Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Theological Essay #1: Are We Justified or Forgiven?
Pauline letters are those known or generally believed to have been written directly by St. Paul. Deutero-Pauline letters are considered by most scholars to have been written in Paul's name by a follower of his, a common practice at the time. Pastoral letters are those letters claimed to be from Paul (whether they are or not) that are to specific individuals, rather than congregations.

Are we justified or forgiven?

Pauline letters (1 Thessalonians, Romans) say we are justified, Deutero-Pauline letters (Colossians, Ephesians) say that we are forgiven.

What's the difference?

Justification means that God extends grace to you, even though you're a sinner, knowing that sin is more powerful than you are. Forgiveness means that once your regret your sins and resolve not to commit them any more, God gives you a blank slate and you are considered innocent until you sin again. It's possible that Christians are justified until they repent, and forgiven afterwards.

So what does this mean?

Justification means that you do not resolve never to sin again, but that you accept it as part of your human nature. Forgiveness means doing your best to not sin, whether this is possible or not. Should you sin, though, you can repent and it's as if you didn't sin, unless you commit that sin again. Think of it as a suspended sentence. The idea that you need to be innocent like Christ when you die is likely the basis for the Catholic sacrament of Last Rites, as it would be a tragedy to sin just before you die and be condemned forever without a chance to repent.

Which is correct, then?

Paul tells us that everyone in Romans and Galatians that everyone is different. You follow the path that you honestly believe to be right. Personally, I think that forgiveness is the correct way, and that justification is a cop-out. However, all Catholic-derived (Roman Catholic, Orthodox Catholic, Protestant) churches teach this, and it's possible that I've never been exposed to a good argument otherwise.

So how do you plan to abstain from sin?

Patience, hope, and faith. Suffering breeds tolerance. Tolerance breeds patience. Patience breeds diligence. Diligence breeds faith. Through faith, anything is possible. Thus, every time you resist a carnal urge, you're strengthened (no pain, no gain!). Eventually, doing the right thing will just come naturally.

Yeah right. You're going to sin.

Probably. There's not a day that goes by where I don't break at least one of the Ten Commandments in thought, word, or deed. I'm sure I've broken them all in one of the above ways at some point. We all sin. The idea is to try your very best, knowing that God will ask nothing more of you than you're capable of.

So it's okay to sin, so long as you're trying to do better?

I think so. Sin is always to be regretted, but you mustn't dwell on the past. You can only change the future, and that's what you need to concentrate on. With God's help, anything is possible, so long as you're open to it.

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