I know we have kind of beaten the horse a bit with this issue, but I don’t ever get bored with this. Justification is always the issue. So in this article, I would like to talk about how Objective Justification is expressed simply in the proclamation of the Gospel.
What we know about the Bible is that it all centers around Christ, who He is, and what He did. So practically, all teachings of Scripture tumble down if the Bible’s message about Christ’s reconciliation of the world to God and His justification for all people is not true.
For one, how can a pastor forgive sins in Christ’s stead and pronounce with certainty the grace of God upon a sinner if he cannot see the sinner’s faith? If the pastor says to a sinner who inwardly does not have faith “I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” does the pastor as a result lie or say something untrue? Of course not! If that were the case, then God would be a liar. Sure, the sinner does not personally receive by faith the forgiveness and will be ripe for destruction if he continues in his unbelief, but that does not make God a liar. Rather, it makes the unbeliever the liar. (Rom 3:3ff) If the pastor says to someone, “This promise is for you,” but he doesn’t believe, will the pastor then say, “Well, I guess it wasn’t for you!”? Of course not! This article of faith is not merely theological handy work; it is not merely unneeded elaboration. It is the very heart of the Gospel that Jesus mandated to be preached to all nations.
Here is what the Old Norwegian Lutheran Synod president Herman Amberg Preus (1874) had to say on this topic when a seminary professor was denying this teaching of Objective Justification:
According to his new gospel the professor must preach that through his suffering and death Christ has only accomplished so much that God has now become willing to let his wrath cease and to be reconciled and to loose, confer grace, forgive, justify and open access to salvation, but that in actuality he can only do and does all this if man on his part fulfills the condition placed on him by God, namely that he is supposed to believe. And the thing which is thus supposed to be believed does not become this that God already has done this and is reconciled but that God will do it and will be reconciled when he sees the obedience and the good quality in man, that he believes.
This whole issue comes down to the preaching of the Gospel, that is, the preaching of the vicarious atonement for us, the objective redemption for us. This objective reality is proclaimed to us personally. Objective justification fills the Word with the assuring proclamation: “This redemption, this reconciliation, this justification, this forgiveness is for you; Christ is your righteousness.”
At the end of his Pentecost sermon from Acts 2, Peter says, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) Then Peter proclaims to them that this promise is “for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” (Acts 2:39) Notice how Peter first calls them to repentance; he then immediately presents them with the gift of baptism and the Holy Spirit; then he says who this promise is for. The promise is for everyone, but Peter does not start with that. Rather, he first says, “This promise is for you and your children.” This is the implication of Objective Justification, namely a personal proclamation: “for you.” Preaching Objective Justification is not merely preaching the fact that Jesus died for the sins of all and rose again for the justification of all, then letting the people connect the dots. It is more direct than that.
God justified me. He justified me by faith on account of the justification already won for me by Christ (this is what propter Christum per fidem means), offered to me, given to me, and, inseparable from His Word, delivered to me personally by the Gospel for faith and through faith. (Rom 1:16-17) Adolf Koeberle makes this point that Paul saw no separation of God’s act of redemption and his mission to proclaim it. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 :
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’
Paul received it to deliver it and proclaim it “for you.” Again, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and has given to us the Word of reconciliation.” God’s act of reconciling the world to Himself in Christ and His giving of the Word are perfectly united. Paul continues by uniting the office of the ministry to this Word of reconciliation. The office of the ministry cannot possibly be separated from the universal reconciliation that God accomplished for us in Christ. The primary task of the office of the ministry is to personally proclaim to people Objective Justification. And how is this done? It is done by preaching Christ for us.
Objective Justification teaches not only who justifies but whom He justifies. For the sake of Christ’s obedient suffering and death, God justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5). Objective Justification teaches to whom God gives this promise. As His Word proclaims, it is for all. Those who have faith receive it and are saved. Those who do not believe are condemned, and the wrath of God remains on them.
Justification is always the issue in preaching, because that is what Christ has commanded His pastors to preach. When the pastor preaches that “Christ died for your sins, and He rose again for your justification,” he is preaching Objective Justification; he is preaching the Gospel. May we always remember the power of God’s Word, and from where this message gets its efficacy, namely the Vicarious Atonement. May we always take comfort in the certainty of the promise. We can have certainty in it; the Resurrection proves it!