Imputation or Infusion?

 Now we get to the heart of the matter, imputation verses infusion.  We’ve already discussed aspects of this previously, now we shall go a little deeper. Let’s hear how Dr. Sproul explains it: “The question of inherent verses imputed righteousness goes to the heart of the Reformation debate. When the Reformers spoke of forensic justification, they meant a legal declaration made by God that was based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, not on Christ’s righteousness inherent in the believer.  James Buchanan stated as his first proposition of justification that “justification is a legal, or forensic, term, and is used in Scripture to denote the acceptance of any one as righteous in the sight of God. . . .So far as etymology is concerned, the verb ‘to justify’ might possibly mean ‘to make righteous inherently’; . . . wherever it is used with reference to our acceptance with God, it can only be understood in a judicial or forensic sense.

  Likewise, Francis Turretin argued that in the Scriptures justification ‘is never taken for an infusion of righteousness, but as often as the Scriptures speak professedly about our justification, it always must be explained as a forensic term,”

 Fr. William Most presents the Catholic argument:  “They (the Protestants) lean much on the Greek dikaiaoo. . . In general, verbs with oo mean to put a person into the state indicated by the root - but here in a change of pattern the meaning is acquit, since no human court can make a person just. But that change in meaning comes just from the weakness of a human court.  God is not so limited. He can change the soul. Does He do so?  Yes, 2 Peter 1:4 says we become “sharers in the divine nature.” That is more than legalistic and extrinsic, leaving one corrupt. That in turns makes us capable, radically, of the “face to face vision” of which St. Paul speaks in 1 Cor 13. God does not have a face, nor does the soul have eyes. When I see you, I do not take you into my mind, but only an image of you. But if I come to see God, no image can be involved, for images are finite, He is infinite. Hence Pope Benedict XII defined there is no image. What then?  It obviously is that God joins Himself directly to the human mind, without even an image in between (Cf. St. Thomas Suppl. 92. 1, c). Thus the soul can know Him directly. Will He do that if the soul is still the same old corruption?  Hardly. Mal. 3:2: "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire." So there must be a real change, a complete change. That is what justification means.”

 Thus, the Catholic sees Scripture passages like 2 Peter 1:4 above and recognizes that God wills us to be changed interiorly. We must be changed interiorly if we become “sharers in the divine nature.”  We weren’t “sharers in the divine nature” at birth, only after our justification does this occur. This is more evidence that God changes us interiorly at the moment of justification by infusion of His very life (what Catholics call Sanctifying Grace) into the heart of each believer.

 The Council of Trent taught: “when God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.”   This idea of man accepting or rejecting God’s grace is built in part on Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says: “For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life” (6:19,22). If one must “yield”, one must have the opportunity to not yield, therefore it is a choice of the individual to accept or reject God’s grace.

 I realize the Protestant will object to the fact that the “regeneration” of the heart is not the object of our justification, but the alien appropriation of Christ’s righteousness is. But you see how self-contradictory that idea is. What they are saying is that the Holy Spirit comes to you, enters your heart, turns that heart towards God, and all this only to make you righteous on the outside. Yet the Scriptures are quite clear in teaching God is pleased with those who have a pure heart, as opposed to those with an alien righteousness, even if it is Christ’s righteousness. The following passages reflect this teaching, that God desires a pure heart, and judgment is based on the intentions of the heart, and the heart is inside man.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matt 5:8

 “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matt 5:28

“For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.”  Matt 13:15

  Romans 10:10

  Calvin on Justification

 In the section “Calvin on Justification,” we read “Calvin cites as an example of justification by faith the case of the publican who went to his house ‘justified’ (Luke 18:14) . . . ‘It cannot be held that he obtained this justification by any merit of works. All that is said, is that after obtaining the pardon of his sins he was regarded in the sight of God as righteous. He was justified, therefore, not on any approval of works, but by gratuitous acquittal on the part of God’.”

 Was Calvin correct in his understanding here? We say no. Why?   First of all, there is no mention of forgiveness of sins in this passage. Yet Calvin says, “All that is said is that after obtaining ‘pardon’ of his sins.”  Where in the passage does it say his sins were pardoned?  They may well have been, but the text does not say that.  Where does it say that he was “regarded in God’s sight as justified?” It says he “went home justified.”  Could it not mean that he was inherently just at this point, that his sins were washed clean? Or that he was justified in mans sight (an argument Protestants use when the subject of James 2:24 comes up)?  If Calvin could impose his own views on this passage, views that are not expressed in the text, then why can’t we?  We would argue that it was common practice for Jews of those days to make a daily journey to the temple to pray. That being the case, then this publican was more likely justified the day before as well as the day before that.  Jesus doesn’t say that this is the only time he was justified, and if you wish to do a true exegesis of the passage, then you must realize that this activity in the temple was a daily affair. If this was a daily practice, then the publican could have gone home justified everyday.

 This type of interpretation does not sit well with the ‘sola fide’ proponents.  They hold that once God makes the legal declaration, that is, imputing the righteousness of Christ to you, then you are justified in God’s sight.  Justification, they say, is a once-for-all-event, never to be repeated. We are justified, then sanctification takes over.  Is this the Biblical view of justification?

 Justification, Once-for-All?

 Let’s take a look at justification in the Bible.  In Romans 5:1 we read “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:9 says “Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” And in 1 Cor 6:11 we read “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”  These verses all show Justification as a past event. This agrees quite nicely with the Protestant side of the debate, and seemingly quite convincingly too. Unfortunately for the Protestant apologist, that’s not the full Gospel.

 Let’s look at the life of Abraham to show the Biblical teaching of justification. Protestants are especially fond of using Romans 4:3 to prove their position of sola fide.  That verse reads: “For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”   “See,” the Protestant will say, “this verse clearly shows that all you need to do is believe; no work is even alluded to here.  Abraham believed and was made righteous.  He is saved!” This verse refers back to Genesis 15:6 dealing with the promise of the birth of Isaac. If Justification is the once-for-all event that the Protestants say it is, then Abraham could not have been justified prior to Genesis 15:6, and wouldn’t need to be justified after that point. Yet the Scriptures teach both as true!


 “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.”(Heb 11:8) This passage speaks of Abraham as having saving faith (i.e., he was justified), no Protestant will deny this. Yet when does this passage refer back to but Genesis 12, that is a full three chapters before Abraham was supposedly “once-for-all-justified” in Genesis 15! How can that be? How is it possible that he was justified in Genesis 12, then ‘re-justified’ in Genesis 15?

 There are only two possibilities. One is Abraham, somewhere between Genesis 12 and Genesis 15 lost his justification in order for him to be “re-justified.”  But there is no evidence in the text to show that happened. The second is that justification truly is a process. The more we believe, the more we yield to God’s grace working in our lives, the holier (sanctified) we become.  Either conclusion directly contradicts the Protestant understanding of justification.

 Further inspection of the Scriptures reveals another interesting passage on this subject from the epistle of James: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” (James 2:21). Here is now a third time that Abraham was said to be justified!  And when did this third occurrence take place? In Genesis 22, now that’s seven chapters later! What’s going on here?

 Surprisingly, even the first Protestant of them all, Martin Luther, saw this. “For we understand that a man who is justified is not already righteous, but moving towards righteousness, and our justification is not complete . . . It is still under construction. It shall, however, be completed in the resurrection of the dead.” Yes, Martin Luther himself saw that justification was not a one-time event, but instead a lifelong commitment. Luther, though, did see that there is a moment when the sinner is justified by faith. He saw this as an imputation of the merits of Christ covering his sinfulness like a blanket, he wasn’t made holy, but instead of God seeing his sinfulness, God saw the righteousness of Christ.


 The Catholic Church teaches “initial justification.”  This is the first time you receive sanctifying grace (become justified), which occurs at baptism. Here, too, lies a great misunderstanding between Protestants and Catholics. The Protestant believes that the Catholic, laboring under the doctrine of “works righteousness,” believes that he must do good works in order to obtain ‘initial justification.  That is simply not true, as the Council of Trent showed. Trent, along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, emphasizes that we are saved by God’s grace.  From the CCC : “Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. (emphasis mine)(#1989).”  The Council of Trent taught “Moreover, the holy council declares that in the case of adults, justification must begin with God’s prevenient grace through Jesus Christ.  That is, it must begin with God’s call which they do not merit.” (Par 5, emphasis mine).  In the Canons of Trent we read: “If anyone says that, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, man can be justified before God by his own works, whether they were done by his natural powers or by the light of the teaching of the (Mosaic) Law: let him be anathema (excommunicated)” (emphasis mine) (#575). It doesn’t get much clearer than that. The Catholic Church has always taught that man is totally lost without God, and it is only by God’s grace that we are called to repentance unto justification.

   At this moment, then, the Catholic is justified, is made right with God, but this doesn’t end his justification. As we have already shown in the life of Abraham, justification is a process. Therefore, you would expect to find Scripture showing this teaching; i.e., that justification is a past, present, and future occurrence.   As previously noted, Catholics hold justification and sanctification to be two ways of the saying the same thing, whereas Protestants draw a distinction between the two.  For the Protestant, justification occurs when you are first made right with God, then all action from that point on is called sanctification. This sanctification is what Catholics call progressive justification.  “It is only fair to point out here that when Catholic scholars cite James 2:24 (“We are justified by works”) they do not mean this initial justification which comes from grace. Rather, they are referring to progressive justification (growth in righteousness) which Protestants call sanctification.”   So, when a Protestant talks about sanctification, the Catholic should be thinking in his mind “progressive justification.”


 Let us turn to scriptures and see justification taught as a past, present, and a future event.  First as a past event: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1).” “Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:9).” “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11).” These three verses teach that justification is a past event in the believer’s life, a teaching to which both Catholic and Protestants hold. 

  Here we have justification shown as a future occurrence. Let’s take a look at some of these. “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13); So the scriptures speak clearly of the fact that justification is certainly not a one-time event, but instead is a lifelong commitment of continually  “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”(Heb 12:2).

 “As a result, justification must be seen, not as a once-for-all event, but as a process which continues throughout the believer's life. In fact, it is even a process which extends beyond the believer's life. This is shown by passages in Scripture where Paul indicates that there is a sense in which our justification is still future: . . . for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified”; (Romans 2:13)  "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20)

Commenting on the second of these passages, the famous Protestant exegete, James D.G. Dunn points out that Paul's statement alludes to Psalm 142:2 and then remarks, “The metaphor in

the psalm is of a servant being called to account before his master, but in the context here [in Romans] the imagery of final judgement is to the fore . . . Against the view that Paul sees 'justification' simply as an act which marks the beginning of a believer's life, as a believer, here is a further example [in addition to 2:13] of the verb used for a final verdict, not excluding the idea of the final verdict at the end of life . . ."

  The same can be said of salvation, using  “saved.”  It, too, is shown in the New Testament to be a past, present, as well as future occurrence. A few examples of each should be enough to satisfy one’s curiosity here.  First we’ll start with salvation as a past event: “Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God. Who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” (2 Tim 1:9); “he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit”(Titus 3:5). (Notice here the allusion to water baptism). Now salvation in the present tense: “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47.  And finally, salvation as a future event which, like justification, occurs far more frequently than the other two; “But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22).

 You’d think, then, that the case would be closed on this issue. Such clear scriptural evidence in favor of the Catholic position would seem hard to overcome, and it is. Yet, the Protestant may respond that these other “justifications” are what Protestants call sanctification.  Interestingly, Protestants see sanctification as a process because they see the Scripture showing it in its past, present, and future form.  Yet justification, as we have already shown, appears in the same Scriptures in the same forms - that of past, present and future - and the Protestant denies it is a process!  For the Catholic, meanwhile, justification and sanctification are two ways of saying the same thing! That is why St. Paul placed them together in 1 Cor 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. Notice in this verse, how sanctification is mentioned before justification, a direct contradiction to Protestant theology.  Thus justification is a process that is not complete until, as Luther said, “the resurrection of the dead.”

 Going back to the book now, Sproul then says: “Those who possess saving faith necessarily, inevitably, and immediately begin to manifest the fruits of faith, which are works of obedience.” The problem the Catholic has with this teaching is that it is found nowhere in Scripture.  Where are the passages we can turn to that say, “Once you’re saved, you will inevitably, and immediately begin works of obedience”? Where are the passages that at least hint at such a teaching? If this teaching were true, then why do all the books of the New Testament exhort Christians to do good works?  It would seem to be superfluous to exhort if the “good works” were already flowing, wouldn’t it?

  If this teaching is true (good works inevitably flow from saving faith) then it makes redundant several passages in the Scriptures.  One example is Phil 2:12; “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Yes, it is God who is working within us to will and to do, but this verse assumes that there is cooperation on our part. Otherwise, why would Paul mention the “fear and trembling?”  Why would Paul commend the Phillipians for “obeying” if was “inevitably flowing?”

 Let’s take a look at another verse;Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall.”(2 Peter 1:10). This verse undoubtedly shows that there is an effort on the part of the believer.   For Peter to say for us to “be more zealous” in regard to our election, he must mean that there is effort needed on our part. Notice also in the verse the possibility of “falling.”

 Notice also, this great passage from 1 Corinthians; “I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance." We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:1-12).

There is much in this passage to address.  First, he says how the Israelites were baptized into Moses, and drank from the rock which was Christ.  These were people who were under God’s protection, they were saved! Yet, what happened to them? “Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”  They lost their place amongst God’s people.  You might say that was the Old Covenant, and we are in the New, which, as the same St. Paul says, was built on better promises (Heb 8:6). Ah, but how does Paul finish this passage? “Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.” It is very important to understand what Paul just said.  He argues that I told you this story so that you won’t make the same error, and fall from God’s favor. And for those who think this doesn’t apply to them, that they are infallibly saved, he adds “let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

How about one more: “And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, 'Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?' And he answered him, 'Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" Here, Jesus tells of this tree that was not bearing good fruit although it was supposed to.  He doesn’t immediately cut it down, but what does He do? He fertilizes it, waters it, and digs around it so it has no excuse to not produce fruit. Yet, as the parable ends, Jesus says that there is that probability that it will not bear fruit. The analogy is clear enough. We are that tree, if we do not produce fruit (good works), then God will water us, fertilize us, and till around us (send us grace upon grace) so that we have no excuse not to produce fruit. Yet, there are those who will not be fruitful, and those will be cut down!

For this reason the Catholic Church has always taught that man must cooperate with the graces given him in order receive the inheritance promised; “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.” This verse only makes sense in Catholic theology.  The word “required” is key here.  There is a requirement Jesus insisted on.  What would happen if you fail in the requirement? Well, requirement, by definition, would mean this is something you must do to be rewarded! Failure to do it results in either temporary punishment (Purgatory), or total loss of the inheritance (Hell).  Either conclusion contradicts sola fide.

   The following dialogue will show just how this teaching appears in real life:

 Christian: “Pastor, how do I know I’m saved?”

 Minister: “ Well, did you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”

 Christian: “Of course I have”

 Minister: “Then you’re saved. What’s the problem?”
Christian: “You just preached that the faith we are saved by ‘proves’ itself by good                           works, right?”
 Minister: “That’s right.”
Christian: “I haven’t done many good works lately. I’ve done some, but how do I know I                   still have that saving faith you spoke of?”
 Minister: “Well, once you’re saved you’re always saved; that’s what the Bible teaches.”
 Christian: “But you said we needed a saving faith, one that works.  I haven’t done                                                    many “works” at all.  How do I know I have saving faith?”
 Minister: “You don’t, unless your faith is active.”
 Christian: “So, I need to work out my salvation in fear and trembling as Paul said;                                             right?”
 Minister: “That’s right.  Do good and you can be assured of your salvation.”
 Christian: “That sounds, er,  awful Catholic to me.”
 Minister : “Well, I, uh, er gotta go . . . ”

 As we said before, so we say it again: “In a system that boasts of giving the individual assurance that he is saved, he really has no assurance at all, for he can never be certain if he has exhibited “saving faith.”

74. Faith Alone, p. 99-100
 75.   from The Nature of Justification, EWTN on-line services
 76.   Council of Trent (1547): DS 1525
 77. We could also argue that whenever Jesus healed people of their sickness in the NT, it was a total healing, both inside and out.  There are no instances where Jesus only “imputed” His healing to an individual. Our “sickness” is sin, and when Jesus heals us of sin, he does it totally, inside and out.
78.  Ibid., p. 107
79.      see Not By Faith Alone, pp. 195-6. In addition, I would say that the publican was approved because he recognized his nothingness before the majesty of God, whereas the Pharisee was boasting of how good he was, that he was better than others (see Romans 4)
 80. One of the reasons Protestants see “imputation” in this verse is the use of the Greek word logizomai.  Translated, it means credited, accounted, reckoned, considered, counted.  Sungenis points out that logizomai appears in the new Testament 41 times.  Only in a few instances is it used as a ‘mental representation’ that has no reality (Romans 2:26, 2 Cor 12:6).  The rest of the times it is used, the ‘mental representation’ is REAL (Luke 22:37; Rom 3:28, 6:11, 9:8; 1 Cor 4:1, 13:5, 13:11; Phil 3:13, 4:8 etc)
 81. It is interesting to note that James 2:24 is the only passage in all of Scripture to use the words “faith” and “alone.” In this passage, the idea of justification by faith alone is expressly denied: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  Paul uses the word faith 129 times in his epistles, yet not once does he couple it with the word alone.  It seems strange that if the Holy Spirit wanted to teach justification by faith alone, why didn’t He!
 82. Here I Stand, A Life of Martin Luther, Roland H. Bainton, Nashville:Abington, 1978 P 40
 83.   It was his understudy, Phillip Melanchton who really invented the once-for-all doctrine.
84.    I would argue here that this is THE major area of confusion between the two sides.  When a Catohlic argues that works are neccesary to “merit” heaven, he is speaking theologically of what Protestants refer to as “sanctification,” for the Catholic “progressive justification.”
 85. Roman Catholic and Evangelicals, Geisler & MacKenzie p 226 (Baker Books)
 86. Note here how justification and sanctification are basically the same thing. In fact, here you see sanctification placed first in the sentence.
 87. Excerpted from Salvation, Past, Present, and Future, James Akin
 88. Faith Alone, p108
 89.   Not by Faith Alone p 174
 90.   I Cor 10:12
 91.   Luke 13:6-9
  92.  Luke 12:48
 93. Not By Faith Alone, Sungenis, p358, Queenship publishing.