MAINTAINING THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE
By: Larry D. Harvey
It is a regular part of my business life to counsel people as to how the law of the State of Texas applies to their situations. Frequently, I am the one obligated to clearly communicate to them that their opinion of the law, or their dislike of the consequences, or their conviction that the law and its consequences are unjust really does not matter in any meaningful way. The objective reality of the law is not altered by their subjective experience of the law and its consequences.
The Scriptures present objective realities to man. For example, God created the heavens and the earth. That fact exists, fixed, unchangeable and simple in itself, whether or not there were any other witnesses to the fact and whether or not people may doubt it today. Christ Jesus was born under the law, was sinless, did suffer and die, did rise from the dead, and did ascend. Those are facts. On His account only, God has forgiven the sins of all mankind and thereby reconciled all the world to Himself. This “objective reconciliation” is a fixed truth not subject to change. It is an objective reality. Through faith, a believer is connected to that objective reality of forgiveness and reconciliation, trusts the objective truth of that promise, and knows that the objective truth applies to him personally. We know that personal application as “subjective justification” or “subjective reconciliation”. If, however, a person denies that forgiveness, or is even wholly ignorant of that forgiveness and reconciliation, the truth, the fact of objective reconciliation, remains completely unaffected by the denial or the ignorance.
God has also given us objective standards by which we are to measure faith and life. His Law establishes His unchangeable standards for man and declares that all men are sinful, completely deserving of His wrath, and in complete bondage to sin, Satan and death. That is the objective reality of man’s condition, no matter how man responds to that truth. When I stand in terror before the truth of the Law, I am subjectively applying that Law to myself by the power and plan of God. The same objective to subjective process is at work in the Gospel in its declaration of universal atonement and personal salvation. That Gospel message has the objective truth we commonly summarize with the “Four Solas”, grace only, faith only, Christ only, and Scripture only.
I suggest to you that one of the great struggles for believers, who remain sinners and saints, is the temptation to replace the objective with the subjective, i.e. replacing the truth with how I have experienced the truth. On a large scale this occurs when that which is visible and perceptible to man’s senses becomes the standard of measurement rather than that which may be unseen but declared true by God. He has promised that His power and His plan of salvation will be undeniably worked by Word and Sacrament until Christ returns. That will remain true whether or not a single visible church can be found upon the earth still proclaiming the Word in all of its purity and administering the Sacraments as instituted by Christ. On a personal level, His love for me, His promises to me, and Christ’s death and resurrection for me, all remain true whether or not I believe Him or whether or not, for example, He grants me the specific temporal requests for which I pray. He may not grant me recovery to good health in ways perceptible to me, but He has, as an objective fact, forgiven me in Christ Jesus.
The temptation to replace the objective with the subjective is often very subtle. Satan has thousands of years of experience in the business of deceit and is good at subtleties. By yielding to his temptation, what may have begun as the application of and testing by the objective standards set forth in Scripture is replaced by purely subjective measurements.
One example of this is the situation where a specific portion of the liturgy is adopted because it accurately presents, teaches and portrays a Scriptural truth, and then, over the passage of time, it becomes measured only by the congregation’s comfort in the repetition. A second example is the measurement of a Divine Service by the level of excitement generated, or the number of people in attendance, or the amount of money given, or the like. In all of these ways, a subjective measure is being used when an objective measure is appropriate according to God’s Word.
For the individual, it is a constant struggle. Are we drawn to the comfort of familiarity or the comfort of that which was actually worked in the death and resurrection of Christ Crucified? Has the regular hearing of the Gospel been used to deny sinfulness or to avoid the terror of the Law’s condemnation and the wrath of God? Each individual believer must constantly test everything from without and from within to insure that God’s truths are not being replaced by the subjective perceptions and responses to those truths. That Word-instilled and Word-worked discipline requires constant prayer and meditation. The visible church must also constantly recognize that everything the church does, or does not do, teaches people, whether that teaching occurs expressly or by subtle implication, and strive to maintain the right distinction between the objective truths and the subjective applications of those truths.
In an era where absolutes are ridiculed and ignored, Christians must always, by God’s grace, humbly submit to the fact that God’s Truth is and shall always be unaffected by man’s perceptions and responses. That is man’s “problem” under the Law and the answer is the Gospel of Christ Jesus’ vicarious satisfaction.
Thanks be to the Lord who is truly the Faithful One!
Evaluate the following questions and statements as to whether or not they are “objective” or “subjective” in their foundation.
1. “What is God saying in this passage from Scripture…?”
2. “What do you feel this passage from Scripture is saying…?”
3. “I know it was a good worship service because I could feel the Holy Spirit at work!”
4. “The Old Testament is not relevant to my life today.”
5. “Doctrine is boring. What I need is help being a Christian parent/spouse/worker/etc.”
6. “I go to XX Lutheran Church because I like the people there.”
7. “I put my confidence in my faith.”
8. “I trust Christ Crucified, not me.”
9. “I go to church to worship God.”
10. “His sermons are always interesting.”
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