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Justification: Study and Discussion Questions


Justification: Am I Good Enough for God?

"Nothing in this article [on justification through faith in Christ] can be given up or compromised."

- Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles, Part II, Article I

Study and discussion questions

Chapter 1 – "The Great Comfort the Doctrine of Objective Justification Gives"

  • Why do we use the word "objective" to describe justification?
  • While the Bible never uses the term "objective justification," it teaches this doctrine quite clearly. Who identified Jesus as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"? Why does the church sing these words right before receiving the Lord’s Supper?
  • Give some synonyms for "justify."
  • Explain what Luther meant by the "blessed exchange."
  • Where should we look for the assurance that God forgives us all our sins?
  • Where would we have to look if something had to happen in us before God would forgive us?
  • Does objective justification teach that anyone "receives" the forgiveness of sins without faith? What is the significance of this fact for doing mission work?
  • How does this teaching of objective justification give you certainty that you really are forgiven by God?
  • Can you receive true comfort from God if you are not sure that he has forgiven you? Why or why not?

Chapter 2 – "Justification by God’s Grace Alone"

  • Does the word "grace" describe a quality in God or a quality in the Christian? What difference does it make?
  • Why does St. Paul teach grace in opposition to works in Romans 11:6? Does the doctrine of grace oppose the doing of good works? In what way?
  • Can God forgive us apart from what Jesus has done for us? What is the relationship between Jesus and God’s grace? What would happen to faith in Jesus if we taught that God’s grace were possible apart from Jesus?
  • Why do you think people object to the teaching that they can do nothing whatsoever to bring about their justification before God? What is offensive about the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone?
  • When considering the teachings on grace as explained by the Lutheran Confessions and the Roman Catholic Church, why is it so important that we define words correctly?

Chapter 3 – "Justification through Faith Alone"

  • Are we justified through faith because of what faith does or because of what faith receives? Why is this distinction so important?
  • When Martin Luther translated Romans 3:28 into German, he added the word "alone" after the word "faith." Why do you think he did this? Was he adding to the Scriptures?
  • Why must we first learn what faith receives before we will understand what faith is? Is there such a thing as a "one size fits all" generic faith?
  • Can we trust in our good works to save us while we are also trusting in Christ to save us? Why or why not?
  • What will happen to the faith that is not fed with the pure Word of God?
  • Discuss this statement: "Faith alone justifies, but faith is never alone."

Chapter 4 – "Justification in Christ Alone"

  • Explain how some Lutherans and Roman Catholics can claim agreement on justification when they do not agree. What does it mean to "equivocate," and how does this confuse people?
  • Do Lutherans deny that God makes the sinner "inwardly just by the power of his mercy"? If not, why do Lutherans object when the Roman Catholic Church teaches this? Is the Christian going to become perfectly "inwardly just" in this life?
  • What is lacking in the righteousness of Christ that God credits to us?
  • Why does the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification forbid Christians to believe without a doubt that they really are justified by God?
  • How does the biblical doctrine of justification invite Christians to believe with certainty that they really are justified by God?

Chapter 5 – "Objective and Subjective Justification"

  • Assume, for a moment, that God will not forgive your sins until you "believe" that he has forgiven your sins. Where would this direct you to look for the assurance that your sins are forgiven?
  • The Bible (John 1:29; Romans 4:25; 5:19; 2 Corinthians 5:19; and others) teaches us that all our sins were forgiven when Jesus died for us. Where is this forgiveness today?
  • Examine the following two statements and explain how both of them can be true:
    • God, in Christ, has forgiven all sins of all sinners whether or not anyone believes this.
    • Only those who believe in Christ may rightly regard themselves as forgiven by God.
  • Does the doctrine of objective justification teach us that everyone has received the forgiveness of sins?
  • Discuss this portion of Martin Luther’s tract "Against the Heavenly Prophets," where he distinguishes between what God did on the cross "for our forgiveness" and where God "gives this forgiveness to us." Why do we derive such great comfort today from the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments?


We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But he has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once for all on the cross. But the distribution takes places continuously. . . . If now I seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. . . . But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross. ("Luther’s Works," Vol. 40, pages 213,214)

Chapter 6 – "Justification and Rome"

  • How does the so-called historical-critical method of biblical interpretation undermine the gospel of justification?
  • Why has this method of interpreting the Bible nevertheless been seen as a blessing to many involved in the Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogues on justification?
  • Why must the Scriptures alone determine for us the true doctrine of justification? Discuss how rejecting either the entire truthfulness (inerrancy) of the Bible or the Bible’s clarity will affect the doctrine of justification.
  • The Roman Catholic Church teaches Christians that they should not doubt God’s mercy. Does this mean that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christians can and should be certain that they are going to heaven? Why or why not?
  • How can Lutherans claim that the Roman Catholic Church teaches a false gospel while also insisting that there are Christians who belong to the Roman Catholic Church?
  • How can Lutherans who are committed to the pure gospel share their convictions with their Roman Catholic friends in a humble and loving way? Why is it especially important to display a humble spirit when discussing the doctrine of justification?
  • It is unfashionable today to claim to know the truth of God. How does this make our theological conversations ("witnessing") more difficult? More vital?

Chapter 7 – "Justification through Faith in Christ: The Only Way to Heaven"

  • Why is it so important to insist that only the holy can enter into the eternal joys of heaven?
  • Do you think that most people today are concerned about their own righteousness? Why or why not? How has the doctrine of universalism (that everyone goes to heaven, with or without true faith in Jesus) affected the desires of people for the righteousness that avails before God?
  • Heaven is often described in the Bible in negative ways. The biblical description of heaven emphasizes primarily what heaven is "not." Make a list of what is "absent" from heaven.
  • People will often belittle being concerned about the pure doctrine because they assume that doctrine is simply cold and abstract formulations invented by theologians who have nothing better to do. Explain how the doctrine of justification is not just a dry theory but a wonderful comfort to us Christians, especially when we must face death.
  • Why do confessional Lutheran pastors avoid eulogizing the deceased during the funeral sermon?
  • Jacob’s famous words at Bethel (Genesis 28:17) are prominently displayed in many Lutheran churches: "This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." Why is this an especially appropriate inscription? What do these words tell the preacher to preach? What do we go to church to receive?
  • We are justified through faith alone. When will that faith be replaced by sight?
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