The doctrine of Justification is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. It declares that a man is justified by faith in the forgiveness of sins which Jesus has accomplished by His death upon the cross, in payment for the sins of the world. A man is received into grace when he believes that His sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ, entirely apart from his own strength, merits, or works. God counts this faith as righteousness. (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8,9; AC IV).
Implicit in this definition of Justification are two acts of God which we have come to call Objective and Subjective Justification. Justification cannot be properly understood without considering both of these divine declarations.
Objective Justification teaches that Christ has atoned not only for the sins of the elect, but for the sins of the whole world, and that He has not only accomplished this atonement but has also declared, by His resurrection from the dead, that the Father is reconciled with the entire world. Thus Objective Justification is nothing less than God’s declaration to the whole world of the forgiveness of sins which Christ accomplished upon the cross.
Subjective Justification teaches that when a man believes this, God formally counts this faith as righteousness, joins him to Christ, and makes him a partaker of eternal life.
In this way, Justification encompasses the Atonement of Christ and God’s response to that atonement in declaring the forgiveness of sins to the world. This forgiveness he then delivers to men by declaring it through the means of grace, which creates the faith by which man lays hold of this divine promise, and by faith is counted righteous by God. Without God declaring the world righteous, the atonement of Christ is ever outside the reach of man and cannot help him. Without the means of grace, God’s declaration is not applied to the individual. Without faith in that declaration, a man is still in His sin, a child or wrath, and destined for hell.
That Objective Justification is part of Justification may be seen in Rom. 5:12: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” Also in 2 Cor. 5:19: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.”
The Subjective and Objective acts of Justification are also implicit in article IV of the Augsburg Confession which declares: “Men … 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.” Here Justification is described as a man believing that his “sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.” In this way that which faith believes is already true before faith believes it. Yet it is only this faith that is counted as righteousness.
Without this faith, a man is not counted as righteous, and all his sins are held against him. Therefore we reject all formulations of justification which deny that God holds the sins of unbelievers against them. Rather unbelievers remain in a state of wrath. We further reject all formulations of justification which declare that the only sin that damns is the sin of unbelief.