Catholic apologist, David Anders, featured in the photo above, repeatedly condemns forensic justification on his radio show. Forensic justification? What’s that? People are generally turned off by theological jargon like “forensic justification.” Hang in there. I’m going to break it all down for you.
These days, many church-going folks are eager to gloss over any and all doctrinal differences and embrace each other as fellow “Jesus lovers.” But many doctrinal differences are vitally important, like the answer to the question, “How does a person get to Heaven?”
The Roman Catholic church teaches that for a person to get to Heaven, they must participate in the church’s sacraments in order for graces to be “infused” into their soul, to be able to obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church rules, in order to remain in a hypothetical mortal-sinless “state of grace,” so as to be able to merit heaven at the moment of their death. Phew! That was a long sentence! Another way of expressing it is, the RCC teaches a person must actually (subjectively, intrinsically) become holy enough to merit entry into Heaven.
In direct contrast, Bible Christianity teaches from Scripture that we are all sinners and no one can possibly merit Heaven. Even our so-called “good works” are sin-stained rags before a Holy God. But God loves us so much, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins by His death on the cross of Calvary. But Jesus defeated sin and death when He rose from the grave and offers eternal life and fellowship with God to all those who repent of sin and ask Him to save them. When a person accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior, His perfect righteousness is “imputed” (ascribed) to them. They are declared righteous before a Just and Holy God only because of the imputed, perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Evangelical theologians call this “forensic” (legal) justification. God the Father declares a sinner who has accepted Christ as righteous because of the perfect righteousness that was imputed to them by God the Son. Bible Christians believe those who have genuinely accepted Christ will follow Him in obedience, although imperfectly. But the desire to obey God and the resulting spiritual fruit are the evidence of salvation, not the cause of it.
The Catholic doctrine and the Bible Christian doctrine on salvation are incompatible and irreconcilable. One is right, one is wrong. They cannot both be right.
To be honest, I don’t cherish the work of Catholic apologists, but I do appreciate the way they strongly distinguish between the Catholic gospel of sacramental grace and merit and the Biblical Good News! Here’s an example from Anders’ show that I came across recently, although the Biblical doctrine of salvation is not clearly presented:
Called to Communion – EWTN Radio
Host: David Anders (photo above), Moderator: Thom Price
Beginning at 24:33 mark
Thom Price: Let’s go to Claire now in Baton Rouge, Louisiana listening on the great Catholic Community Radio. Hey, Claire. What’s on your mind today?
Claire: Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I have a question about, well, it’s a two-part question about forensic acquittal (theologians use the term “forensic justification” – Tom). We have a local pastor here in town who preaches forensic acquittal and I’m very confused by what he says. I encounter this in RCIA.* So my questions are these: My understanding of forensic acquittal is that when you are saved, God covers your sins, but you are still in your sins and you remain depraved. So then my question is, if that’s correct then doesn’t that belief, in terms of justification, kind of say that, well, Jesus’ saving work wasn’t quite good enough? And my second question, and this is really the question that I’m most concerned about, is if that is an accurate understanding of forensic acquittal, then what exactly does sanctification do? Does it have any effect on the soul or is it just proof of election?
David Anders: Thank you very much, Claire. I really appreciate the question. The doctrine that you have heard from your preacher acquaintance, that doctrine, the way you put it, is an accurate description of what Lutherans believe. It is an accurate description of what Calvinists believe, and of Protestants in general. It is not, however, what Scripture teaches and it is not what the Catholic church teaches. So the doctrine of forensic justification through the imputed righteousness of Jesus, what you articulated, is actually a doctrine that was condemned by the Catholic church at the Council of Trent and no Catholic should believe that doctrine.
For the next four minutes, Anders presents a summarized version of the Catholic doctrine of salvation, which I described above.
I regretfully applaud Anders for his candid honesty in distinguishing between his church’s gospel and the genuine Gospel. Ecumenical evangelical pastors and para-church leaders do a disservice to evangelicals and lost Catholics by embracing the Catholic church with its false gospel as a Christian entitiy.
*The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) – is the year-long course aspiring adults must attend before they can be baptized into the Catholic church.
For more information on the difference between the Catholic and Bible Christian views on justification, see the article below:
Justification: Infused or Imputed Righteousness?