Objective Justification

This is a short series we’re studying on justification, with this first lesson on the objective reality of what Jesus did.

Our Universal Condition

The book of Romans reveals our universal human condition.  The writer, Paul, combines two Old-Testament passages to announce this reality.

Masoretic Text Septuagint Romans Paul’s Point
Ecclesiastes 7:20 There is none righteous on earth who does good and does not sin. Ecclesiastes 7:20 There is none righteous on earth who does good and does not sin. Romans 3:10 There is none righteous, no, not one. Paul focuses on the inward state of being, not on doing “good,” which would distract from his point.
Psalm 53:2-3 God looks… to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.  Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one. Psalm 53:2-3 God looked… to see if there were any who understood or sought God.  Everyone turned aside; they were all together worthless; there is none who does good, not even one. Romans 3:11-12 There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; they have together become worthless; there is none who does good, no, not one. Paul uses the Septuagint to strengthen his point.  The MT has that we are “corrupt” (alach); the LXX has “worthless” (axreio).  Not only is everything we do corrupted by sin—but because of our sinful nature, what we do has no worth before God.

Well, if on our own, we can’t anything “good” in God’s eyes, what do we do?  Human history gives us that answer: Every sin imaginable—a byproduct of our original sin.  In the next two verses, Paul uses rhetoric to reinforce this: “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (Romans 3:13-14).

Paul doesn’t give us this diagnosis to encourage to do better or try harder so we can to warrant God’s love.  No, this is so “every mouth may be stopped” (Romans 3:19).  

Thus, we learn we are all universally condemned because our sinful nature, which is why we sin and our unworthy before God.

Terms and Definitions

Now, if we are universally condemned, do we not need a universal undoing of our condemnation?  We’ll explore this in a few minutes.  First, we need to go over some terms.

  • Mercy: God not treating us as we deserve, though Scripture often uses “mercy” as a synonym of “grace.”
  • Grace: God giving us what we don’t deserve.  This is not simply not receiving punishment but receiving of something good, such as an “inheritance.”
  • Forgiveness: The leaving of sins behind, no longer holding one’s sins against another.
  • Redemption: To be redeemed, set free, by the payment of another.  In matters of salvation, this is something Jesus did for us by “paying” the requirements demanded by God’s Law.
  • Reconciliation: The establishment of peace between two entities.  Theologically this is the state of peace with God that Jesus established for us by His death.  This is related to “atonement.”
  • Atonement: The method by which Jesus established our reconciliation with God.
  • Propitiation: Appeasing another by what one does.  This explains why God accepted Jesus’ atonement because it appeased God, giving Him a favorable disposition toward us.
  • Justification: A declaration of righteousness, establishing someone in a state of righteousness.  This can only happen because our sins are forgiven.  (In other contexts, “justification” can refer to someone revealing his righteousness by how he lives, for example, James 2:24.)

If someone has one of these, he has all of them.  We’ll now find out why.

Jesus’ Objective Justification of the World

1 Timothy 4:10: To this end [godliness], we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Because of Jesus Christ’s saving works for us, He has justified this entire world of sinners.  Before He died, Jesus cried from the cross, “It is completed” (John 19:30), completing what He came to do.  What did He complete?  His work to save us.

So, did Jesus die only for those who would be saved?  Or did He die for the entire world?  What exactly did Jesus “complete”?  After speaking to Nicodemus about being born of water and Spirit, of being born from above (John 3:3, 5), Jesus connected that (His soon-to-be, instituted baptism) to the sacrifice He would soon make for the world. 

  • This is how God loved the world: He gave His only Son so everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16]

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.

1 John 2:2: “[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

  • What did Jesus do for the whole world?  How did this change God’s disposition?

This passage links back reference to the “scapegoat” of Leviticus 16.  The priest laid the sins of the people on the scapegoat and sent him away into the wilderness, a graphic way of show the forgiveness of sins no longer remaining with a person.

Scripture also teaches universal atonement, how Jesus reconciled the world with God: “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).  Atonement unites us, through Christ, with God the Father, reconciling us to Him. 

Scripture explicitly states this reconciliation is universal!  “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  Jesus is the universal peacemaker.  His sacrifice on the cross has “left behind” our sins, which made us unworthy to God, establishing peace and reconciliation.  In Christ and through Christ, the status between God and humanity has changed from one of hostility to peace. 

Jesus’ propitiation for us (appeasing God) and atoning for our sins reconciles us.  This is also what objectively forgives our sins.  In the Old Testament, the removal of God’s anger and the forgiveness of sins become synonymous.  “You [God] forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.  You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.” (Psalm 85:2-3).

So, let’s explore the universality of God’s forgiveness.

  • 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, not counting people’s sins against them

The results of forgiveness are something blessed.

  • 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.

With the removal of sin, the charge of guilt is no longer held against you.  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 you (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But wait, there is still even more!  For 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 [Adam’s Fall into sin], so also through one righteous act [Jesus’s salvation 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.”]

Romans 5:18-19 is difficult to translate because the Greek text is lacking in verbs.  This is what we end up with when the added verbs are removed, but laid out to help us recognize its parallel structure:

As: So:
one man’s trespass to condemnation for all men One Man’s righteousness to acquittal and life for all men

Though brief and devoid of verbs, the meaning is clear.  Adam’s sin brought condemnation and death to all people—a universal condemnation.  In a parallel way, however, Christ’s righteousness brought acquittal and life for all—a universal, objective justification.

To every sinner, God declares, “I acquit you.  You are not guilty, because Christ took your place.  I forgive you your sins.”  For when God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5), it’s the same as Him “imputing righteousness” on you (vs. 6), which is the same as having your “lawless deeds forgiven” and “sins covered” (vs. 7).


  1. Although universal objective justification makes sense, it is in my view not what it is taught in Scripture. It seems clear that the promise comes through faith (Galatians 3:14 and Galatians 3:22), and by the same token we are justified through faith, i.e. justification follows faith it is received through faith. And this justification is for believers only. If Scripture teaches an objective justification that took place at Calvary, then it is not universal for all men, on the contrary it applies solely to all those that believe or will come to believe in the future. An objective justification of those that will ultimately perish in unbelief is not taught in Scripture, and it would make no sense why God would reconcile to himself those that will perish.

  2. Although I am not a Lutheran, I thank you for an excellent study of Paul’s message about justification. There is no doubt that universal objective justification at the cross is an essential part of Paul’s argument and is quite biblical. The only thing I would add is that for this universal justification to benefit us, it must be received in the present by faith (Rom 5:1), and this faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).