Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I don't have a lot of time, and there is tons of random stuff that I could write on this subject, but I have been grappling a lot lately with what some have labeled "legal justification" (I prefer to call it "corporate justification"). For the most part, I have recognized this idea as a beautiful truth that is taught in the Bible. To explain it very simply: corporate/legal justification teaches that when Christ died, He forgave the entire human race at the cross.

But I'm having a hard time reconciling this idea with some other teachings in scripture, and I can't seem to make them complement one another in a way that makes sense to me. As I said above, there are so many different confusing questions that I could raise, but I won't take you on a wild goose chase (for now), and plus I don't have a lot of time this morning. So I've been able to pretty much boil down the conflicting ideas to two statements and then one question. The first statement is a presupposition of "legal justification," the second statement seems to be a fairly straightforward teaching that most, if not all, Christians would agree with. And then I ask a question after the two statements.

Please, I beg of you, share your feedback with me on this (especially those who have tended to subscribe to the concept of legal justification. I've heard a lot from those who are opposed to the idea. Now I want to hear from those who agree with legal justification, and how they've reconciled this tension).

All right, without further ado, this is what the issues boil down to, in very simple terms:

1. Jesus considers every human being to be sinless.
2. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.
Question: Are Jesus and the Holy Spirit contradicting and working against one another?

I expect to have 10 responses by the time I get home from Massachusetts at 11 o'clock Eastern time (if you didn't notice, I am really trying to figure this out)!!



steven grabiner said...

Is your first statement really an accurate way to describe the implications of 'legal/corporate justification'? I don't think I can agree with that first premise. My view is that the bible contains a number of valid metaphors that describe the salvation process. Ransom, redemption, propitiation, adoption, shameless, justification. For most of these, we are comfortable considering them to have been enacted (at least in some sense) at the death of Christ. When was the ransom paid? the propitiation offered? the redemption effected? adoption inaugurated? But we hesitate when it comes to the legal metaphor of justification. Why is that?

Bill Cork said...

Shawn, how 'bout laying out some of the Scriptures?

Shawn Brace said...

Well . . . I didn't get the ten responses that I was hoping for, but two is good! My dad did e-mail me (apparently he doesn't know how to comment on here, or something!!!) and a few others tried to respond, but let me now respond as best (and quickly) as I can.

First, Bill: I'll take you to my favorite text on this teaching, and just allow that one to stand on its own for now. To me, the clearest exposition of this "legal justification" concept is 2 Cor 5:14ff, where Paul writes, "Therefore if one died for all, then all died. . . . God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. . . " There are other subjective responses that Paul urges because of this idea, but that is held in balance with the idea that when Christ died, we "all" died in Him, and that God reconciled all of humankind to Himself.

Now, this is where it gets sticky. How do we define justification, Steven? Is it forgiveness? Pardon? Presumption of innocence? To "make" righteous? To consider to be without sin? All these seem to be in play when Ellen White writes in Steps to Christ, ". . . sinful as your life may have been, for [Christ's] sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned" (p. 62, emphasis added).

Perhaps I am mistaken, but it seems to be that this is what many mean by "legal/corporate justification." Am I wrong? That because of Calvary, Christ looks on us already as "if we had not sinned"? And those who advocate LJ imply that all this took place at the cross, even before we respond by faith.

But Ellen White begins the statement with a caveat: "If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Savior, then sinful as your life may have been. . . "

Maybe I'm asking the wrong questions, or missing something. I really feel like I am (hence the questions!). But many would like to say that Jesus "forgave" us all without our asking, as illustrated by His forgiveness for the soldiers. Yet, my dad, curiously, says that he would not describe legal justification as Jesus "forgiving" the whole world at the cross. Aren't forgiveness and justification one and the same? And, at the lowest common denominator, if God has already forgiven us before our asking, does that forgiveness not imply that He considers us to be "sinless," or, as Ellen White says, "as if we had not sinned"?

Now, what really muddies the water is that I don't completely understand how this makes complete sense. If I am forgiven, and God looks at me as if I had never sinned, did I not really sin? And furthermore, if I never sinned, then how can those very same sins be going into the sanctuary to be eradicated during the Day of Atonement? They never happened! So how can they be expunged from the sanctuary, if they were never there in the first place??

Have I confused you gentleman yet??

Dingo said...

Wow! This takes some consideration before posting much. But until then, is there a difference between Jesus "considering every human being as sinless" and God's justice regarding us "as if we had not sinned" because the sins have been paid for. One sounds more like a blanket denial of reality, while the other sounds more like a second chance - a removal of the death penalty so we have a chance to let Jesus make us truly righteous

steve said...


This is one of my favorite topics. I wanted to respond earlier, but it’s been a busy week.

This is such a big subject that it’s hard to respond in a clear and concise manner that won’t bore or completely confuse the reader, but here goes.

First off, I have to take issue with your point of discussion that “Jesus considers every human being to be sinless.” I think a better way to state it would be that God/Jesus treats every human being with mercy or as though they are sinless. He doesn’t deny the reality of our individual condition, but relates to us with unmerited favor. This merciful attitude is confirmed by Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. After describing the attitude of the world toward offenses, He sums up the matter by saying, "Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Luke 6:36

I think both the critics and proponents of legal justification sometimes make the subject more complex than it needs to be. For me it can be summed up in one phrase the apostle Paul uses in Romans 5:18 -“justification of life”. The righteous life and sacrificial death of Jesus has “justified” the continued existence of the entire human race. That is the simplest definition of legal justification, in my opinion.

I know from my own experience that until I understood the corporate reality of the gospel, I took my life for granted. It is human nature to assume that “good people” deserve to be alive, and if something happens to cut life short, we tend to view it as terribly unfair, however the Bible clearly declares that the wages of sin is death. I don‘t see any exceptions there.

As SDA’s we take pride in having a pretty good understanding of “the state of the dead”, but it seems to me that we haven’t quite figured out the state of the living! When Adam sinned, he had no right to live one more minute, (and neither do we) but there was already a lamb slain from the foundation of the world. One of my favorite quotes is from The Desire of Ages, pg 660. “To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. (Needs to be in bold!) The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ.”

While it may be true that this “justification of life” spoken of by Paul, is a probationary life, let’s not forget that the death that all people experience is called sleep over and over in the Bible. Jesus bore the wages of sin, and tasted the equivalent of eternal death, and the life that He has given to the entire human race IS eternal life. God gave his Son to the world, John 3:16 and whoever has the Son has eternal life, 1 John 5:11, 12.

In view of this objective reality, the issue is whether we as individuals have the Son. That is the personal response which the Holy Spirit wants to bring us to when He “convicts of sin” - an experience of belief and appreciation and trust, but that is another topic called “justification by faith”.

Have a wonderful Sabbath,
Steve S.

Dingo said...

Is it my imagination or are the parties ending awfully early lately? This discussion is pretty promising, but...

Shawn Brace said...

Hi Steve! Thank you very much for your comments. They were very enlightening. I don't have time for a very lengthy response, but let me just respond to the overall concept of your message. You say that "The righteous life and sacrificial death of Jesus has “justified” the continued existence of the entire human race. That is the simplest definition of legal justification, in my opinion." And you use the simple term "justification of life," which seems to mean that we all have this earthly, temporal life now because of Jesus' death.

But is this the full of extant of what people mean by "legal justification"? I always got the impression that there was a little more to it than that. But if that is our definition, and it is simply the securing of a "probationary" period of life here on earth by Christ, I am not sure that anyone on the "other" side would disagree with this concept. I don't know anyone who would deny that Jesus secured our earthly lives through his death.

You do go on to say that Jesus has given us "eternal life," but how does this correlate with the above idea?

And Dingo, I guess I'm utterly confused by your statement: "Is it my imagination or are the parties ending awfully early lately? This discussion is pretty promising, but..." Were you responding the right blog??

Blessings to all!

Dingo said...

Actually, yes. i was responding to the right blog. I was really enjoying the prospect of an ongoing exploration on the stuff you introduced for discussion. then we all seemed to lose the momentum or something. It seemed to kind of peter out with very little discussion after a really short time even though it was interesting as all get-out. It was just a gentle (i hope) hint that it would be great to keep on going rather than the "party" ending so soon. Sorry that it was the wrong thing to say. i really was enjoying the comments.

Shawn Brace said...

Hi Dingo,

Thanks for the clarification! You didn't say anything wrong at all. Now that you have clarified, I see what you were getting at.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.