It’s been said that there are disagreements about words and there are disagreements about things.
If there are disagreements about words, then as long as two parties are willing to concede that they mean the same thing and are using different words, they can get along just fine. If there are disagreements about things, meaning two parties are supplying two irreconcilable answers to the same question, then there isn’t much of a way forward other than division.
The water gets even murkier when two parties use the same words and yet load those words with contradictory meanings. Christians and the LDS church both carefully define the word Trinity, but one sounds like Scripture and the other sounds like Perelandra.
We should be grateful when major Christian churches agree on central doctrines. When it comes to the Trinity, the Christian doctrine of God, Protestants and Catholics can read each others’ work and benefit greatly. However, when it comes to how God saves us, the differences are stark. Are we disagreeing about words, or are we disagreeing about things?
Extra Nos. adj. A description of the righteousness which man possesses in relation to its source; man’s righteousness comes from a source outside of himself.
This is the rub. This is the root of all the arguments. Where does righteousness come from? How am I made righteous?
Extra nos is a Latin phrase that simply means “outside of us.” Obviously that phrase is not found in Scripture. But in the same way you wouldn’t use a word in the definition of that word, sometimes it’s good to use words the Bible doesn’t use to teach what it teaches.
Extra nos means that the righteousness which a believer possesses is not inherent to them, they contributed nothing to gaining it, and it comes from entirely outside of themselves. That sounds very Protestant.
The medieval Catholic Church taught that a person is justified by a synergistic, or a cooperative, relationship between faith and good works. The system worked like this: God would infuse a measure of grace to an individual, and that measure of grace gave the person the ability to obey God and generally do good works. Based on the volume of venial and mortal sins, a person could essentially become more or less justified, and in the case of a mortal sin, become unjustified before God.
Martin Luther saw no Scriptural warrant for this system. Passages such as Ephesians 2, which includes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv.8-9), make it difficult to conclude that righteousness includes works of your own.
Luther concluded that righteousness was extra nos, or outside of us. Romans 3 is worth quoting at length.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (vv.21-26).
Who is righteous? Certainly not us. No one seeks after God; no not one. It is God’s righteousness that the law manifested. Justification is a gift, Paul says. And again, it was to show God’s righteousness, not our own, which he says twice. Because God alone is righteous, he alone is able to be perfectly just and yet justify sinners who yet have faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
Catholicism teaches that the sacraments are the means of grace which God uses to infuse grace to believers. Sacraments such as the eucharist and penance can increase the measure of grace you have already been given, thereby increasing your ability for good works and potential righteousness. When it comes to the means of grace, the medieval and contemporary Catholic Church teach the same things.
But does Scripture teach that there are means of grace, such as the eucharist and penance? The Catholic Church is an entire framework of belief, and within that framework the seven sacraments fit neatly, which we must grant. But it is a different matter altogether if these means of grace arise naturally from a grammatical-historical reading of Scripture.
Philippians 3:8b-9 says, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
We are justified only through faith, which is itself the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Faith itself comes extra nos, outside of ourselves. Faith is given to us so that we can exercise it. Yes, we must live by faith, but that faith is not itself something we do apart from God in order to be justified.
Baptism is an act of obedience, a sign of your death to sin and life in Christ, something to do once and soon upon the conferral of faith. Communion is a memorial meal that reminds us of the new covenant in Christ’s blood, to do often and with fellow new covenant believers.
Our faith and our justification comes from outside of ourselves. It is a gift of not, not of ourselves, so that no one may boast.