Luther was right to reject the Roman Catholic concept of justification. Catholicism makes no significant difference between justification and sanctification – they are a process which begins at baptism and continues through a person’s life (and even afterward through purgatory and continued sacrifices for a person’s sanctification). For the Catholic justification refers to the free forgiveness of sins and the re-creation of the sinner through the infusion of justifying grace, which can also be called sanctifying grace. This process begins with the sacrament of baptism, which forgives original sin. Luther rejected the belief that justification is a process; instead he argued that it is a one-time action.
The Roman Catholics held the Council of Trent in reaction to the Reformation. Justification was addressed: “If anyone says that the godless are justified by faith alone . . . let him be anathema” (Trent, VI, canon 9). And, “For faith, unless hope and charity are added thereto, neither unites one perfectly with Christ nor makes one a living member of his body” (Trent, VI, ch. 7). Catholics were (and are) not opposed to justification by faith, but they were opposed to justification by faith alone.
In Luther’s commentary on Galatians, he stated, “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification, that is, that we are delivered from sin, death, and devil, not through ourselves (nor certainly through our works which are of lesser value than we ourselves), but through outside help, through the Only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ.” In the introduction to Romans in Luther’s German Bible, he states, “[F]aith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever.”
This Baptist, however, has a problem with Luther’s view of faith and justification. If Luther had rejected infant baptism, as the Anabaptists of his day did and as we Baptists do today, his view of justification by faith would have been more acceptable. While he rejected the Catholic view of justification, he never rejected the practice and doctrinal implications of infant baptism and thus infant justification. Therefore, he had to argue that infants could and did have faith. He could do this for he viewed faith as a gift from God completely divorced from any activity of the individual, and thus bestowed by God upon the child at baptism. This position demands then that faith is entirely from God and requires nothing from man. So while this writer accepts the concept of sola fide, he rejects the belief that faith is imposed upon man by God with no expectation on the part of man to exercise faith. There is an intellectual and volitional aspect of faith which requires that a person understand the basics of the Gospel and that he willfully chooses to place his trust in Christ as his Savior.