The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.”
We saw in part 1 that justification is the work of the grace of the Holy Spirit. In part 2 the CCC begins to explain what that justification is and means. Now things begin to become more specific. The first work of the Spirit in our justification is conversion, in which (as the CCC says) He brings about justification in us following the pattern of Gospel’s announcement by Jesus. Again we see that it is God’s work, not ours. “Man turns toward God and away from sin”—that is to say, he repents—having been moved by the grace of God. Without that movement of grace, there is no repentance, no conversion, no justification. In repenting, says the Catechism, man accepts God’s forgiveness and is made righteous.
Here we see that according to Catholic teaching sanctification is a part of justification, not something separate and distinct. We need to be forgiven, but we must also be holy, and God makes us holy as part of our justification. Does that mean we are morally perfect, that we will never sin again? Not at all. But we are freed from sin’s power and made clean before God. This is a point of substantial difference with many Protestants. I think there are biographical reasons that explain Luther’s mistaken partitioning of the two, but since I am no historian I will have to bypass that discussion. What is relevant is the impact of the division on how one thinks about justification: if it is distinct from being made holy, then one need not be distressed that his sins after justification have cut him off from God. In short: it seems to me that the value in the division is that it affords the opportunity for an assurance of salvation that the Church has never taught. St. Bellarmine is reported to have said that their doctrine of assurance was the Protestants’ worst error.
Having got this far in our consideration of things, it might be worth the reader’s time to review my series of posts on sola fide. With the backdrop of the Catholic view of justification those posts take on more color. They are not merely about the incongruities between what Protestants say about justification and what the Bible teaches. They also highlight and emphasize that justification and sanctification go together. Being made holy interiorly is part and parcel of what it means to be justified by God. This is why what we do matters. If we sin grievously after being justified, we obliterate the holiness that God infuses into us. Our justification is turned upside down and we become His enemies once again. The assurance that Protestants seek by separating justification and sanctification does not hold together. We are made holy when we are justified, and with God’s grace we may retain and even grow in that holiness. But that is a subject for some other post. :-)