Gospel Issues in Adventism
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#2 – Objective & Subjective Salvation

(Ephesians 2:4-10)


Out of the Reformation of the 16th Century developed two main distinct concepts of salvation that has since dominated Protestantism.  The most popular one today is the Calvinist concept of salvation (John Calvin).  According to this view, God actually redeemed or reconciled to Himself the human race on the cross of Christ.  However, since the Bible clearly teaches that some will be lost, the Calvinists teach that Christ did not die for the entire human race on the cross, but only for those whom God predetermined He would save.  Hence, they believe in a limited atonement.

In the other camp you have the Arminians (Jacob Arminius).  They teach that Christ died for the entire human race on the cross.  However, they also take into consideration that some will be lost.  Therefore, according to their view, Christ did not actually save anyone on the cross, but simply made provision for our salvation.  Hence, for this salvation to become an actual reality, one has to meet certain conditions, namely:  believe, repent, and confess all sins.  Only then will God put you into Christ and save you.

Both views of salvation defend their position from Scripture.  Both camps have been meeting in a verbal battle for the last 400 years with no sign of a reconciliation.  Both are presenting certain aspects of truth, while both have ignored certain texts.  The Calvinists have great difficulty explaining the universal text of the New Testament, that Christ came to save the entire human race [see John 3:16-17; 12:47; 1 Timothy 2:5,6; Titus 2:11].  The Arminians, on the other hand, have great difficulty with those texts that clearly state that on the cross God actually saved, redeemed, or reconciled to Himself the entire human race [Romans 5:10, 18; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; 1 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:2].

While we saw in our last study that present day Adventists are polarized into various groups, concerning the gospel, historically we [Adventists] belong to the Arminian camp.  As a result, most, if not all, Adventists have been raised up to believe that Christ did not actually save anyone on the cross, but simply made provision for the salvation of all mankind; that unless we take the initiative and believe, repent (i.e., turn away from sin), and confess all our sins, we stand as lost or condemned sinners before God.

In practice this concept of the gospel has done two things to our people.

  1. Since we are still struggling with the sin problem, no matter how hard we try, many Adventists question whether their repentance has been genuine.  This, in turn, has robbed our people of the assurance of salvation.  Hence, most Adventists are very insecure about their salvation.  Value Genesis confirmed this fact, when the majority of our youth admitted they had no assurance of salvation because their conduct was not meeting God’s high standard.

  2. Added to this problem is the fact that every time one sins one becomes unjustified, until confession of that sin has been made.  This has added to the problem of having no assurance of salvation.  Because of this twofold problem, we have produced a people who are experiencing no joy of salvation and who are trying to live the Christian life, either out of fear of the judgment, or a desire to make it to heaven.

But the greatest tragedy of all is that this Arminian mind-set has become a real stumbling block to many Adventists.  When they hear the true good news of the gospel, to them it sounds like heresy, or it is too good to be true.  It’s beyond belief.  One major area of difficulty they have understanding is the objective and subjective aspects of salvation.  This has become a major problem to some.  This is the issue I would like to address this morning.

Objective and Subjective Salvation

What do these theological terms mean?  When one reads the Bible, especially the New Testament, one realizes that, on the one hand, Scripture speaks of salvation as an already accomplished fact, while, on the other hand, it is an on-going process that will not be completed until the second advent.  In other words, the Bible describes two phases of salvation — objective and subjective.

On the one hand, a Christian can say I am already saved, while, on the other hand, has to admit I am being and will be saved.  This is a paradox, and that is why so many have difficulty accepting this dual concept of salvation.  But the Bible is full of paradoxes which we have already accepted.  For example, take Christ Himself.  We believe that He was God and man at the same time.  That means He was immortal and mortal at the same time.  This is a paradox.  Or take us Christians.  According to the truth of Righteousness by Faith, we are sinners and righteous at the same time (Luther).  In ourselves we are sinners, while in Christ we stand righteous.  Again, this is a paradox.

The best way to understand this paradox about salvation is to look at our situation in Adam.  When Adam sinned he actually or objectively condemned the entire human race.  But this condemnation in Adam, that objectively was passed on to mankind thousands of years ago, did not become ours personally or subjectively until we are born in this world.

In the same way, the entire human race was placed into Christ, the second Adam, at the incarnation.  Thus by His obedience the entire human race was objectively justified unto life at the cross [Romans 5:18].  But this actual or objective salvation does not become ours personally or subjectively until we experience the new birth [read John 3:3].

But there is one major difference between being subjectively in Adam and subjectively in Christ.  Our birth in Adam was through procreation in which we had no choice.  That means that the condemnation Adam brought to the entire human race at the Fall is inherited by all who are born into this world.  In contrast, the justification unto life objectively obtained by Christ for the entire human race at the cross is experienced only by those who believe in Him and have experienced the new birth.

You see, the objective or actual salvation that was obtained for the entire human race in Christ is God’s supreme gift to mankind.  And, like any gift, it cannot be enjoyed subjectively if it is rejected or not received.  So while condemnation in Adam is inherited and, therefore, applies to all mankind, this is not true with salvation as an experience.  Only believers who have received Christ by faith will experience salvation [Romans 5:17].

When we consider the objective facts of salvation we are looking at the gospel from God’s point of view.  And as far as God is concerned He has already redeemed or saved the entire human race in Christ.  But when we consider the subjective truth of salvation, we are looking at it from man’s point of view.  And from our point of view, only believers will be saved.

It is for this reason the Bible clearly teaches that no one will be lost for being born a child of Adam.  The only reason anyone will be lost is because they have deliberately and ultimately rejected the objective facts of salvation in Christ [Mark 16:15-16; John 3:18,36; Hebrews 2:1-3; 10:26-29].

Further, because God has actually redeemed the entire human race in Christ, He can take to heaven all those who have never heard the gospel, through no fault of their own, but who were faithful to the light they had, whatever that light may have been.  These will hear about Jesus for the first time in heaven and at that time will give Him the glory for saving them.

This understanding of the objective and subjective aspects of salvation will dramatically change our whole approach to evangelism and witnessing.  No longer will we preach the gospel as good advice but as good news.

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