Jason has been listening to Mike Horton’s interview with Robert Sungenis and considering Sungenis’ case for the Roman doctrine of justification. Sungenis argues that 2 Sam 11–12 and Rom 4:5–8 prove that “if there is any passage of Scripture that supports the Catholic understanding of Justification, this is it.”
The Catholic understanding of justification is that
David lost his justification by committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12) and that these sins are the very reason that Paul can then use David as an example of a person who, after he committed these heinous mortal sins, can now receive justification when he repents of those sins.
I reply that Sungenis’ appeal to the example of David and Paul’s use of it has a hidden premise, an a priori: God can only say “justified” of those who are intrinsically, inherently just or completely sanctified. Obviously, after sinning, David was no longer intrinsically just or completely sanctified, ergo he must have lost his justification.
If the premise is false, the conclusion no longer follows.
The conclusion is manifestly false. David was never utterly sanctified or intrinsically, inherently, just (iustitia propria) at any point in his life, and therefore, on Sungenis’ scheme, he was never justified. He had no justification to lose.
Or, we can say with God’s Word that the basis for our justification is extrinsic, that it is Jesus’ inherent, intrinsic righteousness and that perfect, sinless righteousness is imputed to sinners. It was on this basis that David the sinner said:
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Yahweh does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile. (Ps 32:1-2).
For David, the ground of his acceptance with God was not his intrinsic sanctity or righteousness but the imputation of some one else’s righteousness. David understood that there had to be perfect righteousness. He understood the implicit message of the entire sacrificial system. Unlike Rome (and Sungenis) he did not teach a doctrine of congruent merit, that God accepts our best efforts and imputes perfection to them. David understood the need for a perfect righteousness. He understood what Paul taught in Rom 4:
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 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 trusts 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:
The entire point of Paul’s argument is that the ground of David’s righteousness and the ground of Abraham’s righteousness (and that of all sinners) is not their intrinsic righteousness or sanctity. It is not the godly who God justifies, it is the ungodly. Please note to what passage Paul turns to make his case. He quotes Ps 32:1,
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not impute his sin.
According to Paul and David, the ground of righteousness is not our intrinsic sanctity (that which is within us). God does not receive us because we are good or sanctified. Paul continues.
…We say that faith was imputed to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it imputed to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.
That is why Paul says that it is not the who who “works” but the one who “trusts” whom God justifies. The instrument of our justification is not circumcision or faith made a reality by sanctification but only “trust” or “confidence” (the very thing that Trent has condemned) in Christ and in his finished work.
Sungenis has turned David and Paul upside down because he, like Rome, begins with bad assumptions. God has approved of one intrinsically, righteous man: the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. That righteousness is sufficient for all who we receive the benefit of it by unearned favor alone, through trusting alone in Christ alone.