As a practicing Christian, my only hope is for salvation through Jesus Christ. I note that scripture addresses salvation; in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the Bible is (among other things) a record of Man's salvation history. In Paul's letters, being justified is proclaimed to be of profound importance.

If I am to be saved, must I be justified? I don't think that the two words mean the same thing.

What is the distinction between being saved and being justified?

Even reading well presented papers, such as this one by D.A. Carson, leaves me puzzled.

  • 1
    According to who? The denominations differ greatly over this.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 2:58
  • @curiousdannii Do I need more than three? Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 12:35
  • Possibly "greatly" is overstating the size of the differences, but there are major differences in the order of salvation, as well as big differences over whether justification is a singular event or a process.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 13:01
  • 1
    @curiousdannii Thanks for the links, I admit to confusion and am hoping that in seeing differing theological takes on it, I may get an "aha!" moment. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 13:06
  • 2
    I think it is fairly safe to say (@curiousdannii, please correct me if necessary) that whereas Catholics emphasize that justification transforms us (i.e., makes us truly righteous before God), most Protestants (following Luther) would tend to emphasize the legal aspect of justification (i.e., the fact that God regards us as righteous). Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:41

2 Answers 2



In the Catholic Church, justification (from the Latin iustus, righteous; and facio, to make) means what God does in order to render people righteous. (In theological lingo, justice means righteousness; a just person is right with God.) As the Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] puts it,

The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism (No. 1987).

Justification, therefore, is entirely the work of God (see also the Decree concerning Justification of the Council of Trent, Canon 1), although, of course, it requires a free acceptance on the part of the person:

Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or "justice") here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us (CCC 1991; see also the Decree concerning Justification Canon 4).

Justification is the work of grace:

Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life (CCC 1996).


For most Catholic theologians, salvation refers to eternal salvation, that is, people’s full and definitive union with God. For example, that is the use given in the Decree concerning Justification.

Salvation does not, therefore, coincide perfectly with justification. Justification is absolutely necessary for (eternal) salvation; therefore, justification could be viewed as the beginning of salvation. (See CCC 1992.)

Justification, however, at least while people are here on earth, can never be considered definitive, since people can always lose their righteousness by deliberately committing grave sins. (See Canon 23 of the Decree concerning Justification.)


To sum up the difference: justification means what God does to make people righteous and right with Him; salvation means the full realization of that justification, when people reach their definitive union with Him.

  • You beat me! Hmf. And here I was typing away as fast as I could. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:01
  • I think part of my problem has always been the mundane use of justification in English, and the theological definition that you and @Nathaniel (in his answer) have explained in your answers. Thank you. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:05

The answer to this question is related to my previous answer to another question which discusses the two concepts briefly in relation to "salvation by works or faith".

Justification, according to the Catholic Church, is the grace of the Holy Spirit when it is used "to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us 'the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ' and through Baptism." (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] paragraph 1987, quoting Romans 3:22) It is the gift given us by God which makes us "dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11b, NABRE)

It is this justification which allows us to pass beyond the sinful state we inherit by virtue of being human; which allows us to be cleansed of our original sin, to repent, and be forgiven:

Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man."

(CCC paragraph 1989, quoting the Council of Trent)

Justification, then, is necessary for salvation, since it is God's gift of grace to us which allows us to live and work in him. But it is not salvation itself. As I explained in the answer I referred to above, God invites and allows human beings to cooperate with him in order to live (and die, and live again) fully in him. It is this fullness of life—in particular, of eternal life with God after death—which is salvation itself.

I discussed elsewhere whether or not Catholics believed in the "once saved, always saved" viewpoint espoused by many evangelical Protestants; I concluded that in a sense they did. Justification is given in the Sacrament of Baptism at the beginning of Christian life; but Catholics believe that they attain the fullness of salvation only at the end of life.

  • Thank you, also a good answer. I had read that other answer and felt ... I almost get it. That answer got me the link to the join declaration, which I think I'll understand better now that you and @AthanasiusofAlex have provided me with better understanding of the RCC PoV. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:11
  • 1
    Just a quibble: justification doesn’t just make us “pass beyond Original Sin;” it cleanses us from Original Sin (=the privation of sanctifying grace)—i.e., it removes Original Sin. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:46
  • @AthanasiusOfAlex That's really what I meant; but I agree, that's not the best way of saying it. Thanks. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:53
  • @MattGutting Good. Now I can give +1 :). Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 16:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .