What is Objective Justification?

What is justification?

For Lutherans, the central teaching of the Bible is justification by faith apart from the works of the law. The classic expression of this doctrine is found in Article IV of the Augsburg Confession, “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for  Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins.  This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.” Lutheran theologians often speak of justification as having two aspects, objective and subjective. Objective justification is “God’s verdict of ‘not guilty’ upon the world for the sake of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.” Subjective justification means that the benefits of God’s verdict of ‘not guilty’ become yours through faith.


What is the basis of Objective Justification?

Jesus has redeemed all people. John the Baptist declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) This statement, which we sing in the “Agnus Dei,” declares Jesus to be “objective justification personified.” 1  Paul also wrote to Timothy, that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Timothy 2:6).

Where is Objective Justification taught in the Bible?

  • 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. “The only possible antecedent of ‘their’ in that sentence is ‘the world,’ and the world certainly includes all men.”2
  • Romans 4:25: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. “To refer to the words: Who was raised again for our justification,” to the so-called subjective justification, which takes place by faith, not only weakens the force of the words, but also violates the context.”3
  • Romans 3:22-24: There is no difference, for, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. The key word here is “all.” All have sinned and all those sinners are justified- there is no difference. “All have sinned. The verb ‘justified’ has the same subject, ‘all.”4
  • Romans 5:18: Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. “By raising [Christ] from the dead, [God] absolved Him from our sins which had been imputed to Him, and therefore He also absolved us in Him, that Christ’s resurrection might thus be the case and the proof and the completion of our justification.”5  “Because in Christ’s resurrection we are acquitted of our sins, so that they can no longer condemn us before the judgment of God.” 6

Do the Lutheran Confessions teach Objective Justification?

While the term “objective justification” does not appear in the Lutheran Confessions, the teaching of objective justification may be found there. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession teaches that a refusal to believe that our sins are forgiven by God is to call God a liar. “And what else is the refusal to assent to absolution but charging God with falsehood? If the heart doubts, it regards those things which God promises as uncertain and of no account. Accordingly, in 1 John 5, 10 it is written: He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son.” (Apology XII:62) “Therefore, if any one be not confident that he is forgiven, he denies that God has sworn what is true, than which a more horrible blasphemy cannot be imagined.” (Apology XII: 94) The Large Catechism teaches us that our sins are forgiven prior to our acceptance of such forgiveness. “Therefore there is here again great need to call upon God and to pray: Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses. Not as though He did not forgive sin without and even before our prayer (for He has given us the Gospel, in which is pure forgiveness before we prayed or ever thought about it). But this is to the intent that we may recognize and accept such forgiveness.” (LC III:88) The Formula of Concord declares, “That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.” (FC SD XI: 15).

How are Objective and Subjective Justification connected?

Objective justification is the basis for subjective justification. “An essential prerequisite of justification by faith, or of subjective justification, is the objective justification (the reconciliation) of all mankind.” 7  “If God had not in His heart justified the whole world because of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction, and if this justification were not offered , there could not be a justification by faith.” 8 “The relationship of objective justification to the other so-called justification can expressed in this way, that in the latter the appropriation of the former occurs.” 9 “Only those who believe the gospel are justified subjectively. But faith always has an object and that object is Christ Jesus and the objective justification He achieved.” 10

ELS Pastor Ron Pederson warns, “Both objective and subjective justification need to be taught together. If you leave one or the other out no one will be saved.” 11  His warning echoes that of former WELS President Carl Mischke, “A word of caution may, however, be in place. It may be well to remind ourselves not to divide ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ justification as if they were two totally different things which can be treated in isolation from one another. They are rather two sides of the same coin, and there can be no ‘saints’ or salvation without faith. To teach otherwise would indeed be universalism.” 12

What are the dangers of denying Objective Justification?

Denying objective justification may lead to falling into the error of limited atonement, that Jesus paid only for the sins of believers. “Not all men, indeed believe this glorious fact, wherefore, they do not become partakers of the righteousness which Christ earned for them and which God gives them in the gospel. But it is nothing else than Calvinism to deny, as so many still do, that God has in Christ ‘reconciled the world unto himself’ (2 Cor 5:19), atoned ‘for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2) and thus justified all men.” 13

Denying objective justification can turn faith into a human work. “All those who deny the objective justification (the objective reconciliation) will, if they be consistent, also deny that subjective justification is brought about by faith; they will have to regard faith as a complement of Christ’s merit- a human achievement.” 14

Denying objective justification makes faith a cause of justification. “It is not strange that those who emphasize man’s faith at the expense of the objective validity of Christ’s Gospel and His work of justification should go astray in the doctrines of Conversion and Election, so as to give man’s faith there also an entirely unscriptural importance.” 15

Denying objective justification diminishes the glory of the Gospel: “the ‘objective justification’ of all men is denied by many within the Lutheran churches and neglected by still more, so that the full light of the Gospel does not shine forth in their teaching and preaching.”16

1 Ronald Pederson, “Objective Justification,” Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. 52, Nos. 2-3 (June-September 2012), p. 163.
2 Siegbert Becker, “Objective Justification,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Winter 1986:4.
3 Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, II:321
4 Richard D. Balge, “Justification- a Brief Study.” Essay delivered at the Wisconsin Association of Lutheran Educators, Wisconsin Lutheran college, Oct. 26, 1984, 1.
5 Johann Gerhard, Annotations in epist. Ad romanos, Jena ed. 1666, p. 156
6 Johann Gerhard, Disputationes theologicae, Jena, 1655, XX, p. 1450
7 Pieper II: 508.
8 Ibid.
9 Ph. D. Burk, Rechtfertigung und Versicherung, p. 41
10 Pederson 166
11 Ibid.
12 C.H. Mischke, The President’s Newsletter WELS, June 1982.
13 George Lillegard, “Doctrinal Controversies of the Norwegian Synod,” Grace for Grace, Lutheran Synod Book Company, 1943, p. 149.
14 Pieper II: 508
15 Lillegard, Grace for Grace, p. 151.
16 Ibid.


What is Objective Justification? — 166 Comments

  1. This from Pr. David Jay Webber’s excellent compendium of theology abstracts:

    St. John Chrysostom on Justification

    Suppose someone should be caught in the act of adultery and the foulest crimes and then be thrown into prison. Suppose, next, that judgment was going to be passed against him and that he would be condemned. Suppose that just at that moment a letter should come from the Emperor setting free from any accounting or examination all those detained in prison. If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor’s favor. For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift. This is what happened in the case of the Jews. Look how it is. All human nature was taken in the foulest evils. “All have sinned,” says Paul. They were locked, as it were, in a prison by the curse of their transgression of the Law. The sentence of the judge was going to be passed against them. A letter from the King came down from heaven. Rather, the King himself came. Without examination, without exacting an account, he set all men free from the chains of their sins. All, then, who run to Christ are saved by his grace and profit from his gift. But those who wish to find justification from the Law will also fall from grace. They will not be able to enjoy the King’s loving-kindness because they are striving to gain salvation by their own efforts; they will draw down on themselves the curse of the Law because by the works of the Law no flesh will find justification. (Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Discourse I:6-II:1)

    The rest is available here. Thanks to Pr. Will Weedon for compiling it.

  2. @John Rixe #27
    Your first sentence says that Jesus forgave all sins of the world at the cross.
    Pr. Rydecki says, “I do not speak of God having already forgiven the sins of the world at the cross.”

    That appears to me to be different. One says that sins were forgiven at the cross, the other says they were not. What Pr. Rydecki’s sentence should say is, “I speak of a God who, having forgiven the sins of the world at the cross, then made that forgiveness mine through faith.”

    If God did not forgive sins at the cross then when did He?

  3. I find myself unable to understand justification without reference to its objective nature. I do not understand what could possibly be good about the “good news” if its goodness depended upon the strength and consistency of one’s faith. Once again, as St. Paul reminds Timothy, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy ii, 13).

    “Jesus would love you if you would only believe that he does.” But I thought that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly? Or are we going to say that he only died for the ungodly who would believe? That may be many things, but it isn’t a Lutheran doctrine, or, as the excerpted bit from St. John Chrysostom suggests, a doctrine which was preached by the Church Fathers.

    Perhaps part of the problem here is our terminology. I’m sure I don’t need to invite anyone to pounce on me if I misstate something, but…please, pounce on me if I misstate something:

    There are justified sinners in hell. Christ died for their sins. He sent the Word into their flesh, too, to redeem them from that which they ultimately chose. They are not in hell for any of the sins they committed, except for one, which is the only sin that cannot be forgiven, because it can only be committed by dying:

    Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come (St. Matthew xii, 31-32)

    Ponder these words. “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.” Yes, the God-Man has shouldered all of them, and they all have been crucified, wiped out, and abolished. All but one.

    Every soul in hell is there because he has committed the one unforgivable sin: unbelief. No one is there for any other reason. You don’t go to hell for committing adultery. You don’t go to hell for committing murder, or rape, or voting for Democrats, or stealing from children. You go to hell for rejecting the Savior. As Chrysostom says:

    If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor’s favor. For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift.

    Bam. All who resist the Holy Spirit unto death blaspheme Him and separate themselves from Christ. They thereby choose to be judged by the Law, and so perish eternally.

    The paradox is that no one goes to heaven on account of anything they have done, but no one goes to hell saying, “Hey, I never had a chance.” If you end up in heaven, it is God’s work, 100%, start to finish: “He who began this good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Our Lord, Jesus Christ”: if you end up in hell, it is your own doing.

  4. @Rev. McCall #8

    The entire comment 27, page 1 is a quote from Pr Rydecki.  I believe he says that at the cross Jesus paid for, made satisfaction for, and earned forgiveness for the sins of the whole world.  However, Jesus later imputes this forgiveness at the time of an individual’s conversion through the gift of faith.  Therefore the author feels that at the cross this imputing had not yet happened so no actual forgiveness had yet happened.  My interpretation of the author is probably lame.

    In simple terms, how is this different from comment 2 above?

  5. @Martin R. Noland Comment # 50 on page 2

    I like your analogy, Dr. Noland, but it does need some tweaking. First of all, you make a false distinction, claiming that the “type of law God makes is not criminal law or civil law, but statutory law by decree.” Both criminal and civil law are statutory law and, in the US and common law countries can be statutory or by common law. IOW, we don’t distinguish statutory laws from civil or criminal laws. All statutory laws are either criminal or civil (including administrative.) So, your distinction between civil/criminal and statutory is confusing.

    Furthermore, a statutory law can be changed, it can be rescinded. It can be found unconstitutional. Is that what you want to analogize to God’s decree of forgiveness, that it can be rescinded or found unconstitutional?

    The better analogy is the decree of pardon. The power to grant a pardon derives from the English system in which the king had, as one of his royal prerogatives, the right to forgive virtually all forms of crimes against the crown. The granting of a pardon to a person who is guilty of a crime is an act of clemency, which forgives the guilty party. His crime(s) is expunged. It is no more.

    A decree of pardon is not a law, as stated above. It is absolute. Therefore:

    God sat on his throne and pardoned the entire race of mankind, absolving them of their crimes of sin, due to the perfect obedience and suffering and death of the Christ, with the proviso that this would apply only to those who believe the Gospel that announces that decree of pardon. The application of this decree of pardon to individuals would be recorded by his “court clerks” in the Book of Life.

    That is how a forensic decree of innocence can be both universal and particular. That is how the term “justification” can be used both for universal scope and particular applications. There are pardons like this given by Presidents and governors all the time.

    I hope this helps.

    Pr. Don Kirchner
    “Heaven is OK, it’s just not the end of the world.” Jeff Gibbs

  6. Trent,

    The Chrysostom quotation is great in its own right, and exactly suited to answer the questions being asked on this thread. I don’t think we should say, though, that the damned “are not in hell for any of the sins they committed, except for one [terminal unbelief].” That doesn’t fit with Chrysostom’s image, or with the way the Bible talks about it. If you scorn a pardon, that may add to your guilt, but it’s not the only thing you end up punished for. When someone insists on being judged by the Law instead of by the Pardon, that’s exactly what happens. “The wrath of God remains on him” (Jn. 3:36). This is especially important when we try to come to terms with the damnation of those who never got to hear the Gospel. They didn’t have a chance to reject the Pardon, but they are still guilty.

  7. @Rev. McCall #13

    Per the author of comment 27, page 1, forgiveness  was earned (paid for in full) at the cross for the whole world.

    However, “I (the author) do not speak of God having already forgiven the sins of the world at the cross, because the Holy Spirit did not apply the merits of Christ to the world at the cross, nor did the world  believe in Christ at the time of the cross.  We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—not without grace, not without Christ, and not without faith and the means of grace.”  – Pr Rydecki

    This doesn’t seem much different than comment 2 above.

    I personally take the position of Lizabth comment 3, page 2.  Our language is severely limited in trying to describe in much detail these marvelous concepts.  To start removing pastors from their jobs and incomes over issues so esoteric gives organized religion a bad reputation IMO.   I need a beer.

  8. Pr McCall

    To illustrate what I think comment 27, page 1 says:

    I have earned enough money to buy an iPad.  I haven’t purchased the iPad until later when Apple accepts my check.  

  9. All theology is Christology.

    Have we a question about justification? It is answered by Christology.

    Consider that Christ is the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, his sinless life, the stages of his state of humiliation, particularly his innocent suffering and death for us, his burial, his resurrection, his ascension, and his being seated at the right hand of the Father, and the Father’s saying to him, “Sit here while I make your enemies your footstool,” his triumph over sin, death, the Devil, the world, and the condemation of the Law. How, with such Christology, could a justification won by him fail to embrace the whole world? The blood of Christ is too precious, too innocent, too voluntarily shed for us to be mediocre in its effect.

    As we speak of justification, let us be careful in the realization that we are thereby making Christological statements.

  10. Several of you have done a good job in explaining UOJ in simple terms.  I appreciate this, and I think I have a clearer understanding.

    None of you yet have explained how your position differs from the position of comment 27, page 1.  This is where the rubber meets the road.

  11. John Rixe :
    I have earned enough money to buy an iPad.  I haven’t purchased the iPad until later when Apple accepts my check.  

    Christ on the cross earned it for us. (You really don’t want God to give you what you have earned!)

    God proved that he had accepted it when He raised Christ from the dead.

    The “difference in the distinction” is the difference between trusting in you (earning and gaining acceptance through your own faith on the one hand) and trusting in God (alone saving you through Christ on the other hand).

    “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

  12. My question was confusing.  Let me restate it.

    Position 1

    God sat on his throne and decreed that the entire race of mankind was absolved of their crimes of sin, due to the perfect obedience and suffering and death of the Christ, with the proviso that this would apply only to those who believe in the Gospel which announces that decree. The application of this decree to individuals would be recorded by his “court clerks” in the Book of Life. – Pr Noland

    Position 2

    Jesus paid for the sins of the world and made satisfaction for the sins of the world and earned righteousness and forgiveness of sins for all people at the cross. 

    God only forgives and justifies sinners by imputing the righteousness of Christ to them. 

    He only imputes the righteousness of Christ to faith. 

    Faith is only created by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. 

    Therefore, I do not speak of God having already forgiven the sins of the world at the cross, because the Holy Spirit did not apply the merits of Christ to the world at the cross, nor did the world believe in Christ at the time of the cross.  We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—not without grace, not without Christ, and not without faith and the means of grace.  – Pr Rydecki

    How is position 1 different from position 2?

  13. @John Rixe #13
    If God did not forgive the sins of the world at the cross, then when did He? When I believe He did?
    Faith simply believes what has already been accomplished in Christ. Unbelief rejects it.

  14. Faith simply believes what has already been accomplished in Christ. Unbelief rejects it.

    Both positions support this.  Using feeble, limited human language to try to describe such awesome mysteries, if I tend toward position 2, am I no longer a Lutheran?

    I personally feel both positions are totally inadequate.  

    My heart is not proud, O Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty; 
    I do not concern myself with great matters 
    or things too wonderful for me. (Psalm 131:1)

    Thanks for your time in responding

  15. You say this is a simple idea, this UOJ, but it really isn’t, if you begin to peel the layers in either direction. It is indeed esoteric and leads to all sorts of foolishness. You ought to leave these things to God. Didn’t Luther kinda say something along those lines?

    That’s where I will leave it, because NONE of us can grasp at these things, really. You are doing the same sorts of machinations with God’s Holy Word that you often accuse the calvinists of doing. For shame. Throw yourselves on God’s mercy, as a little child and repent of your pride and foolishness. – Lizabth

    Lizabth rocks!

  16. Yes, Lizabth. When the OJ deniers logically concluded a limited atonement, Luther told them to stop such foolishness and leave such things to God, confessing a universal atonement.

    Pr. Don Kirchner
    “Heaven’s OK, but it’s not the end of the world.”

  17. John Rixe :Pr McCall
    To illustrate what I think comment 27, page 1 says:
    I have earned enough money to buy an iPad.  I haven’t purchased the iPad until later when Apple accepts my check.  

    If that is what it says, it is the greatest example of works righteousness that I have seen in a long time. For that is exactly what the analogy is. Who’s doing the earning? Who’s driving the verbs? What is the subject of every sentence? “I”

    Pr. Don Kirchner
    “Heaven’s OK, but it’s not the end of the world.”

  18. @John Rixe #20
    A Lutheran is a Christian who believes in justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. Laity are accepted into communicant membership into Lutheran congregations on the basis of public confession of the summary of the six main teachings of the Bible in the Small Catechism. A confessional Lutheran pastor is one who is subscribes unconditionally to the teaching of Scripture as summarized in the Lutheran Book of Concord. In addition, various synods, such as ELS and WELS require their pastors to agree with or at least not publicly teach against their synodically adopted doctrinal statements on various issues in order to be accepted into or maintain membership on the clergy roster of the synod.

  19. @John Rixe #1

    Dear Mr. (or Pastor?) Rixe,

    You are asking me to make a judgment of a pastor whose orthodoxy is being investigated by his church-body. That is inadvisable for a number of reasons.

    First, I am a pastor. So I know how people in a congregation, or people in a synod, can get into a “feeding frenzy” like a bunch of piranhas. That is why congregations should have a process and procedures for dealing with the errors of their ministers and officers, and that is why synods have such things, to prevent the piranha syndrome. Let the process do its work!

    Second, I understand that he is WELS. I am LCMS, so the dispute is really “none of my business.” I respect the authorities in that church-body to do their work and I will not “second-guess” them. I do not want to influence them or people involved, either pro or con.

    Third, the Internet is a notoriously unreliable medium for determining what people have actually written or said. A responsible publisher, like BJS, will attempt to have some sort of record of its published authors and their permissions, in the event that articles are ever challenged or in dispute. But the “comments” section is a “free for all.” It is very unreliable, especially when the material comes second- or third-hand, like your quotes of the pastor in question.

    Fourth, I have a real and well-known identity here. It is the only way that I blog, and this is the only place I blog with any regularity. Many of the people who comment on blogs have anonymous or pseudonymous identities. They can spout forth opinions until they are “blue in the face.” If such people make a damning indictment against the pastor, or a damning indictment against his accusers, no one can trace it. These type of anonymous or pseudonymous comments should not be taken seriously by anyone.

    Fifth, in this sort of incident, outside pressure just makes matters worse. Many times a pastor who is under attack will not relent, simply because he is under attack. If people would just let up for a bit, and let another pastor he trusts talk to him confidentially, things can often be worked out. At other times, the pastor is right and his accusers are wrong; and it looks like he is wrong simply because he is one against many. The number of people with opinions on one side or another doesn’t determine the truth; that is why Justice is depicted as being blindfolded.

    Sixth, there is a role for the Lutheran press when public officers of the church-body, such as District Presidents or seminary professors, are involved in error. People who elect those officers need to know about the character and performance-in-office of those officers. If such officers are derelict in duty, doctrinally in error, or morally wrong, the church-body often tries to hide things, so that it avoids embarrassment, bad publicity, or lawsuits. The Lutheran press is thus in some cases the only way that such officers can be corrected or removed from office. This process does not apply to the members of synods who are not its officers, such as a parish pastor. There the local adjudication process is all that is needed to keep things in order.

    I would hope that, in the future, the bloggers here would cooperate with the BJS editors by supporting the work of church adjudicatories, not second-guessing them, and by also praying for all concerned.

    The doctrinal issues can, and should, be discussed without reference to the person involved or their particular writings or speeches.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  20. @John Rixe #18

    How is position 1 different from position 2?

    Look again at your extracted language from Position 1. See the word absolved? The entire world was absolved.

    Look again at your extracted language from Postion 2. See anything like absolution of the whole world, objectively, before the Holy Spirit works faith in this or that person, subjectively?

  21. @Martin R. Noland #27

    I apologize. I was intending to understand the ideas involved without discussing the personalities. It’s hard to understand an idea without examining alternative ideas IMO. I believe your comment is the only one that discusses personalities.

    Blessings on your day

    Retired Accountant (much easier job than pastor)

  22. @T. R. Halvorson #28

    Instead of absolved I see paid for, made satisfaction for, and earned forgiveness of sins for all people at the cross.

    In my untrained mind this seems like an alternative, acceptable way of trying to describe the indescribable.

  23. @John Rixe #29

    Okay. But, did I answer your question? You asked what was different between the two positions. One has absolution of the whole world objectively, before, so to speak, anyone has faith, while the other has no one absolved until they do, subjectively, have faith. You might not agree with the former, but the question that was being asked was not about agreement but about the difference. Do you take absolution and the lack of absolution as being different or not?

    I do. The fact that something is paid for perhaps should lead to absolution, but it might not. So to say that the work of Christ went through and beyond payment to absolution is not mere redundancy. It does add something substantial. I think our Anselmic reduction of the atonement is causing us to view payment as the entire extent of atonement, when our problems, though they include debt, go well beyond debt, and so the atonement, though it includes payment, goes well beyond payment.

  24. TR, thanks for the good explanation.  I guess there is an inscrutable difference between atonement with a proviso and payment.   Not sure we need to choose sides and grab pitchforks over our feeble ways of trying to explain it.  I’m getting into another loop of repeating myself.

  25. Would the following explanation be beneficial to a proper understanding of objective justification?

    Justification is not how God makes someone a Christian: it is his righteous declaration that someone is already a Christian.

  26. @Brian Kachelmeier #33

    I don’t think so. Christ did not make everyone Christians at the cross.

    When I teach my middle school students theology, I tell them that Christ paid for their sins by dying on the cross. I tell them that he died for each and every one of them. I have no idea if they really, truly believe this, or if they will persist in that belief until death. But that doesn’t make it less true. In the meantime, we say the Apostle’s Creed at the beginning of every class, and our faith is strengthened in the promises therein…

    Our faith wavers, and sometimes we do not know if we even believe. At such times, we pray, “Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief!” We pray to Him because we know that He is faithful, even when we are faithless. How comforting would it be to pray to a God who was scrutinizing the quality and strength of your belief in Him? I wonder if a set of credenda exists wherewith we can determine what qualifies as really believing. Because if our justification really does depend on the quality of our faith, it seems like self-scrutiny is the name of the game. It seems like we had all better fix our eyes upon ourselves, and make sure that we really, truly believe.

    I have always thought it axiomatic for Lutheran preaching that the pastor, knowing that his flock needs to be strengthened in their faith, preaches Christ. He doesn’t preach faith. He urges the faithful to, like Peter, fix their eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith, who for the joy before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.

    The objectivity of our justification is as objective as Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Is the bread still His Body, even if you don’t believe that it is? You betcha. If there’s not consensus on this, I’m going to be shocked…

  27. @John Rixe #35


    Yeah, well, I have read every one of these damn emails, and I am not sure I know what those respective positions are.

    Whatever Pr. Rydecki’s position is (sorry, Dr. Noland), whether 1 or 2, I don’t agree with it. I believe in Objective Justification as articulated by Pr. Stafford and Prs. Preus (all of them). I affirm all of the paradoxy of its orthodoxy. I believe that it is foolish, and heterodox, to reject it. No, not all heterodoxy is fatal to the Faith. But none of it is good. Especially when we consider what it is that we teach our children.

    I’ve read a few comments now that claim rather sanctimoniously that, since we’re all going to feel like fools when the beatific vision greets our eyes, we should not engage in spirited dialectic on this topic (Objective Justification) — or, presumably, other doctrinal points that such commenters see as abstruse. While I agree that we will indeed all feel like fools, I disagree strongly with the conclusion drawn from this. I don’t think we need to go all apophatic when the conversation turns into a debate. The suggestion that this debate is a mere matter of semantics is, I think, poor form. Reason may be the devil’s whore when exercised in a vacuum, but it is in fact necessary to reason from what has been revealed in Scripture to correct conclusions. Is this all that theology is? No. Is such theologizing the heart of the Christian faith? No. Still and all, the fact that it is not of ultimate value does not mean that it is of no value. It’s very beneficial to talk about these things. But we ought not descend into personal sniping and ad hominems.

    That having been said, this sort of comment is totally unhelpful. I do not know you, Lizabth, so please know that I do not judge you when I find fault with what these words of yours convey:

    You say this is a simple idea, this UOJ, but it really isn’t, if you begin to peel the layers in either direction. It is indeed esoteric and leads to all sorts of foolishness. You ought to leave these things to God. Didn’t Luther kinda say something along those lines?

    Luther was a spirited debater of many points of doctrine, such as the Real Presence, that many in his day, such as Zwingli, thought needlessly picayune and esoteric. He also said a lot of different things, not all of which support what we confess as Lutheran doctrine. It’s inapt to try to enlist a general sentiment of Luther’s to kill what is really a quite tame, friendly debate.

    That’s where I will leave it, because NONE of us can grasp at these things, really. You are doing the same sorts of machinations with God’s Holy Word that you often accuse the calvinists of doing.

    This sounds pious, and I do respect the intent. But I must disagree. While none of can grasp at things that aren’t revealed, discussing what has been revealed, i.e. given, is certainly not “grasping.” The entire tradition of Lutheran scholasticism, Chemnitz, Gerhard, et al — not to mention the first generation of Augsburg Confessors, Melanchthon, Luther himself — finds its beating heart in this sort of robust theological dialectic. If Scripture is not perspicuous enough to support the kind of spirited debate that BJS hosts in their comment-feeds, then not only should the good Brothers get rid of their site, but we should all be mailing it in to a certain pointy-hatted Bishop of Rome to be our infallible guide.

    For shame. Throw yourselves on God’s mercy, as a little child and repent of your pride and foolishness.

    Of course, we should all do this, all of the time, per the first of the Ninety-Five Theses. But I don’t think that this is especially called for here. We all have pastors and confessors whose vocation it is to urge their flock to repentance and compunction, individually and corporately. It’s their job to do this, and they actually know us. As laymen talking to people we don’t know on the internet, we should really stay in our lanes. Advice is fine. Jeremiad’s don’t help anyone, and, again, they come off as sanctimonious.

    To recur, John @ #35, I don’t know what Positions 1 and 2 are, really. I thought that Pr. Stafford had nailed it with this piece when I read it, and three-thousand comments later, I still think so. I think that a denial of Objective Justification on account of its paradoxy indicates the same sort of shoddy, rationalistic theology that feeds into receptionism, etc. (pun intended).

  28. Trent Demarest :
    Yeah, well, I have read every one of these damn emails…

    Mr. Demarest,

    You’ve made quite a splash with your entrance on to this board. That said….

    Please knock it off.

  29. @Pr. Don Kirchner #37

    I’m sorry…perhaps my attempt at levity fell flat.

    The back and forth has been hard to follow — that’s all I was saying. The ellipses suggest that I should not have said “damn”, or something like that? Sorry for splashing.

    What do the Confessions have to say to the question of whether justification has both objective and subjective dimensions?

  30. @Trent Demarest #39

    It might be good to read Position 1 and Position 2 (comment 20) before writing an extensive analysis. Your comment 37 lacks the intelligence of your previous comments. You can do better.

  31. Another important point to be made in all this is this:

    Anyone who attempts to claim that the controversies over UOJ in the WELS are merely a matter of semantics, or people just “talking past each other” or a difference in how things are defined, all attempts to reduce this to a matter of semantics are…


    Don’t be fooled by that kind of ignorant understanding of these issues.

  32. I’m joining this discussion late in the game as they say. If I state something someone else has already mentioned, please forgive me. I want to acknowledge at the outset that this is a difficult teaching. People are struggling with it, not because they are stupid or obstinate, but because it is difficult. I think in discussions like these we need to remind ourselves that we are sola scriptura (Scripture alone) people. This means that we must always remind ourselves that Scripture (God) is greater than our reason.

    That we are sola scriptura people does not mean that we only use words found in the Bible, but that what we are trying to communicate must be found in the Bible. Thus, we use non-biblical terms like “Trinity” and “Sacraments” and dare I suggest “objective justification” and “subjective justification.”
    That one has never heard of any of these terms does not make the terms wrong or for that matter “unhelpful.” That we have never heard of them may be a result of the failure of those who taught us or our own poor memories. Or it may simply be that the terms are indeed new. We are allowed to develop new terms. We are not allowed to ignore any teachings of the Scriptures. We must be certain that the terms we develop confess what the Scriptures confess (Trinity, etc.). More recent terms that prove helpful in confessing all that the Bible states are ones like, “now/not yet” “inerrancy” and “closed communion.” New? Yes. Biblical? Yes.
    In fact, what the terms “objective” and “subjective justification” are trying to communicate, if not the terms themselves have been in use in our circles for years. In 1888, George Stoeckhart defended objective justification in an article entitled, “Universal Justification” (“Die allgemeine Rechtfertigung,” Lehre und Wehre, Vol. 34, No. 6, June, 1888) and again in 1889 in an article provocatively entitled, “An Assassination Attempt on the Lutheran Teaching of Justification” (Ein Attentat auf die lutherische Rechtfertigungslehre,” Lehre und Wehre, Vol. 35, No. 3, March, 1889). In 1905, an article appeared in Lehre und Wehre (Our theological journal begun by Walther), entitled “The New and Old Teaching of the Ohio Synod concerning Universal Justification” which contrasts Missouri’s belief in objective justification with Ohio’s denial of the same. Theodore Engelder writes three articles on the subject “Objective Justification” in the July, August, and September 1933, Concordia Theological Monthly. Here he defends our founding Missouri Synod fathers for preaching objective justification. Indeed, Engelder states: “They [our Missouri Synod forefathers] would close their theological seminaries if they were no longer permitted to teach the objective justification… We cannot give up the article that on Easter morning God forgave every single sinner his sin and guilt” (508-09).
    And such usage of the term was not limited to scholarly journals, for the 1954 Lutheran Cyclopedia mentions it. “This act of God in which He through Christ provided forgiveness of sins for the world is called objective justification (Rom. 5:12ff.)” (542)
    I appreciate the desire for simplicity, but the truth is the Bible is not simple. Often the Bible holds before us two truths that to us seem to be incompatible or contradictory. The Trinity is not simple. There is only one God, but the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Two truths. I can describe it in simple terms, but it is not simple in the sense that the Trinity makes sense to me. The Trinity blows my mind. I confess it because the Scriptures say it is so (sola scriptura). Whether I can figure out how God can be three persons and one God does not alter the fact that He has revealed Himself in this way in Holy Scripture. I can make it simple by becoming either a Mormon (there are many gods) or Jehovah’s Witness (there is one God, Jesus is not God). But both groups emphasize one truth of Scripture at the expense of another truth. Other two truths are that God knows all things (omniscient) and yet He commands that I pray. Salvation is now and it is yet to come. God is unchanging but He changes His mind. God desires all men to be saved, but He has only elected some to be saved. When we allow our reason to contradict any of these truths to “solve the apparent contradiction” we are no longer being sola scriptura people but reason (what I can understand) has become our source of doctrine.
    Also we cannot base what we teach and confess on the basis of what someone might conclude from our teaching. Luther’s teaching (from Holy Scripture) that we are saved without works was criticized because it would lead to people stop doing works. Our forefathers taught the doctrine of election in spite of the fact that some people would undoubtedly misuse the teaching. Paul faced the same problem (Romans 3:5-8, 6:1-2, 15, 7:7, etc.) Yet, Paul does not stop teaching justification without works or the justification of the wicked (Romans 4:5). So too, we preach objective justification in spite of how some may misunderstand it or misuse it. However, we don’t only preach objective justification, we also preach subjective justification. Our preaching of objective justification is not a denial of subjective justification. Nor is our preaching of subjective justification a denial of objective justification. We confess both truths, because Scripture teaches both truths. And even if they may seem contradictory to us, if we are going to be sola scriptura people, we must allow the tension to stand and say “Thus saith the Lord.” “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways … as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Pastor Eric Lange

  33. I find it helpful to picture the Father turning his face either away from humankind in rejection or toward humankind in love, and likewise to picture us individually turning either toward him in love (by his own grace) or away in rejection.

    Rather than turning away from those who turned away from him, the Father now faces all of humankind in love on account of Christ. And we can face him in love only on account of Christ. When a person and his Creator face each other in love in this way, reconciliation is complete.

  34. @Carl H #42

    Carl,  doesn’t both Position 1 and Position 2 (comment 20) agree with your description?  The reason I am being so repetitive and annoying is that the so-called difference in these positions is causing a huge war.   Folks are being labeled as non-Lutheran and potentially losing their jobs over this distinction without a difference.  

    So far I’m not getting very good reasons for what seems to me really bizarre. I feel we can discuss this without discussing personalities.

  35. @John Rixe #44

    The problem with believing that before you believed, your sins weren’t forgiven, and after you believed, they were (the position of those who deny the objective dimension of justification), is twofold:

    1. Scripture says that Christ bore our sins in His body on the tree (I Peter ii, 24). He already bore them. He bore and forgave not only your sins, but the sins of the whole world. The crucified, your-sin-bearing, rising, your-sin-forgiving Christ is therefore the object of your faith. It is, in fact, “the Faith” — the thing to be believed, the credendum which we confess that we believe when we say the Credo. Being so, it is the thing that you, by faith, must believe in your heart and confess with your mouth. It never stops being true, though heaven and earth pass away. That is how wondrous God’s love for us in Christ is: he is faithful, even when we are faithless. Or else what does the erring sinner have to come back to? How is he comforted? “Don’t worry — your faith is strong, so your sin is forgiven”? No way! There is no comfort there!

    2. What comfort is there in Baptism? Either God puts his name on you in baptism and says “You are mine,” or He puts his name on you and says, “You could be mine if you believed that you were mine.” Good luck verifying that you really truly actually believe. If you have to believe that you believe, you also have to believe that you believe that you believe. And so on and so forth. Again, this whole matter is given a wonderful treatment by our English Lutheran brother John Halton in this post here. Either God is a liar, or He is telling the truth.

  36. @Trent Demarest #46

    “Either God is a liar, or He is telling the truth.”

    Well said. Either God’s declaration of righteousness on the whole world is true, and all are going to heaven, for all who are righteous go to heaven, or God is a liar, and those who don’t believe that God declared them righteous are going to hell.

  37. Puleeze people,  it is so simple.  As another author has defined UOJ:

     “God has forgiven all people, but if you don’t believe, then you’re forgiven but not forgiven, even though all people are forgiven, and you stand both righteous and condemned before God at the same time.”

    “Universal atonement with a proviso” is not an oxymoron.  I have spoken. 🙂

  38. Below find a citation from an essay delivered to the First Convention of the Synodical Conference (1872). The translation is from Kurt Marquart, Concordia Theological Seminary Press. Marquart suggests it was written by F.A. Schmidt. However, Franz Pieper suggested it was written by CFW Walther (Concordia Theological Monthly, Dec. 1955) Whoever the author actually was, it is significant that it was received by the first convention of the Synodical Conference. It is also significant in that it shows the author recognized the difficulties the two teachings present to human logic. In spite of that, he maintained the doctrine.

    “If it be asked how this is to be rhymed that on the one hand Scripture teaches that through Christ’s resurrection the whole world is absolved, and that on the other hand it testifies that the debt remains on the unbelievers, as long as they continue in unbelief, it must be answered: One must distinguish two ways in which God regards men. When God regards the world in Christ, His Son, He looks at it otherwise than with burning wrath. Whoever therefore does not believe in Christ, yes rejects Christ, upon him the wrath of God remains, despite the fact that when God regards him in His Son, and remembers how He has made satisfaction also for him, then He looks upon him with eyes full of love; as Scripture says in John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” According to this God did two things, He was wroth towards sinners, and at the same time He loved them so ardently that He gave His only-begotten Son for them. If now He loved the world already from eternity, how certainly He will still love it now, after He has been rendered satisfaction! When God now looks at the world in this respect, in which satisfaction has been made for it and its debt paid by His Son, then He sees it as a reconciled world. But now the individual comes along and rejects this reconciliation: him God cannot regard otherwise than with eternal burning wrath, since he is without Christ. Speaking according to the acquisition of salvation, He is wroth with no man any longer, but speaking according to the appropriation (Zueignung), He is wroth with everyone who is not in Christ. One may say therefore: In so far as a man is a part of the whole redeemed mankind, God is not wroth with him, but in so far as he is for his own person an unbeliever, God is wroth with him. But here lies an inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery. For in God there are no movements (Bewegungen), as in us men, who are minded now this way now that, have now these emotions, now those. Of Him it is written: “You remain as You are.” But everything that God thinks and wills is one with His Being (Wesen, essence). Just this unity and immutability of God, with what holy Scripture ascribes to Him against the sinner, when he does not believe, and again when he believes, is an impenetrable mystery, which is why we are not in a position to form a clear notion of how God can love the whole world and yet at the same time be wroth against the individual believer. But Scripture clearly teaches both. Now it is the Lutheran way: if we find two sorts of things in God’s Word, which we cannot rhyme, then we let both stand and believe both, just as it reads.” (1872 Essay, 10-11)

  39. ” Marquart suggests it was written by F.A. Schmidt. However, Franz Pieper suggested it was written by CFW Walther”

    Doesn’t make it Gospel.

    This(UOJ) is the one of the oddest bits of Biblical scrapple I have ever seen. If you have to work so hard to justify(ha) your non-Biblical doctrine, perhaps you should let it go. File it under that helpful category of ‘mystery’. 😉

    What a relief when I was told that I do NOT have to subscribe to this sort of foolishness(UOJ) in order to join Luther’s church.

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