Is the World Saved Apart from Faith?

A BJS reader asks, “Does the teaching of Objective Justification (at least as I have heard it explained on the BJS threads) – that the “world” [all mankind] are in reality justified and forgiven by Christ’s universal atonement – also mean then that the world [all mankind] are in reality also SAVED, and this, apart from faith?

If so – that they are saved – then how can that be apart from faith? And if not, how can it be that all are not saved though they are in reality justified and forgiven by objective justification? I believe this gets to the heart of the matter and would be helpful in straightening out some confusing dialogue”.

Thank you to the BJS reader who asked the above, good, questions. I would like to restate the questions for the sake of clarity, and then I will provide explanations for any follow up discussion.

There are three questions being asked,

  1. Does objective justification mean that the world (all of mankind) is in reality saved apart from faith?
  2. If the teaching of objective justification asserts that all of mankind is saved apart from faith, then what does that mean?
  3. And, if not, how can the whole world be justified and forgiven in reality and yet not be saved?

Invariably, as we discuss this topic, we must touch upon the scriptural doctrine of salvation, or soteriology.  Therefore, a few terms should be defined before directly answering these three questions, which I believe will assist us in indirectly finding some good answers for these questions and help us gain a better understanding of what is expressed by the teaching of objective justification. The key terms to be defined are redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, atonement, and justification.

A good starting point in finding definitions for these terms is to look them up at the LCMS Christian Cyclopedia (link here).  As we look over these definitions, keep in mind that all these terms address the same truth; that is, the truth of the Holy Gospel. These terms express that same truth from different angles, if you will. For example, when we use the term “justification” we are describing our standing before God in a legal sense. When we use the term “atonement,” stressing that God, for Christ’s sake, doesn’t hold the sins of mankind against it, we are talking sacrificially about God’s response to the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Again, each term is talking about the same reality, but different facets of it.

What does redemption mean? According to the Christian Cyclopedia, “…the term stands for recovery from sin and death by the obedience and sacrifice of Christ, who is therefore called the Redeemer (Jb 19:25; Is 59:20. Cf. Mt 20:28; Ro 3:24; 1 Co 6:20; Gl 3:13; 4:4–5; Eph 1:7; 1 Ti 2:5–6; 1 Ptr 1:18).

What does reconciliation mean? “Synonymous with atonement in the sense of the act of reconciling and so restoring friendly relations. In the sense of state of being reconciled it is the result of atonement” (ibid.).

Another way of stating this is that reconciliation means that God, for the sake of Christ, is at peace with the party He is reconciled to. In this case, and from the Scriptures, the world (2 Cor 5:18-19; Romans 5:10-11). See the definition for the term atonement below.

What does propitiation mean? “The Gk. word (hilasterion) tr. “propitiation” Ro 3:25 is tr. “mercy seat” Heb. 9:5; the Heb. equivalent (kapporeth) Ex 25:17 denotes the cover, or lid, of the ark of the covenant. Once a yr. the high priest sprinkled the blood of sacrifice on this lid to make propitiation for the sins of the people. This was a type of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ” (ibid.).

Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, or as John the Baptizer put it, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; see also 1 John 2:2).

What does atonement mean? “Term employed by the KJV in tr. of Gk. katallage, Ro 5:11, often otherwise “reconciliation,” Ro 5:10; 2 Co 5:19. At-one-ment properly reflects the core significance of the Gk. term, a mutual exchange, a drawing together of parties previously separated. Behind the concept lies the situation that the fall of mankind into sin, and the idolatry and rebellion of the individual sinner, set up a cleavage bet. God and man (Is 59:2) to which God’s ultimate reaction is withdrawal, separation potentially permanent (Ro 1:18–32; Mt 8:12). Atonement is removal of this separation” (ibid.).

What does justification mean? “Judicial act of God which consists of non-imputation of sin and imputation of Christ’s righteousness” (ibid.).

Christ took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine, and “took them away.” i.e. they are forgiven in Christ. Judicially speaking, God responded to the sacrifice of Jesus and removes the legal demands of the Law, lifting the bar against the world and changing the status of the human race from one of condemnation to one of justification for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ (Col. 1:19-20; Ro 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:13-19). What I have just described is God’s action in response to Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Another action which occurs, and which we Lutherans also love to talk about because it is the chief article of the Christian faith, is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the individual by God’s grace alone through faith alone. Here we can talk about particular sinners being justified, having Christ’s righteousness imputed to them, as God’s action in response to the gift of faith given to the individual through Word and Sacrament (Gal. 3:18-22; Eph 2:8; Ro 3:28, 5:10-11).

The above definitions aren’t meant to be exhaustive, but offer a good starting point for meaningful discussion of the topic of objective justification. Of course, some may quibble with the definitions I have offered, and in particular with that of justification, but what we are after here is answering the three questions at the top of this article and to that I now turn.

The first question is asking if objective justification teaches that everyone in the world is saved and this apart from faith. The short answer is, of course, no. The Scriptures and our Lutheran confessions are quite clear in teaching that individuals are justified by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ. It is a mistake to confuse the doctrine of justification, and in particular the teaching of the objective nature of justification, with the false teaching that everyone in the world is saved.

The false teaching that everyone in the world is saved, or will ultimately be saved and go to heaven, is called “Universalism.” Those who teach universalism, typically do so because they believe it is impossible for an all loving God to eternally punish individuals in hell. Despite what the Scriptures say, the Universalist contends that God’s justice demands that all of the human race will be ultimately restored to righteousness and spends eternity with God. The “universality” of justification, as we will see below, does not mean that each particular person in the world is saved and going to heaven.

The second question is a restatement of the first and is quickly answered with the answer to question number one. No, the doctrine of objective justification does not tell us that the world is “saved apart from faith.”

Question number three actually gets to the heart of the matter. How can the whole world be justified and forgiven in reality and yet not be saved? I think this question is a good example of the confusion some have regarding what is being stated by the doctrine of justification, in particular concerning the objective nature of justification, and what it means for an individual person to have saving faith, as opposed to a historic faith which the Scriptures tell us even the Devil and his minions have (James 2:19).

When we talk about a particular person being “saved,” what we are actually talking about is the forgiveness of sins received by a person, or “saving faith.” The Apostle Paul writes about this “saving faith” to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Saving faith receives Christ and the results of His work. That is, when we talk about a particular person being “saved” we are describing the response of an individual to the Gospel. We typically describe this response as a person being stricken by the law and with God given contrition of heart over sins, receives through faith the forgiveness of their sins. Here we must acknowledge that there is something actual, something real, which is passively received by the repentant sinner. Indeed, what is being offered in the preaching of the Gospel, and the Sacraments, is the forgiveness of sins which can only be received in faith. Nonetheless, real forgiveness is offered and not a conditional forgiveness; meaning that what is offered is not contingent upon the person’s inclination, or disposition, towards God’s free gift. Actual forgiveness of all sins is being offered: the gift is real whether the person hearing the gospel believes it or not.

What is expressed by the teaching of objective justification is that there is a real, and actual (not a mere potentiality), forgiveness of sins being extended to all humankind, because Christ fully took away the sins of the whole world through His perfect obedience to His Father in His death and resurrection. There are many ways to explain this, but a good analogy of this reality of the forgiveness of sins of the whole world in Christ, is the Lord’s Supper.

At the Supper we Lutherans understand that we receive with our mouths bread, wine, Christ’s body, and His blood. None of these things are mere symbols and neither are any of them just a spiritual eating. We actually eat the body of Christ and drink His blood, receiving the forgiveness of sins. Now, the promise of God, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mat 26:28), is attached to the sacrament and not to the individual’s disposition towards it. In other words, the forgiveness of sins is there with the body and blood of Christ whether you or I believe it, or not. Another way of saying this is that the forgiveness of sins is an objective reality independent of what we believe, or think. What we are then talking about, at this point, is the objective nature of the Lord’s Supper, or its universality.  Similar things could be said about Holy Baptism and also about the preaching of the Word, but hopefully I am making a clear point with the example of the Lord’s Supper.

Just as something real is offered to all those to whom the Lord’s Supper is given, something real is offered to all those who hear the Gospel message and that is the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, God’s pardon for the consequences of sin is freely offered. And, once again just like in the Lord’s Supper, what is being offered is not contingent upon the individual’s disposition towards it. This point can also be expressed as, having faith doesn’t actualize the forgiveness of sins being offered to a particular person any more than the erroneous view that a person’s having faith suddenly creates the real body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine.

In wrapping up my answer, we can talk about the entire human race, or the world, being justified—just as the Scriptures do (Ro 4:25)—as the action God took in response to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead where the Law is concerned, as the following explains. The Law condemns the whole world (saint and sinner alike) and, because of Christ and what He did, the Law now has no hold on the whole world, since God receives the sacrifice of His Son which atones for each and every sin and thereby the requirements of the Law are fully satisfied by Christ. When we talk about the sins of the world being absolved, or forgiven, we are talking about a reality that holds for the world in Christ. That reality is excellent news for everyone, since it means we are not justified by our own works of the Law, but by God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Christ Jesus. Indeed, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us and received by faith alone; thereby we are justified by what we Lutherans like to describe as the “alien righteousness of Christ” which is outside us, or not our own.

Without God’s favorable response to His Son’s sacrifice for the whole world, there would be no salvation at all; there would be no forgiveness of sins offered to all. This is to say, there would be nothing real for faith to receive and cling to. When we talk about the objective nature of justification, the terms used relate to Christ’s work as it satisfies the legal requirements of the Law with the whole of mankind in view. That is, the record of debt against the world, with all its legal demands, has been blotted out (Col 2:14), the sins of the world absolved, and this pardon is now freely offered to all in the Word and Sacraments. Some will receive through God given faith this gift to their joy, while others will sadly continue to reject this gift to their own damnation (Mark 16:16).

I hope I have satisfactorily answered the reader’s questions and at the same time offered something constructive to the ongoing discussion over the objective nature of justification.


Suggestions for further reading.

Pieper, Francis, Christian Dogmatics: “Objective and Subjective Reconciliation,” volume 2, pp. 347-360, Concordia Publishing House, 1951

Marquart, Kurt E., The Reformation Roots of “Objective Justification”, CTSFW document, 1985

Preus, Robert D., Justification and Rome: An Evaluation of Recent Dialogues, Concordia Publishing House, 1997

Preus, Robert D., Perennial Problems in the Doctrine of Justification, CTQ Quarterly volume 45, Number 3, July 1981

Theses on Justification, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, May 1983



Is the World Saved Apart from Faith? — 119 Comments

  1. If you give up universal objective justification – then Calvin is right and Luther is wrong – atonement is truely limited. If atonement is truely limited, then Calvin is right and Luther was wrong and double predestination is truely correct. If double predestination is correct, then it goes without saying that the sacraments are really signs and symbols of something else, because foregiveness of sins has already been granted to the elect, and the damned have no hope. If you give up universal objective justification then you give up any certainty of being saved – because no one can know in the temporal realm who was chosen from eternity. Evidence of godly conduct is the only real difference – and how does anyone ever know that they are good enough? They can’t.

    If you give up requiring personal faith – that people actually believe that Christ died for them – then you have just given up the church. There is no salvation, no redemption, no forgiveness of sins apart from Christ. Partaking of the sacraments just heaps more judgement on them – they are pretenders acting as if they believed and needed forgiveness when they are prideful thinking themselves above contempt and God’s just wrath.

  2. Is reconciliation the same as being justified (imputed with Christ’s righteousness)? Essentially, are justification and reconciliation synonyms?

  3. @ryan gosling #5

    Please see the post above where Chemnitz answers your question regarding synonyms…

    As far as your separate question over the imputation of righteousness to particular people, the answer is no. Universal reconciliation, (aka objective justification). does not mean each particular person has the righteousness of Christ imputed to them. And this, because not every particular person receives Jesus and the forgiveness of sins.

  4. @Jim Pierce #6

    @ryan gosling #5

    This is where Meyer and the rest can not seem to make a connection. (And I was wavering on this for a time :) ) The wrath of God was taken out in full force on Jesus Christ for all men until that wrath was appeased in His death. Now justice (by the resurrection) stands in Jesus Christ for all men. (Romans 5:18) Christ as the propitiator for all men is received in faith (Justification by Faith), or rejected because of a love for one’s sins and a rejection of Christ’s justice obtained at the cross for all.

  5. Rev. Paul T. McCain :
    Bickel, fortunately, is no longer a pastor in The LCMS.
    If he were, I’d gladly bring him up on doctrinal charges and make sure he is expelled.
    “Let’s not talk too much about the Cross, the Resurrection, the world’s redemption and the atoning once for all sacrifice for sins. Let’s focus instead on “faith” as the human response to God’s grace.”
    With their own words, they condemn themselves.

    Rev. McCain – You do yourself dirty by making up your own quotation and then attributing it to me. That’s nasty by any decent standard. You should be ashamed of yourself. But, I don’t think at this point, that depth of humility is within your puerile grasp.

    Pastor emeritus Nathan Bickel

  6. @Pastor emeritus Nathan Bickel #8

    If this is an incorrect view of your position, then please tell us how it is in error. By everything you have stated and supported on various other blogs as well as here, I don’t see anything wrong with Rev. McCain’s assessment.

    It would be nice to see you fellas actually address the ‘in view of faith’ issue instead of just making passing references.

  7. THE FOLLOWING POSTS ARE NOT MY STATEMENTS – I offer them for discussion as I have listened quite carefully to this debate and still sense a bit of speaking past one another. Hopefully this will help to bring a little structure to the discussion and identify real areas of departure and agreement. The source at this time will remain anonymous, primarily to keep this discussion as objective as possible.

    By the way .. I would like to bold all the statements but cannot find a way to do so in this viewer. I tried to bold outside in a Word document and then cut and paste into this viewer but it did not come through in bold. What am I missing? Thanks!

    The statements now follow:


    I agree … that the terminology “objective/subjective justification” is less than ideal since “subjective justification . . . is every whit as objective as objective justification.”

    On the other hand, when Calvinists use the same terminology, it expresses their meaning very well: “Passive or subjective justification takes place in the heart or conscience of the sinner.” The Reformed reject universal grace, hence cannot mean general justification by “objective justification;” and “subjective justification” means for them something experiential—precisely what it does not mean for Lutherans. Biblically, justification is God’s act, which faith receives or believes, but does not feel or “experience.”

    To avoid these problems, it would be best to retain the more traditional usage, which spoke of the “general justification” of the world in Christ and of the “personal justification” of individual sinners through faith alone. This corresponds exactly to the biblical distinction between God’s own completed reconciliation of the world to Himself in Christ (II Cor. 5:19) and our reconciliation to him by faith (v. 20).

  8. @James Gier #10

    Thank you for citing from a good paper on this subject. I am going to link to the paper, since I don’t see any good reason not to point out that it was written by Kurt Marquart. Sainted professor Marquart is a superb theologian.

    The short paper he wrote can be found at the following link:

    What you quote Mr. Gier is correct, but only part of “the story” as it were. Marquart goes on in his paper to defend the biblical basis of objective and subjective justification.

    You should also notice that Marquart continues to use the terms “objective justification” and “subjective justification.” He doesn’t abandon the terms. Indeed, those who reject the scriptural truths expressed by those terms like to begin their “attack” by explaining how worthless the terms are and that they are a recent invention and so should be discarded (you can see some of that in this thread). Perhaps these terms aren’t the best to use, but the more I study this subject, the more convinced I am that abandoning these terms is the proverbial nose of the camel in the tent towards abandoning the Scriptural truths they signify.

    At any rate, Marquart doesn’t abandon these terms, even though he was willing to concede that they weren’t “ideal.”

  9. @Jim Pierce #11

    I was hoping to keep the discussion as objective as possible. It is Marquart’s paper that I cited from and plan to cite more since he provides a very good structured approach to the topic. Therefore I am not leaving anything out. I am simply laying the groundwork as he did which I found very helpful in grasping the nuances of this teaching, especially in hope of finding a unity that has thus far been fleeting in the discussions, perhaps for valid reason in actual differences of belief, or as a matter of speaking past or over one another.

    The next statement:

    The best starting point is Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration) III:25: The only essential and necessary elements of justification are the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith which accepts these in the promise of the Gospel (Tappert, p. 543, compare Apology IV:53, p. 114).
    We may put these essential ingredients of justification into a list, as follows:

    The grace of God
    The merit of Christ
    The promise of the Gospel

    The first three items constitute what was later called “objective justification.” The addition of faith completes the list, which thus defines justification in the full, normal biblical and ecclesiastical sense and usage. This ordinary sense of the word is labeled “subjective” (individual, personal) only in contexts requiring a distinction from the special usage of “objective” (general, universal) justification. But why did such a distinction arise at all?

    By stripping away the surrounding words, we obtain the following sequence in Augsburg Confession IV (German): “we receive forgiveness of sin . . . when we believe. . . that for [Christ’s] sake our sin is forgiven” (Tappert, p. 30).

    Apology IV explains, repeatedly, that “when a man believes that his sins are forgiven because of Christ and that God is reconciled and favorably disposed to him because of Christ, this personal faith [fides specialis] obtains the forgiveness of sins and justifies us” (45, compare 48, 56, 62, 82, 103, 178, 195, 279, 299 [garbled in Tappert, p. 153], 345, 379, 381, 382, 386, and XII, 45, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63-65, 74, 76, 88, and XIII, 21).

    The pattern is clear and consistent throughout: the Gospel or absolution offers not a conditional, future prospect, but a perfected, past and present reality. God already is gracious, merciful, propitious, reconciled in Christ, and freely offers this ready forgiveness or grace in the Gospel. To believe this Gospel or absolution is to believe oneself forgiven, justified, accepted. Forgiveness exists “objectively” already before faith. Faith does not create forgiveness but only receives, accepts, appropriates it. Absolution is prior to, and creates faith, not vice versa (Augsburg Confession XII, 5; Apology XII, 42). The Gospel “offers forgiveness and justification, which are received by faith” (Apology IV, 62). And: “forgiveness of sins is the same as justification” (IV, 76).

  10. @James Gier #12

    I certainly appreciate your not wanting to see any further “talking past’ one another. As for “objectivity” gained by not mentioning Marquart’s name, I don’t think any objectivity has been lost in pointing to his paper. In fact, I believe it is helpful for those who wish to discuss this issue, and his paper, with you, Mr. Gier.

    Thank you for the quotes and for adding to this discussion. I look forward to reading any responses to your posts and your follow up comments.

  11. We who teach and defend objective/subjective justification, do so with the conscious knowledge that we are teaching and defending the same doctrine which Kurt Marquart taught and defended. We have drawn the attention of those who deny objective/subjective justification to Marquart’s writings on this subject on many occasions. They reject his doctrine. So, Kurt Marquart’s essay is not a potential clarifying “bridge” between the two positions. It is, rather, one of the best and most helpful articulations of our Confessional Lutheran position. Those who reject it, demonstrate that they are not merely disagreeing with poorly-stated or misleading expressions of this doctrine, but with the very essence of the doctrine – as stated in the most evangelical and balanced way.

  12. Thank you both Jim and David. I do understand your points. At the same time it still remained unclear to me with all the references and rhetoric penned on this matter at just what points exactly are there disagreement and on what biblical basis. For those of you who have argued this issue for some time they are more than apparent and can be stated with less detail and more inference with understanding between the parties. But it may not be as clear to others and so I have put out statements, of which I do understand, in hope of finding those departure points. Thanks for your understanding and patience with me.

    One other thing … it is not my intention to post the entire paper by Dr. Marquart, but what I see as those pointed statements relevant to the heart of this discussion. Since you, Jim, linked the paper to this thread, any who would like to read the whole work may do so.

    For those who disagree with the posted statements, perhaps you could help me better understand your position. Thank you.

    (Does anyone know how to bold a text in this viewer?)

    Another statement:

    The pattern is clear and consistent throughout: the Gospel or absolution offers not a conditional, future prospect, but a perfected, past and present reality. God already is gracious, merciful, propitious, reconciled in Christ, and freely offers this ready forgiveness or grace in the Gospel. To believe this Gospel or absolution is to believe oneself forgiven, justified, accepted. Forgiveness exists “objectively” already before faith. Faith does not create forgiveness but only receives, accepts, appropriates it. Absolution is prior to, and creates faith, not vice versa (Augsburg Confession XII, 5; Apology XII, 42). The Gospel “offers forgiveness and justification, which are received by faith” (Apology IV, 62). And: “forgiveness of sins is the same as justification” (IV, 76).

  13. To all in this discussion … is there as yet from what I have posted any disagreement in what Dr. Marquart has stated?

    Another statement that clarifies the original concern from which this teaching came to address:

    At just this point the Roman adversaries, particularly Cardinal Bellarmine, thought they had found a fatal flaw and self-contradiction in the Lutheran system: You say that you are justified by faith, they argued, yet you also say that faith must believe that one has been forgiven already; so when is one forgiven or justified then, before faith, or in faith? Surely both can’t be true.
    This objection compelled the Lutherans to explain in what sense forgiveness exists already prior to faith, as its object, and to distinguish that from the actual reception, possession, and enjoyment of the pre-existing treasure, which happens only in faith. Calov’s classic commentary on the Augsburg Confession (1665) put it like this:
    [Justification] is the object of faith in that it is offered by God in the Gospel; it is the effect [of faith], to put it thus, in so far as grace having been apprehended by faith, the forgiveness of sins happens to us by that very act.

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