In Justified by Faith Alone, R. C. Sproul clarifies the differing views of justification:
The Roman Catholic Church cites James 2:14-26 (“faith without deeds is dead,” verse 26) to support their rejection of sola fide. In response the Reformers insisted that true saving faith is not devoid of good works. They argued that “justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.”
The chief differences between the Roman Catholic and Reformation views of justification:
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC VIEW
- Baptism (with penance) is the instrumental cause of justification.
- Justification is by infusion.
- Justification is analytical.
- Justification is based on an inherent righteousness.
- Justification is by faith plus works.
- Justification is by grace and merit.
- Justification is on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and my righteousness.
- Justification can be undone by mortal sin.
- Justification may be completed in purgatory.
- Justification may be obtained by drawing from the Treasury of Merit.
- Justification is sacerdotal.
THE REFORMATION VIEW
- Faith is the instrumental cause of justification.
- Justification is by imputation.
- Justification is synthetic.
- Justification is based on an alien (Christ’s) righteousness.
- Justification is by faith alone.
- Justification is by grace alone.
- Justification is on the basis of Christ’s righteousness.
- There is no “mortal sin” for a person who is justified.
- There is no purgatory or need for it.
- The only merit is that of Christ alone.
- Justification is non-sacerdotal.
The differences between these two "gospels" is in grave danger of being lost in our day. Efforts to heal the breach between Rome and the Reformation have yielded confusion among many. The issue cannot be resolved by studied ambiguities or different meanings attached to the same words. The crucial issue of the infusion verses imputation remains the irreconcilable issue. We are either justified by a righteousness that is in us or by a righteousness that is apart from us. There is no third way.
Excerpt from Justified by Faith Alone by R. C. Sproul.