receiving the Spirit” as the effect of faith, and his criticism of the Galatians (3:3) is that they, who began in the Spirit, and seeking to be completed in the flesh. 4:3-7 speaks of how the Son has come to free us from being in bondage to the “elemental things of the world,” and to give us the “adoption as sons.” V.6: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” The language in these passages parallels the Romans passages we looked at earlier, where having the Spirit of Christ and having a mind “set on the Spirit” is the substance of what Christ’s atonement has brought to believers and is what provides their righteousness. 3:21-22 and 26-27 use interesting language also, paralleling the Romans discussion: “For if a Law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on Law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (v.21-22). We see here that the subject is how the righteousness which gains us the promise of being Abraham’s heirs comes through faith and not through the Law. How does this work? “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” V.29: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” It is being clothed with Christ through the Spirit (see 3:2-3 and 4:3-7) which brings us the righteousness (3:21-22) which makes us heirs according to the promise. Further evidence that Paul believes we can fulfill the law occurs in 5:13-26. Paul exhorts the Galatians to serve one another through love, “for all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”. They are to serve in love in order to fulfill the law. 5:19-22 continues Paul’s line of thought by contrasting two lifestyles, a life characterized by the “works of the flesh” and a life characterized by the “fruit of the Spirit.” Paul says that people who live immorally will not inherit the kingdom of God. But those who live in the fruit of the Spirit will do so, because “against such things there is no law” (5:23). They are not breaking the law by living so, therefore the law doesn’t condemn them. They are living according to the law. They have, as Paul says, “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24). In 6:7-9, Paul confirms again that it is the state of our lives that brings us either condemnation or reward. He says that “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” We reap what we sow - evil to evil, good to good. But the good is the fruit of the Spirit and not of our own ability. (Compare this section with the earlier discussion on Romans 6 and with Romans 2.) In 6:14-15, Paul concludes his discussion: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” Note again how Paul’s being crucified to the world (compare with “died to sin” in Romans 6:2) involves an inward transformation. Also note that Paul contrasts the concern over circumcision with being a “new creation”. The circumcision debate in Galatians and Romans revolves around the issue of justification by works or by faith, but here the way of works is contrasted with becoming a new creation, which is regeneration.
An Augustinian view of justification can explain James 2:21-25. James says not only that works are necessary, but that we are justified by works as well as by faith. What does he mean? As best as I can recall, every Protestant theologian I have heard discuss this claims that James is speaking of justification before men, or showing that we have faith to men, and Paul is speaking of justification before God, or that which is objectively the real ground of justification. But there is nothing in the context of James to suggest this in the slightest. There is no evidence that James is talking about a different meaning of ‘justification.’ In fact, he links his discussion to Paul’s by saying that Abraham’s being justified by works is the fulfillment of the passages, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” And James concludes, “And he was called the friend of God.” This justification is between Abraham and God, and the quote of the passage from Genesis shows that James is speaking of the same thing Paul is in his letters. But doesn’t Paul speak of justification by faith alone, and doesn’t James say it is not by faith alone, but by works as well? Yes. But it is clear that what Paul means is that we are not justified by our works as coming from us, but rather by receiving the Spirit through faith in Christ who produces the needed righteousness and works within us. James is talking about the works which are the fruit of the Spirit here when he says that we are justified by works. A statement putting both Paul and James together would be, “We are justified not by our own works produced from us, but by those works produced in us by our receiving the Spirit through faith in Christ.” This is why James says that “as a result of the works, faith was perfected (or completed)” (2:22). Paul is saying the same thing in Galatians 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Faith works by producing love in us, and love is the fullness of good works and the fulfillment of the demands of the Law (see 5:14). Thus, faith justifies.
See also 1 Peter 2:4-5, 2 Peter 1:4-11, 1 Peter 4:17-18, 1 John 3:5-9, 3:15, 4:16-18, 5:18-19, Matthew 25: 31-46, 12:36-37, 18:35, Philippians 2:12-13, etc.
Also, the repeated biblical claim that we will be judged according to our works does not fit a Protestant doctrine of justification. Protestantism has never been able to explain how we will judged and rewarded according to our works (in other words, justified according to our works - see Matthew 12:36-27 and Romans 2:5-13, as well as countless other passages about judgement) if our works form no part of the basis of our justification. Augustinians have never had a problem reconciling the fact that we are justified by faith alone with the fact that we are to be truly judged according to our works. We will be judged according to our works, but our works are the gift of God which comes through faith in Christ and not from our own efforts. See Ephesians 2:8-10. The Protestant idea of being judged according to our works by a “gratuitous estimate” is pushing the limits of valid exegesis, to put it mildly. According to Protestants, our works merit nothing truly, but they are judged by a gratuitous estimate as if they merited everything. This is the same as if I were to call a black wall white by a “gratuitous estimate.” At that point, I’m not really talking about the wall at all. Similarly, if our record is judged as if it were the opposite of what it is by a “gratuitous estimate,” then it is not truly our record which is being judged at all, contrary to Scripture’s insistence that it is.
Responses to Biblical and Philosophical Objections to Augustinianism
Having examined a substantial amount of biblical evidence, I now want to answer some biblical and philosophical objections to the Augustinian position. I will start by responding to Hebrews 10:14, which says, “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” This seems to be interpreted by Protestants to imply a distinction between justification and sanctification: “We have been justified completely, but we are being sanctified now, and it is not completed yet.” However, I see no justification (pardon the pun) for this distinction in the words of the passage. I would interpret it to mean, “Jesus is applying to believers now the effects of the offering he once for all completed in the past.” He “perfected” us in the past when he offered himself up as a sacrifice, but his perfecting of us is not applied to us until later, for some of us 2,000 years later. But the salvation which is being applied to us now was purchased and accomplished for us a long time ago, at the cross. There is nothing in this passage which requires a Protestant idea of justification. Taken in the Protestant interpretation, it would even possibly seem to imply that those who did not exist at the time of the writing of Hebrews were already justified because he has perfected all who are sanctified.
Another major biblical objection has to do with the claim that justification is completed in the past, but that sanctification isn’t, and so the Bible must be referring to two different things. However, sanctification is also usually spoken of as having taken place in the past (see Romans 6:2, 6:11, 6:15-22, 1 Cor 6:9-11, 1 John 3:4-10, etc.). And justification is sometimes spoken of as future (see Romans 2:5-13, Ephesians 5:25-27, 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, 5:21-23, Philippians 1:9-11, 3:9-14, etc.). Besides, saying that justification is spoken of as past and that sanctification is spoken of as present and future begs the question, since it assumes that they are two different things already.
One of the major biblical objections Protestants make to Augustinianism is that justification in the Bible is purely forensic - that is, the word means “to declare righteous” rather than “to make righteous” and that justification therefore doesn’t do anything in us; it simply pronounces a verdict. My response to that is that I agree that the term justification is usually forensic and has the idea of “declare righteous” in Romans and Galatians. But this is irrelevant. The basic root idea of “justify” may be simply to pass a verdict, but both Protestants and Augustinians know that more is going on than this in the justification of the ungodly. God cannot simply call an unrighteous person righteous. He cannot justify the ungodly in that sense, as passages in the Old Testament make explicitly clear. Somehow, the unrighteous person must be made righteous before they can be accepted as righteous. The only people who deny this are the Socinians, the New England theologians, and those of a similar stripe. So, while the root idea of justification refers to a verdict and not to a change, the doctrine of justification in Romans and Galatians includes a transfer of righteousness as well as a verdict. The question in the doctrine of justification is, “How can I, an unrighteous person, gain the righteousness necessary to be justified (declared righteous) in God’s sight?” This entire process is bound up in the question, “How can I be justified?” The difference between Protestants and Augustinians is not that one side thinks that justification is purely forensic and declaratory and the other side makes it constitutive. Both sides agree that it is constitutive as well as forensic, because both sides believe that one must actually become righteous somehow to be declared righteous The difference is that Protestants think that the constitutive element is external and Augustinians think it involves internal change.
Philippians 3:4-14 is often used by Protestants as a text showing a Protestant doctrine of justification. However, upon examination, we see something different. In vs. 7-9, Paul speaks of wanting to have a righteousness not “of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” We are clearly talking about justification here. Paul continues in vs. 10-11, further elaborating on the righteousness which comes by faith and not from the Law: “. . . that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Wait a minute. This sounds like Romans 6 language, which is talking about sanctification! Paul goes on (vs. 12-14): “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul has not yet been completed in his sanctification. But this whole discussion of sanctification came as an elaboration on being found in Christ with a righteousness through faith and not through the Law. This passage links together and identifies Paul’s doctrine of justification and his doctrine of sanctification, once again showing them to be one and the same thing. We are justified by our sanctification.
Our examination of this passage from Philippians brings out another important clarification of the Augustinian doctrine which will answer some of the concerns of Protestants. My wife Desireé had a hard time swallowing the Augustinian doctrine for a long time, because she thought that it implied a need for perfection now in order to be pleasing to God. She was afraid (rightly so) that she is as yet not sufficiently sanctified to please God sufficiently. What got her over that hump was to realize that the biblical doctrine does not teach that we are adequate fully now, or that we will be in this life. What it teaches is that our justification is, in Francis Schaeffer's words (though he was not speaking of justification), “not perfect, but substantial.” We have been sanctified, and we thus please God. We are being sanctified, and thus we are being conformed to Christ, becoming more and more pleasing to God. And we will be sanctified: We will someday be free of the flesh entirely and be perfected, standing “blameless” before the judgement seat of God. We have the first fruits now, but we groan inwardly, waiting for “the hope of righteousness,” but confident, knowing that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:60). He died for us and chose us while we were wholly sinners, with no good in us at all. He will not now abandon us because of remaining imperfections, however ugly, but he will complete what he has begun until we are perfectly pleasing to him.
Another philosophical objection to Augustinianism from Protestants is that it implies that we truly merit eternal life by our own holiness, giving us a ground for boasting, while Scripture tells us to boast only in the Lord. However, this is not the case. It is true that in Augustinianism, our inward holiness merits (or will merit when it is completed) eternal life. However, this inward holiness did not come from us but rather is a gift from God through the atonement of Christ, and thus it is ultimately to God’s credit and not to ours. As Paul says in 1 Cor 15:10-11, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God in me.” Other similar passages could be cited. Paul is saying that his great working is not ultimately to his credit but to God’s, because the working is from God and not from him. As Phil 2:12-13 says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Imagine that you have a bank account (this probably does not take much imagination). A friend of yours gives you a gift of $1,000. This money is deposited in you bank account. Then you go out and buy a new computer with this money. Now, whose money bought the computer? Well, it is your money, it is in your bank account, and you really possess it in the same way you possess any other money you have. You have the money, so you were able to buy the computer. But in a deeper sense, you are grateful to your friend for the buying of the computer and you do not boast in it yourself, because you did not earn the money, rather it was a gift to you from someone else. You may have it, but it did not come from you. So in the deepest sense, it is not your money but your friend’s and you possess it as a gift. And the computer you bought is also, in the deepest sense, the gift of your friend. Similarly, our righteousness as Christians we may possess inwardly. We may really and truly possess righteousness which earns eternal life. But this righteousness did not come from us, but was rather a free, undeserved gift from someone else, and thus in the deepest sense, it is not ours but Christ’s, and we rely on him for it and give him the credit for it, and thus we give him the credit for all that is “bought” with it as well, namely, eternal life.
Protestants also object that Augustinians destroy the gospel of free, gratuitous forgiveness. The objection goes something like this: “We Protestants say that, in spite of all the sin in us, we are truly accepted by God because Christ paid for our sins. Thus, we believe that we are accepted as sinners, deserving only of God’s wrath, because we have been freely forgiven in Christ. You Augustinians say that we are forgiven of our sins because they are purged from us in the process of sanctification. So God does not accept us as sinners, but only because we truly deserve his pardon. Thus, you destroy free, undeserved forgiveness.” I find this objection interesting, because it gives further evidence (see discussion of justification being forensic above for another example) that Protestants tend, I think, to slip into Socinian ways of thinking when they attack Augustinianism. One of Socinus’s objections to both Catholic and Reformational theology was that there is no true forgiveness. In both Protestantism and Catholicism, sin has to be removed or paid for in some way before God accepts us. The Socinians argued that there was no need for a substitutionary atonement, because God truly forgives and accepts us as sinners. In other words, he doesn’t remove our sins; he simply decides to overlook them and to accept us anyway. Both Protestants and Catholics responded that forgiveness cannot be free in the Socinian sense, or God’s justice would be destroyed. There must be some meritorious foundation for our forgiveness and acceptance, and that foundation is the substitutionary atonement of Christ. What Protestants and Catholics disagreed upon was how Christ’s merit is appropriated by the sinner, externally or internally. So this Protestant objection against Augustinianism is against Protestantism just as much as it is against Augustinianism. In both doctrines, God does not in a sense give us what we don’t deserve or not give us what we do deserve. Rather, we receive that which deserves God’s acceptance - the removal of our sin and righteousness - as an undeserved gift through Christ.
A related objection is that Augustinianism lets sinners off the hook too easily - without a satisfaction for sin. The Bible says that we deserve punishment if we sin, but Augustinians say that we can get off the hook simply by being regenerated. This ignores the requirement that our sins be punished and the just penalty of the law satisfied. My answer is that Augustinians do recognize that there must be a death in order for sin to be abolished. We do believe in satisfaction for sin. But, as we have already noted, Augustinians believe that our transformation from sin to righteousness happens to us internally. Christ made a satisfaction for our sin, and his satisfaction is given to us in both Augustinianism and Protestantism. But in Augustinianism, this satisfaction is applied internally and is identical with our death to sin. As Paul puts it, we have been “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). We have died to sin with him so that we might rise to God and righteousness with him (Romans 6:1-14). His death to sin is worked out in us as we “suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:17). “For he who has died has been justified from sin” (Romans 6:7). Augustinians do not let sinners off the hook. Satisfaction is required. We must die in order to live. This is fulfilled in the mortification, the crucifixion, of the old man, leading to the birth of the new creation.
Philosophical Objections against Protestantism
Augustinians have some philosophical objections of their own against Protestantism, in addition to the biblical ones discussed earlier. One is that Protestants mix their metaphors in arguing for their doctrine. Protestants believe that righteousness can be received and possessed in an external way that does not relate to our inward character. The bank account image is often used. We have righteousness in our “account” without being righteousness inwardly. But this is to confuse righteousness with something like money. Righteousness is not a commodity that can exist independently from character. To possess righteousness can only mean to have a righteous character. To be righteous means essentially to have a morally pure and beautiful heart, one that loves God and its neighbor. For God to judge someone as righteous is for him to see within that person a moral purity. For God to judge someone as guilty he must see within that person moral wickedness. This why love is said to be the fulfillment of the law in Galatians 5:14, Romans 13:8-10, and elsewhere. It might be objected that righteousness and guilt can also be possessed as records, as in the law courts. Someone may have committed murder ten years ago, and perhaps they do not have the heart to murder now, but that does not let them off the hook of paying for what they did. I would argue, however, that this fact is a symptom of the finiteness of our law courts. What is the difference between a crime and a natural disaster? Let’s say a house has been torn apart. It is not in the destructiveness of the act that the distinction lies, for tornadoes are just as destructive as people (and usually more so). What makes the distinction is what caused the disaster. It is a crime if it is the product of a morally wicked heart. It is a natural disaster if it is the product of a non-moral act. The crime evidences a morally wicked heart, and it is the moral wickedness of the heart which is sought out and punished by the law courts. The finiteness of the law courts is manifest in a few ways: 1. The law courts do not punish morally wicked hearts all the time, but only when they evidence themselves in evil acts which are recognized as evil. The law courts do not punish hatred, for example, or a desire which could lead to murder, but they simply punish someone for the act of murder, or at the most attempted murder. This distinction between what the heart is and what it does is due to finiteness. God judges us because we have wicked characters. Our acts are not an addition to our inward wickedness but only express it. 2. A law court might condemn a changed man, that is, one who would no longer be the sort to commit the crime. This is because the law cannot work with the inward heart but only with the outward act, as mentioned above. The law courts only know that this guy standing before them is linked with the guy who committed the murder, and thus they accept him as the same person and take out their judgement on him. God, however, sees more deeply. A person is guilty because he has a wicked heart or a wicked character. If his wicked heart is removed, so is the basis for guilt. The person has truly become a new person. The old person was evil and therefore guilty. The new person is holy and therefore righteous. This is why Scripture speaks of us as being “recreated” or “new creatures” in Christ. Note that this is true in Protestantism as well. We are not the same persons we were before because of our change in status through Christ, and therefore our guilt is no longer imputed to us. Once again, Augustinians differ only on suggesting that the new status is based on something inward rather than on something merely external.
To continue the point above, let me suggest that Protestants and Augustinians have two different models of what it means to be “declared righteous.” Augustinians assert that righteousness is an inward character, so that being “declared righteous” by God is based on us actually having a morally pure character. God is saying, “I declare you to be righteous - that is, I state outwardly that I see in you a morally beautiful character warranting my moral approbation.” Protestants believe that being “declared righteous” by God is based not on internal character (manifested by good works) but by an external status of righteousness. My problem with the Protestant view is, as I stated above, that righteousness simply means “internal moral beauty” and thus cannot be thought of as an external possession. Some things are simply legal or declaratory, as in being a citizen of the United States. Being pronounced a citizen of the United States does not change you internally. It does not give you a new organ or a new hair color. Rather, the entire substance of the status is declaratory. It merely means that you will be treated in a different way by the government and by the law. Being “declared married” is also mostly like this. However, being “declared a human being” or being “declared dead” are not like that. You get the status of human being because you appear to be human - you have intelligence, emotion, a body, a birth record, etc. You get the status of being dead having something very visible actually happen to you - you die! Righteousness and guilt are, in their fullest sense, like the latter two rather than like being a U. S. citizen. God does not simply decide to treat us differently though we are the same. We must be separated from our sin and become righteous. So being declared righteous on the basis of something merely external is like being declared dead because of something external to you. Imagine a person walking around carrying a certificate which declares that he has had the external status of “deadness” imputed to him. He is simultaneously dead and alive - alive by physical reality but dead by external status. “Deadness” just doesn’t work that way, and neither do guilt or righteousness.
Another objection which follows from this is that, in Protestantism, God is never really pleased with us. He is pleased with Christ for us, but he is never pleased with us. A friend of mine once described God’s acceptance of us by saying that Christ stands in front of us so that when God looks at us, he sees only Christ and not us, and thus our guilt does not condemn us but Christ’s righteousness is accepted for us. I revolted then and I revolt now at this idea. What Christ’s atonement does is not make us a way to be overlooked by God, hidden under Christ’s blood so that we in our filthiness can’t be seen, for if he were to see us, he would hate us and cast us from his presence. Rather, Christ gets rid of our filthiness and fills us with his righteousness so that we are no longer filthy but righteous and thus we truly come to please God because of Christ. The Protestant doctrine holds that because we have sinned, our inward righteousness is forever blemished and abhorrent to God, even when we are made perfect. That is, all of our sanctification does not make us one bit more pleasing to God or less abhorrent to him than we are without any inward grace at all. We still warrant nothing but God’s wrath or moral displeasure. Picture a horribly wicked God-hater standing before God’s throne. He smiles maliciously and spits right in God’s face. In reaction, God smiles and says, “I love you too, good and faithful servant.” This is the Protestant picture. It doesn’t matter that we are sanctified as well as justified, because our sanctification does not change at all God’s moral abhorrence of us and therefore his wrath against us. Regarded in terms of our inward righteousness, we are only “gratuitously” accepted, and as I pointed out earlier, in the Protestant meaning this is really not to be accepted at all. Protestants react against this picture of their doctrine because Augustinian sentiments have slipped in and made inconsistent Protestant thinking. Thus, they picture God as being pleased with our inward holiness, but say that our inward holiness is not enough because it does not meet the judicial standard of perfection which is independent from God’s own desires and delights. They forget what John Murray pointed out in the quote at the beginning of this paper.
The mention of John Murray brings me to my last complaint against the Protestant picture. I put two quotes at the beginning of this paper in order to bring out two different ideas about the relationship of sin to punishment. According to Berkhof, guilt and liability to God’s wrath and punishment is not of the essence of sin. The one can be removed without the other. According to Murray, guilt and liability to wrath is of the essence of sin. I believe that John Murray is correct and Berkhof is wrong. But the Protestant doctrine requires Berkhof’s view. The reason is this: The Protestant doctrine asserts that we can become free from liability to punishment by means of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The Protestant doctrine also asserts that once we have even one sin on our record, we will always be sinners and unable to be right with the law by means of our own doings. That is, we will always be, in ourselves, sinful and guilty. But if God’s wrath is removed from us while our sin forever remains in our record, then sinfulness and a sinful record must not inherently require wrath. In other words, if the wrath problem can be solved even though our record remains sinful, then the sinful record must not have been the basis of the wrath in the first place. Wrath goes when that which requires and produces wrath goes. But our sinful record doesn’t go; therefore, our sinful record doesn’t require or produce wrath. God’s wrath will not be kindled by the presence of and complete knowledge of our sinful record through all eternity. Apparently, then, having a sinful record is not something that in its own nature kindles God’s wrath. And this is true (in Protestantism) not only of our sinful record in eternity, but of our remaining internal sinfulness in this life: God has no wrath against us because we are totally justified, and yet sin remains in us. Apparently, then, having a sin nature does not in its own nature provoke God’s wrath. In this view, a sinful nature and a sinful record are not inherently morally repugnant to God, because if they were, they would always and necessarily kindle God’s wrath, since moral repugnance is wrath. Berkhof must be right: Guilt (meaning desert of punishment) is not of the essence of sin. But do we really want to say that? Is not Murray’s statement much more biblical and reasonable?: “God cannot be indifferent to or complacent towards that which is the contradiction of himself. His very perfection requires the recoil of righteous indignation. And that is God’s wrath.” Augustinians go with Murray’s view. We say that guilt and liability to punishment is of the essence of sin, but that this does not doom us to no possibility of salvation because, through Christ’s salvation, not only the guilt and the liability to punishment, but the sin itself which causes the guilt, is removed. We are truly changed to become, not sinful, but righteous, not by God somehow overlooking what we really did (our record) but by God changing who we really are. It doesn’t matter what our record says if we have died to sin and no longer have the evil heart that links us to our previous evil deeds. Of course, this is not perfect in this life. We have remnants of sin, and therefore we experience God’s “fatherly displeasure,” which is a mitigated form of wrath for a mitigated condition of sinfulness. We are holy people with a remnant of sin. Therefore, we are acceptable to God with a remnant of displeasure from God in our experience. It is difficult to see how Protestants can agree that we are under God’s “father displeasure” in any way if we are one hundred percent justified (the way they understand this). If we are wholly acceptable to God, and the guilt, or moral repugnance, of our sin is entirely removed, how could God be displeased with us at all in any way? Surely, “fatherly displeasure” is a moral affair. If we are morally perfect (being one hundred percent righteous and justified), how can God be morally displeased with us to any degree?
More could be said, but I think I have written sufficiently for now. I believe that the Protestant doctrine of justification developed as an overreaction to the works-righteousness attitude prominent in Roman Catholicism at the time of the Reformation. Augustinianism preserves perfectly the truth that we are saved by grace through Christ’s righteousness alone and not our own, and it does justice to other biblical themes as well. I sympathize with the Protestant doctrine, because its concerns are mine - Salvation and eternal life by the Grace of and for the Glory of God in the Son of God: this is the heart of Christianity, and therefore of reality itself. I believe that Protestantism, if carried through to its logical conclusion, would destroy this world view by leading to antinomianism, ignorance in God, and other false doctrines, but I don’t believe that most Protestants realize this. I think that most Protestants actually think and live like Augustinians. I believe that Augustinianism alone, being the biblical and reasonable doctrine, preserves this heart of Christianity in its entirety and in its fullness.
ADDENDUM 1/19/16: See here for another article that looks at the Protestant-Augustinian argument on justification in a bit of a different (and more hopeful) way.