Rome’s Analytic View of Justification

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

- Romans 1:16–17

Justification by faith alone is a doctrine at the heart of the gospel, and there is more that must be said on the topic. For the next week, Dr. R.C. Sproul will guide our study of some important justification-related issues through his teaching series Justification by Faith Alone.

We begin with the difference between the classical Roman Catholic view of justification and the classical Protestant view of justification. Roman Catholicism affirms what many have called “analytic justification.” To understand what this means, we must define an analytic statement. Essentially, an analytic statement is one in which the predicate gives no new information about the subject. “A bachelor is an unmarried man,” for example, is an analytic statement. By definition, a bachelor is an unmarried man, so there is nothing in the predicate (the unmarried man) that is not found in the subject (the bachelor). There is an identity between both parts of the sentence. Inherently, a bachelor is an unmarried man and vice versa.

Theologians say Roman Catholicism has an analytic view of justification because Rome teaches that we must have some kind of inherent righteousness in order to be justified. In this view, righteousness may be rooted in the grace of God, but the good works that flow from this grace are taken into account in the pronouncement of a righteous status. When discussing justification, a Roman Catholic basically says that “the righteous person is a righteous person.” God only declares people righteous when they have their own righteous deeds to show for it.

Orthodox Protestants affirm synthetic justification. In a synthetic statement, the predicate gives new information about the subject. To say “the bachelor is bald” is to utter a synthetic statement. Baldness is not intrinsic to bachelorhood, so we learn something about a particular bachelor when we call him a bald bachelor.

In the matter of justification, Protestants say that “the righteous person is an unrighteous person to whom the perfect righteousness of Christ has been imputed.” We learn something new in this statement, namely, that justification is not a declaration of our righteousness but of Jesus’ righteousness. The righteousness we enjoy through the gospel is Christ’s righteousness, not our own.

Coram Deo

Roman Catholics and Protestants differ on several fundamental matters, not the least of which is the doctrine of justification. It is essential that we do not blur the lines on this issue, for the very gospel is at stake. We, therefore, do well to understand both the Roman Catholic view of justification and the biblical view. That way, we can properly represent the views of those with whom we disagree without being led astray into falsehood.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 118:19
Romans 3:21–31
2 Corinthians 5:21
Philippians 3:2–11

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