Paul’s epistle to the Romans is written to believers. He assures these believers that Jesus did indeed die for every one of them. This much seems clear to almost every non-Calvinist commentator on the book of Romans. However, please note just where most commentators abandon Paul’s clear statements and start speculating on what they think he must have meant: Paul says, in very clear language, that Jesus did not die for these believers because they believed, nor did He wait until they believed. On the contrary, Paul says, Jesus died for them before they believed. “While we were yet sinners [i.e., non-believers], Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The gospel Paul preached and wrote about in the Bible shows both Calvinism and Arminianism to be in error. The Bible proclaims that the good news is for sinners! Paul could not have said it more clearly: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).
While it is true that some folks believed in Christ before He died on the cross, such is not true in the absolute sense. Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), and this is why Adam did not die the day he sinned. Jesus stepped into the “gap.” He willingly took His place on “death row.” Long before Adam sinned, Christ had already covenanted to die for him, if he should fall. Because Christ stepped immediately into the gap—taking His place as the Mediator, the Lamb slain, standing between the living and the dead—Adam continued to live after he disobeyed God’s explicit command. The law of God was not set aside to meet the emergency that resulted from the fall of mankind. God had a plan of salvation already prepared, which immediately and fully met all the demands of the law, while simultaneously granting justification/forgiveness for all mankind. No rift occurred in the spacetime continuum.
A Legal Problem Solved
Sin produces a legal problem. “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). These verses highlight the legal ramifications of sin. The law of God demands the death of the sinner. Thus, when Adam sinned, all mankind came under the condemnation of the law. “For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation” (Romans 5:16).
Some find this difficult to accept. “How,” they ask, “could we have been condemned because of Adam’s sin, which took place when we were not yet born?”
The answer is simple. Although we were not yet born, we were “in Adam.” Consider the following logic:
Where would you be if your father had died a month before you were conceived? The answer is, you would not be. You would have died in your father. If your father had been condemned to death, you would have been condemned in your father. Now back up one generation. Where would you be if your grandfather had died a month before the conception of your father? Again, it is easy to see that you would not be. You would have died in your grandfather. Thus, if your grandfather had been condemned to death, you would have been eliminated by that condemnation. Now keep following the logic of this analysis until you get to Adam.
Where would we be, if Adam had died that fateful day in the Garden of Eden? If Adam had died, we all would have died in him. The condemnation which came upon Adam came upon all of us: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation…” (Romans 5:18a). That condemnation which came to Adam could be referred to as “corporate universal condemnation”—the condemnation of the entire human race.
This just penalty of eternal death is as immutable as the law of God, which is the foundation of His government. Legal satisfaction must be evidenced, before mankind can stand justified before the law.
Romans says, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Thus, we see that sin results in legal condemnation—the condemnation which flows from the law. Therefore, everyone has, or we should say had, a legal problem. We find the solution to that problem in the immediate context of the verse which announces the problem. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Roman 3:23, 24).
Who is being “justified freely,” or gratuitously, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”? The action phrase presented in Romans 3:24 has no subject. The subject, which is the object of the “justification,” is found in the preceding verse. “All have sinned” and therefore, “all” are “justified freely.” Note exactly how the verse reads in the New English Bible (NEB). “For all alike have sinned, and are deprived of the divine splendor, and all are justified by God’s free grace alone” (Romans 3:23, 24, NEB, emphasis supplied).
The New Jerusalem Bible rendering is similar. This verse refers to a corporate phase of justification which is applicable to the entire human race. This justification precedes faith on the part of the one who is justified. It may be referred to as “corporate universal justification,” and it solves the problem of “corporate universal condemnation” which came upon the entire human race in Adam.
Implications of Corporate Universal Justification
This “corporate” and “universal” phase of justification does not include justification by faith or its benefits, yet it has far-reaching ramifications. To be justified means to be set free of condemnation. It means, in some sense, to be absolved of condemnation for a crime or sin—a legal acquittal or a legal pardon. It means that sins which have been committed are nevertheless not “imputed” to the transgressor. Although one has in fact sinned, God does not treat him or her as “guilty.” See, for example, 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Corinthians 5:19, NKJV). As we consider this verse of Scripture, we should begin to realize that Christ’s death for the sins of the world involved a universal pardon. If in fact one has sinned, yet the sin is not imputed to that person, is that not a form of forgiveness or pardon? If sin is “not imputed” to us, then to whom is it imputed? Clearly, our sins have been imputed to Christ. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18, NKJV).
The New Living Translation expresses this thought in these words: “Christ also suffered when he died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT). The result of this transaction was the forgiveness of all sin. “And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13, NRSV). We shall explore this verse in its context in detail later.
The whole human race has been forgiven! This glorious yet often-overlooked result of the death of Christ is why we live! And this is the meaning of the gospel, which proclaims that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). No one, therefore, is under condemnation. Corporate universal justification is effective for all. The condemnation brought upon the race in Adam has been fully reversed. All are under probationary grace. All have been redeemed from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13) and justified unto probationary life (Romans 5:18b).2 “Justification of life” resulted in a probationary grace period granted to the world so that all may accept Jesus Christ and be justified by faith, which is justification unto eternal life.
Please consider carefully the implications of this justification unto probationary life. It means that the whole world is under grace and therefore, not under condemnation. For one to be under grace and under condemnation simultaneously is a logical impossibility. Only after probation closes for the individual or the world will the wicked fall under condemnation. This will be a second condemnation. Christ has redeemed us from the first condemnation.
By taking human nature and thus joining the human family, Christ took upon Himself the first condemnation; that is, the corporate universal condemnation which Adam brought upon the entire human race. Thus, an important result of corporate universal justification, or “justification of life” (Romans 5:18b) is the good news that even though we are born “sinners” (see Romans 5:19), we are born under grace—born forgiven. Furthermore, we do not fall back under condemnation every time we sin. When the plan of salvation is clearly understood, we see that we remain under grace until the unpardonable sin is committed. This will become much clearer in another portion of our study, as we consider the proper motivation for the confession of sin.
The good news that “sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14) is a direct result of corporate universal justification. We have all been placed under probationary grace. If we believe that we are born under the condemnation of the law, it is difficult, if not impossible to receive victory over sin, no matter how sincerely we confess and try to forsake sin. As long as we see only one condemnation—that under which we believe we were born—we will be forever seeking to free ourselves from it. Fear will plague our minds, and sin will continue to have dominion (see Hebrews 2:14, 15). The gift of character perfection becomes impossible to receive, when it is believed that condemnation is only temporarily lifted by confession and repentance and that it falls upon us again every time we stumble. Only by believing the good news of the gospel—that Christ has died for our sins and redeemed us from the curse of the law—will we be free from the fear of condemnation and the dominion that sin has over us.
Does the repentant sinner fall under condemnation every time he sins, and does he remain there until he repents? If not, why not? If so, then clearly sin will continue to have dominion, for he is not under grace but under the law. This view produces a dysfunctional understanding of the gospel which effectively prevents a functional relationship with Christ. The message of the latter rain was sent to resolve this problem and free us from this theological nightmare.
Why Confess Your Sins?
In light of the pardon which is already ours through the cross of Jesus Christ, two questions come to mind:
1) Why is a record of sins kept in heaven?
2) Why do we need to confess our sins?
As we understand the broader implications of the plan of redemption, we shall realize that it involves much more than the salvation of man. We are merely “pawns” in the great controversy. Satan’s real gripe is with God. Therefore, God must be vindicated. When the redeemed are home in heaven at last, they will still have questions. God will not suppress these questions by asserting His authority. The sins of those who rejected Christ will remain on record to demonstrate to the redeemed, as well as the watching universe, that these were lost because they committed the unpardonable sin. The record will clearly show that they had ample opportunity to accept the good news of Jesus Christ, and it will show that they hardened their hearts and deliberately rejected Christ and His salvation.
Question 2 is perhaps the more common concern. If our sins have been pardoned, why do we need to confess them? We will further address this question in chapters 15 and 23. But for now we need to consider whether we confess because we are afraid to sleep at night, lest we should die with some unconfessed sin on the record and thereby guarantee ourselves a place in the second resurrection. Is our repentance for sin and confession of sin self-centered? We need to consider whether our understanding of the plan of salvation amounts to a belief in the false concept of salvation by confession.
Confession of sin which is motivated by the good news of the gospel is inspired by the amazing love revealed at the cross. Not self-centered, it is rather Christ-centered. Also, it is not a legalistic attempt to win heaven simply by avoiding hell. When we know Jesus as He really is, we will confess sin because we love the Saviour who died for our sins. We shall finally forsake sin because we understand something of the sacrifice that Christ is making for us in the heavenly sanctuary (see Hebrews 5:1, 8:3).
A realization that every sin augments the sufferings of Christ prompts the repentance that need not be regretted (2 Corinthians 7:9). A deep understanding of the present reality of the cross—the continual sacrifice of costly and painful intercession on our behalf—wrings from the tempted soul that heart-wrenching cry, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9)?
One of the Arminians’ favorite texts is 1 John 1:9. To some, it is absolute “proof” that the death of Christ was merely provisional and that no one was in any sense forgiven simply because Jesus died. The text says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
To the Arminian, that little word if is huge! The logic is simple: If you confess, you are forgiven. If you do not confess, you are not forgiven. In other words, the cross of Christ makes absolutely no difference to you unless you invoke the efficacy of the atonement via an appropriate response. Because of this line of reasoning, the Arminian reads into 2 Corinthians 5:19 what is not there: “God was in Christ reconciling the [confessors] unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The message of the latter rain reconciles 2 Corinthians 5:19 and Colossians 2:13 with 1 John 1:9.