Tuesday, January 25, 2011

WELS DP Buchholz UOJ

Guilty! of teaching forgiveness without the Word.





Justification Expounded by Scripture
Jon D. Buchholz

[58th Biennial Convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod Assembled at Martin Luther College New Ulm, Minnesota, July 26, 2005]

 In nomine Jesu 

The focus of our study over the next four days is the doctrine of justification. Our first essay presents an exposition of justification and urges diligence in expounding the doctrine in precise biblical terminology. Our second essay will focus on the proper use of the doctrine of justification, its application as a doctrine of comfort and assurance for a troubled conscience, and the role the doctrine plays in ministry and mission outreach. Our Bible studies offer the opportunity to the convention for group discussion and consideration of proper, as well as improper, applications of the doctrine of justification. May the Spirit of truth lead us into a deeper understanding and appreciation of this precious truth, that we articulate it and apply it correctly, always to the glory of God!

Justification is a legal term

Let’s begin by considering the word justification. The basic meaning of justify is to prove something to be right, just or valid; to absolve; or to free a person from guilt or sin. Justification is the act of justifying, absolving, or declaring free from guilt. To be justified is to be forgiven.1
Justification is a declaration, not a transformation. While the word sanctify means “to set apart” or to “make holy,” the word justify does not mean “to make righteous,” but “to declare righteous.” Justification is accomplished as a verdict rendered by God.
Justification is necessary, because a human being in his natural state stands opposed to God, hostile to God, separated from God, and burdened with the guilt of his sin before God. For a human being to be acceptable in the eyes of God he must be found guilt-free and righteous in the positive sense. Anything less finds a human being incapable of standing in the judgment before a just and holy God, who demands perfection. Every sin must be removed, and all guilt must be absolved. In place of guilt there must be innocence, and in place of sin there must be righteousness. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
How does a sinner go from being wicked in God’s eyes to being righteous in God’s eyes? Where can we obtain the righteousness that God in his law requires—a righteousness that avails before God and is acceptable in God’s sight? We cannot pay for our own sins to remove our own guilt, nor can we offer God our own righteousness, for all our righteous acts are like rags of uncleanness (Isaiah 64:6). The law of God has enslaved a fallen world in disobedience (Romans 11:32). Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin (Romans 3:20). The righteousness we need to stand before God cannot come from within; it must come from without.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been revealed, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:21, 22). God gave his only-begotten Son to live, to die and to rise again for sinners. It’s
important we understand that the words “for sinners” do not mean only “on behalf of sinners,” but “in place of sinners.” Christ is our proxy. Jesus took our place under God’s law (Galatians 4:4, 5), and he fulfilled it perfectly, without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The term for this is Jesus’
active obedience
. Jesus then offered his innocent life as the payment (
atonement
) for the guilt of sinners. In this great transaction that took place on the cross, God removed the guilt of the world’s sin and replaced it with the righteousness of Christ.
1 Both the Apology to the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord explicitly equate the terms justification and forgiveness. “To attain the remission of sins is to be justified, according to Psalm 32:1: ‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit’” (AC:IV, 76).  
2 Some have taught incorrectly that justification is the result of a change in God’s heart and in his attitude toward the sinner. This is problematic in that it implies a change in an unchanging God. It is more precise to recognize in justification a change in man’s status before God. God’s economy remains the same: reward for the righteous, punishment for the sinner (Romans 2:6-11). Jesus, in satisfying the law in our place and offering himself as the atoning sacrifice for sin, has taken the place of the world, thus enabling God to look favorably upon the world, for Jesus’ sake. Lutheran theologian Adolf Hoenecke very carefully and precisely articulates this truth in his Evangelische-Lutherische Dogmatik (Hoenecke, 190-192).
3 A German Lutheran proverb says, “Jesus Christus starb für mich, fühl’ Ich oder fühl’ Ich nicht” (“Jesus Christ died for me, whether I feel it or not”).
4 Objective and subjective are the terms most commonly used in our fellowship. Since faith is the work of God, without man’s participation or cooperation, we can legitimately say that the gift of faith is the result of the objective will and working of God. In place of the terms objective and subjective justification, we might prefer to use the older terms general (allgemeine) justification and personal (persönliche) justification. The term subjective justification might be misinterpreted to mean an experiential awakening based upon feeling or emotion; this would not be a meaning intended by Lutherans. The term universal justification may be confused with universalism, the teaching that all people will be saved.
In this essay, I will use the terms objective, universal and general justification interchangeably, and subjective and personal justification interchangeably.
5 The subject of both phrases of the Scripture passage is the word “all.” All have sinned, all being justified freely through Jesus’ redemption.
6 Greek has two words for justification: dikaiwma and dikaiwsij. Dikaiwma means “justification” in the sense of a verdict that is rendered, a declaration of “not-guilty.” Dikaiwsij brings out more the sense of the action of declaring righteous or the state of being declared righteous (in English it’s difficult to capture exactly the nuance of the two Greek nouns). The word used in Romans 4:25 and 5:18 is dikaiwsij. In Romans 5:16 Paul uses dikaiwma.
7 Dr. R. C. H. Lenski, 20th-century Lutheran theologian and author of an excellent series of commentaries on the books of the New Testament, had no trouble with “universal atonement” and “universal reconciliation,” but denied “universal justification,” saying, “One may call God’s raising up of Christ God’s declaration to this effect, and, because it is such a declaration, one may call it ‘the universal justification of the whole world.’ Yet to use the word ‘justification’ in this way is not a gain, for it is liable to confuse the ordinary man; we are fully satisfied with the Scriptural word ‘reconciliation’” (Lenski, 84). 
Early Lutheran dogmaticians Philip Melanchthon and Martin Chemnitz both equated justification with reconciliation (Chemnitz,  43, 72), and in Romans 4:25 it is clear that the term “justification” is also applied universally: Jesus was delivered over to death for our [the world’s] sins and was raised to life for our [the world’s] justification. If we ask the question, “For whom did Jesus die?” the answer must be: for the world. If we ask, “For whom was Jesus raised?” the answer must also be: for the world. It is untenable to understand the passage as, “He was delivered over to death for our [only believers’] sins and was raised to life for our [only believers’] justification.” That would be limited atonement, as Calvin wrongly taught. Likewise it is untenable to understand, “He was delivered over to death for our [everyone’s] sins and was raised to life for our [only believers’] justification.” That would mean that Jesus died for everyone, but he rose again on Easter only for believers.
8 Chemnitz, 92.
9 This very important truth—that faith is appropriative and not causative—can be illustrated thus: A sports fan may say, “I believe that my team will win the World Series this year.” Such faith does not bring about the desired outcome. The person’s belief doesn’t cause anything to happen. In this case, the “faith” expressed is merely a hope or a wish that something will happen. Likewise, if a team wins, and a jaded, cynical fan refuses to believe it, that fan’s erroneous belief doesn’t change the reality of what happened. 
Faith is simply trust. Faith must have an object, something that it holds onto. That object may or may not be real or true, but faith doesn’t make it real or true. Faith that holds onto something untrue is misplaced—no matter how sincere it may be. Christian faith appropriates and holds onto the reality of God’s justification completed in Christ. It does not cause justification or forgiveness to take place. It simply grasps God’s justification that is already a reality.
10 Jacob Arminius is the father of “decision theology,” a theological system that is widely adopted by many Protestant church bodies today. In this system, faith is an act of human reason. Babies cannot have faith, because they cannot render a decision for Jesus. An important aim of worship is to create an environment where a person can more readily make a decision for Christ. This system strikes at the heart of justification by God’s grace alone and ultimately makes salvation depend upon whether or not man makes the right decision.
11 Chemnitz, 86.
12 Chemnitz, 15.
13 In the early 300s A.D. the heretic Arius chose the Greek word o(moiousioj  (homoiousios – “of a similar substance”) to assert that Jesus was similar to God but was not truly God. The Christian church chose the word o(moousioj  (homoousios – “of the same substance”) to be included in the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) as a declaration of the truth that Jesus is truly God, of the same divine essence as God the Father.
14 Matthias Flacius (1520-1575) was a staunch supporter of genuine Lutheranism. He rightly taught that man is totally depraved and cannot save himself or cooperate in his salvation. However, he crossed the line when he said that man is essentially sinful, that is, sin is part of a person’s being or essence. The consequence of this false teaching is that Jesus was either (1) not really a human being or (2) not without sin.
15 Luther’s Explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.
16 In his discourse on the Ministry of the Keys, Luther explains the objective nature of God’s verdict of forgiveness apart from faith. “Even he who does not believe that he is free and his sins forgiven shall also learn, in due time, how assuredly his sins were forgiven, even though he did not believe it. St. Paul says in Rom. 3: ‘[Does] their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God[?]’ We realize that few believe. We are speaking of what the keys accomplish and give. He who does not accept what the keys give receives, of course, nothing. But this is not the key’s fault. Many do not believe the gospel, but this does not mean that the gospel is not true or effective. A king gives you a castle. If you do not accept it, then it is not the king’s fault, nor is he guilty of a lie. But you have deceived yourself and the fault is yours. The king certainly gave it” (LW, vol. 40, “The Keys,” 366-367).
17 Luther’s Works (American Edition), vol. 40, “Against the Heavenly Prophets,” 213-214.
18 An exception is in Romans 5:19, where the word ˜˜˜˜˜˜˜ is used in the universal sense.
19 (1) Non est simpliciter idem; Christi justitiam imputari & Christum pro nobis justum esse. Nam imputatio tunc fit, non qvando Christus pro nobis justus fuit, sed qvando fide hanc justitiam acceptamus. Christi justitia est effectus officii ejus, imputatio effectuum officii applicatio. (2) Unum non tollit alterum; Christus est nostra justitia effective, qvia nos justificat; Est nostra justitia objective, qvia fides nostra in ipsum fertur; Est nostra justitia formaliter, qvatenus ejus justitia nobis imputatur” (Quenstedt, 547).
20 Walther, Law and Gospel, 276-277.
21 Meyer, 103-104.
22 Meyer, 107. The paraphrase does not substantially change the substance of what Meyer wrote in Ministers of Christ.
23 I cannot find the exact source for this statement, supposedly (per Becker) drawn verbatim from the writings of a WELS author. It may be a paraphrase of Meyer’s words: “This applies to the whole world, to every individual sinner, whether he was living in the days of Christ, or had died centuries before His coming, or had not yet been born, perhaps has not been born to this day. It applies to the world as such, regardless of whether a particular sinner ever comes to faith or not” (Meyer, 109).
24 Becker, “Objective Justification,” Chicago Pastoral Conference, WELS, Elgin, Illinois, November 9, 1982.
25 Hoenecke, 355.
Here is the legal or juridical nature of justification, revealed at Calvary. The change does not take place in the sinner. The change takes place in the relationship or the status between a sinner and God.2 A verdict has been rendered, which declares man free of sin and guilt, righteous in God’s sight, and worthy of eternal life, for Jesus’ sake.
This understanding of justification is the heart of the difference between Roman Catholicism and the true catholic faith of confessional Lutheranism. A juridical understanding of justification drove the theology of the Lutheran Reformation. Rome defines justification not in juridical terms but in terms of transformation of human character. In Roman Catholic theology, justification is not a verdict which changes man’s status, for Jesus’ sake; it is a transformation that is brought about in the character of a human being. In Rome’s view, justification is incomplete and ongoing. The Roman church teaches that men are not declared just, but they become just over time, as they receive an infusion of grace to work at perfecting obedience to God. The incomplete justification taught by Rome leaves the sinner in perpetual doubt as to whether he is worthy or righteous enough to enter heaven. This doubt arises not only in Roman Catholicism, but in any theological system where justification (God’s completed verdict for us in Christ) is confused with sanctification (God’s continued working in us to produce a Christian life).

Justification is an objective reality

We call justification objective, because the reality of God’s verdict takes place completely in the realm of God, entirely apart from man’s involvement. Man has nothing to do with it, and man’s subjective perception or opinion does not change it. 
What causes justification to take place? Lutheran theologians have always maintained that there are two causes for man’s salvation: (1) the grace of God and (2) the merits of Jesus Christ. Neither of these two causes has anything to do with the participation of sinful human beings. Both causes exist completely in God’s sphere.
From the cross Jesus cried triumphantly, “It is finished” (John 19:30). What is finished is his life of active obedience, his passion and suffering—all his work of bearing and atoning for the sin of the world. This truth of Jesus’ completed work stands as an objective truth, whether a human being believes it or not. There is nothing that any human being can do to change what happened outside Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago. No doubt or disbelief can change the fact that the lifeless Lord Jesus Christ came back to life on Easter Sunday and left behind an empty tomb. Jesus’ triumphal cry from the cross, “It is finished,” stands forever as the objective declaration that Christ’s work of salvation is complete.3

Justification is complete for all

The term
objective justification
 is often used in our circles to describe the truth that God’s justification is complete for the entire world. Properly speaking, the term for this is
universal
justification
 or
general justification
. I prefer to maintain the distinction between
objective
 (referring to the truth that justification takes place completely in the sphere of God, apart from man’s subjective involvement) and
universal
 (indicating the all-embracing object of God’s objective verdict, namely the entire world). Since the term
objective justification
 is found neither in Scripture nor in the Lutheran confessions, we can understand the term correctly as referring to the justification of the entire world. The distinction between objective and universal is useful, however, and, in some cases, significant.
4
 
In the 1500s, while the Lutheran theologians in Germany were rediscovering and expounding the biblical doctrine of justification, John Calvin (1509-1564) was working in Geneva to bring about a reformation in Switzerland. Unfortunately, Calvin’s doctrine of justification differed from the biblical truth correctly expounded by the Lutherans. Calvin wrestled with the question of why some are saved and not others. His inability to submit his human reason to Scripture and his stubborn insistence that the things of God had to make sense led him to a logical but erroneous conclusion. Calvin taught that God had decided in eternity who would be saved and who would be damned, and nothing could change this predetermined, sovereign decision of God. Calvin reasoned that the blood of Christ would not be wasted on those who were going to be condemned anyway, so he taught limited atonement. He did not believe that Jesus died for the sin of the whole world, but only for the sin of believers who had been elected by God to salvation.
Of course, Scripture teaches that Jesus died for all. No sinner was missed; no sin was left unpaid. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:15). Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away [Greek: “bears”] the sin of the world (John 1:29). Scripture goes beyond saying that God has reconciled the world to himself and paid for the sin of the world in Christ. The Bible reveals the wonderful truth that through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, God has justified the world. 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 (Romans 3:23).5 The term “justification” is applied universally when St. Paul writes, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for [Greek: “because of”] our justification” (Romans 4:25).
The words atonement, reconciliation, forgiveness and justification are not always interchangeable. Each has a distinct and particular meaning. However, each of these terms is bound to the once-for-all events that took place at Calvary and the empty tomb, and each of these terms can be applied properly in the universal sense.
Scripture teaches universal grace: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). The gospel reveals God’s love in Christ, which extends to every single human being of all time.
Scripture teaches universal atonement: “[Jesus Christ, the Righteous One] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Atonement is often defined in Sunday school and catechism class as “at-one-ment.” This is, more precisely, the result of Christ’s atonement, that we end up reconciled and at one with God. Atonement is payment to make up for guilt. Synonyms for atonement are satisfaction and expiation.
Scripture teaches
universal reconciliation
: “God was reconciling
the world
 to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus is the universal peacemaker. His sacrifice on the cross has removed the
barrier of guilt and sin that separated humanity from God. Where the barrier of hostility has been removed, there is peace. In Christ and through Christ the status between God and the human race has changed from one of hostility to peace. We sing at Christmas, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
Scripture teaches universal forgiveness: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Forgiveness is the non-imputation of sin, so that sin and guilt are no longer charged to a person’s account (Psalm 32:1, Romans 4:7,8). The sin of the world has been charged to Christ, laid upon his shoulders, and nailed with him to the cross. It is no longer charged to us.
Scripture teaches universal justification: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [Greek: “being justified”] freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24). “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for [Greek: “because of”] our justification” (Romans 4:25).  “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification6 that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18,19). In Romans 5 the Apostle Paul details the complete contrast between the first Adam and the second Adam (Christ). The former brought death; the latter brought life. The sin of the former resulted in universal condemnation; the obedience and sacrifice of the latter brought universal justification.7 

Justification is by faith

The completed, objective reality of God’s “not-guilty” verdict in Christ is received, or appropriated, only through faith. This grasping of the reality of Christ’s completed work through faith we call subjective justification or personal justification. God’s verdict of “not-guilty” stands vis-à-vis the entire world regardless of human knowledge or belief, nevertheless this truth must be appropriated or personalized for each individual sinner to receive the benefit of God’s verdict. For a person to go to heaven, he must be brought by the Holy Spirit to repentance and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.
But what is faith? It’s important to understand what faith is—and what faith isn’t.
Faith is not mere knowledge of facts. It is implicit trust in the promises and actions of God. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed” (Isaiah 28:16).
Faith is preceded by true contrition, genuine sorrow over sin. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). 
Faith lays hold of the completed work of Christ for comfort and the certainty of salvation. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18a). “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
Faith is not the product of human reason, intellect or will. Faith is a gift from our gracious God: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Yet, while faith does not originate in man’s will, faith engages and involves a believer’s mind, assent and will.
Faith is worked by the Holy Spirit, without synergy or cooperation on the part of man. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16).
Faith is produced in human hearts by the Spirit working through his instrument or means of grace. This tool of the Spirit is the gospel, coming to us verbally in the spoken and written word of God and both verbally and tangibly in the sacraments. “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586) describes faith thus:

“Faith” in the article of justification must be understood not only as knowledge and general assent, stating in a general way that the promise of the Gospel is true, but that at the same time it includes the activities of the will and the heart; that is, it is a desire and a trust which, in the struggle with sin and the wrath of God, applies the promise of grace to each individual, so that each person includes himself in the general promise given to believers. In this way he raises himself up so that he determines without hesitation that the promise of the Gospel is firm for him also. From this he gains comfort and life in time of temptation.8

We must understand that faith doesn’t create anything new. Faith doesn’t bring anything into existence that doesn’t already exist. Faith doesn’t cause something to happen. Faith simply grasps—trusts—something that already is in place. Faith grasps the objective reality of God’s completed salvation in Christ. Faith appropriates the universal truth and takes personal ownership of God’s forgiveness found only in the Savior.9 Remember the causes of our salvation, according to Scripture: (1) the grace of God and (2) the merits of Christ. There is nothing inside man, including faith, which is a cause of salvation.
We must also understand, as stated above, that faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is not something that a human being can come to on his own. A few years after John Calvin, a teacher by the name of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) taught—partly as a reaction to John Calvin’s doctrine of double-predestination—that the determination of whether a person will be saved or lost rests within the will of man. Arminius taught that man has a
free will
 and must make the choice to accept Jesus in faith or reject him. Faith, according to Arminius, is an act of the will, the result of man’s rational decision. Like
Calvin, Arminius set his own reason above Scripture, and he came up with another reasonable but unbiblical understanding of salvation.
10
 Luther recognized that unbelieving man does not have a free will, but that his will is entirely bound up and enslaved in sin. He confessed in his explanation to the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” Faith must come from God, because in the bondage of our will we cannot come to faith on our own.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are personally justified, as we are given the gift of faith. Faith lays hold of Christ. Faith grasps Jesus’ completed work of redemption. Faith trusts that reconciliation between God and mankind has been accomplished by the Savior. Spirit-worked faith brings God’s universal verdict of “not-guilty,” lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and appropriates it for our own.  
This is justification by faith and through faith. Scripture speaks abundantly of the sinner’s personal justification through faith which appropriates the righteousness of Christ. “A righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21, 22). “’Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:3-5). “This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:22-24). Why is a sinner found righteous before God through faith? Only because of the object that Christian faith clings to. We don’t have faith in works, we don’t have faith in feelings, and we don’t have faith in faith. Christian faith holds onto Christ. Chemnitz wrote, “Faith is the unique means and instrument through which we lay hold on the righteousness of Christ, receive it, and apply it to ourselves.”11
The truth that a person must be individually justified through faith does not undermine the general, once-for-all justification accomplished on Calvary. Some have wrongly supposed that Christ’s justifying work on Calvary was incomplete, and that faith is required to make justification complete. This is not a biblical understanding of justification. It nullifies Jesus’ declaration from the cross, “It is finished,” by saying that the justification of the world really isn’t finished, or that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant something other than the justification of the world. It inserts an additional cause for man’s salvation beyond the grace of God and merits of Christ and includes faith as a cause of salvation. It redefines faith as something that brings about an effect and causes forgiveness and justification to take place.
The world’s redemption was complete at Calvary. The general justification accomplished in God’s great exchange at the cross provides the object for justifying faith which personally grasps the objective truth.

Justification must be taught clearly and carefully

We have briefly reviewed the basic teaching of the Bible concerning general and personal justification. The doctrine of justification is rightly called the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. It is, therefore, impossible to speak of these things correctly unless we use terminology with a precision that is consistent with Scripture. Chemnitz reminds us:

The Holy Spirit has certain terms in the teaching on justification that are not found in common usage. The church must be concerned about language, that is, it ought not devise new ideas or produce new dogmas, but those things which have been given us by the Holy Spirit it must learn from the correct meaning of the words that Scripture uses in teaching the heavenly doctrine. . . The neglect of correct language was the source and spring of all errors under this article.12

Correct use of terminology, wording, and phraseology are essential. The insertion or omission of one word or phrase can render a perfectly valid, scriptural statement grossly heretical. In the Christian church’s struggle to define the doctrine of Christ’s divinity, the insertion of the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, iota, turned truth into heresy.13 John Calvin, in his zeal to exalt God and his sovereignty above all things, correctly stated the biblical truth that in eternity God elected believers to salvation—and then he went one step further and fell into heresy by saying that in eternity God elected unbelievers to damnation. Matthias Flacius14 taught the biblical truth that man is a thoroughly wretched and depraved creature—and then he went one step further and fell into heresy by saying that man is essentially sinful, thus precluding the possibility of a really human yet sinless Christ. It is correct to say, “Good works are necessary,” but if we say, “Good works are necessary for salvation,” we stumble into heresy. When we say, “God has elected believers to salvation,” we speak the truth. If we say, “God has elected believers to salvation in view of their faith,” we slide into synergy and undermine grace. In each example, the mark of heresy is to go as far as Scripture goes—and then to go one step further.
Having offered this exhortation to careful terminology, please permit me to offer a gentle word of encouragement always to employ terms according to their proper, Spirit-given meaning, lest through careless speaking and writing we raise doubts and confusion, at best, or lapse into heresy, at worst.
The doctrine of objective justification is a defining doctrine for the Wisconsin Synod and for the old Synodical Conference. In our zeal to expound the true, biblical doctrine of objective justification against those who oppose the doctrine, we have, at times, “pushed the envelope,” and employed words and phrases in imprecise and incorrect ways. Except where indicated, I have no particular authors or writings in mind, as I offer the following as a loving critique of some wording and phraseology which has circulated in our midst:

In speaking of objective and subjective justification we may never use these terms to imply that there are two justifications. There is one justification; it is an objective, universal reality, completed by Christ at Calvary, and appropriated subjectively through faith.

“God has forgiven the whole world. God has forgiven everyone his sins.” This statement is absolutely true! This is the heart of the gospel, and it must be preached and taught as the foundation of our faith. But here’s where the caveat comes in: In Scripture, the word “forgive” is used almost exclusively in a personal, not a universal sense. The Bible doesn’t make the statement, “God has forgiven the world.” Rather, the Spirit of Inspiration overwhelmingly uses the word “forgive” (Greek: afihmi) within the context of repentance and faith, effected through the means of grace. There are good reasons why the Spirit chooses a particular word to be used in a particular context. Using the word “forgiveness” in the atypical sense, apart from repentance and faith, one might easily find himself in the incongruous position of saying to the impenitent or unbelieving, “God has forgiven your sins [objective gospel], but your sins are not forgiven [Ministry of the Keys].” Although one might discern this as the difference between gospel and law, practically it is theological double-speak, to be avoided by using words as Scripture does.

A second observation regarding the statement above: this does not reflect the historical treatment of the doctrine of forgiveness. Historically, the doctrines of redemption, atonement and justification have been treated under the Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed, while the doctrine of forgiveness has been a Third Article doctrine, treated as a present, daily reality, worked by the Holy Spirit for believers, brought about through word and sacrament. Luther explains, “In this Christian church he [the Holy Spirit] daily and fully forgives all sins to me and to all believers.”15

“God has forgiven all sins, but the unbeliever rejects God’s forgiveness.” Again, this statement is true—and Luther employed similar terminology to press the point of Christ’s completed work of salvation.16 But we must also recognize that Scripture doesn’t speak this way. Jesus says, “If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23). “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). There are many impenitent and unbelieving people in the world who embrace God’s forgiveness wrongly and imagine it to be theirs, even while they are living in impenitence and unbelief. In the context of their flawed belief system they are not rejecting God’s forgiveness; rather, they are misappropriating a forgiveness that is not theirs. Jesus said to the impenitent Pharisees, “Your guilt remains” (John 9:41), and to the unbelieving Jews, “You will die in your sins” (John 8:24). We speak clearly and precisely when we reserve the words “forgive” and “forgiveness” for personal justification through repentance and faith—as did the Spirit of Truth when he inspired Holy Scripture.

“Holy Communion reminds us of the forgiveness won for us on the cross.” Similar statements might be heard regarding Baptism and Confession and Absolution. These statements emphasize objective justification at the expense of the present reality of personal justification, distributed and effected through the means of grace. They express a view of the sacraments that comes dangerously close to the Reformed notion of powerless, ineffectual ordinances that are only reminiscent of past reality. The gospel, as it is preached, taught and offered in the sacraments and keys, not only announces the forgiveness of God; it effects the forgiveness of God in Christ. Luther made a distinction between the acquisition of forgiveness and the distribution of forgiveness:

We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But he has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously, before and after, from the beginning to the end of the world. If now I seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ, as Dr. Karlstadt trifles, in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not find it there either. But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross.17

“God has declared the entire world holy.” This is an inaccurate statement. The word “holy” means “set apart” or “transcendent.” The Hebrew word #]wOdqf (qadowsh), the Greek word a(gioj (hagios), the Latin word sanctus and the German word heilig all denote the same thing: something that is separated from or set apart from something ordinary or common. The word “holy” cannot be used in a universal sense. Scripture uses the term only to apply to believers or saints (from the Latin word sanctus). We cannot say, “God has sanctified the entire world.”
“God has declared the entire world righteous.” This statement is true, as we understand it to mean that God has rendered a verdict of “not-guilty” toward the entire world. It is also true—and must be taught—that the righteousness of Christ now stands in place of the world’s sin; this is the whole point of what Jesus did for us at Calvary. However, once again we’re wresting a term out of its usual context. In Scripture the term “righteous” usually refers to believers. It is a particular term that is typically reserved for the people of God.18 As Luther did with forgiveness, theologian Johann Quenstedt made a distinction between the objective righteousness of Christ, which was acquired for us through his perfect obedience, and the credited righteousness of Christ which is imputed (from the giving perspective) or appropriated (from the receiving perspective) only through faith:

(1) It is not simply the same to say, “Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us,” and “Christ is our righteousness.” For the imputation took place, not when Christ became righteous for us, but when we accepted this righteousness by faith. The righteousness of Christ is the effect of his office. The imputation is the application of the effect of his office. (2) The one, however, does not do away with the other. Christ is our righteousness effectively because he justifies us. He is our righteousness objectively because our faith rests in him. He is our righteousness formally in that his righteousness is imputed to us.19


We want to be careful about carelessly interchanging words. Atonement, reconciliation, justification, and redemption are not synonyms, and they must be used appropriately in their correct context. Use words like righteous and holy according to their precise meanings.

 “Bear this in mind, dear friends . . . it is your duty not only to believe as the Church believes, but also to speak in harmony with the Christian Church.”20 

Soli Deo gloria – To God alone be the glory!
Appendix 1: The Kokomo Statements

One glaring example of imprecise theological formulation is the Kokomo Statements. For the sake of time and space, I’ve treated a discussion of the Kokomo Statements as an appendix to this paper.
We can’t address the subject of objective justification and its history in the Wisconsin Synod without giving some attention to the Kokomo Statements. (There is a long history behind these statements and their use, which I won’t expound on here.) The Kokomo Statements were assembled in the late 1970s as a caricature of what WELS teaches on objective justification. The statements are included here in italics, followed by a very cursory analysis of each statement:

1. Objectively speaking, without any reference to an individual sinner’s attitude toward Christ’s sacrifice, purely on the basis of God’s verdict, every sinner, whether he knows it or not, whether he believes it or not, has received the status of a saint. 21 This statement is drawn verbatim from Professor J. P. Meyer’s commentary on 2 Corinthians, where he treats 2 Cor. 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” Professor Meyer lived through the lively discussions precipitated by the election controversy of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and he was himself an ardent champion of objective justification. He taught generations of pastors at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. In all fairness to Professor Meyer, I suspect that if he knew how much mischief has been made with these words he probably would have chosen them more carefully. The statement as it stands uses an unfortunate juxtaposition of dissimilar terms. Objectively speaking . . . every sinner. . . has received [“received” is a subjective term which nullifies the objective premise] the status [objective] of a saint [subjective].

2. After Christ’s intervention and through Christ’s intervention God regards all sinners as guilt-free saints.22 This is a paraphrase of another quote from J. P. Meyer. It is correct to say that the world’s guilt has been charged to Christ and, objectively speaking, the world stands guilt-free for Christ’s sake. However, as in the first statement, the use of the word saint in a universal context renders the statement unacceptable.

3. When God reconciled the world to Himself through Christ, He individually pronounced forgiveness to each individual sinner whether that sinner ever comes to faith or not.23 When we wish to speak about objective justification, we must use objective terminology. This statement is a muddle of objective and personal terms. When God reconciled the world [objective] . . . he individually [a specific or personal term] pronounced forgiveness [as shown in the body of the essay, the word “forgive” in Scripture is overwhelmingly used to describe the personal remission of sins received through repentance and faith worked by the means of grace] to each individual [another specific term] sinner.

4. At the time of the resurrection of Christ, God looked down in hell and declared Judas, the people destroyed in the flood, and all the ungodly, innocent, not guilty and forgiven of all sin, and gave unto them the status of saints. Once again, when concepts and terms are not used within the framework of their definitions, the result is confusion. Hell, by definition, is a place of eternal suffering that is devoid of God’s grace and forgiveness. Was the forgiveness of sins secured for Judas at the cross? Absolutely! Did Noah preach repentance and forgiveness for the sake of the coming Savior to the people of his day? Absolutely—Noah is called a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). But in hell the damned are forever cut off from the grace—offered in the means of grace—which they rejected. It is nonsensical to apply the term “saints” (holy people sanctified to God) to people in hell.

Each of these statements is so poorly crafted that it cannot be accepted—regardless of authorship. Dr. Siegbert Becker, in an essay to Chicago area pastors, rightly lamented the poor choice of
words, but he upheld the statements on principle.
24
 I would like him to have said, “Throw them out and start over!” The Kokomo Statements should be roundly rejected by the WELS as an incongruous ecclesiological mishmash. The rejection of these statements, as they are written, is not a repudiation of objective justification, which these statements pretend to defend.
Appendix 2: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) has been formulated as the result of dialog held over several years between the Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran groups around the world. On Reformation Day, October 31, 1999, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and other members of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) joined the Roman Catholic Church in adopting this Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification—the central doctrine which divided Lutherans and Roman Catholics at the time of the Reformation.
Have Lutherans and Roman Catholics really come to a consensus on justification? Has the time really come for rapprochement with Rome on this all-important issue? Even a cursory overview of the JDDJ reveals that nothing has changed Rome’s view of justification in the nearly 500 years since the Lutheran Reformation.
The complete text of the JDDJ, along with other pertinent information, is available online at: http://www.elca.org/ecumenical/ecumenicaldialogue/romancatholic/jddj/index.html
It comes as a surprise to many Lutherans to learn that the Roman Church has always taught salvation by grace through faith in the righteousness of Christ—even at the time of the Reformation. The fundamental issues are: What is grace? What is faith? And what is righteousness?
In Roman theology, justifying grace is not merely something in the heart of God. Rome speaks of infused grace, God’s grace that is poured out into the sinner to bring about a transformation of life and character. Therefore, the cause of man’s salvation is not merely grace in the heart of God that burns with love for a sinner and declares him righteous for Jesus’ sake, but the grace which God pours out into man’s heart which changes the sinner into a person acceptable to God. The use of the word grace according to the Roman understanding differs greatly from its use among Luther and the Lutheran confessors.
Faith, in Roman parlance, is not simple trust in the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake. Faith is defined as fides formata caritate (“faith formed by love”). Faith includes love and good works, which, in Roman theology, are necessary for salvation. Lutherans historically have viewed faith as simple trust, which clings to Jesus for forgiveness and appropriates his merit as our own.
In Roman theology, justification is a process which takes place over time, as Christ’s righteousness is infused into the sinner to make him intrinsically righteous and acceptable to God. In Lutheran theology, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner to make him extrinsically righteous and acceptable to God, for Jesus’ sake.
The JDDJ is a capitulation to Roman Catholic doctrine on all these points.
“The justified live by faith that comes from the Word of Christ and is active through love” (JDDJ:12). “They place their trust in God’s gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him” (JDDJ:25). This is the Roman definition of faith formed by love, not the definition of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions, which views faith as simple trust which clings to the mercy of God and the merits of Christ.
“When Catholics say that persons ‘cooperate’ in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God’s justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities” (JDDJ:20). This statement reveals the Roman Catholic understanding of grace. This is infused grace: grace that is poured out into man, causing him to do something (“consenting”) which causes him to be justified. It is not clearly stated that the cause of man’s justification is completely outside of man. According to this statement, God’s infused grace brings about an inner change which justifies him before God.
“For without faith, no justification can take place”
(JDDJ:27). Adolf Hoenecke wrote, “The emphasis on general justification is necessary to preserve the true content of the gospel.”
25
 This statement from the JDDJ is an example of what Hoenecke feared. There is no general or objective
justification here. The result in the JDDJ is a doctrine of synergism, humans cooperating with God to achieve salvation.
“The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace” (JDDJ:27). Note well what is stated: justification is forgiveness and being made righteous. The juridical nature of justification is discarded in favor of the transformative Roman view.
“The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent” (JDDJ:41). Of course the teaching of these “Lutheran” churches is not condemned by Rome. It’s not Lutheran! The Lutherans gave in and adopted Rome’s teaching on justification.
Combined Bibliography

Becker, Siegbert W. “Objective Justification.” An essay delivered at the Chicago Pastoral Conference, WELS. Elgin, Illinois, November 9, 1982.
Chemnitz, Martin. Justification: The Chief Article of Christian Doctrine as Expounded in Loci Theologici. J.A.O. Preus, Translator. St. Louis: Concordia, 1985.
Concordia Triglotta: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Mott, 1955.
Gerhard, Johann E. Isagoge Locorum Theologicorum. Jena: Sengenwald, 1658.
Hoenecke, Adolf. Evangelische-Lutherische Dogmatik, Vol. III. Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1912.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961.
Luther’s Works (American Edition). Vol 40. Philadelphia: Muehlenberg, 1958.
Meyer, Johannes P. H. Ministers of Christ. Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1963.
Meyer, Johannes P. H. “Objective Justification: Part I,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 37:1, January 1940.
Meyer, Johannes P. H. “Objective Justification: Part II,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 37:2, April 1940.
Nelson, E. Clifford, Ed. The Lutherans in North America. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.
Parlow, John. “Skepticism.” Forward in Christ (May 2005): 29.
Quenstedt, Johannes A. Theologia Didactico-Polemica. Lipsia: Thomas Fritsch, 1702.
Stoeckhardt, George. Commentar über den Brief Pauli an die Römer. St. Louis: Concordia, 1907.
Walther, Carl Fredrich Wilhelm. Law and Gospel. W. H. T. Dau, Translator. St. Louis: Concordia, 1929.
Justification in Mission and in Ministry
Pastor Jon D. Buchholz 
[58th Biennial Convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod assembled at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, July 27, 2005]

 In nomine Jesu 

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Important in the study of doctrine is not only the correct exposition of Scripture but also the way it is handled—its correct application. Today’s essay explores the practical implications of the doctrine of justification—especially objective justification—and its use in ministry and mission work at home and around the world.

The value of objective justification

The term objective justification never appears in the Lutheran Confessions. Without using the term, however, Luther and the confessors taught that God’s justifying work in Christ stands as an objective, accomplished fact, which is apprehended by faith. It wasn’t until nearly 350 years after Luther that another controversy in the Lutheran church forced theologians to formulate terms to relate the justification completed at the cross to its appropriation by faith.
The status controversiae which precipitated a thorough discussion of the universal nature of God’s forensic act was a dispute among Lutherans in the later 1870s about the nature of faith and God’s eternal election to salvation.
The predestinarian controversy arose in response to statements made by Missouri Synod theologian C. F. W. Walther regarding God’s foreknowledge and election of believers to salvation. Walther maintained, “God foresaw nothing, absolutely nothing, in those whom he resolved to save, which might be worthy of salvation.”1 Those who disagreed with Walther taught that God elected believers to salvation intuitu fidei (“in view of faith”). Theologians of the then-Ohio Synod insisted that in eternity God chose some to be saved because he knew that they would come to faith and because he foresaw in them something that would distinguish them from unbelievers. The controversy fractured the fledgling Synodical Conference (formed in 1872) when Ohio withdrew from membership. Fallout from the bitter polemics on both sides continued well into the 20th century.
Walther correctly observed that Ohio’s doctrine of election was synergistic.2 It undermined God’s grace, and it incorrectly made faith—something inside man—into an effective cause of salvation. Walther stood with Luther and the early Lutheran theologians and insisted that there are only two causes of salvation: (1) the grace of God and (2) the merits of Christ. The Ohio theologians insisted that there is no such thing as justification apart from faith and that faith is a condition for justification. Theologians who remained with the Synodical Conference taught justification as a completed reality wrought by Christ and grasped by faith. Walther stated:
The Word of God is not rightly divided when faith is required as a condition of justification and salvation, as if a person were righteous in the sight of God and saved, not only by faith, but also on account of his faith, for the sake of his faith, and in view of his faith.3
The terms
objective justification
 and
subjective justification
 came out of this controversy, as the theologians of the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods grappled with how best to express the justification won at
the cross as a completed reality, while maintaining the necessity of faith as the receiving organ that grasps the imputed righteousness of Christ offered in the gospel.

Text Box: The Law  The Gospel 
Declares that God  hates all sinners  (Psalm 5:4,5;  Psalm 11:5)  Declares that God  loves all sinners  (John 3:16) 
Commands what we must do and not do (Exodus 20)  Reveals what God did for us in Christ  (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) 
Exposes our sin  (Romans 3:19,20)  Reveals our Savior (John 1:17,18) 
Demands righteousness  from man (Leviticus 18:5;  Romans 10:5)  Gives righteousness  from God (Romans 3:21-31) 
Damns sinners (Galatians 3:10; Revelation 21:8)  Saves sinners (Romans 1:16,17) 
Restrains unbelievers (1 Timothy 1:9-11)  Liberates in Christ (Galatians 5:1) 
Instructs Christians (Psalm 119)  Motivates Christians (2 Corinthians 5:14)
Table 1 – Distinguishing characteristics of the law and the gospel.
1 Walther, Synodal-bericht, 51; cited in Nelson, 316. 
2 Synergism is cooperation or collaboration between God and man in matters of salvation. Salvation by grace alone is monergistic; God does everything without any contribution on the part of man.
3 Walther, Law and Gospel, Thesis XIV.
4 The phrase, “Take comfort in your faith,” can be understood correctly, but saying this to a sinner troubled by a guilty conscience points him in the wrong direction—inward, instead of outward. Our comfort is not in our faith but in the object of our faith, namely Christ and his promises sealed to us in word and sacrament.
5 Please don’t misunderstand the phrase “his own believing” to imply that faith is the product of human effort or will. Faith is a gift of God worked exclusively by the Holy Spirit. The phrase is used here to emphasize that Spirit-worked faith is something inside of man.
6 These questions illustrate the inability of both Calvin’s double-predestination and Arminius’ decision theology to impart comfort to a troubled sinner. A Calvinist can never really be sure that Jesus died for him, since there is no guarantee that he is part of the elect—and Calvin taught that Jesus died only for the elect. A believer in free will must look to his own decision, his own feeling and his own faith and ask, “Was my decision for Christ unreserved and genuine? Is my commitment sincere? Do I feel saved? Is my faith strong enough?”
7 Stöckhardt, Römerbrief, 264.
8 Hoenecke, 355. 
9 The German word Anfechtung doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English. It might be translated as “struggle of conscience” or “spiritual wrestling.” It describes Luther’s anguish of soul and fear of judgment that were only assuaged when he rediscovered the free gift of salvation through the merits of Christ apprehended by faith alone.
10 See Ephesians chapter 1 and Romans chapters 8-11.
11 This does not mean that there’s anything wrong with the law. The law of God is perfect and holy—and thus it unmasks the wretched depravity of man. 
12 The truth that God hates sinners often comes as an enormous shock to people who have been taught that “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” The latter statement is a tragic confusion of law and gospel. It contradicts Scripture, and it blunts the force of the law.
13 Walther, Law and Gospel, 118.
14 It might be a bad thing, but it won’t send you to hell.
15 For over a decade I served a congregation in the Pacific Northwest. The overwhelming majority of funerals in that part of the country were memorial services for people whose bodies had been cremated. Only a small percentage were interments. 
16 Literally, “opinion of the law.” The term refers to man’s natural tendency to think in law terms, and to relate the law to his efforts at being a “good person.” The opinio legis produces superb Pharisees.
17 Part of our reluctance stems from a confusion of terms. The word evangelical means “gospel-based.” The word legal means “law-based.” The word legalistic means “over-emphasizing the law” or “abusing the law.” We are not to be legalistic, but there are times when we must be legal—that is, there are times when our approach to sin must be completely based on the law, which crushes, breaks and tears down. We must stand firm and offer no forgiveness where there is no repentance.
Another confusion arises between the terms evangelical and loving. They are not the same! Using the law correctly to demolish pretenses and lead a sinner to repentance is the most loving thing we can do for him, under the circumstances. In such a case we are being loving in the legal sense; there is no gospel involved. When we bind up wounds with the gospel, we are being lovingly evangelical. Law and gospel are always to be applied lovingly in their appropriate context.
18 Notice that the phrase, “Perhaps he will forgive you,” is not gospel. The gospel is never conditional, and it never leaves forgiveness in question. This phrase is pure law, and it’s properly preached in such a way that it leaves the hearer wondering whether there is even the possibility of forgiveness for such a terrible sin.
19 By “the keys” is meant the “Ministry of the Keys,” the authority which Christ gave to his church to forgive and to retain sins.
20 Parlow, 29.
21 Please don’t confuse promotion and publicity with evangelism. Mailing flyers announcing Vacation Bible School or preschool enrollment is not evangelism. Evangelism is telling people the good news of Christ.
22 Sometimes God reveals success in growth, as many people are brought to salvation. Pentecost is an example. Other times God reveals success as attrition, as many people are hardened in unbelief. The world sees the latter as failure, but with God it is still success.
23 Makes us alive in Christ.
24 Revelation 7:9-12

Objection justification is the foundation of comfort

To some these distinctions might seem like theological hair-splitting, but the practical implications of objective justification are enormous. 
When a sinner is troubled in conscience, burdened by guilt, afflicted by past sins, nagged by thoughts of his own mortality, and assailed by doubts about his salvation, where is he to turn? Lutheran teaching has always pointed the troubled sinner away from himself to a completed salvation that exists completely outside himself. A sinner, troubled by the weight of sin and the fear of God’s wrath, should never look inside himself for the assurance of salvation. He cannot find consolation in his own life or his own works. He cannot find comfort in his own fickle feelings. He is not to look to his own prayers and spiritual wrestling for the assurance of salvation. He is not to find comfort in his faith; in other words, he is not to have faith in his faith.4 Looking inside himself, a sinner will find only sin and death, from which he can in no way set himself free. Introspective self-searching will spiral the troubled soul downward into the black hole of despair.
To find comfort, the sinner must look outside himself. He looks to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which holds out the objective truth of Christ’s completed salvation. In faith he lays hold of the completed forgiveness already won for him at the cross and apprehends it for his own. This theocentric (God-centered) approach to theology has always been a hallmark of Lutheran doctrine. It directs the troubled sinner away from his own fears, his own feelings, his own doing, his own praying, and even his own believing, and it points him to the reality of God’s grace in Christ and his completed work at Calvary.5
But even looking outside himself, the troubled soul may fail to find peace, if Jesus’ justifying work is not seen as complete for all. For whom did Jesus live, die and rise again? Was it only for the elect? Was it only for those whom God recognized in his foreknowledge? Did Jesus somehow manage to pay for the sin of the entire world, yet still overlook me? When Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” did that triumphant decree embrace me and declare my justification finished, complete and certain—or was I left out? Is there something that I have to add to make Jesus’ justifying work real for me? Is there a change inside me that has to take place for me to be found not-guilty before the judgment bar of God?6
The next time you find yourself lying awake in the pre-dawn darkness, thinking of the passage of time, contemplating your own mortality, and reflecting upon the approaching appointment you have with a just and holy God, your only unassailable assurance of salvation is the unchanging truth that Jesus lived, died and rose again to justify the world—and the world includes you!
 The objective reality of justification for the world that was achieved at the cross does not change with the roller coaster of human emotion. Whether a person’s faith is weak or strong, Christ—the object of faith—remains rock-solid and unshakeable. God’s completed forgiveness, acquired at Calvary and sealed by Easter’s empty tomb, is the objective basis of comfort for troubled sinners.
This use of objective justification
as a comfort for anguished sinners
 was the primary application of the doctrine throughout the predestinarian controversy and well into the 20th century. The primary task of the church was understood to be the preaching of the forgiveness of sins for the comfort of souls yearning for peace
with God. This theme of comfort for sinners recurs frequently in the writings of the defenders of objective justification. George Stoeckhardt wrote:

The entire Pauline teaching of justification, and also all the comfort of justification, stands and falls with this particular article of general justification. This is how it becomes completely clear and obvious that justification is entirely independent of man’s conduct. And this is the only way that the individual can become entirely certain of his own justification. For it is a compelling conclusion: If God has already in Christ justified all men and forgiven them their sins, so I also in Christ have a gracious God and the forgiveness of all my sins.7

Hoenecke declared, “The emphasis on general justification is necessary in order to preserve the true content of the gospel.”8 
The Lutheran Church was born of Martin Luther’s Anfechtung9 and his subsequent rediscovery of the righteousness of God in Christ freely given by grace. Only the pure doctrine of God’s completed salvation in Jesus offers the comfort that a troubled heart craves, and preserves an afflicted conscience from despair.

Doctrine must be used correctly

We can formulate and expound doctrine precisely in all points, but if we use and apply the doctrine incorrectly, we do great damage with our mishandling of the truth. Consider, for example, the doctrine of predestination (election to salvation) taught in Scripture.10 The amazing truth that believers were chosen before the creation of the world to be conformed to the likeness of Christ brings tremendous comfort and joy to a Christian. This is the purpose of the doctrine of election: to fill the Christian with amazement and rejoicing at the eternal grace of God. But what if we use the doctrine of election to try to answer the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” Misusing the doctrine this way, we will quickly find ourselves walking a path that leads to confusion, doubt and inevitable falsehood. The doctrine of election is never intended to answer that question, and to use it that way is an abuse of the doctrine.
The doctrine of objective justification must be articulated clearly, and it must be used correctly. Its essential use, as the heart of the gospel, is to comfort sinners with the rock-solid foundation of salvation as an objective reality in Christ.

Correctly handling law and gospel

To learn how to handle the doctrine of justification and to apply it correctly to mission and ministry, we must first review the two great teachings of Scripture: the law and the gospel. Table 1 offers a side-by-side comparison of some distinguishing characteristics of law and gospel.
As you can see from the table, the divine law brings about some horrible consequences for man.11 It demands of man something that he cannot deliver, namely, perfect obedience and untainted righteousness. The law peels back the outward veneer of man’s civil obedience and all his efforts to present a good face to those around him, and it exposes the wretched depravity of the natural human heart. It reveals the frightful fury of the living God, who is a consuming fire. The law introduces man to the true God—not the god of his own imagination—the God who hates all evil, and who hates all who sin against him.12
The law brings dreadful consequences, and yet the law is necessary. How else can a human being know of his despicable natural condition before God, so that he perceives the need for a solution? The law exposes mankind’s eternal problem: he is a sinner who must die and face his Maker. His sins have separated him from God. His destiny is the most dreadful, tormented existence apart from God in hell. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Is the doctrine of justification for the impenitent and unbelieving?

Justification is gospel—pure gospel. As gospel, it finds application only to sinners who have been crushed, broken and brought by the law to see their helpless and hopeless condition. 
But what if a sinner has not come to terms with his own sin? Can justification—especially objective justification—still be preached to the impenitent? Can Christ’s forgiveness as an objective reality acquired for the world be proclaimed to those who have not heeded the testimony of their conscience convicting them and who have not been broken by the law? The answer is: absolutely not!
Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:26). C. F. W. Walther observed:

We may not preach the Gospel, but must preach the Law to secure sinners. We must preach them into hell before we can preach them into heaven. By our preaching our hearers must be brought to the point of death before they can be restored to life by the Gospel.13

We live in a world that in outward respects is very different from the world in which Jesus walked, from the world in which Luther worked, and from the world in which Walther and the theologians of the Synodical Conference formulated the doctrine of objective justification. Years of peace on our soil have fostered a sense of domestic tranquility and personal security; we haven’t lived through anything like the Thirty Years War, which ravaged Germany in the 1600s. Sin is viewed as an outmoded or, at worst, a venial14 concept; people aren’t even ashamed about grossly immoral lifestyles. Material abundance, technological advancement, and a level of prosperity unprecedented in the history of the world have produced a climate of comfort, luxury, and infatuation with the material, while fostering complacency and indifference about things spiritual. “Who really cares about better life in the world to come? Who needs all that ‘pie in the sky in the by-and-by’? We’ve got it all now! Get the most out of life! Live the American Dream!”
While creating heaven on earth, our culture has also sanitized death. Death frequently comes in sterile hospital rooms under controlled circumstances. The body is whisked away to be gussied up by the funeral home or cremated.15 And in our humanist society, it’s assumed that everybody goes to heaven—if there is a heaven.
All of this means that modern man is living an illusion. He is, for the most part, unconscious of his pending doom as he races down the freeway of life headed for destruction. He needs a reality check, because for all the changes and challenges in our modern world, some things never change. The nature of man has not changed since the fall into sin. The reality of his desperate condition has not changed. And the solution to man’s single most pressing problem has not changed.
How did the apostles tackle the challenges posed to them by an indifferent, apathetic, lascivious, pagan world? They preached law and gospel!

Preach repentance!

We don’t like to preach the law the way it really is meant to be preached. Our opinio legis16 loves “how-to” preaching that gives practical instruction in godly living—and there is a place for this use of the law. But the primary use of the law—to expose sin, to strip away the façade of human goodness, to unmask human hypocrisy, and to damn sin, impenitence and unbelief—that use of the law seems out of bounds to our kind and cultured society. We are loath to offend.17
But this preaching of the law is exactly what is required. We cannot preach the gospel to people who are comfortable loving their 401(k)s, their automobiles, their jobs, their leisure activities, their travel plans, or even their children more than God. We are to expose their idolatry and warn them to repent. We are not to rail upon the outward sins of the flesh that condemn all the wicked Hollywood movie moguls, slam the purveyors of porn, and indict the murderers and pedophiles at the state penitentiary. We are to condemn the sins that lurk, cold and sinister, within the hearts of our hearers in the pew. We cannot make excuses for people’s apathy, stinginess, lack of Christian charity, and indifference to the means of grace. We must tell them in the words of Christ, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5).
This application of Scripture is consistent with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. When approached by a rich young man who was confident he had kept the law since his youth, Jesus offered him no gospel promise of salvation. “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you still lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” (Mark 10:21). When a lawyer wanted to justify himself, Jesus offered him no forgiveness of sins but told him the parable of the Good Samaritan and said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). When Peter confronted Simon the Sorcerer, who wanted to buy the ability to impart the Holy Spirit, Peter showed him no mercy. “Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you! Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you18 for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin’” (Acts 8:20-23, selected). 
This is not to say that we need more law in our circles, or to suggest that we drop the “Ev.” from the names of our synod and churches. I am suggesting that we use the law in the harsh, bitter way it is meant to be used, so that the beauty of the gospel gleams more brightly. We are to move beyond the insipid, “We’re all a bunch of filthy, rotten sinners who deserve to go to hell—but Jesus died for us,” and preach repentance. We are to use the law to expose sin—individual sins, personal sins, the pet sins that we’re comfortable with—to convict, and to condemn, aiming to leave the most smug, self-righteous Pharisee in the congregation quaking in fear of God.

Proclaim the good news!

Preaching the law to sinners sets the stage, but it’s not the main event of Scripture. The purpose of God’s revelation to mankind is not to condemn but to save. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
To the brokenhearted who grieve over their sin, to those who have been brought by the law to despair of themselves, to those who feel God’s wrath and fear his condemnation—to contrite sinners we preach not a shred of law. To penitents we preach only gospel.
When the law has done its hard work of crushing the sinner, then the precious truth of salvation purchased by Christ at the cross beams into the darkness of spiritual anguish and shines the light of comfort. The gospel of forgiveness brings hope to despairing hearts. The sacrament of Holy Baptism washes away every stain of sin; it clothes the believer with the righteousness of Christ that counts before God. The feast of Holy Communion brings Christ personally to sinners hungering for salvation. The proclamation of absolution on the lips of the pastor causes troubled hearts to rejoice in the declaration of free forgiveness. 
As the Spirit works through these means, the sinner exclaims, “I am justified! My salvation was secured by my Substitute, Jesus Christ, who suffered God’s wrath in my place and has brought me peace with God! I have no more fear of judgment, for Christ has befriended me. My Savior has washed me and made me his very own. He intercedes for me before the throne of God. I can now call God my dear Father, through my brother, Jesus Christ.” All the gifts of God’s grace, rooted in the objective truth of God’s completed work in Christ, are personally communicated to the sinner through the gospel in word, sacraments and keys.19
This application of gospel is consistent with Scripture. Jesus placed no condition on the absolution he spoke to a paralytic when he declared, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). When Jesus saw multitudes laboring under the legalistic yoke of the Pharisees, yearning for comfort and forgiveness, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Jesus called to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
 The Apostle Paul made no demands of the jailer at Philippi—a man despondent to the point of suicide. He said unconditionally, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

A popularity contest?

Is preaching repentance and faith the ticket to a growing synod? In recent years, our church body has evinced considerable interest in growth. This is healthy, to the degree that it is prompted by a love for lost souls and a desire to reach more people with the gospel. Some of this, frankly, is unhealthy and is driven by envious glances at the regional mega-church, as we wonder why we don’t have the same numbers.
The ancient prophets cared not a whit about popularity. They were royal jerks when it came to preaching repentance. They thundered against the impenitent with fury from on high. It wasn’t just
what
 they said that
offended; they weren’t particularly politic about
how
 they said it. Their stinging rebukes won them persecution, not popularity. In fact, the mark of true preaching was its
unpopularity
. The same is true for the preaching of the apostles. Jesus said, 
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
Remember, God’s word must be not only rightly expounded; it must be rightly applied. Once again, without impugning anyone’s faithful service to the Lord, let’s review some examples from our synod’s recent history and ask ourselves if we’ve properly applied law and gospel. 
A few years ago our synod developed an outreach campaign for use in congregations entitled “Reflections.” The artwork—very professionally done—pictured people in various situations wrestling with life’s problems, along with the line, “I am saved.” On the back of each piece the words continued, “You are too through Jesus Christ,” followed by an exposition of the gospel of God’s free grace given in Jesus. The objective truth of the gospel was very clearly and correctly expounded. Sadly, objective justification, in the case of this campaign, was misapplied. What was missing was the preaching of the law to prepare hearts for the gospel. Missing was a universal call to repent of sin. A blanket proclamation of God’s love that precedes a blanket proclamation of God’s wrath is a recipe for sinners to abide securely in their sin.
If we omit or obscure the law, intentionally or not, we end up undermining the gospel. When we soft-pedal the law to avoid offending, we leave people wondering about the relevance of Christ. A recent article in Forward in Christ illustrated this sentiment about the relevance of preaching: “As a kid all I remember was hearing the preacher say over and over again, ‘You are sinners who don’t deserve anything, but . . . Jesus died for you.’ Okay, but so what? What does that look like for me on Monday in my cubicle or Thursday night out on the town?”20 There is much to be said for practical instruction in God’s word in the sermon, but I was left wondering whether a person who doesn’t grasp the relevance of being rescued from eternal damnation through the sacred blood of Jesus really has grasped Christianity.
It’s easy to entertain the sentiment, “Perhaps if only we in the WELS were a little more sensitive, and we weren’t so harsh in criticizing every doctrinal aberration and every moral weakness, we might be able to grow larger churches.“ This is the onramp to the freeway of apostasy. Law and gospel, rightly handled, are an enormous offense to the human psyche. The preaching of repentance wounds a person’s self-esteem, shatters his self-love, and exposes his self-infatuation. The preaching of free, unconditional forgiveness in Christ is an absurdity to the human mind. It’s the foolishness of the cross. Law and gospel are neither popular nor palatable to the unconverted—and they are not popular to the residual sinful nature that lurks inside all Christians and remains unconverted to the day we die. There is no way to dress up law and gospel to make them less offensive. But in the hands of the Spirit of God, they are the power to convict and the power to heal.
Does this mean we should hunker down in our fortress, develop a martyr mindset and celebrate our smallness as evidence that we’re the chosen little flock of God? How absurd! The word of God must be preached! It must be brought to people, so the Spirit can do his work. But I don’t have the privilege of worrying about things that are out of my hands—and I have no control over the growth or popularity of my church or synod! My call in Christ is simply to proclaim the full counsel of God, to unleash the powerful and effective word. The Spirit works where he wills.

Methods and strategies

Another development in recent years is a growing interest in methodology for ministry, engineering strategies for ministry, and casting visions for ministry. In our church body we are blessed to serve an increasingly educated constituency. Many in our midst have completed graduate training in business
administration, and these emphases on methods, strategies and vision are direct imports from the business world.
I am entirely in favor of seeing churches administered in an efficient, orderly way. Our called servants are to be hard-working, using their talents and creative abilities to their maximum potential. There is no excuse for laziness. We are to equip the saints for meaningful service. We are to strive for excellence in our teaching and preaching, in our promotion and publicity, 21 in everything we do. It’s the King we’re serving! We are to be active in Christian charity, involved in our communities, serving our neighbors. Today we have wonderful tools in technology to serve the proclamation of the gospel. We are to use our gifts to plan, organize and strategize. We employ methods to minister to people. We set goals, under God’s grace, and, imploring his blessing, we work toward those goals. Because Christians are optimists, we envision success, in God’s terms.22 There are many things we can learn from the business world, in Jesus’ words, being as shrewd as snakes but as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16; see also Luke 16).
But as we emphasize North American Outreach and carry on our mission work around the world, in the final analysis there is still only one powerful word of God that convicts and heals. The gospel is changeless. The world is changing. But the things about the world which the gospel impacts—spiritual things—remain forever unchanging! Law and gospel are the only timeless remedy for the human condition. The only methods that will achieve spiritual results are methods that center in the proclamation of the universal condemnation of the law and the universal justification of the gospel. The only strategies that will be successful are strategies that expose more people to the preaching of the word of God, to the washing of Holy Baptism, to the feast of Holy Communion, and to the spoken absolution of the pastor. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:20). “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Our current financial crisis, which is prompting ministry cutbacks at home and abroad, is a case in point. The malaise afflicting our church body will not be ameliorated by business-based programs and strategies! When God’s law convicts us of our collective and individual materialism, driving us to our knees in fear of God’s wrath upon our greed, apathy and coldness, and when the gospel of Jesus Christ floods our forgiven hearts with God’s grace, rekindles our zeal for the lost and perishing, and motivates a life of generous Christian love—then our fiscal situation will change.

Motive for mission and ministry

The truth that God’s work of salvation is completed for the entire world in Christ leads to an obvious conclusion: If Jesus died for the world, he is to be proclaimed to the world. Every soul is a treasure, whose worth is measured by the precious blood of Jesus.
Following World War II, there were Japanese soldiers remaining on South Pacific islands who never heard that the war was over. They remained in a state of hostility long after the United States and Japan had returned to peace and friendship, because they had not heard the declaration of peace.
This is the sad state of the world today, a world perishing in darkness, ignorance and unbelief. Billions have never heard that God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ. Countless souls will live out their days ignorant of the forgiveness that was purchased for them at Calvary’s cross. St. Paul asks: 
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14,15)
The forgiveness acquired by Jesus for all at the cross gives us confessional Lutherans, among all the church bodies of the world, the highest motivation to share our Savior. In contrast to the “Jesus Saves” churches, we don’t preach a salvation that is incomplete and just waiting for the sinner to do something to complete the transaction. We proclaim boldly, “Jesus Saved,” past tense, finished, certain. We don’t leave God’s people twisting in an ambiguous morality asking, “What would Jesus do (WWJD)?” We proclaim what Jesus did to rescue sinners, and we rejoice that God counts every Christian work of faith done in the righteousness of Christ as good. We offer comfort to troubled sinners, the assurance, not the mere possibility, of salvation. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3,4).

Our proclamation of the eternal gospel at home and around the world is not restricted to people of a particular race, social stratum or income level. The gospel doesn’t discriminate. I have been privileged to worship with fellow Christians in far-off mission fields. They speak a different language, live in a different culture, view the world from a different perspective, and are in many ways very different from me. But the things that unite us far surpass the things that divide us. Together we rejoice in a common Savior, who won for all people the forgiveness of sins. We share in a common confession of the truth. We rejoice in the comfort of the same gospel, are washed in the same Baptism, are bound by the same Communion, and rejoice in the same hope of eternal life rooted in a victory won for us nearly 2,000 years ago by our common brother, Jesus Christ.
God’s objective justification not only saved us. It still empowers us for our mission and ministry. 
“Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:14,15). 
The gospel in word, sacraments and keys is the living breath of the Spirit, which enables each believer to live in constant repentance. The gospel makes no commands and imposes no demands upon us. It only quickens23 and enables us to strive to become what we are already declared to be in Christ.

Vision for the church

If we are to cast a vision for the future of our church body, by God’s grace . . .  

We’ll envision the mercy of our gracious Lord preserving our congregations in faithfulness to Holy Scripture and our Lutheran confessional heritage. 
We’ll envision ongoing diligence in preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins, rightly dividing law and gospel for the eternal blessing of many souls. 
We’ll envision a body of Christians that grieves over our sins and trembles in the fear of God—but also celebrates with exuberance our redemption in Christ.
We’ll envision a people hungry for the Bread of Life, eager for a greater knowledge of Christ, and thirsty for the living waters that quench parched souls.
We’ll envision a deeper appreciation for God’s gift of grace in Baptism, a profound and constant amazement at the gift of God’s Spirit, who brought us out of death to live with Jesus. 
We’ll envision God’s people craving the Sacrament of the Altar, the present and tangible forgiveness offered in the body and blood of Christ. 
We’ll envision a church body that appreciates the Ministry of the Keys and delights in the pronouncement of absolution—in public and in private—a declaration of forgiveness that
effects and seals to sinners the objective forgiveness won for us by our Savior nearly two millennia ago.
We’ll celebrate the glorious vision of our victory in heaven, the vision of souls from every nation, tribe, people and language, united in praise to God: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!24

Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone be the glory
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