Paul is wrestling with the heart of the Good News. How are we saved? If it is true that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” then how do we become right with God again? Paul’s bold answer is “through faith in Jesus Christ”. Paul uses several metaphors to explain this process. We are “justified freely by his grace”. He redeems us “by his Blood”. His “righteousness” accomplishes this in “the one who has faith in Jesus”. There is no occasion for human boasting “for we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Martin Luther made this verse the foundation of his understanding of Christian discipleship. To emphasize the point he added the adjective “alone” to his translation of the German New Testament so no reader would miss Paul’s point. “Faith alone” became the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation.
Today these polemics of the sixteenth century have been put behind us through dialogue and mutual understanding by a joint declaration of Lutheran and Catholic theologians. However, unity is still is still a work in progress. When believers have been separated for five hundred years is it hard to get back together.
Fr. Michael Hoolahan, C.P. is on the staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.