Gospel Herald

What IS Legal Justification?

Universality of the Gift of Christ’s Life

How does it “vitally affect the individual”? Does this “affect” only apply to the believer as Luther and Arminius claimed, or only the elect as Calvin believed?

When Christ stepped between the living (God Himself) and the dead (Adam) at the moment Adam sinned, He did not make a distinction between the believer and unbeliever; doing something for one group but not the other (i.e. Calvin’s “elect” versus the “non-elect,” and Arminius’s “engrafted” individual versus the non-believer). In all the whole world, there was only Adam and Eve, and they were “unbelievers” when they partook of the forbidden fruit.

Adam was in rebellion against God’s plain command, and from the dialogue recorded for us in Genesis 3:9-13, it doesn’t appear that Adam was repentant or submissive toward God when confronted with his act of rebellion. Adam and Eve were blaming God for their situation. Neither is it recorded for us that Adam nor Eve “accepted” (by repentance and submission) the “offer” (so called by some) in Genesis 3:15 before they were allowed to take their next breath or heartbeat. At the moment they sinned, they both continued to live because of the pledge6 (the everlasting covenant) that was made between the Father and Christ before this world began. “The plan of salvation had been laid before the creation of the earth; for Christ is ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ Revelation 13:8.” (E.G. White; Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 63).

Therefore, at the moment Adam sinned the covenant promise of God went into effect, extending Adam’s probationary life. Life originates only in God, and only God can give it.

The instant man accepted the temptations of Satan, and did the very things God had said he should not do, Christ, the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying, “Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place. He shall have another chance.” (Letter 22, Feb. 13, 1900; also found in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 1085).

As soon as there was sin, there was a Saviour. Christ knew that He would have to suffer, yet He became man’s substitute. As soon as Adam sinned, the Son of God presented Himself as surety for the human race, with just as much power to avert the doom pronounced upon the guilty as when He died upon the cross of Calvary. (Review and Herald; March 12, 1901; also The Faith I Live By, p. 75).

Through Adam, sin and death became his children’s heritage; but at that instant God’s grace and mercy and life were extended to the whole of humanity yet unborn. When fully revealed, it is this message of mercy, extended before the sinner could even think to ask, that converts the heart. God’s grace and mercy are not limited to only those who believe.

The message of mercy that was brought from the Father was meant for the ears of the whole world. Christ came to unveil the character of God. He did not select a part of the human race and place a limited value on them. His grace is for all, and the estimate He places on the human soul is infinite. His power also is unlimited by right of His position with the Father. Had it not been for the great sacrifice He made in giving His life for mankind, the human race would have perished in their sin. But after the fall of Satan and man, Christ stepped in to give us another trial. He alone could give man another opportunity to recover himself, for only He who has equal with God could carry out the great scheme of redemption. (E.G. White; Manuscript Releases, Vol. 13; page 160).

“The message of mercy” is far more than the “temporal benefits” of food, water, and air to breathe, or even the more exalted benefits that result from Christian living. The message of mercy is that, as a demonstration of the Godhead’s great love for humanity, Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, thus legally justifying the entire world — wiping the slate clean, as it were. “He [Christ] came to unveil the character of God” which is agape (1 John 4:8) — that peculiar love that sees only good in what is inherently wicked because His creative power can make it so.7 That totally selfless love that would rather give up its own life if it would save someone else’s life (Philippians 2:5-8). That
is far more than “temporal benefits.” Like the Bible, Ellen White defines her own meaning of phrases she uses. “Last message of mercy” is the “revelation of His character of love” (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 415). Thus, “the message of mercy” must be the message of God’s agape that saved the world. When this message fully controls the heart, the believer’s response to it will be demonstrated before the world (ibid. p. 416).

The fundamental premise of the 1888 message8 is that God in Christ has accomplished something for the whole world. This act of God is termed “legal justification” or “forensic justification” (both terms are synonymous). Our response to what God has done for us either results in justification by faith (and sanctification) or, if rejected and despised, will result in loss of eternal life because of our persistent unbelief.


  1. A.T. Jones; 1893 General Conference Bulletin, p. 381: “In me is no righteousness; here is all ungodliness; here is all uncleanness; God has set forth that same One who declared the word and the worlds came and who declared the word ‘light,’ and light came — He has set forth that same One to declare righteousness in place of this body of sin. [Congregation: ‘Praise the Lord’]. In this place, this body, this character of sin, He calls that which is not as though it were, and, thank the Lord, it is. [Congregation: ‘Amen.’] In this place which is all uncleanness He has set forth that blessed One to declare holiness and He calls this thing which is not as though it were, and, thanks be to His almighty power, it is. [Congregation: ‘Amen’]. And I am glad of it. ‘Calleth those things which be not as though they were.’ A sinner is not righteous; the ungodly are ungodly; but God calls that which is not, as though it were and it is. [Congregation: “Amen”]. It is.”
  2. “The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to his people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. … This is message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.” (Testimonies to Ministers, pp.
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