Some Clarifications in Articulating Objective Justification

March 11th, 2014 Post by

First, Objective Justification and Subjective Justification are not two different justifications, but rather two parts of the act of Justification.   My brother David has put it well:  Objective Justification = God justifies the sinner [through faith].  Subjective Justification = [God justifies the sinner] through faith.

agnusdei-lambofGod

Objective Justification refers to the work of God in Christ as well as the proclamation of the gospel and administration of the sacraments.  Subjective Justification refers to faith, which is created by that proclamation and receives the benefits.  Subjective Justification does not refer to the administration of the means of grace.  While it is true that when we speak of the application of the the accomplished act of Christ we certainly speak of faith, nevertheless the application of the righteousness of Christ  in the means of grace as such is objective.   God, in Christ, reconciles the world to himself… entrusting the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19).  It is all one motion.  This is why the pastor can pronounce absolution on a sinner even though he does not know for sure –outside of the sinner’s confession — if he truly has faith.  

Article three of the Formula of Concord lists the necessary parts of justification (SD III, 25): the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith, which receives the righteousness of Christ in the promise of the gospel.  The grace of God, the merit of Christ, and the promise of the gospel are all part of Objective Justification.  Faith receiving the righteousness of Christ refers to Subjective Justification.

Obviously the means of grace are involved when we discuss Subjective Justification, since it is in them that faith receives the righteousness of Christ.  Similarly, the plan and work of our redemption are discussed as well.  After all, they are not two different justifications.    However, when we speak of Objective Justification, we are not only speaking of what God did back then, but also what he declares today in the promise of the gospel.  When we speak of Subjective Justification, we are speaking specifically of faith receiving what is objectively given.  

The discussion of Objective and Subjective Justification is simply a distinction within one act.  God quenches our thirst.  This is one act.  Nevertheless, we can distinguish between God preparing the water and pouring it into our mouths on the one hand, and us receiving it in our mouths on the other.  It doesn’t change the fact that it is one act.  The fact that a sinner can know that he is justified through faith presupposes that the righteousness of Christ is accomplished for all sinners and offered to all sinners.  


Categories: Steadfast in Seminary Tags:




Rules for comments on this site:


Engage the contents and substance of the post. Rabbit trails and side issues do not help the discussion of the topics.  Our authors work hard to write these articles and it is a disservice to them to distract from the topic at hand.  If you have a topic you think is important to have an article or discussion on, we invite you to submit a request through the "Ask a Pastor" link or submit a guest article.


Provide a valid email address. If you’re unwilling to do this, we are unwilling to let you comment.


Provide at least your first name. Please try to come up with a unique name; if you have a common name add something to it so you aren't confused with another user. We have several "john"'s already for example.  If you have a good reason to use a fake name, please do so but realize that the administrators of the site expect a valid email address and also reserve the right to ask you for your name privately at any time.


If you post as more than one person from the same IP address, we’ll block that address.


Do not engage in ad hominem arguments. We will delete such comments, and will not be obligated to respond to any complaints (public or private ones) about deleting your comments.


Interaction between people leaving comments ought to reflect Christian virtue, interaction that is gracious and respectful, not judging motives.  If error is to be rebuked, evidence of the error ought to be provided.


We reserve the right to identify and deal with trollish behavior as we see fit and without apology.  This may include warnings (public or private ones) or banning.

  1. March 12th, 2014 at 09:48 | #1

    @John Rixe #50

    I would say it’s important because justification by faith is the chief doctrine by which the Church stands or falls. Any attack against its doctrinal integrity is unacceptable. To be fair, though, I used to think this debate was more or less equivocal too, until people started getting excommunicated over it. Then I realized that there were more nefarious forces at play here.

  2. John Rixe
    March 12th, 2014 at 09:57 | #2

    @Daniel Baker #1

    I’m sure no theologian, but it seems to me both sides retain the doctrinal integrity of justification by faith.

  3. March 12th, 2014 at 09:59 | #3

    Perhaps we could think about the OJ/SJ distinction in light of how we were taught to think about predestination, i.e., a doctrine of comfort for those who have been brought to saving faith in Christ. Romans 5 1-2 Since then it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future. J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

  4. Sven Wagschal
    March 12th, 2014 at 10:26 | #4

    Daniel Baker :
    @Sven Wagschal #46
    I don’t claim to be an expert, since I’m not, so I have to defer to actual experts on the topic. So as it pertains to 1 Corinthians 5:19, I think this source adequately demonstrates the fallaciousness of your claims: http://www.intrepidlutherans.com/2013/02/luthers-translation-of-2-corinthians-519.html

    The website is wrong. The author clearly does not understand Frühneuhochdeutsch. The whole verse is past tense (I have this bible directly in front of me), and it has always been past tense from Luther’s times till today. But seeing that it comes from Pastor Rydecki I am not astonished since he is a refuted errorist (see the excellent refutation of his theology by the ACLC).

    Sorry, my arguments still stand. I do not deny the significance of faith in Ro 5, but the whole argument there is clearly from the reconciliation of the world to the reconciliation of the specific sinner. Both verses are clear: the whole world *is* reconciled to God, but only believers profit from this reconciliation.

  5. Jais H. Tinglund
    March 12th, 2014 at 10:28 | #5

    John Rixe :
    95% of Lutheran laymen have never heard of UOJ.

    I do think, and most sincerely hope, that the vast majority of Lutheran laymen have actually heard of universal objective justification – although they may not have heard of that particular term.
    But I do think, and most sincerely hope, that they have heard their Pastor proclaim a full and complete salvation from God, fully accomplished in Christ, and given to them with His promise and declaration that He has brought all things to completion and made them righteous and right before His judgement – rather than that He will, if and when they believe it.

    And if they have, then they have indeed heard of universal objective justification. For that is what such preaching presupposes, whether those hearing it know it or not – and even whether the one preaching it knows it or not.

    And that which we call a rose, by any other name …

    I do share the sentiment I seem to sense with you, though, that the discussions on this particular topic tend to become tremendously tedious, redundant, and pointless, and more so than so many others …

  6. John Rixe
    March 12th, 2014 at 10:46 | #6

    @Jais H. Tinglund #5

    You may be right, but I don’t personally ever recall a pastor making a point of this distinction.  I just remember the fantastic message of:   “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)  The precise timing of this salvation never seemed to be an issue.

  7. Jais H. Tinglund
    March 12th, 2014 at 10:58 | #7

    @John Rixe #6
    My point is that it does not have to be specifically pointed out as a topic to be an important element in preaching.
    On the contrary, in fact; like so many other issues this has become a such only because it has been challenged.

  8. Pr. Jim Schulz
    March 12th, 2014 at 11:11 | #8

    When the article of justification by faith alone is spoken of as “objective justification” and “subjective justification,” it is too easy to fall into a way of speaking that there are two doctrines of justification rather than the one doctrine of justification by faith alone. The danger in treating “objective justification” as a stand-alone doctrine is to then downplay the significance of Word and Sacrament as the means by which God delivers forgiveness to us and faith which is the only way to receive forgiveness. The emphasis shifts away from the objective elements of sacramental ministry to effective communication techniques that depend more on making a person feel assured of forgiveness than in actually speaking the Word of forgiveness. With that mindset, for example, Holy Communion becomes just a pledge of forgiveness, not the actual delivery of forgiveness. The answer to the question “where can I find forgiveness of sins” is not “Word and Sacrament” but “a cross and declaration made 2,000 years ago. Just recall and meditate on that past event and that you have no sin because the ‘Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world.'”

    This theologian is an example of that. He calls objective justification – not objective AND subjective justification – THE gospel, the chief article on which the church stands or falls. In both essays there is little mention of the sacraments or the actual reception of forgiveness through faith.

    “The Primary Doctrine in Its Primary Setting: Objective Justification and Lutheran Worship” (1996):

    http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BivensPrimary.pdf

    “Getting The Right Message Out – And Getting It Out The Right Way With Special Emphasis on Public Worship and Classroom Instruction” (Presented in 2003, several sections are word-for-word from “The Primary Doctrine in Its Primary Setting: Objective Justification and Lutheran Worship”):

    http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BivensMessage.pdf

  9. Thomas
    March 12th, 2014 at 11:12 | #9

    @Daniel Baker #49

    I certainly did, but as usual you and those who agree with you refuse to accept the plain meaning of those texts.

  10. Joe Krohn
    March 12th, 2014 at 11:51 | #10

    @Pr. Jim Schulz #8
    Looks like your issue is with the WELS. And I can’t say I blame you. There are pastors who have a funny way of preaching it from my experience as an ex-WELsian. But you should take it up with them and not the LCMS. I believe the LCMS has a firmer grasp and articulation of the doctrine. Your WELS perception of the terminology clouds what has been presented; especially by those of the ilk of Marquart.

  11. March 12th, 2014 at 12:17 | #11

    @Pr. Jim Schulz #8

    Pr. Schulz,

    What you are claiming is tangential to the problems raised. If you read through the comments in this thread (which are much like those in other threads of the same topic matter), you will see that the problem is not terminological but fundamental to the doctrine on reconciliation. You have several people who reject the OJ/SJ distinction not because it is confusing, but because they reject the Scriptural teaching that God has reconciled the world to Himself. Indeed, we have one person who says that God is only reconciled to believers and another person who claims God is reconciled only to believers and that is also a process.

    The problem seems to be how the vicarious satisfaction of Christ is viewed. Did Christ utterly and completely make satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future? Is it finished as He said so on the cross? Did His sacrifice reconcile God to the whole world, or just to some? These are the real issues, Pr. Schulz.

    And, if those are the real issues, then I hope you can appreciate why dealing with them doesn’t require talking about Word and Sacrament, or even the subjective nature of justification, each time these problems are raised. It is possible, for example, to discuss the atonement without mentioning baptism or the Lord’s supper. Simply because both aren’t mentioned when discussing the atonement, doesn’t mean they have been rejected or are deemphasized in teaching.

  12. March 12th, 2014 at 12:57 | #12

    @Andrew Preus #4
    I think part of the problem is that, for those not steeped in the entire concept, Objective Justification sounds like universalism at first. Now, understanding it further, I realize that it’s not, but sometimes that clarification is not understood.

  13. Joel A. Dusek
    March 12th, 2014 at 13:22 | #13

    @Daniel Baker #1

    Daniel Baker :
    @John Rixe #50
    To be fair, though, I used to think this debate was more or less equivocal too, until people started getting excommunicated over it. Then I realized that there were more nefarious forces at play here.

    That’s a good point, Mr. Baker. What really should have been a healthy theological debate between pastors (and laymen who are interested) blew up due to those nefarious forces who despise debate.

    Mr. Krohn is right in that this modern incarnation of the debate started with The Holy See of Milwaukee, and specifically its Arizona-California District. However, both sides have appealed to the history and authority of several synods and writers, so it’s natural for it to spill over into this blog, LCMS, ELDoNA, and ACLC, etc.

    Justification by grace through faith is the central doctrine of the Church. The question of this debate, then, is: “Are all men justified?” One side answers, “Yes, but in two parts”, the other side answers, “No, only those with faith.” Debate on.

  14. wineonthevines
    March 12th, 2014 at 14:50 | #14

    @Andrew Preus #29 You wrote:

    “Christ’s resurrection took place as an actual absolution from sin. As God punished our sins in Christ, upon so He also, by the very act of raising Him from the dead, absolved Him from our sins imputed to Him, ans so He absolved also us in Him.” (Biblia Illustrata ad Rom 4:25; quoted in Pieper II:321).

    Just to clarify, this is what the quote says: “Christ’s resurrection took place as an actual absolution from sin. As God punished our sins in Christ, upon upon whom He laid them and to whom He imputed them, as our Bondsman, so He also, by the very act of raising Him from the dead, absolved Him from our sins imputed to Him, and so He absolved also us in Him.”

  15. John Rixe
    March 12th, 2014 at 14:59 | #15

    That’s a good point, Mr. Baker. What really should have been a healthy theological debate between pastors (and laymen who are interested) blew up due to those nefarious forces who despise debate.

    Good – this is what I’m trying to pin down.  Does God expect a low-information layman to pin down the precise date of his justification – Good Friday, Easter, baptism birthday, date of conversion, etc?   Can reasonable folks of goodwill have different opnions on this without being heretics?

    As HC would say:  “What difference does it make?”

    @J Dusek #13

  16. March 12th, 2014 at 15:10 | #16

    @John Rixe #15

    Concerning the Bereans: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

    Go hit the books, John!

    And quoting Hilary Clinton regarding Benghazi. Not good form.

  17. John Rixe
    March 12th, 2014 at 15:25 | #17

    @Jim Pierce #16

    Sorry – Are you saying then God expects me to pin down the date, and if I make a mistake I’m a heretic? :)

    Still don’t see the significance of the issue.

  18. Dave Schumacher
    March 12th, 2014 at 15:50 | #18

    Joel A. Dusek :
    @Daniel Baker #1

    Daniel Baker :
    @John Rixe #50
    To be fair, though, I used to think this debate was more or less equivocal too, until people started getting excommunicated over it. Then I realized that there were more nefarious forces at play here.

    That’s a good point, Mr. Baker. What really should have been a healthy theological debate between pastors (and laymen who are interested) blew up due to those nefarious forces who despise debate.
    Mr. Krohn is right in that this modern incarnation of the debate started with The Holy See of Milwaukee, and specifically its Arizona-California District. However, both sides have appealed to the history and authority of several synods and writers, so it’s natural for it to spill over into this blog, LCMS, ELDoNA, and ACLC, etc.
    Justification by grace through faith is the central doctrine of the Church. The question of this debate, then, is: “Are all men justified?” One side answers, “Yes, but in two parts”, the other side answers, “No, only those with faith.” Debate on.

    The one side does not answer, “Yes, but in two parts”.
    There is only ONE justification. It is an objective fact. This fact is either believed by faith, or rejected in unbelief. Those that believe have the benefits of this. Those that do not believe call God a liar, and are condemned – despite having had their sins forgiven in Christ.

  19. Bryan Lidtke
    March 12th, 2014 at 16:19 | #19

    I understand the need for clarity in doctrine, but this entire “debate” is rather tiring. Can we just say that Jesus died for everybody and whoever believes this goes to heaven? To me, the entire OJ/SJ terminology and the ensuing debate just confuses me instead of helping me. I apologize if this is too simplistic; after all, I am just a stupid layman.

  20. March 12th, 2014 at 16:21 | #20

    John Rixe :
    @Jim Pierce #16
    Sorry – Are you saying then God expects me to pin down the date, and if I make a mistake I’m a heretic?
    Still don’t see the significance of the issue.

    I’m just about ready to call you a heretic for the sake of name calling! :D

  21. John Rixe
    March 12th, 2014 at 16:54 | #21

    @Bryan Lidtke #19

    Can we just say that Jesus died for everybody and whoever believes this goes to heaven?

    Thank you, thank you. What more is there to say but Amen.

  22. March 12th, 2014 at 17:14 | #22

    John Rixe :
    @Bryan Lidtke #19
    Can we just say that Jesus died for everybody and whoever believes this goes to heaven?
    Thank you, thank you. What more is there to say but Amen.

    I’m down with that too. I just want to stop putting the egg before the chicken with such ridiculous notions that amount to “Everybody is already saved, whoever believes this gets to go to heaven.”

  23. Joel A. Dusek
    March 12th, 2014 at 17:46 | #23

    @Bryan Lidtke #19
    Amen.
    I think it was “low-information” layman, Brian! (I’m not sure if Mr. Rixe was accusing people of this or just using it as a general statement.)
    There are low- and high- information laymen, and low- and high-information clergy!

    Jim Pierce :
    Concerning the Bereans: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
    Go hit the books, John!
    And quoting Hilary Clinton regarding Benghazi. Not good form.

    It certainly does make a difference, and we should debate with a conclusion as the goal. We should all, always, be hittng “The Book”! The debate need not be contentious, though.

    Argh, Hillary, argh!

  24. March 12th, 2014 at 18:19 | #24

    @Joel A. Dusek #23

    I have found that debate always becomes contentious when not strictly moderated. There is a reason why fist fights broke out before councils. I suppose we can be thankful we aren’t before a council. More so, thank God our sins are forgiven!

  25. John Rixe
    March 12th, 2014 at 18:24 | #25

    (I’m not sure if Mr. Rixe was accusing people of this or just using it as a general statement.)

    Talking only about my low-information self – trying to calculate the date of my justification. :)

    “In the Bible it says they asked Jesus how many times you should forgive, and he said 70 times 7. Well, I want you all to know that I’m keeping a chart.” – HC

    @Joel #23

  26. Martin Diers
    March 12th, 2014 at 23:06 | #26

    Regarding 2 Cor. 5:19: show me a single example in the entire New Testament where that grammatical construct means “is” instead of “was”.

    It never does.

    I wrote this up in my paper on this subject available here: http://lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/papers/ObjectiveJustification_2013_mwd.pdf

    See page 15f.

  27. Sven Wagschal
    March 13th, 2014 at 07:34 | #27

    This is a most excellent paper.

  28. Thomas
    March 13th, 2014 at 08:49 | #28

    @Martin Diers #26

    I also enjoyed this paper. Very well done.

  29. March 13th, 2014 at 09:20 | #29

    Indeed, thank you for your paper, Pr. Diers!

  30. March 13th, 2014 at 14:52 | #30

    The issue isn’t so much what happened first, although that obviously inevitably becomes part of the discussion. The issue is more so what is based on what. Our faith must be based upon what God did and offers. And what God did and what he offers is an action. And if this action is appropriated through faith, then this action from the beginning pertains to faith. So it isn’t like there is the righteousness for all, but then there is the righteousness of faith. It is always a righteousness of faith because this is always how it is appropriated. This righteousness of faith is offered to all in the gospel, which corresponds to what Christ did. This I believe is an important point.

    What God offers in his gospel must correspond to what he did in Christ. And looking into what Christ did, the benefits of his resurrection must correspond to the benefits of his death. So if Christ bore the sin of all men on the cross, then it follows that his vindication in his resurrection is a vindication or absolution of the sin of all men. It follows then from that the the gospel offers forgiveness to all. This righteousness is always a righteousness of faith because that is how it was always meant to be received.

  31. Daniel
    March 13th, 2014 at 20:18 | #31

    I am not Lutheran, though I have always been a huge admirer of Luther and have read much by and about him. I have only been seriously reading contemporary Lutheran theology for about a year. Until then, I had never heard of universal objective justification.

    How is Universal Objective Justification differ from Unlimited Atonement? Why is the distinction so critical, as it seems to be?

    I have read some, but not all, the posts in this thread, which is becoming unwieldy, so if my question has been asked and answered, please accept my apologies. Just for the record, I have come to accept Unlimited Atonement.

  32. Sven Wagschal
    March 14th, 2014 at 01:15 | #32

    @Daniel #31

    The paper of Martin Diers in post #26 explains the correlation of universal atonement and objective justification.

  33. Daniel
    March 14th, 2014 at 15:35 | #33

    @Sven Wagschal #32
    Thank you for the pointer. Excellent article.

Comment pages
1 2 35923
If you have problems commenting on this site, or need to change a comment after it has been posted on the site, please contact us. For help with getting your comment formatted, click here.
Subscribe to comments feed  ..  Subscribe to comments feed for this post
Anonymous comments are welcome on this board, but we do require a valid email address so the admins can verify who you are. Please try to come up with a unique name; if you have a common name add something to it so you aren't confused with another user. We have several "john"'s already for example. Email addresses are kept private on this site, and only available to the site admins. Comments posted without a valid email address may not be published. Want an icon to identify your comment? See this page to see how.
*

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.