One of the things Roman Catholics will accuse protestants of is believing in what they call a legal fiction.
My understanding is they believe that God makes you perfect in this life to earn salvation by means of the grace of God. Nevertheless, anyone who enters heaven upon death has reached perfection. All else go to purgatory to finish that process up or to hell if they died without confessing a mortal sin to a priest. A more Vatican II friendly Catholic might add some extra nuances to that but the general idea in it’s orthodoxy is the same.
Scripture paints a very different picture in Roman’s 3. Paul says our justification is very much apart from the law.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; ROMANS 3:21-24 NASB
The reason I selected this one in particular is Rome will compartmentalize a protestant understanding of justification by faith as applying ONLY to their understanding of baptism. After receiving baptism if you commit a mortal sin you have to confess and do penance as you are molded to perfection. It’s important to understand that they don’t actually ignore passages like the one I quoted, some protestants will set you up for looking silly by not making that clear.
Notice though, Paul isn’t even bringing up Baptism in his argument at all. Paul is roping in all those who believe, which would include those who have already been baptized, and all of which would have very likely sinned since. Paul is certainly not limiting justification by faith apart from the works of the law to baptism in this passage. If he was he would have said so.
Reading another passage recently though it was fun to unwind an old Adventist thought and find the gospel tucked away in it that relates to my setup. So I’d like to share.
As an Adventist I was taught to follow the food laws.
You can’t eat pork, it’s a sin.
Leviticus 11 says so.
Why did God forbid eating pork to the Jews? I believe it was as a type and shadow of law and gospel and Jesus victory over sin and death given to us in a physical way that we can see, touch, feel, and relate to. It’s given in such a way that I think only a first century Jew or former member of a modern judiazing cult can understand. In my opinion it also gives us a clearer understanding of justification by faith that helps bust the legal fiction myth.
Notice Peter objects to eating pork because it’s unclean….
A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”
ACTS 10:13-15 NASB
As an SDA I would have told you this dream was ONLY symbolic of preaching to gentiles who were considered dogs. An “only” is hard to argue from scripture to a thinking person. Many texts can have multiple meanings and good hermeneutics necessitate roping alot of ideas together in a systematic theology. Very rarely do you have a legit “only” in any given Biblical text. And needing an only so that your SDA theology is more expedient isn’t a good reason.
This text certainly includes both preaching to gentiles and unclean meats being clean. To Peter at that moment it was considered a sin to eat pork. But God is telling him it’s now clean. Here’s my point though, nothing obvious to Peter has changed about the pig. If it was a sin to eat before why isn’t it now?
Is this cleanliness merely a legal fiction?
I argue that the purpose of unclean meats was type and shadow of Justification by faith made in a way we can understand. When Jesus paid the price for sin he has taken old covenant laws and declared them obsolete. What was unclean is now clean. In his death on the cross he has taken us and declared us clean in his blood.
Do we still struggle with our sinful nature in this life?
Yes Paul certainly did…
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. ROMANS 7:15 NASB
Do we change in sanctification in this life? Yes we do. But that process is no measure of justification for we have been made clean. And by calling Pauls very clear teaching of Justification by faith a legal fiction, Rome indeed calls that unclean which God has made clean.