Why I Am A Universalist, §7: The Doctrine of Justification (Section II)

Section II: Solus Christus

The affirmation that Christ alone is our justification begins by identifying the Second Person of the Trinity with the man Jesus, apart from which we can have no guarantee of our salvation. The central text is John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (cf. Acts 4:12, 1 Cor. 3:11, Eph. 2:20). By affirming the uniqueness and exclusiveness of Jesus Christ, we state that in him alone we find new life for the world. No one else can serve as a savior alongside the Son of God; only Jesus is capable of fulfilling this role. By confessing that Jesus alone is Lord and Savior, we confess that we play no role in accomplishing our salvation. We confess that God finished this work in the life, death, and resurrection of the one mediator between God and humanity.
Faith in Jesus Christ implies that only he can stand and has stood in the place of all people. Only he and he alone! But this one alone takes the place of all others and so represents all others. That is the inclusiveness, which is the goal of Jesus’ exclusiveness. Both are fundamentally linked to each other in the concept of substitution. This concept links the element of Jesus’ exclusiveness to that of inclusiveness. It says that this one single person died for all (2 Cor. 5:14f). Therefore in him all are made alive (1 Cor. 15:22). Thus the aim of confessing the exclusiveness of Christ is to decide the status of all people. In him alone all people are included. His exclusiveness consists in the universal inclusion of all people. (Jüngel 150-51)
The statement “Christ alone” takes us back to “God alone,” apart from which we might be misled into thinking that Jesus’ life and death is simply a moral example and not a salvific, substitutionary, sacrificial death on behalf of the world. Jesus Christ—as true God and true human, as the Creator who enters the creation—is alone capable of atoning for the sins of the world, because in him alone both the God who judges and the people who are judged are present. The statement “Christ alone” states “that in Jesus Christ alone, none other than God himself has come into the world and that therefore in this one person the salvation of all people is determined” (153).

The death of Jesus is God’s offering of Godself for the world in order to bring shalom to a broken creation. The cross is the eschatological event that establishes the covenantal foundation for the new heavens and new earth. God's self-offering brings life and freedom to those who once existed in bondage to sin and death: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn. 10:10; cf 1 Jn. 5:20). Just as the sins of Israel were transferred to the animals sacrificed to God in order to restore relations between God and the covenant community, so too our sins—in fact, our very persons—are assumed by Jesus so that his death is our death and his new life brings new life to all people. In both situations, Israelite offerings and God’s self-offering in Jesus Christ, it is never human beings who effect the atoning work. God alone acts to reconcile sinful human beings with the Holy One of Israel. And nowhere is this more pronounced than in the “word of the cross,” in which we hear the astounding news that God became the sacrifice. In Jesus, God took on the very being of sinful humanity in order to atone for sin and establish new relations between Creator and creation.
It is not God who is conciliated [in the sacrificial offering of an animal], but God who reconciles the world. Sinful human beings do not atone for themselves; the Holy God removes the sin from sinful human beings. (159)

Since the eternal God has identified himself with this human being, since Jesus Christ the human being is the Son of God, for that reason the whole of humanity is integrated in his humanness. Thus we are all present in the One, so that it is true to say: ‘One has died for all; therefore all have died’ (2 Cor. 5:14; cf. Rom. 5:12-21). […] Not only was God shown as reconciling the world in him, but this reconciliation was accomplished in him. This did not come about by a replacement, but, if we may use this term, by the ontologically appropriate substitution. Therefore he is the epitome of the perfect sacrifice, sacrificed once and for all. There is no meaningful sacrifice that can follow. (161-62)
“Christ alone,” as “God alone,” means that Jesus Christ does not simply show us how much God loves us but actually accomplishes God’s purposes for the world. Our justification is not only revealed in Christ, but it is realized in him. He takes upon himself our very being in order to judge and kill our sinful natures and establish in himself a new humanity for all people. In Christ alone, “there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:17-19).


Unknown said…
Dear David,

I'm slowly working my way through these essays and loving them. I'm wondering about your thoughts on N. T. Wright's revision of justification: two stages, now and in the future--now by grace, in the future confirmed by our works. As you probably know, he bucks against any transfer of righteousness as a legal fiction and has spent considerable time trying to reinterpret the Reformational understanding of passages like 2 Cor 5:21 (http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Becoming_Righteousness.pdf).

What do you make of his reading? I'm no NT exegete so I have a hard time arguing with him. But it seems to me that his concern is to leave room for the significance of human works at the final judgment. He wants to preserve the fact that what we do matters. Doesn't Jungel and your reading of justification leave room for this precisely because God's word creates the reality it speaks? God's word of justification is not a legal fiction because it is a creative word, and though our salvation is and always remains by grace alone, the Spirit's work in our lives is not benign. It creates active obedience in our lives so that the reality of our identity outside ourselves in Christ becomes true of our identity within--now and finally at the eschaton. Our actions do matter, not in achieving merit before God but because of the merit of God. Our being is in act as well--namely God's act in Christ which becomes our act as well as we become more and more like Christ.

Am I off here?

Joel Esala