Understanding Jesus’ Atonement: Objectively and Subjectively

Locations for the Means of Grace (610x351)Instructing adults in the Faith, we are now in question-and-answer period, going over specifics questions that some being instructed have. 

In this lesson, we look at Jesus’ work to save us objectively (what He did irrespective of the faith one may have) and subjectively (whether one believes what Jesus objectively did for our salvation).


Jesus’ Objective Justification of the World

Right before Jesus died, He cried from the cross, “It is completed” (John 19:30).  Jesus had just completed what He came to do in His life and death.  Yet, what was that?  Did Jesus die only for those who would be saved?  Or did He die for the entire world?  Exactly, what did Jesus “complete”?

To know what Jesus “completed,” we need to look to other Scriptures to know what the “it” of Jesus statement, “It is completed,” means.  Earlier in John, after speaking to Nicodemus about being born of water and Spirit, of being born from above, Jesus connected that to the sacrifice He would soon make for the world.

  • This is the way God loved the world: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16] 

And so from John 3:16, we find that Scripture teaches universal grace.  Scripture reveals God’s love in Christ, which extends to every single human being of all time.

Yet, Scripture also teaches universal atonement: “The next day John [the Baptizer] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29)  Some have defined “atonement” as “at-one-ment.”  Such a definition gets to the gist of atonement: We become reconciled and at one with God.  Atonement is Christ making us one with God the Father, reconciling us to Him.  Other synonyms include “satisfaction” and “expiation.”

Further, Scripture explicitly states this universal reconciliation: “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  Jesus is the universal peacemaker.  His sacrifice on the cross has removed the barrier of sin that separates humanity from God.  Where that sin barrier has been removed, there is peace, reconciliation.  In Christ and through Christ, the status between God and the human race has changed from one of hostility to peace.

And if that were no enough, Scripture also teaches universal forgiveness: “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  Forgiveness is the removal of sin, that is, the sin is “left behind,” so sin and its guilt are no longer charged against you.

  • Psalm 32:1: Blessed is the one whose wrongdoing is forgiven, whose sin is pardoned! 
  • Romans 4:7-8: Blessed are those whose disobedience is forgiven and whose sins are pardoned.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them. 

Instead, God held the sin of the world against Jesus, where He, the sinless One, took those sins into Himself, and took its eternal consequences away from us (2 Corinthians 5:21).

And to top it off, Scripture even teaches a universal or objective justification.

  • Romans 3:23-24: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and they [the “all” just mentioned] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 
  • Romans 5:18-19: So then, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression [the Fall into sin], so also through one righteous act [the salvation Jesus accomplished for us] there is justification and life for all people.  For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  [Note: “the many” is a Hebrew idiom meaning “all people.”] 

The Apostle Paul contrasts the first Adam with the second Adam, Jesus Christ.  The first Adam brought death; the second Adam, Jesus Christ, brought life.  The sin of the first resulted in universal condemnation; the obedience and sacrifice of the second brought universal (or objective) justification.

So then, why isn’t everyone saved?


Jesus’ Objective Justification Received by Faith

The completed, objective reality of God’s “not-guilty” verdict in Christ is real.  It is an-already, accomplished fact and reality.  God’s verdict of “not-guilty” stands for the entire world, regardless of human knowledge or belief.  Yet, this truth must be appropriated or personalized for each person to receive the benefit of God’s verdict.  This is where faith comes into the picture.

The Apostle Paul taught this same truth.  As he preached in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, he followed his presentation of “objective justification” by a declaration of “subjective justification”: “So, brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you [objectively, this is an-already accomplished by Jesus Christ].  Everyone who believes in Him is justified from every sin [the objective work of Christ is applied personally, that is, subjectively], a justification you could not obtain under the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

But first, what is “faith”?  Faith is not simply knowing facts, such as knowing the facts about Jesus’ life and death.  It is trust in the promises and actions of God.

  • Proverbs 3:5: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. 
  • Isaiah 28:16: Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation: The one who trusts will be unshakable. 

Faith lays hold of Christ’s completed work of salvation.  “The one who believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned” (John 3:18).  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Although our human reason and intellect tries to understand faith (the intellectual grasping of the trust we have in Christ), faith itself is not the product of human reason, intellect, or will.  Faith is a gift from God: “For you are saved by grace through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Holy Spirit places the gift of faith within someone, without spiritual cooperation on the part of the person.

  • Ephesians 2:1, 5: As for you, you were once dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and its spiritual ruler….  Although we were dead in transgressions, God made us alive with Christ.  You are saved by grace! 
  • Colossians 2:13: When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ and forgave us all our sins.  

That’s why, although we are physically alive and can do physical things, Jesus says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).  And the Apostle Paul teaches: “So then it does not depend on human will or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16).

–          Discuss, based on what you have learn so far, about how and when God the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart?


Putting It All Together

Working through the means of grace (baptism, the preached Word, the Lord’s Supper), the Holy Spirit brings, keeps, and strengthens us in the one, true faith in Christ (subjective justification).  Having then been “Holy Spirited” to faith, we have been brought from death to life, and Christ sets up His dwelling in our hearts (deification).

Thus, those who are justified by grace (Jesus for you) through faith are also deified (Jesus in you), which then results in your sanctification (Jesus through you).  It is as impossible for a Christian to be justified and not, at the same time, deified and sanctified.  The Holy Spirit brings us “Christ for us” in the means of grace.  Christ then is in us, sustaining us, only because we have been justified by the work of Christ on the cross.


Puttit it all together (Lesson on atonement)


God the Holy Spirit sustains the Christian life through the means of grace.  And so sanctification is essentially a result of being “Jesused”: The Christ for you and the Christ in you becoming the Christ through you.

–          Discussion.