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by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf

5. Temporary Universal Justification

While Moses and Joshua were on the mountain talking with God, the people of Israel grew restless on the plain below. In their idleness, they prevailed on Aaron to make a calf of gold. This they worshipped as their god and deliverer from Egypt. For their idol worship, God decided to destroy them.

Moses, seeing with his own eyes their wanton idolatry, realized that death awaited them. He interceded for them. He loved the people and did not want them to die, but he was also concerned about God’s honor. He feared that if God failed to bring them into Canaan, the Promised Land, as He had promised, the heathen might gain the impression that He was unable to do so. Moses wanted no blotch on the name and reputation of God. So he told God that he would rather have his own name blotted out from His book than to see God’s people perish in the wilderness. As Moses thus stepped into the breach, God relented and decided to forgive His people and let them live (see Ex. 32; Ps. 106:23).

When Adam and Eve, in the sin-free Garden of Eden, did what God had told them not to do—eat of the forbidden fruit—Jesus stepped into the breach. "Christ, the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying, ‘Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place. He shall have another chance.’1 In this way Jesus, the second person in the Godhead, became our Saviour, "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8, KJV). Thus, "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses" (2 Cor. 5:19). "While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Rom. 5:10). In giving His life on the cross, Jesus "died for all" (2 Cor. 5:15). All have been redeemed-but not all are saved.

Ellen G. White comments: "As soon as there was sin, there was a Saviour."2 "Christ became our substitute and surety. He took the case of fallen man upon Himself. He became the Redeemer, the Intercessor. When death was proclaimed as the penalty of sin, He offered to give His life for the life of the world, in order that man might have a second probation."3 Through Christ’s offer to take the sinner’s place and die on Calvary’s tree "when the time had fully come" (Gal. 4:14), men and women lived on this earth from the very entrance of sin until Jesus made His sacrifice on the cross.

Only through this sacrifice are we and all people in the whole world alive even today. Because of Christ’s death on the cross, God temporarily treats all as if they were just and righteous. By virtue of the cross, all enjoy life through temporary universal (temporal and forensic) justification. All are undeservedly put into a life-giving relationship with God.

All sins are covered temporarily by the blood of Jesus. "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). This divine mercy is manifested to unworthy creatures because Jesus "is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). God "sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10) because He loves mankind. Temporary universal justification, in addition to being called forensic, may also be called legal, technical, objective, or impersonal justification. It is based solely on God’s goodness toward all, irrespective of the individual’s attitude toward Him.

In the ancient sanctuary service, the high priest carried the names of every tribe on his breastplate. Symbolically, he carried on his heart the name of every individual into the very presence of God. In the same way, Jesus carries on His heart every person born into this world, whether or not he has accepted Him as his Saviour.

By giving His life on the cross, Jesus assured all of physical life and made provision for their eternal life. On the cross He temporarily atoned for all sins—known as well as unknown, confessed as well as unconfessed. And "as our Mediator, Christ works incessantly. Whether men receive or reject Him, He works earnestly for them. He grants them life and light, striving by His Spirit to win them from Satan’s service."4 At the cross He removed every barrier to salvation for everyone and sends out the invitation: "Come, for everything is now ready" (Luke 14:17, NIV).

With our first parents, all people born into this world stand guilty as rebels before God. All of us have forfeited the right to life and deserve death. But God did not create man to perish; He created him for fellowship with Himself and sinless angels. According to the Creator’s plan, every person born into this world was to live forever in His very presence. To fulfill this purpose, Jesus volunteered to die, and He did die so that sinners might live both for time and for eternity, if they choose to avail themselves of God’s gracious provision for eternal life.

The purpose of temporary universal—or temporal—justification is to afford rebels against God and His government—which all of us have been and may still be—time to change our attitudes toward God and His government. He does this to afford us opportunity to choose to become loyal citizens of His kingdom. In this way, temporary universal justification does not imply ethical change or a change in a person’s attitude toward God. It only means that God temporarily deals with sinners as if they were just, or righteous, in spite of their rebellious attitude toward Him.

In His temporary universal justification, God manifests tender compassion toward all. He grants all a reprieve from death by not executing them immediately despite their sin. This reprieve is designed to break the sinner’s stubborn heart and draw him to His Saviour in repentance.

To the woman taken in adultery Jesus said: "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11, KJV). Or to paraphrase it: "Come now and forsake your life of sin." When the trembling woman heard these gracious words, "her heart was melted, and she cast herself at the feet of Jesus, sobbing out her grateful love, and with bitter tears confessing her sins."5 Jesus did not condemn her, even though she was a sinner. God deals in the same gracious way with all sinners. He condemns no one today. Today is still "the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2), not of judgment and condemnation (see John 3:17). By virtue of temporary universal justification, God ordinarily chooses not to exact the wages for sin during a person’s life on earth. Rather, He treats him—and that embraces every person born into the world—as if he merited life. If He did not, not one person would be alive today. Every one of us would be dead, for we are all sinners.

If it were not for the shed blood of Christ—both anticipatory for pre-cross generations and historically for us—not one would ever have lived on this earth. All would have died because of sin. It is only because of Christ’s sacrifice and intercession that we are alive. "To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and blood of Christ."6

The psalmist’s testimony is: "The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made" (Ps. 145:9). "He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). God does not deprive the wicked of His bounties, reserving them only for those who love and serve Him. He pours His blessings on both the just and wicked. Indeed, "the Lord’s true love is surely not spent, nor has his compassion failed; they are new every morning: (Lam. 3:22, 23, NEB). Jesus Himself emphasized this truth when He said that His Father "is kind to the ungrateful and wicked" (Luke 6:35, NEB).

In this life there is no distinct difference between God’s treatment of saints and sinners. Both are under the cover of God’s grace; both benefit from Jesus’ shed blood for all.

The psalmist noticed this temporal impartiality on the part of God. In a moment of spiritual myopia, or shortsightedness, he was overwhelmed with envy of the prosperity of the wicked. In retrospect he confessed, "But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Ps. 73:2, 3). He over-came his spiritual "dizziness" when he went into the sanctuary (see Ps. 73:17). There he perceived that there would be a final accounting, or judgment, at which everyone would reap what he had sown in the flesh (see Gal. 6:7).

I have spent most of my life in the classroom, either studying or teaching. Some of my students were good, others not so good. But during the weeks or months of the course there was no difference in my treatment of them. They were all equally accepted. The difference did not appear until the final examination. Some passed the exams, while some failed. The distinct difference between the righteous and the wicked, between the saved and the unsaved, between those who are only forensically justified and those who are justified by faith, will not become evident until the course of life has ended—at the final judgment.

God has no stepchildren. All men and women are God’s natural children in the sense that He created us. But God desires us to be more than natural children. He wants us to be His spiritual sons and daughters; He wants us to enter into a father-son and father-daughter relationship with Him. The prodigal was his father’s natural son, even while he was in the far country, but he did not then enjoy a father-son relationship with his father. "But when he came to himself’ (Luke 15:17) and returned to his father, he became a real son. This is more than being a natural son.

God mercifully grants us all life, in spite of our sins, so that we might come into a genuine father-child relationship with Him and be prepared to live with Him in full fellowship and joy throughout eternity. The difference between being only a natural or earthly child and being a real child of God will become evident at the end of temporal life. Not even the unrepentant sinner is condemned during his temporal life. His fatal condemnation will not come until the final judgment.

Among the ancient Hebrews no one was condemned or cut off from his people until the annual Day of Atonement. In the same way, by virtue of Christ’s death, all people stand in a life-giving relationship to God. Ordinarily, God does not cut short a person’s temporal life because of his sins (although a person himself may terminate it). God acquits everyone of the deserved judgment of death during his or her lifetime. But those in whom God’s love does not evoke a response of love will be "reserved until the day of judgement when the godless will be destroyed" (2 Peter 3:7, NEB).

God grants this stay of execution to all sinners because He desires their salvation. If He did not, He would be the ruler of only dead people. But God does not choose to vindicate Himself at the expense of the lives of His earthly created beings. "He does not intend to enjoy his own life at the expense of uncounted masses of miserable and dead men. . . . He does not want to rule over a gaping emptiness. Therefore, he has decided from eternity not to treat the nations and his chosen people according to what they have deserved but according to the measure of what is needful for them."7

Two days before Christmas my wife and I stepped up to the counter at the airport in Cebu, Philippines, intending to return to Manila. I presented our tickets and told the attendant that we had two reservations for that particular flight. After doing some checking, the attendant politely informed me that my reservations had not been confirmed; consequently, they were holding no reservations for me and my wife on that flight. Gently I tried to point out to him that it was more than an hour before the flight was to depart and that certainly was sufficient time to arrange for our passage. He told me that he was sorry, but by not confirming my reservations I had forfeited them.

Jesus has prepared a mansion for everyone born into this world—He has made reservations for us. God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). Hell was not prepared for human beings, but only for the devil and his angels (see Matt. 25:41). But even though God wishes us to be saved and has made provision and reservations for our salvation, these reservations will not hold unless we as individuals personally choose and confirm our salvation by giving "diligence to make [our] calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10, KJV), by being justified by faith. If not, God’s granting a stay of execution by His temporary universal justification will avail us nothing. God’s planned salvation will be forfeited, just as were my plane reservations in the Philippines.

When man’s second trial ends, God will say about the lost what He anciently said about His vineyard, which represented His Old Testament people: "What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?" (Isa. 5:4, NIV). He could have done no more. He gave Himself. "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor. 5:19). "Thanks be to God for his gift beyond words!" (2Cor. 9:15, NEB).


1 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen C. White Comments, vol. 1, p. 1085. [back]

2 EIlenG. White, in Review and Herald, Mar. 12, 1901. [back]

3 _________, in Signs of the Times, Feb. 13, 1896. [back]

4 _________, in Review and Herald, Mar. 12, 1901. [back]

5 _________, The Desire of Ages, p.462. [back]

6 Ibid., p. 660. [back]

7 Markus Barth, Justification (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans, 1972), p. 35. [back]

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