QUESTION: A friend of mine tells me that all the benefits of Christ’s death were given to the human race when He died. This doesn’t seem biblical. Is it?
Such an idea, called by its proponents “legal universal justification,” is not biblical. Some Adventists find it attractive and embrace it without critical analysis, but this is a dangerous approach. Truth should not be determined by what seems to make sense, or by what makes us feel good, but by what we find in the Bible. The following points may help you in evaluating that teaching.
1. The Totality of Scripture: We must submit any claim of truth to the teachings of Scripture. The fact that a few texts seem to support such teachings is not enough to demonstrate the correctness of their claims. These claims have to be examined within the context of the totality of Scripture in order to clarify how the texts ought to be interpreted. Some people come up with what appears to be an original idea and proceed to look for biblical texts to support it. They bring to the text those ideas and read them into it. Their interpretation may appear to be logical and persuasive, but they are, in fact, imposing their ideas into the text. In evaluating those ideas we need to examine the biblical teaching in full, not just a few texts.
2. Impact on Other Clear Biblical Teachings: These views may appear to be innocuous, but we should examine their impact on other teachings of the Bible. If the implications of a new teaching undermine other biblical teachings, there is something wrong with its claims, despite the fact that biblical texts are used to support it. That means the texts being used should be interpreted in a different way.
3. A Case in Point: The Mediation of Christ: One example may be enough to illustrate this last point. Since universal legal justification teaches that before the Lord all the sins of the human race have already been forgiven and the human race has been saved, as a practical matter it leaves no room for the biblical teaching of Christ’s high priestly mediation before the Father. According to Paul, the death and resurrection of Christ make possible the mediation of Christ before the Father (Rom. 8:34). Mediation means that human sin and guilt are still relevant before the Lord in heaven and that it is only through Christ’s work for us in the presence of the Father that we receive the benefits of His sacrificial death. The fullness of those benefits is granted only to those who believe. Guilt and sin continue to be part of the human experience in the sight of God!
If the implications of a new teaching undermine other biblical teachings, there is something wrong with its claims, despite the fact that biblical texts are used to support it.
The role of our Mediator before the Father is an indispensable element in the plan of salvation (Heb. 7:25; 9:14). So we must ask, if it is true that in the sight of God the sin of the human race has been forgiven and humanity has already received the totality of the benefits of His death, why would John write, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1, NIV; cf. Acts 2:38)? John went on to suggest that the forgiveness of sin through the effectiveness of the mediation of Christ before the Father is assured because “he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, NIV).
Christ is the mediator for anyone who wants to approach the Father to receive through Him forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation, etc. The views you mentioned tend to interpret the mediation of Christ in terms of the cleansing of the human heart from sin. But the doctrine also deals with the work of Christ in heaven and the application of the benefits of His sacrifice to repentant sinners. Proponents of legal universal justification do not seem to be fully aware of its serious doctrinal and theological problems. In some cases they tend to redefine the doctrine of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.
–Angel Manuel Rodríguez
is director of the Seventh-day Adventist Biblical Research Institute.