What Is Objective Justification?
“By the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” — Romans 5:18b
“To wit that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the Word of Reconciliation” — II Corinthians 5:19
Shortly after the turn of the century (into the 1900’s), a doctrinal controversy raged between the Missouri Synod and the old Norwegian Synod. It was called the Intuitu Fidei Controversy. The Latin phrase intuitu fidei means “in view of faith,” and it involved the doctrine of Predestination. The Norwegian Synod (later ALC) theologians contended that a person’s predestination to eternal salvation was determined in view of his faith through God’s foreknowledge. In other words they taught that, in eternity, God peered into the future and foresaw this person or that person coming to faith in Christ Jesus as his Savior and, in view of that faith which He foresaw in these individuals, God predestined them to eternal salvation. His act of predestination would then not be determined by that which the Bible plainly teaches (e.g. Ephesians l:4; Romans 11:5), namely, by God’s grace alone in and through Christ’s work of redemption, but by something which man would do, namely, believe in Jesus as his Savior. Thus, faith in Jesus itself was made a work because of which God elected or predestined a person to heaven and eternal life —which teaching is still held today in the ALC (which is now part of the ELCA). Of course we know that neither our believing (which is called a “good work” in Philippians l:6) nor any other good works which we do —which God performs in us and through us, by means of the Gospel— help us get to heaven or in any way caused God, in eternity, to elect or predestinate us to eternal salvation. Such a notion simply cannot stand in the light of such Scripture passages as II Timothy l:9 and Ephesians 2:8–9. Our faith does not save us because we do the believing, but rather because of that to which our God‑given faith clings, namely, the object of our faith: Christ and His precious work of redemption.
This very same error regarding faith, namely, as something which persuades God to act, is brought also into the doctrine of justification or the forgiveness of sins. The old error of intuitu fidei finds its way, by many so‑called Lutherans, also into the chief doctrine of the Christian religion when they teach, as it were, that people’s sins are forgiven in view of their faith — as though their act of faith has something to do with the fact that their sins are forgiven, or moves God to forgive their sins! They actually believe in something which is completely subjective or personal. They believe in their faith (inside of them) for the forgiveness of their sins, rather than in the forgiveness of sins which is set forth objectively in God’s Word without faith — much like the sectarians who believe in the Christ (inside of them) for their eternal salvation, instead of the Christ outside of them as He has plainly revealed Himself as the Savior of all people, whether they believe in Him or not. Likewise God has. in Christ Jesus, because of Christ’s work of redemption, forgiven the sins of the whole world, yes, of all people whether they believe it or not! When people make so much of their subjective (personal) faith as though it accomplishes in them Christ’s work of redemption and the forgiveness of sins, they are in grave danger, barring a blessed inconsistency, of falling from grace and eternal salvation!
How wonderful it is for us not to be directed to our faith for the forgiveness of our sins, which would forever leave us in uncertainty, but to the plain Word of God which gives our faith something absolutely solid to cling to, such as “God was, in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19), and “There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22‑24), and “In whom [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians l:7), and “[Christ] was delivered for [i.e. because of] our offenses, and was raised again for [i.e. because of] our justification” (Romans 4:25). Nothing is more clear than the Word of God itself, and woe be unto those who wrest it to their own destruction (ll Peter 3:2)!
Look carefully at II Corinthians 5:19 above and answer the following questions: Which words refer to Christ’s work of redemption? (“in Christ”). What did God do as the result of Christ’s work of Redemption? (He “reconciled the world unto Himself.”) What stood in the way of the world’s reconciliation with God? (the world’s sins). How then, in Christ, could God reconcile the world unto Himself? (by “not imputing [charging] their trespasses unto them”). This is what makes the forgiveness of your sins certain!
Take the next passage quoted above (Romans 3:22–24) and answer the following questions: How many people are sinners? (“all” people). How many people have come short of God’s glory? (“all” people). How many people’s sins are forgiven freely by God’s grace? (“all” people’s). With what is the justification of all people inseparably connected? (“the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”). Whom has Christ redeemed? (“all” people — ll Cor. 5:15, even for those who deny Him II Peter 2:1).
Read once again Ephesians l:7 above. What do we and all people have in Christ? (“redemption through IIis blood”). What else do we and all people have through the redemptive work of Christ? (“the forgiveness of sins”). Is faith mentioned as a determining factor for the forgiveness of sins? (No, but “according to the riches of His grace.”)
Looking at the plain words of Romans 4:25 (see above), answers are given to the following questions: Why was Christ delivered up on the cross? (“[because of] our offenses”). According to the analogy of faith, to whom must the “our” refer? (It must refer not to Christians only but to all people.) For what purpose was Christ raised again? (“[because of] our justification”), as the Father placed His stamp of approval upon Christ’s work of redemption by raising the Lord Jesus from the dead; and through Christ’s vicarious atonement (His satisfaction of God’s justice by His active and passive obedience), He declared the whole world righteous and pronounced the forgiveness of sins upon all mankind. This is called objective (or general, universal) justification. You will notice, in the light of the Scriptures referred to above, that there can be no subjective (or personal) justification without objective justification; no personal justification by faith without a general justification for Christ’s sake outside of faith.
Some Lutheran church bodies, as well as individual Lutheran pastors and professors, reject objective justification and teach only subjective justification. They like to appeal to the Lutheran Confessions to substantiate their anti‑Scriptural position. Patterning their corrupt use of the Lutheran Confessions after the consecrationists and distributionists (who endeavor to interpret the words of the confessions without taking into consideration the historical context), they let the sola fide (by faith alone) which is used throughout the confessions, be the norm for their rejection of objective justification. It is, however, clear that the authors of our confessions, especially the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, are using the term sola fide (by faith alone) in direct opposition to salvation by works taught in the Roman Catholic Church. It was the farthest thing from the minds of our confessors to think of faith without an object, namely, without the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ and pronounced upon all people by God Himself. When will self‑styled theologians ever come to their senses and recognize that the Confessions are not the norm by which Scripture must be interpreted, but that the Confessions must be permitted only, in the Iight of their historical context, to reflect what is clearly taught in the Bible?? Nothing that man writes can make the Bible more clear. The Scriptures alone “are able to make [us] wise unto salvation,” and are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction,” and “for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:15– 16). With regard to every matter of Christian faith and life we must, therefore, confess in the words of Psalm 119:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
— P. R. B.