King David’s Clean-Heart Gospel Passion

Jan 26th, 2018 | By | Category: Blog Posts

This is a guest post by Jeremy de Haan. Jeremy was born and raised in the Canadian Reformed Churches. He received a Master of Divinity degree from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario in 2016, and with his family was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter, 2017. He tells the story of his conversion to the Catholic faith in “With Faces Thitherward: A Reformed Seminary Student’s Story.”


King David

What does it mean to be saved? The answer to that question drove the Reformers away from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and continues to keep Reformed people away today. I received an email from a Reformed person sympathetic to key parts of the Catholic faith, but who said that the Reformed doctrine of justification was “too powerful” for him to become Catholic.

Here I want to present a simple, scriptural argument against the Reformed position. I’ll first briefly summarize the Reformed and Catholic answers to what it means to be saved. Then I’ll compare the two answers by looking at how salvation is described in the Psalms. What kind of good news did the Holy Spirit inspire King David to yearn for in his writings?1 Did David yearn for the good news as described in Reformed teaching, or for the good news as described in Catholic teaching?

I. Salvation in the Reformed and Catholic Traditions

a. The Reformed tradition

According to Reformed teaching, the good news of the gospel is about Christ having obeyed God in my place. The late R.C. Sproul writes,

The gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness–or lack of it–or the righteousness of another. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself.2

That is what, according to Reformed teaching, it means to be saved. God’s holiness requires perfect obedience to Him, something I am unable to do. But Christ has done it in my place, and He imputes (transfers) His record of perfect obedience to me by faith alone. On account of that record, God declares me righteous, for when He sees me He sees His own Son. That is what justification is in Reformed thinking. It is a change in my status before God (unrighteous to righteous), but it is not a change in my soul. That latter change belongs to sanctification, which in Reformed thought must, for the very sake of the gospel, be kept distinct from justification. The heart of the good news is not about a transformation that happens inside me; the heart of the good news is about a transfer that happens outside me.

Just to drive home the seriousness of this, for many in the Reformed camp, the doctrine of imputation is what sets Christians apart from non-Christians. The thing that allegedly makes Rome a false church is not necessarily the veneration of the saints, transubstantiation, or the rejection of sola scriptura. It’s the rejection of the Reformed doctrine of imputation. Michael Horton speaks for the great majority of modern popular Reformed teachers in claiming that the doctrine of imputation is “the heart of the Gospel, without which the Gospel is no true Gospel at all.”3

b. The Catholic tradition

Okay, so what then what does the Catholic Church claim the good news is? According to her, the good news is that in Christ, God removes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh. That – the thing prophesied by Ezekiel in chapter 36 of his book – is what it means to be saved. This is the opposite of what the Reformed tradition claims. According to Catholic teaching, being justified doesn’t mean merely having your status changed before God – it means having your soul changed before God. The righteousness of Christ doesn’t cover you for the purpose of creating a new legal status for you; the righteousness of Christ pierces your heart to its black depths for the purpose of creating a new life for you.

In Catholic teaching, the Son obeyed the Father, even unto death on a cross, not so that He could give us a record of perfect obedience, but so that He could give us an obedient heart. Since Adam’s fall, we all receive his heart, the stone heart that died through his disobedience. But by faith we receive Christ’s heart, a heart of flesh that never for a moment was severed from God, a heart that walked with God in the garden in the cool of the day every moment of Christ’s life.

By a power greater than that by which He raised the dead, Christ raises us to new life in God. By means of that great work, He makes us righteous before God. That’s what it means to be justified in Catholic teaching. It means that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us [Ga. 2:20]. Where Reformed teaching claims that the integrity of the gospel depends on the good news not being about internal transformation, the Catholic Church teaches that that’s precisely what the good news is all about.

II. Salvation in the Psalms

So, let’s test these two accounts against the Psalms. The Psalms are filled with longing for the salvation of God, reverberating with a call for deliverance not just from physical enemies, or even spiritual ones, but from David’s own sinfulness and rebellion. The Psalms not only foreshadow the gospel; they orient the compass of our desires to find their satisfaction and completion in the good news of Christ. By looking at the longing expressed in the Psalms, then, we can learn more about the nature of the gift God has given us in Christ.

What, then, is the salvation David longs for? When David was confronted with sin, especially his own, what was the good news the Spirit prompted him to seek? Did he long for someone to obey the law in his place? Did he seek a righteousness in the form of the imputed obedience of another? That must be the case if the Reformed account of salvation is correct. According to Michael Horton, as quoted above, if David was not seeking some form of that, then he was seeking no true gospel at all. Or did David long instead for God to transform his heart? Did he seek instead a righteousness in the form of the steadfast love by which God restores the hearts of sinners to Himself? If so, then David is longing for the very thing the Catholic Church claims is the good news of salvation.

So, for King David, what does it mean to be saved?

a. Psalm 19

In Psalm 19 (ESV translation and numbering), David speaks about sin and redemption:

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer [Ps.19:12-14].

Here, David calls the Lord, “My redeemer.” But what is the redemptive work in view here? Is it that the Lord changes David’s status before Him based on the perfect obedience of another? Or is it that the Lord changes David’s soul? David speaks here only in terms of the soul. He implores God to protect him from sin; to keep his speech holy; and for his inner spiritual life to be pleasing to God. It is in this that David’s redemption lies, for it’s this activity of God that prompts David to praise the Lord as his “redeemer.”

b. Psalm 25

A few psalms later, in Psalm 25, David speaks of “the God of my salvation.” He begins the psalm with a plea to be delivered from his enemies, and not to be put to shame. He sets his spiritual distress before God. And what is the solution to that distress? He writes,

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long [Ps.25:4-5].

The solution David desires here is that his soul would be conformed to God’s own life. The call of David’s distressed heart finds its response in the Lord making David to know His ways, leading David in His truth, and teaching him. David’s need for salvation is not answered in someone else obeying God in David’s place. His need for salvation is satisfied in the fashioning of his soul after the heart of God.

This is expressed even more powerfully near the end of the psalm:

Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you [25:18-21].

Here, David pleas for deliverance and preservation. But again, he does not find that deliverance and preservation in the perfect obedience of another. He finds his “refuge” in God, at the same time looking to his “integrity and uprightness” for preservation. Clearly, that integrity and uprightness is the result of God’s work in David’s heart, for the Lord is “good and upright,” and “instructs sinners in the way” [v.8]. David’s heart is a heart in fellowship with the Lord, and it is in that internal fellowship that David finds his refuge and salvation.

c. Psalm 51

Or look at Psalm 51, which David wrote after his sin with Bathsheba. This was spiritual rock bottom for David. If ever he needed deliverance from sin, if ever his heart expressed its need for gospel redemption, this was it. And in the face of his most egregious sin, what is the cry of his soul?

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! [v.2]

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow [v.7].

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me [v.10].

It is in view of these pleas that David then asks, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” [v.12]. The salvation in which David finds joy is a salvation that consists in God washing him, purging him, and creating in him a new heart. It’s something that God does to David’s soul. This psalm, above all others, shows the contrast between the darkness of sin and the light of God’s salvation. And yet the light for which David longs is not the imputed obedience of another. The righteousness of which David speaks in verse 14, “My tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness,” is not something that comes to David in the form of the imputed obedience of another. Instead, it comes to him in the form of the steadfast love by which God restores the hearts of sinners to Himself.

d. Psalm 143

In Psalm 143, David famously writes, “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” [Ps.143:2]. You’d think that here would be the perfect time for David to cry out for a salvation whereby God delivers him through the imputed righteousness of another. But David says no such thing. In his earnest supplication of God’s deliverance, he writes,

Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! [Ps.143:7-11]

The salvation that David is so desperate for is that God should “make me know the way I should go,” and “teach me to do your will,” and “let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” In the face of the fact that no one is righteous before God, David does not seek the perfect obedience of another. He seeks instead a heart that is transformed by God’s righteousness, a righteous heart of his own locked onto God’s ways and led by God’s Spirit. In that lies his deliverance.

e. Psalm 119

Psalm 119 is the longest meditation on God’s law in Scripture. Surely there, if anywhere, we would find David being prompted to cry out for someone to obey God’s law in his place. Yet the entire thing, from top to bottom, describes a salvation in which David’s own heart is made right with God. Righteousness doesn’t come to David as someone else’s perfect obedience; rather, it comes to David as a heart fashioned after all the ways of God:

My eyes long for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes. I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies! [119:123-25].

Here, David looks ahead with the eyes of his heart to God’s salvation. Yet when he elaborates on that salvation, when he describes “the fulfillment of [God’s] righteous promise,” he does so in terms of the Lord teaching him and giving him understanding. He looks to the Lord to transform his soul. He writes later,

Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. [173-76].

Again, here, David yearns for the salvation of God. And again, that salvation is expressed in terms of God transforming David’s heart: “Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.” It is in the life of his soul that David finds the thing for which he hungers.

f. Psalm 32

Finally, there’s Psalm 32. Paul quotes this psalm in Romans 4 in the middle of a discussion on justification, so it’s directly relevant to this post. Reformed teachers will point to Romans 4 as a proof text for their understanding of imputation, with Protestant apologist James White going so far as to call Romans 4:4-6, “the Protestant verses.” Here are the verses in which Paul quotes the psalm:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” [Rm. 4:4-8 ESV].

Paul quotes David here because David “speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works.” So, what does David reveal about that person in Psalm 32? Is he someone whose salvation consists in the imputed obedience of another, or in having received a new heart?

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit [Ps.32:1-2].

This blessed person of whom David speaks, the one whom Paul says is “the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works,” is someone “whose transgression is forgiven” and more to the point, is someone “in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Again, there is no suggestion here that David is speaking of a salvation that consists in receiving the imputed obedience of another; but there is plain and direct evidence for a salvation that consists in receiving a new and holy heart. And Paul refers to the very person described by David as an illustration of what he’s talking about in Romans 4. To be counted righteous by God is not to have received Christ’s record of perfect obedience, but to have received Christ’s life in the depths of your heart.

Romans 4 itself confirms this. Paul writes that a believer’s “faith is counted as righteousness.” Reformed teaching holds that our righteousness is found entirely in Christ’s imputed record of obedience; in no way is that righteousness found in our own hearts. But Paul here says that a believer’s faith – something internal, something in the heart of the believer – is counted by God as righteousness. This is precisely what the Catholic Church teaches about the nature of the gospel. The gospel is about what God does not only to our status, but most importantly to our souls – and thereby to our status. It is in receiving in our hearts the righteousness of Christ that God declares us to be truly righteous.

III. Conclusion

You could go on through the Psalms yourself asking the question I’ve been asking here: what, for King David, does it mean to be saved? What was the salvation for which the Holy Spirit strained the eye of David’s heart? Was it what the Heidelberg Catechism claims is the good news?

God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart [Question and answer 60].

Did David long for a salvation in which God “accomplished all the obedience” in David’s place? Or did David long for what the Catechism of the Catholic Church claims is the good news?

Justification is [in addition to being forgiven of all sins] the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us [CCC 1991].

David repeatedly and emphatically longs for a heart transformed by “the rectitude (steadfastness) of divine love,” and longs for “obedience to the divine will” being granted to him. He longs for a righteousness that pierces his heart and makes alive what was formerly dead, a gospel encapsulated by the words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” [Ga.2:20].

This isn’t a small point. The Psalms teach us how to desire God and how to thirst after His salvation. They create in us a spiritual appetite that is satisfied abundantly in the good news of the gospel. And when confronted with the sin and rebellion of the human heart, David, and the Spirit of God through him, does not teach us to long for the imputed obedience of another. The appetite he forms in us isn’t for what R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, and many others claim is the good news. He teaches us to long instead for the good news of new and obedient hearts that Ezekiel proclaims. He teaches us to long for a gospel that consists in God fashioning our hearts after His own steadfast love. That is the call that receives its yes and amen in the good news of Jesus Christ. And that is the good news the Catholic Church has been proclaiming for two thousand years.

  1. I recognize that David himself did not write all the Psalms, but whenever the New Testament writers refer to the author of the Psalms, they refer to “David.” I prefer to use the same tradition in my own writing. []
  2. What is the Gospel?” []
  3. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/infusionimputation.html []
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  1. […] Read the rest of the post over at Called to Communion: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2018/01/king-davids-clean-heart-gospel-passion/ […]

  2. I’d like to add some further thoughts on the Psalm 32 commentary. I think it’s crucial to point out that Paul only speaks of sin being “not imputed” here (32:2), which is not at all what a Protestant should be expecting. Putting imputation ‘negatively’ here, Paul throws a wrench in the Protestant understanding of imputation as a transfer, since now Paul is saying “Blessed is the man whose sins are not transferred,” which is obviously not what Paul/David is getting at. For all the talk of “Adam’s sin being imputed to us” and “our sin being imputed to Christ,” it is important to note that the Bible only speaks of sin as “not” being imputed.

    Furthermore, the point in Romans 4 is that Abraham was justified prior to circumcision. So what does this have to do with David? Well, as I see it, as Paul says in Rom 2:25, “if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.” This must mean that when David committed murder/adultery, he effectively lost his circumcision/covenant status, since murder could not be atoned for under the Mosaic Law (Num 35:31-33). This means that Paul’s point is that something ‘outside of the Mosaic Law’ was responsible for David being saved, forgiven, etc. Abraham and David didn’t rely (essentially) on the Mosaic Law to be in covenant relationship with God.

    And so while Paul explicitly says Psalm 32 is a proof of “reckoning righteousness” – despite David never speaking of “righteousness” in Psalm 32 – this can only mean “reckon righteousness” is another way of saying “forgiveness of sin” and “not imputing sin”. This also throws a wrench in Protestant exegesis, because if to “reckon righteousness” is *equivalent* to “not imputing sin,” then it makes no sense to read forgiving/nonimputing cannot be a way of saying “impute Christ’s perfect obedience” (which also contradicts the Christian duty to personally “fulfill the law” Gal 5:14, Rom 13:8-13). Rather, I see it like a shirt that was cleaned from a stain, either we can “reckon cleanlieness” to the shirt or we can “not reckon stain” to the shirt (since it was washed away), and we’d be saying the same thing.

  3. Thank you for this distinction. I’ve been hoping for a more detailed treatment of imputed righteousness versus infused righteousness for a while and this really helps!

  4. Thank you for this insightful article, Jeremy. I have a few comments to add.

    1) With regard to your discussion of Psalm 143, it may be useful to note that Psalm 142:2 LXX (143:2 English) is cited by Paul at a key point in his discussion of justification in both Romans (3:20) and Galatians (2:16). This suggests that the moralistic, soul-centered view of righteousness that (as you have rightly pointed out) pervades the rest of this psalm was in Paul’s mind as well.
    2) Having said that, it seems clear to me that the δικαιο- word group in Romans (“justify,” “justification,” “righteousness,” etc.) does sometimes carry a forensic, legal connotation. For instance, in Rom. 5:16, 18, δικαίωμα and δικαίωσις stands opposite to κατάκριμα (BDAG: “judicial pronouncement upon a guilty person, condemnation”), which is clearly a legal term. Rom. 6:7 states that a dead person has been absolved (verb: δικαιόω) from sin, which cannot mean he has been made morally upright. Again, in Rom. 8:33-34, δικαιόω (“justify”) is explicitly contrasted with the legal notions of bringing charges and condemning.
    3) Given the explicit contrast in Romans 5:12-19 between condemnation and justification brought about through two respective men (Adam and Jesus), it may be helpful to draw an analogy between original sin and justification. Original sin comes upon all in a forensic sense from conception, simply because we belong to Adam’s race. It also deforms the image of God within us so that we become susceptible to transgression, and in time we “cooperate” with original sin and, as it were, ratify the sentence of condemnation upon us by becoming ontologically, morally sinful. In a similar way, righteousness comes one in a forensic sense from the moment of new birth (sacramental baptism, from a Catholic perspective), simply because we belong to the Church. Also, the Spirit works in us to reform us in God’s image and make us susceptible to uprightness, and in this way we “cooperate” with God and, as it were, ratify the sentence of justification/acquittal upon us by becoming ontologically, morally righteous.
    4) In light of 3), it seems to me that a forensic, legal understanding of justification is not at odds with Catholic doctrine. As you’ve put it, “According to Catholic teaching, being justified doesn’t mean merely having your status changed before God”. It does not merely mean that; it means that and much more.

    Consider the following statements endorsed by the Catholic/Lutheran 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification:
    “… a faith centered and forensically conceived picture of justification is of major importance for Paul and, in a sense, for the Bible as a whole, although it is by no means the only biblical or Pauline way of representing God’s saving work” (Justification by Faith, Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, Minneapolis, 1985, no. 146).
    “By justification we are both declared and made righteous. Justification, therefore, is not a legal fiction. God, in justifying, effects what he promises; he forgives sin and makes us truly righteous” (Justification by Faith, Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, Minneapolis, 1985, no. 156,5).

    The difference between the Reformed and Catholic views of justification is not that Reformed take a forensic view and Catholics take a spiritual view. Rather, the difference is that the Reformed regard forensic and spiritual/moral notions of justification as mutually exclusive, whereas Catholics take a comprehensive view that encompasses forensic and spiritual dimensions within a process that begins with baptism, continues through the spiritual life with the aid of the sacraments and culminates an acquittal at judgment and admission into God’s eternal presence. It seems that only the comprehensive Catholic view is a synthesis of all the biblical testimony, including that of the psalms, Paul, James (2:21-25), and dominical sayings such as Matt. 12:37 and Luke 18:14. (One could add passages from the early Apostolic Fathers that clearly teach a spiritual view of justification, such as Epistle of Barnabas 4.10 and Hermas, Visions 3.9.1-2; Mandates 5.1.7; Similitudes 5.7.1-2.)

    In short, the Catholic view sees forensic and spiritual/moral justification as “both/and” while the Reformed view sees them as “either/or”. Indeed, the tendency to see theology in “both/and” rather than “either/or” terms is a key difference between Catholicism and Protestantism across the board (G.K. Chesterton emphasized the both/and of Catholic Christianity in his classic book Orthodoxy). Catholicism wants to hold dualities in sometimes paradoxical tension (of which the most famous example is Chalcedonian Christology), rather than reducing them to either/or antitheses.

  5. I recall, during the year that I was discerning whether I had to become a Catholic or not (I did :-)), being puzzled by talking to my Reformed friends and our pastor about the Psalms. They seemed so strongly to point to the essential place of ‘works.’ The Reformed explanations appeared to say several mutually compatible things:

    1) The Psalms that said the Psalmist was righteous were actually prophetically to be read as from the mouth of the Messiah (which I think is true, but not in contradiction with the reading that they are the Psalmist speaking of himself);

    2) These Psalms were a kind of hypothetical statement that did not, in fact, apply to anyone except the Messiah;

    3) These Psalms were a reference to the imputed righteousness of the believer.

    I appreciate your article, Jeremy. Some 23 years ago I decided to take the Scriptures pretty much at their face value :-)

    jj

  6. I’m quite surprised the author thinks Reformed people don’t believe God turns our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh? Is it not a mischaracterization to say Reformed people don’t believe their whole being changes through justification? After all, Ephesians says we were one-hundred-percent dead in sin, before God made us alive in Christ – to me this does sound like a complete transformation.

  7. Hi Melody,

    I’m quite surprised the author thinks Reformed people don’t believe God turns our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh?

    In my summary of Reformed teaching, I wrote this: “That is what justification is in Reformed thinking. It is a change in my status before God (unrighteous to righteous), but it is not a change in my soul. That latter change belongs to sanctification, which in Reformed thought must, for the very sake of the gospel, be kept distinct from justification.”

    So, yes, I am aware that Reformed people believe that we receive new hearts. But in Reformed teaching, regeneration is not what it means to be righteous before God. That righteousness is found solely in the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to us. In Reformed teaching, that is the thing without which there’s no good news. That’s why Reformed thinkers, like R.C. Sproul in the quote in the article, can explain the gospel without any reference to receiving a new heart.

    Is it not a mischaracterization to say Reformed people don’t believe their whole being changes through justification?

    No, that’s not a mischaracterization. In Reformed teaching, justification is not a change in one’s whole being. Justification is a declaration of “righteous” on the basis of Christ’s righteousness having been imputed to the believer. The reason the Reformed believe that Rome teaches a false gospel is because she teaches that the declaration of “righteous” is on the basis of Christ’s righteousness having transformed the believer’s whole being.

    After all, Ephesians says we were one-hundred-percent dead in sin, before God made us alive in Christ – to me this does sound like a complete transformation.

    Yep, sounds like that to me, too.

    -Jeremy

  8. It could also be added, tangentially, that the “cleansing heart” motif is what the Council of Jerusalem taught, when Peter said: “[God] made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. … we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:8-11). Clearly, Peter is talking about Justification here, as that was the Judaizer dispute.

  9. “After all, Ephesians says we were one-hundred-percent dead in sin, before God made us alive in Christ – to me this does sound like a complete transformation” – to quote myself. So is not this dead-to-alive process something God does (as we were dead)? Or hearts of stone being turned to hearts of flesh something that God does? So is righteousness not something that God works, though obviously we’re utterly transformed (dead to alive, stone to flesh) as a result? This is where I’m not following, I think. I guess I’m trying to say the Reformed understanding I know of feels broader than your description of it – though your narrower description is certainly used to show that we’re not saved because we deserve it because we now have hearts of flesh.

    I’m sure this is jumping into the middle of a long discussion that I haven’t been following, so I don’t mean to make anyone go over ground already covered.

  10. Hi Melody,

    Yes, Reformed people certainly believe that God transforms believers. That’s the doctrine of sanctification, and that’s not in dispute in my post. What is in dispute is whether that transformation is a transformation into someone who is actually righteous before God. That is, when God counts someone righteousness, is it because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to him, or because Christ’s righteousness has made him actually, internally righteous?

    I’m arguing that in the Psalms we find David longing to be made actually, internally righteous before God. For him, that’s what salvation is. Another way of saying it, is that in David’s understanding of salvation, imputation would be superfluous. The very essence of salvation would be that-which-does-not-require-imputation, since David would himself have been made righteous by Christ’s righteousness.

    Allow me to reiterate. My claim is not that David simply wants transformation. That would be an obvious claim with which no Reformed person would disagree. Rather, my claim is that the transformation David desires is the sort that allows him to stand truly righteous before God. That is a claim that Reformed people cannot agree with – or if they do, then they’ve embraced the Catholic understanding of the gospel.

    – Jeremy

  11. My apologies – it really did seem like you thought Reformed theology completely decoupled this new heart and justification
    (in your section contrasting the two theologies)

  12. Jeremy,

    What is in dispute is whether that transformation is a transformation into someone who is actually righteous before God. That is, when God counts someone righteousness, is it because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to him, or because Christ’s righteousness has made him actually, internally righteous?

    Depends on what you are talking about. Are you speaking legally or ontologically. By conflating the two in the RC system, you actually get a situation where no one is actually transformed by Christ’s righteousness in this life except for a few very special saints. Everyone else gets a clean slate at baptism and then has some indeterminate amount of time in purgatory for Christ’s righteousness to do its work so that God can finally pronounce you righteous.

  13. Melody,

    I guess I’m trying to say the Reformed understanding I know of feels broader than your description of it.

    That’s because it is broader.

    Justification via imputation is often stressed because that is the dividing line with Rome and the only way to have assurance of salvation.

    But this idea from Jeremy is just wrong:

    Rather, my claim is that the transformation David desires is the sort that allows him to stand truly righteous before God. That is a claim that Reformed people cannot agree with – or if they do, then they’ve embraced the Catholic understanding of the gospel.

    Of course Reformed people want a transformation that enables them to stand truly righteous before God. The question is whether this is possible in this life, and to that the Bible gives a resounding answer of no. 1 John 1:8–10. We can never say at any point that we are entirely without sin, and that’s what it takes to be truly and fully righteous.

    And, of course, even once transformation has been completed in glory, there still is the matter of a lack of perfection up until that point. You still need the perfect righteousness of Christ in glory to cover your record from birth so that, from start to finish, there has been no failure to obey God.

  14. Jeremy,

    The Reformed interpretation of various Gospel passages, wherein Christ commands “perfect righteousness,” is to deem such as impossible standards. (cf Mt 5:20, Mt 5:48) That interpretation shows us that our Lord is merely demonstrating that absolute perfection cannot be achieved by sinful man, and therefore, man can only turn to Him and rely entirely on His righteousness to be justified. Even righteous, albeit sinful, Isaiah who declared his righteous acts to be like filthy rags (Is 64:6) could not attain to the impossible standard of heavenly perfection.

    How do you respond to that Reformed exegesis?

  15. Robert, (re: #12)

    Your argument presupposes that there is no distinction between mortal and venial sin, between guilt and debt, and between eternal debt and temporal debt. But these three distinctions are recognized in the Catholic tradition. So your argument presupposes the falsehood of the Catholic tradition. And an argument that presupposes the falsehood of the position it is opposing commits the fallacy of begging the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what it is attempting to show.

    On the distinction between mortal and venial sin, see “Why John Calvin did not Recognize the Distinction Between Mortal and Venial Sin.” On the distinction between guilt and debt, see comment #192 of the “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement” thread. On the distinction between eternal debt and temporal debt, see this section of “St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance.” This paradigmatic difference between the traditions was the point of my 2012 post “Imputations and Paradigms: A Reply to Nicholas Batzig,” and my comments in the thread under that post. See also my 2015 post on purgatory.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Bryan,

    I recognize that RCism makes the distinction. But regardless of how you parse it, you aren’t righteous enough to be actually inherently righteous in RCism until you’ve paid off all your temporal debt. Otherwise, you’d go straight to heaven at death.

  17. Robert (re: #16)

    But regardless of how you parse it, you aren’t righteous enough to be actually inherently righteous in RCism until you’ve paid off all your temporal debt. Otherwise, you’d go straight to heaven at death.

    This is not about “parsing” or spin, but about being truthful and fair in our argumentation, especially in our description of the other person’s position/tradition. As for your argument (“you aren’t righteous enough to be actually inherently righteous in RCism until you’ve paid off all your temporal debt. Otherwise, you’d go straight to heaven at death”), that conclusion is not entailed by that premise. The conclusion would follow only if we were restricted to the [Protestant] conception of [non-imputed] righteousness, which, as I already explained in my previous comment, does not make the three distinctions I noted there. But in the Catholic tradition, a person can be in a state of grace, and therefore be “inherently righteous” even if he or she has some remaining debt of temporal punishment. See the links I posted in my previous comment. So, once again, by presupposing the Protestant conception of righteousness in your argument against Catholicism, you’re committing the fallacy of begging the question, i.e. presupposing in your argumentation precisely what you’re trying to show. And what we at CTC are requesting (see the comment guide) is that in our (all who participate here) argumentation, we diligently strive to avoid fallacies, because fallacies make dialogue futile for resolving disagreements. They are the equivalent of pounding the table and insisting that one’s own position is correct. So we have to rise above that in order to make possible the kind of dialogue that is fruitful for resolving disagreements, even theological disagreements.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. Hi Robert,

    I guess I’m trying to say the Reformed understanding I know of feels broader than your description of it.

    That’s because it is broader.

    Justification via imputation is often stressed because that is the dividing line with Rome and the only way to have assurance of salvation.

    If things are “broader” than what I’ve stated, then what, in your mind, needs to be added to the imputed righteousness of Christ in order to be righteous before God? If your answer is “nothing,” then my description is exactly as narrow as it should be.

    Of course Reformed people want a transformation that enables them to stand truly righteous before God. The question is whether this is possible in this life, and to that the Bible gives a resounding answer of no. 1 John 1:8–10. We can never say at any point that we are entirely without sin, and that’s what it takes to be truly and fully righteous.

    I realize that Reformed people believe that in heaven, a person is truly righteous. That’s not what this post was about. This post is about the good news of the gospel as it applies to us in this life. And just as you said, you believe that Scripture “gives a resounding no” to the question as to whether we can be truly righteous. That simply confirms what I’ve said about the Reformed position in both the article and the comments.

    But what I’ve argued is that the longing expressed by David in the Psalms does not support the Reformed position. David never speaks of righteousness as being something imputed to us from another; rather, he speaks of righteousness in terms of having a righteous heart. But where you give “a resounding no” to David’s desire for a righteous heart in this life, the Catholic Church teaches that the gospel gives a resounding yes. That is precisely the good news of Jesus Christ. To be in Christ, the Catholic Church teaches, is to be in possession of a truly righteous heart.

    Regarding your comment about 1 John 1:8-10, you equate “righteous” with being “entirely without sin,” but you give no reason why that’s the case. Asserting it as though it settles the matter simply begs the question. In Scripture, we find people like Noah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and David being described as “righteous” and “blameless.” But none of those people were “entirely without sin.” Therefore, in Scripture, “righteous” is not synonymous with “entirely without sin.”

    Neither is it in Catholic teaching. In Catholic teaching, “righteous” is equated with having a righteous heart, not with being entirely without sin. The righteous person will still commit venial sins. That is how Catholics understand Zechariah and Elizabeth to have walked “blamelessly in in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” [Lu.1:6 ESV]. It doesn’t mean they never sinned in the way that Christ never sinned. It means that their sins were such that those sins did not make them unrighteous or blameworthy. But as Bryan pointed out, that’s been hashed out at multiple places on this site, and I’d encourage you to read those posts and the comments.

  19. Of course Reformed people want a transformation that enables them to stand truly righteous before God. The question is whether this is possible in this life, and to that the Bible gives a resounding answer of no. 1 John 1:8–10. We can never say at any point that we are entirely without sin, and that’s what it takes to be truly and fully righteous.

    I am confused why 1 John 1:8-10 was brought up as a prooftext against the “cleansing my heart” motif when in the very verse St John says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This verse plainly says ALL unrighteousness is cleansed. This would seem like a logical place for St John to tell us that we need Imputed Righteousness, but instead St John says salvation comes by a full cleansing, as often as we fall into sin and confess them.

  20. Joe,

    There’s no reason to interpret those passages as some “impossible standard” (that presupposes the whole “list paradigm” as opposed to the “agape paradigm” which has been covered on this site many times) for believers – the standard is simply, are you (by virtue of the indwelling of the holy spirit and sanctifying grace) fulfilling the royal law? And all the NT writers affirm believers can and must do so to be saved. No imputation needed.

    Your verses are in the context of the sermon on the mount, which is an exposition on the agape paradigm and what the OT law was pointing to as its fulfillment. As Aquinas writes,
    “We must therefore say that, according to the first way, the New Law is not distinct from the Old Law: because they both have the same end, namely, man’s subjection to God; and there is but one God of the New and of the Old Testament, according to Romans 3:30: “It is one God that justifieth circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.” According to the second way, the New Law is distinct from the Old Law: because the Old Law is like a pedagogue of children, as the Apostle says (Galatians 3:24), whereas the New Law is the law of perfection, since it is the law of charity, of which the Apostle says (Colossians 3:14) that it is “the bond of perfection.””

    So when it is stated, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, it is not some meticulous letter-keeping perfection in view, but rather the spirit of the law and principle undergirding the law, that is the agape paradigm. It is immediately preceded by “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” – it is not some “impossible standard” for believers indwelt by the Trinity and agape to love enemies or strangers.

  21. Jeremy,

    But what I’ve argued is that the longing expressed by David in the Psalms does not support the Reformed position. David never speaks of righteousness as being something imputed to us from another; rather, he speaks of righteousness in terms of having a righteous heart. But where you give “a resounding no” to David’s desire for a righteous heart in this life, the Catholic Church teaches that the gospel gives a resounding yes. That is precisely the good news of Jesus Christ. To be in Christ, the Catholic Church teaches, is to be in possession of a truly righteous heart.

    First of all, to be in Christ, according to Reformed thought is to possess a righteous heart. All who are justified are actually sanctified.

    Second, while I would quibble about David not looking for imputation, I could just as well point out that David never longs for Eucharistic union via transubstantiation, so therefore the RC view of the Eucharist is invalid.

    Therefore, in Scripture, “righteous” is not synonymous with “entirely without sin.”

    It all depends on the context. If you’re speaking legally, it is entirely without sin. If you are speaking more ontologically, it generally refers to being free of major sin. The better word for this is blameless.

    Jesus evidently thought being righteous enough to attain even involves being entirely without sin. He didn’t argue with the rich young ruler that he had kept the commandments that he listed, after all. That man was awfully blameless. It wasn’t enough.

    Neither is it in Catholic teaching. In Catholic teaching, “righteous” is equated with having a righteous heart, not with being entirely without sin. The righteous person will still commit venial sins. That is how Catholics understand Zechariah and Elizabeth to have walked “blamelessly in in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” [Lu.1:6 ESV]. It doesn’t mean they never sinned in the way that Christ never sinned. It means that their sins were such that those sins did not make them unrighteous or blameworthy. But as Bryan pointed out, that’s been hashed out at multiple places on this site, and I’d encourage you to read those posts and the comments.

    But if you look at the longing of David in the various Psalms, it’s pretty clear that he’s looking not just for blamelessness but for thorough cleansing. He’s looking for a perfection that he keeps falling short of. It’s why he can call himself both righteous and unrighteous in nearly the same breath throughout the Psalter. So if you are right about David, then Romanism can’t provide what David is looking for either.

    But again, if we step back for a moment. Rome doesn’t actually provide the righteousness that we need to attain heaven for most people in this life. And that’s really my only point. Call the baptized person free of mortal sin righteous all you want, but if the best that can get you is a stay in purgatory to get the temporal punishment for the sins that keep you out of heaven off of your record, you don’t really have righteousness, at least the righteousness that matters.

  22. Cletus,

    There’s no reason to interpret those passages as some “impossible standard” (that presupposes the whole “list paradigm” as opposed to the “agape paradigm” which has been covered on this site many times) for believers – the standard is simply, are you (by virtue of the indwelling of the holy spirit and sanctifying grace) fulfilling the royal law?

    Actually, there is, since even RCism has its version of the “list paradigm.” If you didn’t, there would be no purgatory. Your system likewise mandates achieving a state in which you have no sin and no debt left to repay.

    So the only question is, how does one get that perfect legal record? In Reformed thought, it is via imputation. In RCism, it’s via your cooperation with grace through penance and purgatory to purge the debt and imperfection from your record.

  23. Jeremy,

    I’d also add that David isn’t looking for a righteous heart that is a temporary gift with respect to this life and that you keep only by sufficiently cooperating with grace. There’s no, “Oh, Lord, wipe away my original sin with baptism and give me a pure heart that it is then up to me to hold onto via my sufficient cooperation with grace and that I could very well lose.” He wants a permanent, irreversible change that perseveres.

  24. Hi Robert (#23),

    I’d also add that David isn’t looking for a righteous heart that is a temporary gift with respect to this life and that you keep only by sufficiently cooperating with grace. There’s no, “Oh, Lord, wipe away my original sin with baptism and give me a pure heart that it is then up to me to hold onto via my sufficient cooperation with grace and that I could very well lose.” He wants a permanent, irreversible change that perseveres.

    First, you claim in #21 that you believe we are “actually sanctified,” but when you speak of the practical effects of that sanctification here, that is, when you speak of what a regenerate and sanctified believer united with Christ is able to do, you opt for pessimism and mockery. If those responsible for “sufficient cooperation with grace” are unregenerate sinners acting apart from grace, then your pessimism would be warranted. But if those responsible for “sufficient cooperation with grace” are those who no longer live, but in whom Christ lives, and those for whom cooperation with grace is itself a gift of grace, then your pessimism is unwarranted. In fact, your pessimism would be nothing but pessimism toward the gifts of the Spirit of God Himself. So, what do the Scriptures say? Why not point to a single place where the Apostles express the very same pessimism as you toward being a new creation by the Spirit in Christ?

    Second, you make claims about what David wants, but again, you provide no scriptural evidence for those claims. As it is, the Psalms don’t support your claims. In Psalm 51:12, David asks God to “uphold me with a willing spirit.” David asks to be “upheld” by being given a “willing spirit” from God. You could replace the word “willing” with “cooperating,” and you have David asking for precisely the thing you claim he doesn’t ask for: “Give me a pure heart that it is then up to me [in possession of the divine gift of a willing spirit] to hold onto via my sufficient cooperation with grace [a cooperation that is itself a gift from God].”

    Regarding the fact that David could “very well lose” the gift of life with God, the psalms show us repeatedly that that can, and did, happen. Psalm 51 itself is a plea for God to grant to David the salvation he lost through sin. In Psalm 30, David writes, “O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit” [Ps.30:3]. The phrase “restored me to life” indicates that David had been in a place of life, but had been brought to a place of death (Sheol). This happened because David had become prideful [v.6], invoking God’s anger [v.5] and the turning away of His face [v.7]. So yes, the life we have with God can be destroyed by sin, taking us to a place of death. Further, David does not indicate that this restoration to life couldn’t be lost again should he choose to sin again. If David does in fact desire a salvation in which no future sin, no matter how bad, could bring him down to Sheol, then you will have to demonstrate that.

    Finally, if your beef with all this is the doctrine of purgatory (from comments #21 and #22), then I’d invite you to study that doctrine more thoroughly. Purgatory is, in its essence, the loving discipline of our heavenly Father [Hb.12] that we experience after death. More importantly, it’s for those who are assuredly going to heaven. So, your claim that those in purgatory don’t have “the righteousness that matters” (#21) is not Catholic teaching. Purgatory is for the righteous and blameless children of God whose entrance into eternal glory is assured, but who have not reached the maturity necessary to enjoy that glory to its fullness. Therefore, the Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory simply isn’t contrary to the righteousness I’m speaking of here.

    – Jeremy

  25. This is a great article — I rarely see the Psalms used in such a rigorous way. I don’t want to de-rail the specific soteriological conversation, but I’d appreciate perspectives on how one can get more mileage out of the Psalms. I get a ton out of the typological aspects in the OT; I get a ton out of the NT letters; the Gospels are inexhaustible. But when it comes to the Psalm readings in Mass, I always scratch my head a bit.

    First, why do translators/scholars/lectors go to such great pains to ensure that the actual words of the OT/NT readings are accurately written and proclaimed, but when it comes to the Psalms, the spoken/sung words are almost always jumbled. It reminds me of a high school student who copies someone else’s research paper by just flipping the original sentence structures and using a thesaurus to change every other word.

    Second, maybe it’s just my personality or bias, but the Psalms strike me as less substantive and propositional, as compared to other Scriptural texts. With the exception of the great article and discussion above, I have a hard time getting much out of the Psalms — they occasionally shed some light on the other readings, but often they seem like isolated praises/complaints with repetitive statements about God’s mighty right arm.

    I certainly don’t mean to disparage or belittle Sacred Scripture in any way, but the fact that this article/discussion approaches the Psalms in a rigorous way makes me realize that I might be missing out on a lot of Scriptural depth and power (everyone who is anyone in Christianity has loved the Psalms). Any suggestions are appreciated!

  26. Markesquire, you may find this book helpful :) I’m placing my pre-order today!

    https://www.amazon.com/Psalm-Basics-Catholics-Salvation-History-ebook/dp/B077BRY8PD/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1517843658&sr=8-2

  27. Hi Mark,

    I think the best way to get the most out of the Psalms is simply to pray them, for that’s their purpose. I’d highly recommend praying part of the Liturgy of the Hours every day, since the backbone of the Hours is the Psalms. I use this abridged version:

    http://amzn.to/2E6VkFy

    And here’s a video that explains how to use the book to pray the morning and evening prayers:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khtmZOQr57w

    Praying the Psalms is the best way to get intimate with them, and to see their value to the faith. They show us the interiority of a mind, heart, and strength in loving submission to God, and thus set a pattern for our own interior life. But they also have a great deal of doctrinal significance. The Apostles quote the Psalms more than any other Old Testament book, and do so in many different contexts. There’s Psalm 32 being quoted by Paul in Romans 4, but also, as Thomas pointed out in comment #4, there’s Psalm 143 being quoted in Romans 3. David’s words about righteousness are central to Paul’s teaching on justification. The author of Hebrews, too, quotes the Psalms in his discussions on Christ as the Son of God and the atonement. You can find websites that list all the places in the New Testament where the Psalms are quoted and alluded to, showing just how broadly they apply to Christian faith and practice.

    Jeremy

  28. First, you claim in #21 that you believe we are “actually sanctified,” but when you speak of the practical effects of that sanctification here, that is, when you speak of what a regenerate and sanctified believer united with Christ is able to do, you opt for pessimism and mockery. If those responsible for “sufficient cooperation with grace” are unregenerate sinners acting apart from grace, then your pessimism would be warranted. But if those responsible for “sufficient cooperation with grace” are those who no longer live, but in whom Christ lives, and those for whom cooperation with grace is itself a gift of grace, then your pessimism is unwarranted. In fact, your pessimism would be nothing but pessimism toward the gifts of the Spirit of God Himself. So, what do the Scriptures say? Why not point to a single place where the Apostles express the very same pessimism as you toward being a new creation by the Spirit in Christ?

    Non sequitr. The Apostles don’t express “the same pessimism toward being a new creation by the Spirit in Christ” that I do because they don’t know of Roman Catholic doctrine in the first century, being that it didn’t exist. You are presupposing RCism, and hasn’t Bryan told us that is not charitable?
    Second, you make claims about what David wants, but again, you provide no scriptural evidence for those claims. As it is, the Psalms don’t support your claims. In Psalm 51:12, David asks God to “uphold me with a willing spirit.” David asks to be “upheld” by being given a “willing spirit” from God. You could replace the word “willing” with “cooperating,” and you have David asking for precisely the thing you claim he doesn’t ask for: “Give me a pure heart that it is then up to me [in possession of the divine gift of a willing spirit] to hold onto via my sufficient cooperation with grace [a cooperation that is itself a gift from God].”

    Is there any textual evidence that you can replace “willing” with “cooperating” in the sense that Rome defines it? Can you cite me any reputable commentary that would look at the Psalm in context and make that argument?
    Regarding the fact that David could “very well lose” the gift of life with God, the psalms show us repeatedly that that can, and did, happen. Psalm 51 itself is a plea for God to grant to David the salvation he lost through sin.

    Psalm 51 is a plea for forgiveness. Where does David say he lost salvation? In fact, where does David ever describe salvation in RC terms?

    In Psalm 30, David writes, “O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit” [Ps.30:3]. The phrase “restored me to life” indicates that David had been in a place of life, but had been brought to a place of death (Sheol). This happened because David had become prideful [v.6], invoking God’s anger [v.5] and the turning away of His face [v.7]. So yes, the life we have with God can be destroyed by sin, taking us to a place of death.

    Actually, in Psalm 30 it is pretty evident that David is speaking of rescue from a physical conflict, as he often does in the Psalter because he was a king and warrior who fought battles. He asks for his foes not to gloat over him (v. 1), which references a battle against earthly enemies. There’s gratitude in this psalm for a rescue from Sheol, that is, the grave, and for rescue from death (v. 9). There’s nothing in here about “the live we have with God” being destroyed by sin.
    Further, David does not indicate that this restoration to life couldn’t be lost again should he choose to sin again. If David does in fact desire a salvation in which no future sin, no matter how bad, could bring him down to Sheol, then you will have to demonstrate that.
    Your entire article is premised on David not asking for imputed righteousness but for inherent righteousness that results in salvation. Let’s assume you are correct. David very clearly is asking in the Psalter ultimately for eternal life, that is, salvation (Ps. 23-I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever). So even if David were asking for inherent righteousness, you still have a situation where Rome can’t give to the individual what he is looking for. At the end of the day, Rome might give you inherent righteousness through baptism, but it is up to your cooperation to hold onto it. And mainstream RC has so elevated free will, that there is no notion of God irresistibly making you hold onto it freely and willingly, as there is in Reformed theology. So my point is simple-Even if your article is substantively correct about what David is searching for, the Roman church simply can’t give it to you. Protestants might have the problem of looking for something David isn’t, but you have the problem of a church that simply can’t give David what he needs. And David isn’t looking merely for the possibility of salvation; he is looking for salvation itself. There are perhaps some things in Augustinian thought or Jansenism, if I’m being generous, that could lend itself to Rome actually giving people more than a possibility of salvation, but we all know that one of those positions is heresy and the other is a distinct minority.
    Finally, if your beef with all this is the doctrine of purgatory (from comments #21 and #22), then I’d invite you to study that doctrine more thoroughly. Purgatory is, in its essence, the loving discipline of our heavenly Father [Hb.12] that we experience after death. More importantly, it’s for those who are assuredly going to heaven. So, your claim that those in purgatory don’t have “the righteousness that matters” (#21) is not Catholic teaching. Purgatory is for the righteous and blameless children of God whose entrance into eternal glory is assured, but who have not reached the maturity necessary to enjoy that glory to its fullness. Therefore, the Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory simply isn’t contrary to the righteousness I’m speaking of here.

    I understand the doctrine of purgatory and who it is for. But if you have to go through purging and discipline after death, then you do not yet possess the quality of righteousness needed for the beatific vision. So you are actually still lacking what you need, at least until your time in purgatory is over.

    David’s looking for salvation, the beatific vision as a certainty. He’s not looking merely for a possibility. Rome only gives the possibility. So even if you are correct about David’s desire, you still haven’t found the solution to your problem.

  29. Wow, I don’t see it mentioned above, but you got me searching and it turns out that the famous Psalm 51 is actually quoted in Romans 3. This is yuge for the simple fact that this is precisely the “clean heart” Psalm which this post was named after, and here we see Paul quoting it right in the heart of a Justification context.

    Romans 3: 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
    “That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged.”
    5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.)

    This is not only fascinating because Paul explicitly ties Psalm 51 to Justification, but even more it says here that God is the one who is “justified,” within a clearly legal framework (since it mentions “righteousness” and “judgment”). This means “justify” cannot refer to imputing Christ’s righteousness, nor can it mean God Himself was declared to have kept the law perfectly (since God the Father never had to do that to be righteousness). Thus, it can only mean “justify” (dikaioo) refers to a Vindication, which is perfectly fine for the Catholic view but terribly problematic for the Protestant view. Indeed, we already know from James 2 that “justify” means “vindicate,” so that is another testimony that Paul also had Vindication in mind as well.

    Here we see the “righteousness of God” defined as “God’s faithfulness,” which further militates against the Protestant notion that “righteousness of God [the Father]” refers to Christ’s Imputed Active Obedience. I honestly don’t see how a Protestant can read this at the start of Romans 3 and then proceed to come up with an entirely different paradigm later in the chapter and into chapter 4.

  30. So you are actually still lacking what you need, at least until your time in purgatory is over.

    It would seem to me that, in this respect, Reformed doctrine is equivalent to RC doctrine, for don’t the Reformed also believe that “only the pure of heart will see God” and that the heart is not made entirely without (venial) sin until after death, correct?

  31. Nick,

    Paul is pointing out that God is still just even though his chosen people have been unfaithful. That’s it.

  32. Jonathan,

    It would seem to me that, in this respect, Reformed doctrine is equivalent to RC doctrine, for don’t the Reformed also believe that “only the pure of heart will see God” and that the heart is not made entirely without (venial) sin until after death, correct?

    In one sense, I suppose there is some superficial similarity except that:

    1. Jesus actually pays for all of the temporal debt of sin in Reformed doctrine.
    2. Everyone who gets the grace of justification will certainly also have a purified heart at the end, so the gift of the purified heart given in regeneration is sufficient. Rome says it isn’t, that we’ve got to keep that purified heart through cooperating with grace, which isn’t guaranteed, at least not in all schools of RC thought.
    3. There’s no purgatorial punishment because Christ has born that in our place.

    But in any case, the key point would be that Reformed doctrine actually gives the enduringly pure heart and beatific vision that David is looking for, Roman Catholic doctrine doesn’t, at least not until after purgatory.

  33. Hi Robert (#28)

    Non sequitr. The Apostles don’t express “the same pessimism toward being a new creation by the Spirit in Christ” that I do because they don’t know of Roman Catholic doctrine in the first century, being that it didn’t exist. You are presupposing RCism, and hasn’t Bryan told us that is not charitable?

    You’ve given me no reason to think that there’s a non sequitur in that quote of mine, or that I’m “presupposing RCism.” Simply typing the words doesn’t make it so.

    Further, if you acknowledge that your pessimism toward being a new spiritual creation in Christ is not shared by the Apostles, then why do you hold to it? As a Catholic, I believe that because it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and because I’ve been brought from death to life, and because every good work has been prepared beforehand for me to do, I therefore have every confidence that the Spirit has equipped me to cooperate with the grace He pours into my heart. That optimism is in line with what is revealed in Scripture, whereas, by your own admission, your pessimism is not.

    Is there any textual evidence that you can replace “willing” with “cooperating” in the sense that Rome defines it? Can you cite me any reputable commentary that would look at the Psalm in context and make that argument?

    It seems clear to me that in asking for a “willing spirit,” David means a heart that is obedient to God. In New Testament parlance, we could say that David is asking to be equipped to “walk in step with the Spirit,” which is nothing other than what the Catholic Church means by cooperating with grace. If this line of reasoning is so ridiculous that no “reputable commentary” would support it, then it should be easy for you to show me where I’m going wrong.

    Psalm 51 is a plea for forgiveness. Where does David say he lost salvation? In fact, where does David ever describe salvation in RC terms?

    I’ll grant you that it isn’t clear from Psalm 51 that David is speaking about having lost salvation. I would point to “restore to me the joy of your salvation,” but I recognize it could be interpreted strictly as the “joy” being restored, and not the salvation itself, although both are grammatically possible.

    As to where David “describes salvation in RC terms,” see the above post.

    Actually, in Psalm 30 it is pretty evident that David is speaking of rescue from a physical conflict, as he often does in the Psalter because he was a king and warrior who fought battles. He asks for his foes not to gloat over him (v. 1), which references a battle against earthly enemies. There’s gratitude in this psalm for a rescue from Sheol, that is, the grave, and for rescue from death (v. 9). There’s nothing in here about “the live we have with God” being destroyed by sin.

    In my previous comment to you, I provided the verses that demonstrate that David is speaking of his spiritual life, none of which you have engaged with. Further, if he were referring strictly to a physical battle, and to Sheol strictly as the grave, then v.3, “O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored my life from among those who go down to the pit,” would mean that David had been killed in battle and resurrected. But obviously that didn’t happen – he’s speaking metaphorically. And to establish just what that metaphor is, in v.5, David parallels this restoration with the Lord turning from anger to favor. And again, in v.6, David writes of having spoken pridefully, something that results in God hiding His face in v.7. Finally, in v.11, David writes of God having “loosed my sackcloth,” sackcloth being a sign of repentance. David is using a physical conflict to illustrate a spiritual reality, a reality that includes the fact that sin separates us from God.

    So even if David were asking for inherent righteousness, you still have a situation where Rome can’t give to the individual what he is looking for. At the end of the day, Rome might give you inherent righteousness through baptism, but it is up to your cooperation to hold onto it.

    Except you haven’t established that David is looking for a salvation that he cannot choose to reject. Your quote from Psalm 23 doesn’t establish that. As a Catholic, I can happily say the words of Psalm 23 – of course I expect that I will dwell in the house of God forever. But I also believe that if between now and then I choose to turn aside from the narrow and difficult path onto the broad and easy path, that I can no longer expect to dwell in God’s house at all. Nothing in Psalm 23, or anything else in the Psalms that I’m aware of, indicates to me that David believed anything different from what I believe. You need to demonstrate that when David said, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” that he also believed that he could never choose not to dwell there.

    I understand the doctrine of purgatory and who it is for. But if you have to go through purging and discipline after death, then you do not yet possess the quality of righteousness needed for the beatific vision. So you are actually still lacking what you need, at least until your time in purgatory is over.

    This post isn’t about what is required for the Beatific Vision in particular, but about what is required to be saved at all. It’s about what we, in this life, mean when we speak of possessing salvation. We don’t speak of possessing the Beatific Vision, since we don’t have that in this life. But we do speak of being righteous before God, since Scripture speaks of that as the present reality of the gospel. This post is about whether David speaks of that present reality in terms of imputation or in terms of transformation. If it pleases God to further sanctify someone before receiving him into glory, that’s a secondary question to whether that person possesses salvation as I mean it here. As I said previously, purgatory is for those who possess salvation as I mean it here.

    – Jeremy

  34. I recall a discussion, some 33 years ago in a group that included the man who later became my Reformed pastor – discussing the ‘P’ of TULIP – ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ – sometimes referred to as once-saved-always-saved. I realised, I said, that there was no phaenomenoligical difference between us Reformed and the Catholics on this point. The Catholics thought, I said, that you could reject your salvation, by committing serious sin and turning deliberately from God. The Reformed said you could not – but, if presented with a person who had seemed to believe, changed his life, lived a good life, but, later, turned away, said he didn’t believe, it was all a lot of nonsense, and lived happily as a heathen – such a person, the Reformed would say, had never really believed in the first place.

    That seems to me, now a Catholic of some 23 years, to be true – except that the Reformed explanation is a kind of a No True Scotsman fallacy.

    Don’t know if this is relevant to this discussion, and Jeremy may choose not to ok it – no problem, but it sounded to me like what Jeremy is referring to with Except you haven’t established that David is looking for a salvation that he cannot choose to reject..

    Robert – would you agree that – again, speaking only phaenomenologically – speaking about what appears – what we can see, hear, etc – the two positions are the same?

    jj

  35. Thanks, Robert (#32)

    I agree with the distinctions you’ve noted regarding what Roman Catholics and Reformed believe about how sin is purged after death. I will add that regarding the pure of heart seeing God, R.C. Sproul (may he rest in peace) wrote on Ligonier Ministries about multiple purgatorial possibilities which are compatible with Reformed doctrine.

    “Rome says it isn’t, that we’ve got to keep that purified heart through cooperating with grace, which isn’t guaranteed”

    If the extent of “guarantee” is one of your principal objections to the Catholic paradigm, then I suggest reading the article by Neil Judisch on this site: Persevering Most Assuredly: One Reason to Prefer Luther over Calvin.

    “Jesus actually pays for all of the temporal debt of sin in Reformed doctrine… There’s no purgatorial punishment because Christ has born that in our place.”

    Yes, but even in Reformed doctrine, God allows for temporal punishment for sin – which we see clearly in the natural consequences of sin in this life. So even if one believed he could sin boldly and get off “scot-free” by being lucky enough to die before the natural consequences come about, still it would be prudent to pray as David did for a clean heart which willingly obeys God’s law. Because it’s very possible that a person will experience many of the nasty personal consequences of actual sin before he takes his last earthly breath. The “That man is you!” indictment of David by Nathan is a chilling reminder of these consequences.

    I propose that Roman Catholics and Reformed can agree that sin has devastating temporal consequences, and as such every Christian should pray and endeavor to be entirely free of the slavery of sin despite our eternal hope and trust in God’s providence.

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