Gospel Herald

What IS Legal Justification?

Justification Includes Eternal Life

Looking deeper, we find a few more questions that arise from the concept of legal justification. What is this “life” we possess; what is the source of our present animated, conscious state? To answer these questions we must consider what happens to individuals when they cease to live and breathe.

As the Scriptures teach us, no one is really “dead”10 just asleep in the grave awaiting the resurrection, whether to eternal life or total annihilation at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20:12-15). Thus, even the wicked who are lost and are now sleeping in their graves, are being restrained from absolute non-existence through the power of Christ’s life.11 Therefore, just as the righteous who are asleep in their graves are “in Christ” so must the wicked be. The only reason the wicked are destroyed after the millennium is that they have persistently demonstrated their unbelief in the free gift of eternal life. In unbelief, they have thrown away their birthright possession and no place is found in heaven and earth for them any more.

A.T. Jones addressed this point at the 1895 General Conference session:

The question is, Does the second Adam’s righteousness embrace as many as does the first Adam’s sin? Look closely. Without our consent at all, without our having anything to do with it, we were all included in the first Adam; we were there. All the human race were in the first Adam. What that first Adam, what that first man, did, meant us; it involved us. That which the first Adam did brought us into sin, and the end of sin is death; and that touches every one of us, and involves every one of us.

Jesus Christ, the second man, took our sinful nature. He touched us “in all points.” He became we and died the death. And so in Him, and by that, every man that has ever lived upon the earth, and was involved in the first Adam, is involved in this, and will live again. There will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust. Every soul shall live again by the second Adam from the death that came by the first Adam. (for full discussion see: 1895 General Conference Bulletin, pp. 268-269).

Above we read that Ellen White stated (just as the Bible teaches) that Christ gave His life for mankind. This must be understood as being greater than merely making a sacrifice on Calvary’s cross (wonderfully great as that act was!). If the giving of His life was “merely” making a sacrifice“instead of” me paying the price, then the act has nothing much to do with me (as the Universalists believe). It took place at a particular time in history, but that was a long time ago, and is rather irrelevant to me as my life is lived today. By illustration: just as many legal declarations have been made in this great land of ours, most have little relevance to me in my day to day affairs.

However, He gave His life. Christ has only one life, and that is eternal life. He willingly exchanged His eternal life for our death sentence, which is annihilation — total non-existence, the “second death.” Thus in giving up His life on the cross, in giving His eternal life for us (or rather, AS us) — He exchanged His life of righteousness for our life of sin and death. Christ’s is a life uncondemned by the Law, and therefore possessing the implicit right to live eternally.

Standing before the Law, Christ represents humanity in two ways: He is corporate humanity as the Last Adam dying on Calvary as the human race’s legal proxy (in compliance with and ratifying the everlasting covenant). All humanity were “in Christ” as He died on Calvary. He also individually represents us as our personal Advocate before the Law through our faith in His work (His high priestly ministry; Hebrews 10:10-22; Desire of Ages, p. 113). In Christ we are not only declared righteous by that single act on Calvary (legally justified before the Law that condemned us), but also
we have been given eternal life by that same act (though under a probationary stipulation).

“Therefore we know that Christ Himself is given to every one of us. The fact that men live is an evidence that Christ has been given to them, for Christ is the ‘life,’ and the ‘life’ is ‘the light of men.” (Glad Tidings, p. 11; also see 1 John 5:10-13; John 1:4, 9; 14:6).

There is only one Life, and all that live do so by the grace of that Life being extended to us as a gift. The revealing to mankind of the Godhead’s covenant promise was done in Eden (Genesis. 3:15). The ratification of the Godhead’s covenant promise was accomplished at Calvary. It was Christ’s life that was extended to Adam in Eden at the moment he rebelled against God (when he should have died eternally according to Genesis 2:17 and Isaiah 59:2; being separated from God is to be without life). When Adam was created, he was given eternal life contingent upon his obedience concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, when Christ “stepped between the living and the dead,” Adam was restored to his previous state of eternal life (though receiving it as a second probation). When Adam died 930 years later he didn’t do anything except “fall asleep” in Christ, and when he is finally resurrected, Adam will go on living the life he had before he died, but in a new, incorruptible body. His next breath and thought will take up right where it left off when he fell asleep in Christ.12

What we’re dealing with when discussing “forensic justification” and “temporal benefits” is much, much more than food and water and air to breathe. It is eternal life. We can believe that we have been given eternal life, appreciate the gift and through faith in God’s power over Satan and sin, cultivate righteousness by faith in our probationary status here and now. Then we will go on living that same eternal life in the New Earth either after resurrection or translation (Enoch, Elijah, and Moses attest to this fact). Or, we can disbelieve this “message of mercy” of God’s redeeming love, throw that eternal life away, and die in the flames of hell, which was only “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). It’s our choice.


  1. See for example Psalm 13:3; Matthew 27:52; John 11:11-14; Acts 2:29, 34; 13:36; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15; Hebrews 9:27).
  2. “In consequence of Adam’s sin, death passed upon the whole human race. All alike go down into the grave. And through the provisions of the plan of salvation, all are to be brought forth from their graves. ‘There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust;’ ‘for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ But a distinction is made between the two classes that are brought forth. ‘All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’ They who have been ‘accounted worthy’ of the resurrection of life are ‘blessed and holy.’ ‘On such the second death hath no power.’” Great Controversy, pp. 544-545.
  3. Though this statement from Great Controversy is regarding the wicked when they are raised from their graves after the millennium, the idea applies to all. “In that vast throng are multitudes of the long-lived race that existed before the Flood; men of lofty stature and giant intellect, who, yielding to the control of fallen angels, devoted all their skill and knowledge to the exaltation of themselves; men whose wonderful works of art led the world to idolize their genius, but whose cruelty and evil inventions, defiling the earth and defacing the image of God, caused Him to blot them from the face of His creation. There are kings and generals who conquered nations, valiant men who never lost a battle, proud, ambitious warriors whose approach made kingdoms tremble.
    In death these experienced no change. As they come up from the grave, they resume the current of their thoughts just where it ceased. They are actuated by the same desire to conquer that ruled them when they fell. (E.G. White; Great Controversy; p. 664; emphasis supplied).
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