Ongoing Justification and the Indwelling Holy Spirit

We receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, but there is an ongoing sense of receiving him to a fuller degree throughout our lives, too.

Nicolas Poussin, “The Ecstasy of St. Paul,” ca. 1650
Nicolas Poussin, “The Ecstasy of St. Paul,” ca. 1650 (photo: Public Domain)

Justification in Catholic soteriology is ongoing, as I discussed in my previous article. One might draw an analogy to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He is first received through baptism:

  • “Be baptized ... and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38);
  • “‘… that you [St. Paul] may ... be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ ...  Then he rose and was baptized” (Acts 9:17-18);
  • “By the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit …” (Titus 3:5).

Yet, despite having already received the Holy Spirit into ourselves at baptism, St. Paul nevertheless refers to an ongoing sense of receiving him to a fuller degree, too. This is the biblical and Catholic outlook of “both/and”:

“Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18)

The Protestant Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges commented rather remarkably on this passage:

On the whole, the idea conveyed appears to be that the possessing Power, Divine or evil, which from one point of view inhabits the man, from another surrounds him, as with an atmosphere. ... 
Thus, ‘be ye filled in (the) Spirit,’ may be lawfully paraphrased, ‘Let in the holy atmosphere to your inmost self, to your whole will and soul. Let the Divine Spirit, in whom you, believing, are, pervade your being, as water fills the sponge.’

Two chapters earlier (3:19), St. Paul took it even further: “Be filled with all the fulness of God.” If that’s not also being justified, what is? How can one be “filled” with the Holy Spirit and “filled” with God’s “fulness” and not be justified? And this is an ongoing process. 

We receive more justification as time goes on, similarly to how we can and do receive more grace:

  • Acts 4:33  and great grace was upon them all.
  • Ephesians 4:7 But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
  • James 4:6 But he gives more grace …
  • 1 Peter 1:2 ... May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (cf. 2 Pet 1:2)
  • 1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
  • 2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace …

Some might think this is my own (arbitrary) analogy. But there is nothing new under the sun. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman drew the analogy when still a Protestant:

In a word, what is it to have His presence within us, but to be His consecrated Temple? what to be His Temple, but to be set apart from a state of nature, from sin and Satan, guilt and peril? what to be thus set apart, but to be declared and treated as righteous? and what is this but to be justified? (Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification [1838], Lecture 6)
Next, it may be remarked that whatever blessings in detail we ascribe to justification, are ascribed in Scripture to this sacred indwelling. For instance, is justification remission of sins? the Gift of the Spirit conveys it, as is evident from the Scripture doctrine about Baptism: “One Baptism for the remission of sins.” Is justification adoption into the family of God? in like manner the Spirit is expressly called the Spirit of adoption, “the Spirit whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Is justification reconciliation with God? St. Paul says, “Jesus Christ is in you, unless ye be reprobates.” Is justification life? the same Apostle says, “Christ liveth in me.” Is justification given to faith? it is his prayer “that Christ may dwell in” Christian “hearts by faith.” Does justification lead to holy obedience? Our Lord assures us that “he that abideth in Him and He in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Is it through justification that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God? In like manner “Christ in us” is said to be “the hope of glory.” Christ then is our righteousness by dwelling in us by the Spirit: He justifies us by entering into us, He continues to justify us by remaining in us. This is really and truly our justification, not faith, not holiness, not (much less) a mere imputation; but through God’s mercy, the very Presence of Christ. (Ibid., Lecture 6)
... the connection really is between justification and renewal. They are both included in that one great gift of God, the indwelling of Christ in the Christian soul. That indwelling is ipso facto our justification and sanctification, as its necessary results. It is the Divine Presence that justifies us, not faith, as say the Protestant schools, ... The word of justification is the substantive living Word of God, entering the soul, illuminating and cleansing it, as fire brightens and purifies material substances. He who justifies also sanctifies, because it is He. (Ibid., Lecture 6)

Cardinal Newman further explained ongoing justification:

For we must consider that since we are ever falling into sin and incurring God’s wrath, we are ever being justified again and again by His grace. Justification is imparted to us continually all through our lives. Now though it is substantially the same from first to last, yet the relative importance of its constituent parts varies with the length of its continuance. Its parts are differently developed as time goes on ... 
[I]s it not plain that in its beginnings it will consist of scarcely anything but pardon? because all that we have hitherto done is sinful in its nature, and has to be pardoned; but to be renewed is a work of time, whereas as time goes on, and we become more holy, it will consist more in renewal, ... It takes us then at Baptism out of original sin, and leads us all through life towards the purity of Angels. (Ibid., Lecture 4: “Secondary Senses of the Term Justification“, section 8)
Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at West Allis Central High School on July 23 in West Allis, Wisconsin.

Kamala Harris’ Record on Catholic Issues: What You Need to Know

Harris has consistently promoted abortion, scrutinized Catholic judicial nominees, and opposed pro-life pregnancy centers and activists. She has also embraced gender ideology as well as transgender and contraception mandates that have, at times, jeopardized religious freedom.