Scripture repeatedly refers to people as justified as soon as they come to faith rather than having to wait until baptism or some other work is later added to their faith (Mark 2:5, Luke 7:50, Acts 10:44-48, 19:2, etc.). These passages are problematic for Roman Catholic soteriology. The following are some comments made about one of these passages, Luke 18:10-14, by some Roman Catholic posters in recent threads (see here and here). I've seen other Catholics make similar comments about Luke 18.
"In Lk 18 there is nothing in reference to 'faith', much less 'faith alone', but rather humility (cf James 4:6ff)."
"The moral was about humility versus pride, not faith versus works."
"'He who humbles himself will be exalted'. That is not the language of imputed righteousness. God recognized the virtue of humility in his soul and made his soul righteous again. Combine that with what other Scripture says on humility....Also, I would argue that nothing in that parable indicates this was a conversion experience. Rather the two men already believed in God going to do their daily prayers, justification by imputation occurs once upon conversion to the faith."
"That parable NOWHERE attacks or denigrates or contrasts good works to faith, the parable nowhere mentions faith (both men already believed in God)"
Dmitry Chernikov wrote:
"The Pharisee was not justified not because the works are useless or unnecessary but because he lacked the inner understanding of his sins. Similarly, dead faith fails to justify. We can make the case that both the internal faith and charity and good works are required. In the final analysis, how can God know if you are sincere in your faith? How can even you know? You have to prove your faith through action."
Is this passage in Luke 18 about humility? Yes. It's also relevant to justification. A passage of scripture can address more than one issue. A sinner who's characterized by his sinful profession of tax collecting appeals to God's mercy and leaves the temple justified. Contrary to what Nick suggests, the tax collector doesn't seem to have been converted earlier. If he had been, he probably wouldn't have been portrayed as a tax collector seeking God's mercy, and the reference to his leaving the temple justified would lose its force, since he would have been justified prior to going to the temple, not just afterward. The concept that he repeatedly gained and lost his justification, working as a tax collector even though he had previously been justified, reads unimplied assumptions into the text. The common Evangelical reading of the passage is simpler and preferable.
Does the fact that both men "believed in God" prove that they both had faith? No, not in any relevant sense. Evangelicals don't define faith as belief in God. Justifying faith involves more than that.
How would God know that our faith is sincere? God is omniscient. He doesn't need to wait for outward works in order to know what occurs in the heart (Acts 15:8). In Acts 15, Peter is referring to the events of Acts 10, where believers received the Holy Spirit prior to being baptized. Similarly, it would be implausible to suggest that the tax collector in Luke 18 was baptized in the temple. Faith is assumed in Biblical passages about justification (Hebrews 11:6). Baptism and other works aren't. A passage like Luke 18 implies faith, but doesn't imply baptism or any other such work. The idea that Jesus would commend a tax collector who had no faith is ridiculous, whereas the concept that the tax collector wouldn't have been baptized in a Jewish temple isn't. The passage doesn't have to mention faith in order for faith to be implied. It would have to mention something like baptism in order for us to conclude that such a work was involved. The idea that faith and works are in the same category, as if both could be assumed with equal validity in this context, is ridiculous.
Arguing that something like the tax collector's humility is a work doesn't reconcile the passage with Roman Catholic doctrine. Roman Catholicism doesn't teach that it's normative for people to be justified at the time they attain humility. In Roman Catholic theology, you can have faith, humility, and other good attributes, yet remain unjustified until the time of your baptism. Protestants don't deny that those who are justified have attributes such as faith and humility. Nothing in Luke 18 is inconsistent with a Protestant view of how people are normally justified. But the passage is inconsistent with a Roman Catholic view of normative justification.
It's true that Luke 18 doesn't address imputation. But the passage doesn't need to address imputation in order to be inconsistent with Roman Catholic soteriology.