Justification is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls because the Christian faith is lost without it. We use four different adjectives to define the word justification: forensic, objective, universal, and subjective. These are not four justifications but different ways to help us understand this important teaching of Scripture. Forensic stresses that God declares me not guilty as in a courtroom; it’s a legal decree of God that changes my status. Objective stresses that justification was done without considering anything any human could do; it’s God’s free gift. Universal emphasizes that Jesus did this for all people. Subjective stresses that he gives me its benefits through faith.
The Q&A referenced two theologians, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. Calvin denied the universal aspect of justification, teaching that Jesus only died for believers. Arminius denied the objective nature of justification, teaching that God made salvation possible if you decide to invite Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior.
What are the implications for the sinner under each teaching regarding salvation and its certainty? Explain your answer.
- If Jesus died for only believers, am I one of them? Why should I do any mission work? How will I know who is and who is not justified?
- If God made salvation depend on my decision, then grace is not grace. I’m responsible and my salvation depends on me not on God’s free gift.
The comfort of justification
Since our Father in heaven accepted Jesus’ payment for our sin and credited it to all people, the teaching of objective justification is incredibly comforting. It is true whether one believes it or not. It is true whether one’s faith is strong or weak. It is true whether one feels it or not. What a comfort!
Read John 1:29; Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 4:10; and 1 John 2:2.
Note phrases that show justification is objective and universal and explain the comfort of these teachings.
- John 1:29: Jesus was sent to take away the “sin of the world” not a special group.
- Romans 5:18: The righteous activity of one person—the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus—has “resulted in justification” for all. He did it all; we only receive what he has done.
- 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was reconciling “the world” of sinners. All are included in spite of the unworthiness of all humans. That’s the message we wish to share.
- 1 Timothy 4:10: Justification is objective and accomplished by Jesus for “all people.”
- 1 John 2:2: The “whole world” is included in God’s justification. No one is excluded; no one can claim that they deserve it because they are better in God’s eyes.
List three reasons that the truth of objective justification helps you in outreach.
- It is a free gift of God to everyone, including the person you are trying to reach.
- It does not depend on us. You don’t have to be “holy,” religious, or anything else in order to be justified.
- Jesus has done everything already: “It is finished” (John 19:30).
- When we believe in God’s completed justification, we receive the gift God has given.
God’s desire for all
God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Does that mean everyone is going to heaven? No. People can reject this incredible gift. God gives us his justification through faith (Ephesians 2:8). We call this the subjective aspect of justification.
To say all will eventually go to heaven is the error of universalism. Universalism says that the biblical teaching of eternal damnation is incompatible with its concept of a loving God. A universalist would say, “We all worship the same God; we just refer to him by different names.”
Read John 14:6; Exodus 34:6,7; Acts 4:12; Galatians 5:4.
What misunderstandings about the Christian faith do universalists have?
Remember that universalists believe that everyone regardless of what they do or believe will be in heaven.
- John 14:6: One way through Jesus! No one enters heaven except through Jesus.
- Exodus 34:6,7: The free gift of justification flows from God’s abounding love and faithfulness. Those who reject his gift are left without it and will face his judgment.
- Acts 4:12: Salvation is found only in Jesus.
- Galatians 5:4: We cannot deserve justification by keeping God’s commands and leading a holy life. It is a free gift that changes us so we are grateful for what he has given us and want to do what God desires.
The Bible uses many beautiful pictures for the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing us to faith: conversion (literally, “being turned around”), being born again, being made alive, being enlightened, being called. What is your favorite picture?
Answers will vary.
Author: David Scharf
Volume 109, Number 05
Issue: May 2022
- Q&A: Is anger sinful? - 2023/05/31
- Q&A: How can parents encourage adult children who wander from the faith? - 2023/04/30
- Q&A: Does the doxology belong in the Lord’s Prayer? - 2023/03/31