"First, as baptized Catholics, we can agree that we have been justified and we have been saved. Thus, in one sense, our justification and salvation is in the past as a completed action. The initial grace of justification and salvation we receive in baptism is a done deal. And Catholics do not believe we were partially justified or partially saved at baptism."
In attempting to deal with the text of Romans 5:1, the author approaches matters as if they are simpler than what they really are. The Catholic plan of salvation is indeed complicated with the numerous laws and ordinances of the Roman Catholic Church. This intricate process is explained in its entirety through sources such as the Code of Canon Law. Just look at the nature of the seven sacraments, purgatory, indulgences, liturgical calendar, monastic vows, instances of self-flagellation, etc. What has been described is obviously a legalistic system of works righteousness. In fact, the gospel presented by the Catholic Church is so complex that it would be virtually impossible to even accurately describe what it is on a witnessing tract!
Romans 5:1 says plainly that we are justified before a holy God by faith. Romans 5:2 continues on that thought and states that we have been reconciled to Him. In other words, we can now approach God with confidence because of what Christ has done on our behalf at Calvary. Nowhere does Romans 5:1 speak of getting justified and saved "in one sense." Faith is our point of access to God. Tim Staples pointing to infant baptism totally misses the point of the text.
"This text indicates that after having received the grace of justification we now have access to God’s grace by which we stand in Christ and we can then rejoice in the hope of sharing God’s glory. That word “hope” indicates that what we are hoping for we do not yet possess (see Romans 8:24)."
Christians have the confident anticipation that God will fully restore all things once for all in the New Creation. The Reformation Study Bible has this footnote:
"[Romans] 8:22–25 The present condition of creation is not its final one; it is like a mother groaning in labor pains. Creation has a destiny planned by God, and longs to see it fulfilled, much as believers have destiny to which they look forward (vv. 23, 26; cf. Rev. 21:1). Our salvation has begun—we have the Holy Spirit as a down payment (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13, 14)—but it will not be consummated until the resurrection (the full realization of adoption in Christ, v. 23). Inevitably, therefore, the Christian life involves patient waiting in hope."
"The major part of the puzzle here that our Protestant friends are missing is that there are many biblical texts revealing both justification and salvation to have a future and contingent sense as well as these we have mentioned that show a past sense. In other words, justification and salvation also have a sense in which they are not complete in the lives of believers. Perhaps this is most plainly seen in Galatians 5:1-5."
A few theological distinctions are necessary here. First of all, justification is a portion of salvation and does not constitute the entirety of the process. Secondly, justification is complete and instantaneous at the moment of conversion. It is perfect in this lifetime. Thirdly, other aspects are salvation are guaranteed but are completed at our glorification. The idea of justification being "in a sense" incomplete should be rejected, unless we are referring to the evidential type spoken of in texts such as James 2:14-26.
"The Greek word used in verse 6 [actually referring to Galatians 5:5] and here translated as “righteousness” is dikaiosunes, which can be translated either as “righteouness” or as “justification.” In fact, Romans 4:3, which we quoted above, uses a verb form of this same term for justification. Now the fact that St. Paul tells us we “wait for the hope of [justification]” is very significant."
The claim that "righteousness" in Romans 4:3 is a verb form is false. The Greek word is "dikaiosynēn," which is a noun. Moreover, every sense of justification occupies the same Greek word. The type of distinction makes no difference. Consider, for example, Luke 7:29. God does not need to be justified at all. This excerpt from Adam Clarke's commentary helps us to understand the backdrop of the text from Galatians:
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty - This is intimately connected with the preceding chapter: the apostle having said, just before, So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond woman, but of the free, immediately adds, Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. Hold fast your Christian profession; it brings spiritual liberty: on the contrary, Judaism brings spiritual bondage. Among the Jews, the Messiah's reign was to be a reign of liberty, and hence the Targum, on Lamentations 2:22, says: "Liberty shall be publicly proclaimed to thy people of the house of Israel, משיחא יד על al yad Mashicha, by the hand of the Messiah, such as was granted to them by Moses and Aaron at the time of the Passover." The liberty mentioned by the apostle is freedom from Jewish rites and ceremonies, called properly here the yoke of bondage; and also liberty from the power and guilt of sin, which nothing but the grace of Christ can take away."
"The truth is: this example of justification being in the future is not an isolated case. There are numerous biblical texts that indicate both justification and salvation to be future and contingent realities, in one sense, as well as past completed realities in another sense [Matthew 10:22; Romans 2:13-16; 6:16; 13:11; 1 Corinthians 5:5]."
If the New Testament authors make use of the term "justification" in the sense of proving the truthfulness of or vindication, then that is not problematic for a forensic justification framework. There is a difference between justification in a judicial (declaring us to be righteous) and an evidential (evidence of a changed heart) sense. The same Greek word is used in different ways in the New Testament. That factor shapes how we should approach each text.
"While the Catholic Church agrees that Abraham was justified by faith in Genesis 15:6 as St. Paul said, we also note that Abraham was justified at other times in his life as well indicating justification to have an on-going aspect to it. Again, there is a sense in which justification is a past action in the life of believers, but there is another sense in which justification is revealed to be a process."
The reasoning behind the belief that a Christian is saved at the moment of conversion is the language used in describing those who are in Christ. Anybody who has been given a new identity in Him is in the present tense a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Believers are described in the present tense as being born of God (1 John 5:1).
"For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has taken all of Sacred Scripture into the core of her theology harmonizing all of the biblical texts. Thus, we can agree with our Protestant friends and say as Christians we have been (past tense) justified and saved through our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But we also agree with our Lord that there is another sense in which we are being saved and justified by cooperation with God’s grace in our lives, and we hope to finally be saved and justified by our Lord on the last day (Matthew 12:36-37)."
It seems that Tim Staples has not so much interacted with Romans 5:1 as he makes feeble excuses to dance around the text. Dr. Cornelis P. Venema gives this commentary regarding judgement on the last day:
"Paul regards justification as a thoroughly eschatological blessing...The notion of a final justification on the basis of works inevitably weakens the assertion that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). A final justification on the basis of works also undermines Paul’s bold declaration that no charge can be brought, now or in the future, against those who are Christ’s (Rom. 8:33–34). Rather than treating the final judgment as another chapter in the justification of believers, we should view Paul’s emphasis upon the role of works in this judgment in terms of his understanding of all that salvation through union with Christ entails. Because believers are being renewed by Christ’s Spirit, their acquittal in the final judgment will be a public confirmation of the genuineness of their faith and not a justifying verdict on the basis of works....these good works are the fruits of faith, not the basis for a future justification. For this reason, Paul speaks of a judgment “according to,” not “on the basis of” works."