Aquinas: Two Ways of Christ’s Reconciliation of Man
It is important to ask if sin is an ontological reality rather than an exclusive legal reality. To ask this is also to ask if man’s relationship to God is effected by the nature of man’s reflecting God’s own image. Aquinas’ distinction in two ways is helpful:
On the part of Christ he [Paul] writes of two ways through which Christ has made us pleasing [to God]. For within us there exists two antagonisms to the divine good pleasure, the stains of sin and the punishing injuries [sin inflicts]. Justice is as opposed to sin as life is to death, so that through sin, having departed from our likeness to God, we cease being pleasing to God. But through Christ he has made us pleasing. First, indeed, by abolishing the punishment; and in reference to this he says that in Christ we have redemption from the slavery of sin. “You know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver, from the vain manner of life handed down from your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled” (1 Pet. 1:18*-19). “Thou hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood” (Apoc. 5:9).
Secondly, we are said to be redeemed because through Christ we are freed from a slavery in which we were caught as a result of sin without ourselves being capable of fully making satisfaction. By dying for us, Christ has satisfied the Father and thus the penalty of sin was abolished.19 Whence he says unto the remission of sins. “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn.1:29). “Thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise again from the dead, the third day; and that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name” (Lk. 24:46) (Commentary on Ephesians).
Christ has restored the image of God in man (ontological) and removed the punishment due to man for breaking God’s trust (legal). Behavior effects personality. What you do effects who you are, not only individually but socially.