It's not often that a theological word like justification makes headlines, but with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Lutheran and Catholic churches on Sunday, it's been in the news all week. As church historian Douglas A. Sweeney pointed out on Tuesday in an earlier ChristianityToday.com article, the doctrine has been called "first and chief article" of Protestant Christianity, indeed the article "on which the Church stands or falls." So today we take a look at two articles from the Christianity Today archives, one (from a 1986 issue on America's Catholics) examining the Roman Catholic view and another, presented here, examining the traditional Protestant understanding of the term. It ran as an unsigned editorial in our October 24, 1975 issue.

The doctrine of justification by faith alone lay at the heart of the Reformation. But as we celebrate the Reformation this year we need to remember that in a sense we are justified by works.

The central question raised by the doctrine of justification is how God can himself be just and also the justifier. How is it possible for God to retain his own integrity, keep his law, and at the same time forgive the sinner? This dilemma is based upon a prior fact: God has ordained that the soul that sins shall die. Sin has consequences; penalties are exacted against those who despise God's law and do violence to his holiness.

Everywhere Scripture bears testimony to the truth that man cannot make himself right in the eyes of God by what he does. His works, no matter how good, are insufficient. Both in quality and quantity they are inadequate, because they are intermingled with the reality of sin.

God's solution was to send Jesus as the one who would make it possible ...

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