Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Which Came First?

Not to belabor the topic of corporate justification, but I would just like to, very briefly, add one more thought to this important topic (please read three of my recent posts on this important topic: "The Sticking Point," "My Personal Journey With Corporate Justification," and "Investigating the Biblical Basis for Corporate Justification") .

That is, I have heard people object that God could not have justified the whole world at the cross because "to justify" means not only to "declare righteous" but to "make righteous." And since the whole world is clearly not righteous in an actual sense, there is no way God could have justified the whole world at the cross.

Furthermore, what benefit is there to God to declare someone to be righteous if that person is not actually righteous? Isn't it just a sham righteousness that does not fool God, whose ultimate goal is to have a people who are actually made righteous?

But such objections beg a lot of questions.

Firstly, how is a person made righteous?

Secondly, does a person's righteousness exist prior to God's declaration of righteousness, or subsequent (or even simultaneous) to it?

Thirdly, at what point in a person's righteous life is he or she at a place where God is justified in declaring him or her to be righteous?

Now, let's exercise our noggins a little bit.

To the first question, how is anything made? By God's word: "For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast" (Psalm 33:9). "Then God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light" (Genesis 1:3).

To the second question: nothing exists in reality prior to God's declaration of it. With the example above, light did not exist prior to God's declaration of it. Neither does righteousness exist prior to God's declaration of it. Therefore, if I insist that God can only declare people to be righteous who are first made righteous, then I must insist that a person has made himself or herself righteous - because the means by which God makes something righteous is by speaking it into existence through His word.

Of course, the response will be that God declares people to be righteous who have faith, or that His declaration and making righteous are simultaneous. Very well, then. But whence comes faith? "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Thus, it is God's word that produces faith also.

Therefore, God's word is the means by which faith is induced and sinners are made righteous. This is why God declares the whole world to be righteous; this is why He justified and forgave the whole world at the cross. Because declaring the whole world to be righteous is the only way that God can make a person righteous.

Thus, it is neither pointless nor superfluous for God to declare that sinning people are actually sinless. Neither is God lying when He does so. He is calling "those things which do not exist as though they did" (Romans 4:17). He is actually living by faith; acting on the basis of what He sees, by faith, we can become when we respond to His word. (This is why Galatians 2:16 says we are not "justified by the works of the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ.")

This is because God's word, His declarations, His decrees contain power in themselves to accomplish that which they say they will accomplish. "My word . . . shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please" (Isaiah 55:11).

As Ellen White notes,
In every human being [Christ] discerned infinite possibilities. He saw men as they might be, transfigured by His grace - in "the beauty of the Lord our God." Psalm 90:17. Looking upon them with hope, He inspired hope. Meeting them with confidence, He inspired trust. Revealing in Himself man's true ideal, He awakened, for its attainment, both desire and faith. In His presence souls despised and fallen realized that they still were men, and they longed to prove themselves worthy of His regard. In many a heart that seemed dead to all things holy, were awakened new impulses. To many a despairing one there opened the possibility of a new life. (Education, p. 80)
The truth of the gospel is that hope begets hope, faith begets faith, confidence begets confidence, righteousness begets righteousness, and God's word begets that which it declares. Thus, God's declaration of the entire world's justification begets - if we will let Him do it for us - our being made righteous.

Of course, there is one small caveat: God never takes our free choice away. Even though God's word necessarily produces that which it declares, there is one instance in which this is not the case. God's word is infinitely powerful, but it chooses not to force man's will. Thus, though Christ does declare us all to be righteous in a grand attempt to get us to believe His perspective and respond by faith, His declaration will not force our will.

But this doesn't change the reality of Christ's perspective nor His continued attempt to convince us of that view. Indeed, when we respond to God's view, as my friend Ty Gibson says, "Faith believes facts; it doesn't make facts" (A God Named Desire, p. 147, emphasis original).

And thus is the beautiful and glorious truth of the power of God's incredible declaration of corporate justification.


Kyle Baldwin said...


I'm not really sure that I understand what you're saying. I have also read your blog entitled the "Sticking Point" but I have not gotten to the two in between. I also agree very much with the concept of corporate justification which I believed while illustrated throughout the bible is particularly specified in Revelation 7 and 14 in regards to the 144,000.

I believe the 144,000 are a representative sample of the people of God in the last days and as such are the firstfruits that indicate the rest of the harvest will ripen.

What I don't understand is why you feel it is necessary to nuance God's declaration that the whole world is righteous at the cross. You explain that God's word doesn't return unto Him void and then you used a quote from Ellen White from Education p80 to say that Christ saw what humanity could be.

I would like to suggest that it's a matter of semantics. I say this because I do believe that what God declares (if cooperated with) will happen, but the key is that it will happen and has not in every case happened. Thus if I cooperated with God and do not resist Him the declaration that I am righteous will become true.

By placing this in the future I am not attempting to put it off and say that it is only possible in theory and not in practice to walk with the Lord. I am simply saying that true righteousness for me is a character that completely reflects Christ within the limitations of our God given abilities.

I do understand the concept of being perfect or righteous within our maturity level but I think that true righteousness will be illustrated when the fruits are ready to be harvested. Thus the return to the metaphor of the firstfruits. I believe that God will return when the firstfruits are fully ripened which as I said will indicate that the rest of the harvest will ripen.

To me it is semantics to declare that because the fruit will ripen it is ripened. While I believe God's power ripens the fruit it is not until the fruit is fully ripened that it is in my opinion righteous fruit.

Micaiah said...

How does your caveat mesh with what God says in Romans 9:17,18 "For the scripture says to the Pharoh, "for this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show my power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." Therefore, He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens."

Out of curiosity?

Shawn Brace said...


Thanks for the feedback. I am having a hard time seeing how your referencing the 144,000 as firstfruits is tied into the idea of corporate justification. The idea of corporate (or universal) justification means that, by virtue of his death, God has legally justified EVERYONE in the world - saint, sinner, and everyone in between.

The reason I point to the cross is because, although God has been declaring everyone righteous from the beginning of the world, the cross was what gave Christ the legal grounds to call sinners "righteous."

Do you understand what I am saying a little better?

And Micaiah: thanks, also, for your question! I am not sure what to tell you at this point - other than a cop-out!! This post was not concerned so much with the issues of God's sovereignty vis-a-vis Romans 9. I was addressing a specific argument I have heard in response to what I understand about Christ's accomplished work of atonement for the ENTIRE world.

A discussion of Romans 9 is a good one, and I could certainly present evidence (as I have ad nauseum in the past, though it hasn't satisfied you, it seems!!) that discusses that particular issue. But I will refrain from doing that since I have already written on the subject before and don't want to reinvent the wheel.

So how is that for a cop-out?? :-)

Kyle Baldwin said...


I have read your blogs and I believe you to be saying that because of Christ God does not hold the sins of the world against them until they are either cut off by death or completely reject the spirit. But this is a nuance that I do not feel is worth exploring because it does not just matter what God extends or offers, it also matters what is accepted and lived out by faith.

God may declare the world to be righteous in a legal sense and therefore He can extend grace to countless lives that have been born on this earth while they live. But from the testimony of Christ few are those that find the way that leads to life. Thus while God wishes that none would perish many will despite the gift of God.

God's word does not return unto Him void but it also does not force the hand or the heart of anyone. So it is semantics to say that God declares the world righteous because He lets them live. He also lets the devil live but he is not under grace.

Finally the reference to the 144,000 is perhaps tangential but I was making a connection to corporate salvation:meaning that God cannot return to physically save until He has corporately saved.

Shawn Brace said...


Thanks for your feedback again. I would encourage you to give 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 a good and prayerful read and grapple with what aspect Paul found so compelling about God's agape love. I have already written about it, but give it some more thought.

All for now. I will try to return later to this.

Shawn Brace said...


I really don't see how it is "semantics" (and, therefore, irrelevant or unimportant) to say that God's grace has given life to everyone. As I already pointed to, the idea that Christ died for all, and "therefore all died," was the element of God's love that "compelled" Paul and caused him to live for God (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Therefore, we cannot emphasize it enough. Without it, everything else topples.

The idea that we are living today because of Christ's death on the cross is foundational and that which motivates a person to surrender and to live for God. The objective accomplishments of Christ are that which induce a faith-response from humans. Talking about our personal responsibility and choices is true and appropriate, but, remember, Paul's desire was to preach "Christ and Him crucified."

As Ellen White says, "To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. 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. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring" (DA 660). This concept is paramount to any hope of eliciting a response from someone.

But it goes beyond simply giving us this present life. In the gift of Christ (which God gave to the entire world), the salvation process has been started for EVERYONE. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men" (Titus 2:11, NASB). This does not mean that everyone will be saved at last; but it means that the only reason a person will be lost is because they have chosen to frustrate what God has started in their lives and resisted the "good work" that He began in their lives, refusing to allow Him to bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Thus, the good news is better than we have been led to believe!

Lastly, the idea that Satan's life has been sustained but that he is not living "under grace" is an interesting topic. I am not sure what you mean by living "under grace," but if you mean that Satan is not living "by God's grace," then I would disagree. Christ's death has been that which gave even Lucifer/Satan the right to be alive. (Read the chapter in my forthcoming book "Retrocausality" to hear a further explanation of this)

Relating to this particular point, as well, I came across this interesting idea from E.J. Waggoner: “Every creature and every created thing springs from and depends upon God. Lucifer, now Satan, who originated sin, as well as men who have followed Satan in the sin, depend upon God for the life with which the sin is committed. The man who blasphemes God and denies His existence, does so with the breath of life which God breathes into his nostrils. God says, ‘Thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities.’ Isa. xliii. 24. It was God's life that was perverted by Lucifer from its rightful use, and employed for sin and rebellion; and there has never been a single sin committed, except with the life of God" (March 7, 1901 EJW, PTUK 149.5).

Kyle Baldwin said...


I appreciate your thoughtful responses. I understand that we should all be motivated to stop resisting God's grace that is freely given. I also understand that in Him we live and move and have our being. But unfortunately the argument that life comes from God is many times only retroactively engaging for people that suffer great loss hardship or constant difficulty.

The evidence for God's love may be abundantly evident in that our hearts continue to beat and our lungs are filled with air but the reality is that initially this is not the most compelling argument for a lot of people. If it was than people would be more receptive to the rest of the gospel.

Unfortunately I believe that most people come to the Lord when they sense their need. Or in other words they sense their lack and they realize that Christ loves them despite this. I guess I'm not disagreeing with you that God's grace is extended to everyone in some way. But I'm saying that most people do not care that God gives them breath and life.

Honestly I believe the power of the gospel is the restoration of the image of God in man. I believe that when a person truly grasps that God can change their heart and they are no longer a slave to their passions, or their impulses than they rejoice in the freedom that God has given.

I believe then when they surrender to God they look at the world with new eyes and where they once took their life for granted they now praise God for their breaths. I'm not saying what you're saying is unimportant but that it is vastly more important to the converted soul than the unconverted soul.

Finally yes Lucifer lives by God's grace but he has been reserved for judgment.

Shawn I very much appreciate what you've said and I agree with your analysis. I guess I just feel that for the uncovered soul I would give a different emphasis.

You've often stated and you allude to this now that we are only lost when we resist God. While this is technically true I think that it implies something that is not. I believe that it implies that it is easier to be saved than lost. Almost as if we could fall uphill. God is more powerful than the devil and grace is more powerful than evil if all factors are the same.

But God does not coerce. The devil does. God does not lie. The devil does. As such it may be true that our hearts beat because of God, but people don't believe it because they've been lied to and it is easier to believe the lie because we are naturally sinful.

I believe that my point is illustrated in the fact that men before the flood had the most evidences of God's love (in nature) and yet the thoughts of their hearts were evil continually.

I think the world today needs to know that there is a problem and that Christ is the solution.

RocketMan said...

I used to work at Pacific Press and still remember the Weiland manuscript that was circulating through the editorial department. I loved it! We were eventually told that we couldn't publish it, but I remember keeping a copy of my own for a long time.
I have a question. Am I born "in Adam" with my only hope for salvation to be born again, so I can be "in Christ"? If the whole world has been justified at the cross and placed "in Christ," am I really born already "in Christ"? And if so, why the need to be born "again"? Thanks for your response.

Shawn Brace said...

Kyle: Not to sound like a broken record, but I would just continue to fall back on 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. Paul seemed to understand something that I don't think you have fully understood or embraced (not that I have fully understood or embraced it either, of course). So that's all I can say about that!

And RocketMan: Thanks for sharing! Your experience is very fascinating to me. Wish I could hear more about your history and experience - and how you stumbled upon my blog. If you care to share a little more, please send me a personal e-mail.

Your question is also a perceptive one: is a person born "in Christ" or "in Adam"? How's this: both! This is a the easy way out, I know, but hear me out! We are all born "in Christ" from a legal perspective - that is, that God has the legal grounds to treat us as though we had never sinned. This is the reason He forgives and justifies sinners. The whole world (according to Paul - cf. 2 Cor 5:14-15, etc.) was "in Him" at the cross, otherwise we would all be dead right now, reaping the wages of our sins. Instead, we are told that God does not "impute" our "trespasses unto" us (2 Cor 5:19) and that He "has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10). This is because all our sins and inequities were placed upon Christ at Calvary. All this is borne out of Christ's faith in us as He seeks to bring us to a fully surrendered and repentant experience.

On the other hand, we are all born "in Adam" from an experiential sense - in other words, we are all born with a fallen and condemned nature that, sadly, we all give into. This is the reason that we need to be "born again," because, although Christ declares and treats us as though we are righteous, being born again is an act of "receiving" what Christ gives us. This is the reason, as I understand it, that Paul declares that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God "from faith to faith" (Romans 1:16-17). God's creative faith induces - if allowed - a responsive faith from us. The justifying faith He has finds its echo in our responsive faith - and God's plan of salvation is vindicated.

I am still working out all the nuances in my thinking on this subject (as I suppose I will be doing throughout eternity), but that is basically where my understanding is right now.

Steve said...

Thank you Shawn for writing about legal justification! I have enjoyed reading everything including the discussion/comments on each post. I think you have done a good job of explaining the subject and I really don’t have much to add.

What I can say is that this truth made a HUGE difference in my life 16 years ago when I first read Beyond Belief by Elder Jack Sequeira. God gave me an opportunity to read that book while I was working full time and getting paid. The company I worked for had a slow period, so employees were allowed to sit at our desks and read or whatever, as long as we didn’t disturb others. I was so blown away by that book that I sat at my desk and wept and laughed for joy (quietly of course). I thank the Lord He got through to me before I became a hardcore legalist! As a 7th generation SDA, I had gotten the subtle message, stated in various terms, that my salvation was dependent primarily on my behavior; I.E. you must obey the Commandments to be justified, if you fail to obey them you become unjustified. I didn’t know it at the time, (1995) but I was desperately searching for that compelling power that Paul speaks of, the motivation to truly love and serve God, because I knew my behavior was never going to get me there! When I realized that my salvation was secure and founded on Christ’s faith and obedience, and learned exactly how it all works, it was like suddenly discovering I could fly after being tied to the ground all my life.

I can honestly say that understanding legal justification and all the beautiful truths that are connected to it, has “compelled” me to do things for God that I never dreamed possible. I’m not bragging, because hardly a week goes by without me regretting that I haven’t done more for Him who has done so much for me.

By the way, I noticed that most of your proof texts are taken from the New Testament, but I believe legal justification is also found in the Old Testament. Certainly it is there as types and symbols, but is quite explicitly stated in at least one passage, Isaiah 53:6, 10 and 11.

Verse 6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us ALL.

Verse 10: “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see [His] seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

Verse 11: “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall JUSTIFY (the) MANY, For He shall bear their iniquities.” (NASB renders Hebrew “rab” as “the many” meaning the same “All” of verse 6).

Am I off base here? Doesn’t this seem to be saying that Jesus saw by faith what His suffering would accomplish even while on the cross? As Romans 4:25 states “[Jesus] was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” In other words, by faith, he accomplished what He purposed to do, justify the entire human race so that every person would have the possibility of responding to that gift by faith.

I’m still wrestling with the verb tense change in Isaiah 53 verses 10 and 11 but I think that a case can be made that these verses are referring to both legal justification and justification by faith; both objective and subjective phases of the gospel. The passage says to me that Jesus will have the reward of many righteous people in heaven because He laid the foundation of justification by bearing their (our) iniquities.

Any thoughts you have on this passage would be appreciated.