The Catholic stated that justification was the act of God declaring us to be righteous once we had believed in God, repented of our sins and began to live a righteous life. Once this happens, God declares us righteous. The Protestant was quick to point out that this was, in his view, a "works" salvation.
His response was that God calls us righteous, not because of our walk, but because of Jesus' righteousness. In other words, we are declared justified, or right in the eyes of God, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done on our behalf. The Catholic was quick to point out that God was therefore calling someone righteous who wasn't. For this, this was an issue.
I agreed with the Protestant that the Catholic view represented above sounds too much like Pelagianism, the idea that we work for our salvation. However, I also agreed with the Catholic's critique of the Protestant. Will God truly call someone righteous who is not?
This is why I land somewhere in the middle, though perhaps it is in actuality far from both. I believe that when God brings a sinner from the world of darkness and adopts the person into His family, He is declared righteous. This isn't, though, because God "sees Jesus' righteousness" instead of our unrighteousness, but that Jesus righteousness is imparted into us. This is still not a works salvation, because God gives me the righteousness of Christ. I am inwardly regenerated, and made into a new creation. Neither, though, is it that God declares me to be something which I am not. I am indeed righteous, as the work of Christ on the Cross and through the Resurrection has been worked out in my heart.
This was something I stated in the class. Then, a few weeks later, I was reading "John Wesley's Concept of Perfection" by Leo George Cox, and came across this.
“Yet though these two works are distinct [justification and sanctification], God does not justify any whom He does not sanctify. God is not deceived in those He declares to be righteous, for He does not account them to be otherwise than they are. The consequence is that God does not justify any except whom He sanctifies, at least initially, with the result that one who is declared righteous actually is made righteous at the same time, although the two acts of God are different works.” Leo George Cox
This sums up my thinking on the matter, and gives me an even greater appreciation for what Jesus has done for me and in me. What an awesome God we serve!