This post is from Dawn K who blogs at http://www.realrealityzone.com and can be found on twitter @rumor99
Read this before reading on, just to see what is going on here. Note: these posts are guest posts and may or may not reflect my views. -Jay
How is the Lutheran understanding of justification different from that of other Christian traditions?
Lutherans believe that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. We are declared to be righteous in God’s sight because of the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not because of anything inside of us – not because of our human will and not even because of anything that God works in us, whether good works or faith. Christ died for all people, and because of Christ’s perfect life, death and resurrection, all people are forgiven and declared righteous in God’s sight. This is known as the doctrine of objective justification.
Unlike the Calvinists and the Wesleyans, who teach that we are only forgiven and justified when we believe in Christ, Lutherans teach that all are forgiven and justified at the cross but that this forgiveness and justification only benefits those who believe. When God grants a person repentance and faith in Christ, they receive the benefits of the forgiveness that is already theirs through the death of Christ on the cross. This is known as the doctrine of subjective justification. Through the Word of God and through the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) faith in Christ is created and sustained.
The doctrines of objective and subjective justification might be illustrated in this way: Someone transfers a million dollars into your bank account. The money is yours. But if you refuse to believe that it is there, you do not use it and it does not benefit you in any way. In the same way Christ’s death on the cross led to justification and life for all people. But those who do not believe this do not benefit from it.
This is in contrast to the Calvinist view, which teaches that Christ did not die for all people but only for those who would believe in Him. It is also in contrast to the Wesleyan view, which teaches that the death of Christ only made justification possible for all men through prevenient grace, whereby all are enabled to freely choose to believe. And it is in contrast to the Catholic view which sees justification not as God crediting His righteousness to our account but as God infusing righteousness into us to enable us to cooperate with His grace.
Because of the reality of objective justification, Lutherans are not compelled to look inside themselves – whether to their heart or to the quality of their good works – to determine whether their faith is genuine. Faith itself is created by the external word of Christ to the individual – that Christ died for me, that His life, death and resurrection saved me, that He baptized me into His family and that He gives me His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of my sins.
Lutherans do not merely believe a promise that is conditioned upon our faith. And we certainly do not believe a promise that is conditioned upon our sincere decision or good works. We believe the promise that has already been given to us. Christ forgave us at the cross, and that forgiveness was delivered to us (and continues to be delivered) through the Word, water, bread and wine. We constantly look to these objective, external realities in our daily lives as Christians as we fight against the Old Adam that is within us and seek to live our lives in service to our neighbor. We look not inwardly to our faith but outwardly to Christ who was crucified for us and who even now delivers to us the benefits of His perfect life, death and resurrection.