For All & For You: An Overview of Objective & Subjective Justification


Objective subjective For All.  For you.

There are two senses in which we can talk about the work of Christ.  First, what Jesus did on the cross he did for all people.  Second, Jesus’ work has saved you by grace through faith.  Both of these are important when we discuss the love of Christ because it reminds us that the love of Jesus is both universal and personal.  The fancy, theological language that describes this is called objective and subjective justification.

For All.

Who did Jesus die for?

When Jesus died on the cross, he did not only die for believers.  He suffered and died for the sins of all people.  When John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world,”  the word “world" includes everybody.  When we talk about the work of Christ, in the widest sense we always refer to that which Christ did for all people.

It’s what Luke records when he writes, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)

And the Apostle Paul,

"For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” - 2 Corinthians 5:14

All people.

In widest sense, we could say that the work of Christ is universal.  In more technical terms, this is sometimes referred to as objective justification.  The atoning work of Christ is for all people.  Jesus didn’t just die for some people, he died for all sinners.  And this truth is objective; it’s not dependent on the person that Jesus died for.

For You.

But while this work is for all people, not all people are saved?

This is why it is important that we understand the work of Christ in both the wide and narrow sense.

Why aren’t all people saved if the work of Christ was for all people?

Ephesians 2:8 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.”  Grace which was for all people is received personally through faith.  All people aren’t saved because not all people have faith.  In the narrowest sense, we can say what Christ did for all people he did for you.

This is what faith trusts.  Faith trusts that what Jesus did on the cross for all people, he did for you.  Faith makes the objective truth of the Gospel personal.  In more technical language, we like to call this subjective justification.  We receive the benefits of God’s gift personally through faith.  And it is only through faith that we receive the benefits of what Christ did for all people.

Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gospel

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  In the proclamation it was stated:

“All persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free."

In that moment, slaves all over the United States are free.  Men, women, and children leaving plantations for the first time as free families.  As the good news is declared to the country, slaves become free and leave their chains behind.

But imagine for a second, another slave.  This slave hears the good news and thinks, “It’s too good to be true; I can’t trust it.”

And then he continues to work on the plantation as a slave.

Does his failure to believe the message negate the general freedom that has been declared for all slaves?  Of course not! But his failure to believe does make this message of freedom ineffective for him personally.

*note: this illustration came from a classic book on Christian Doctrine

The Gospel, which has won freedom for all people, declares us free. It is by faith in that freedom that has been won universally that applies it personally.  Faith, which comes from the Spirit and trusts in the work of the Son, makes the universal love of the Father personal.

Failure to see the universal love of God falsely believes that Jesus only died for the elect.  It believes that God loves some but not others.  And failure to see personal justification falsely believes that all are saved regardless of their faith and/or by their own works.  It emasculates the Gospel as it eliminates the need for Christ in believing that grace works apart from faith.

It’s for all.  And it’s for you.

It’s universal.  But it’s also personal.

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