Lutherans: Justification & Eternal Security


I have been thinking about this for the last few days and decided to make a post. I cant understand how Lutherans can hold the forensic model of justification and yet NOT believe in Eternal Security. Its pretty clear the Reformed/Calvinist conclusion makes sense, if the basis of God letting you be justified is the external “righteousness of Christ” and not yourself then there is no way in which you could become unjustified. Yet the Book of Concord (eg the condemnation of the Anabaptists regarding loss of salvation) and Martin Luther (eg Commentary on Gal ch 5 v4) were clear that salvation could be lost.

I have asked Lutherans this question elsewhere but they wont respond in a way that addresses the question. Further I got the impression Lutherans dont believe salvation can be lost so at this point Im wondering if this is another one of those issues where Protestants are trying to have it both ways.

Also I remember something about Luther not being able to find security/assurance in Catholic theology, yet his new theology gave him this assurance…how is this possible apart from Eternal Security?


Catholic Dude,

The Luther passage to which you refer is fairly clear. You lose salvation by ceasing to trust in Christ. It’s quite simple. For Luther assurance is reflexive–you trust in Christ’s death and the fact that you trust in it is enough to give you assurance. You don’t sit back and analyze it. That way lies doubt and despair. You simply fling yourself on Christ and everything else follows from that.

This is why the sacraments are so central for Lutherans. You trust in Christ as presented to you in the Word and the Sacraments. When the pastor says “your sins are forgiven,” that is the Word of God and you believe in it. When you receive the bread and wine and the pastor says “The Body of Christ, broken for you,” and “The Blood of Christ, shed for you” (this is the formula generally used by Lutherans, in my experience), that too is the Word–a Word made visible. And perhaps most centrally, your faith reaches back to the moment when you were baptized–when God’s promise was sealed on you by water. That is an unconditional sign of God’s love, and all you need to do is receive it.

None of that rules out the possibility that you may stop receiving it. But as soon as you become aware of this, you simply throw yourself back onto Christ as Christ is offered to you in the objective forms of Word and Sacrament.

This is the Lutheran position as I understand it.



My understanding was that the Main Branches of the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church had resolved the differences in the use of the Term JUSTIFICATION like back in 1995. Let me research it.


From my understanding of the Lutheran perspective, losing salvation comes from a complete rejection of belief. In other words, it is possible to become apostate. How that works in the context of utter depravity, the bondage of the will and single predestination…I’d be lying if I said I understood that! :o


The problem I have is that I cant get an answer as it relates to the issue of justification. If Lutherans believe you are justified once on the grounds of the imputed righteousness of Christ, then it is only logical to say you cant undo that justification because it didnt depend on your righteousness in the first place.


But it depends on your faith. By faith you receive Christ’s righteousness. Stop believing, and you no longer have Christ’s righteousness imputed to you.



After reading post after post and thread after thread on the issue of faith & works among Catholic and Lutheran theology, right now I am convinced that Lutherans believe the same thing as Catholics. Lutherans must be different than Catholics, so Lutherans just word their theology a little different than Catholic theology, but ultimately, they believe the same thing. Am I accurate in my thinking?


So you are saying that justification is a state, you can be in and out of justification? That is very similar to the Catholic understanding, but the Protestants teach justification is a one time legal decree.

There is actually a huge difference. The fundamental difference is that in Catholicism Justification means God considering your soul righteous because He infused grace in your soul to make you righteous. Protestants believe justification is similar to a courtroom decree where even though you are guilty God focuses his attention on what Christ did on the cross and lets you off the hook (all the while knowing you are guilty). Protestants absolutely reject the notion that justification involves your soul being made righteous and God considering your soul as such.


Be careful with over-generalization about what Protestants believe. In the Lutheran view it is “one-time” in the sense that it is not a gradual process. But it is not once-for-all in the sense of a conversion experience that permanently moves us into the “justified” category. That is really a post-Reformation development even for the Reformed, and certainly wasn’t the way Luther thought. Attempts to turn Luther’s alleged “breakthrough” into an evangelical-style conversion experience are forced. Even Calvin’s “sudden conversion” was more of a theological shift. You actually find more dramatic experiential conversions among sixteenth-century Catholics (St. Ignatius, or my alias Contarini) than among early Protestants. The idea of a dramatic, transformative conversion was more of a 17th-century development in Puritanism and Pietism.

I know that’s not exactly what you are talking about, but it is a common misunderstanding because of evangelical interpretations of Luther.

As I understand it, Luther’s view was that we were all justified in baptism. We either receive the grace offered to us or do not, at any given moment.

Luther can’t be easily put into a Catholic or Protestant (in the sense of later Reformed/Pietist categories) box. He was a weird and wacky thinker, which is why he has been both so profoundly influential and so profoundly misunderstood (both by his friends and his enemies).



Lutherans define justification as being “objective” and “subjective” . This is how my church (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) views justification.

Q: whats the difference between objective and subjective justification?

A: Justification is a verdict of God by which he declares that sin is forgiven. Justification, therefore, is something that takes place outside of us. It is not a moral change in us.

The basis for God’s “not guilty” verdict for sinners is the completed work of Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life as our substitute. As our substitute he paid the full penalty for our sins on the cross. Because Jesus paid for all the sins of all of the people in the world, God has declared the sins of the whole world to be forgiven. This is expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” God made peace with the world by not charging their sins against them. This verdict of God by which he declared the world forgiven we call “objective justification.” It is called “justification” because it is a declaration of forgiveness. It is called “objective” because it does not depend on our feelings. This verdict is a completed reality even before we know about it. Since this verdict is for the whole world, it can also be called “world justification” or “universal justification.”

It is as if someone had made a deposit into a bank account in your name, a deposit large enough to pay all your debts. This would be a great gift, but to benefit from it you would have to hear about it, believe that it was yours, and use it. This is where subjective justification comes in.

Paul continues: God “has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). For us to benefit from the verdict of objective justification two things have to happen. First, we have to find out about God’s verdict. This happens when God sends out his ambassadors, the preachers of the gospel, to announce that Christ has won forgiveness of sins for us. Second, we need to believe that announcement and apply that verdict to ourselves. This happens when the Holy Spirit works through the gospel to create saving faith in our hearts. I am reconciled, that is, I am at peace with God, when I believe the declaration of the gospel that God has declared the sins of the world forgiven. I say, “God has forgiven the whole world. I am part of the world. God has forgiven me.” This justification by faith is called “subjective” because I know and feel it in my heart. Since it applies God’s verdict to an individual person, it can also be called “personal justification.”

The distinction between objective and subjective justification is of great importance for everyone who preaches the gospel. We can tell everyone we meet, “Christ died for you. God has forgiven you. Believe this and you will be saved.” The distinction between objective and subjective justification is of great importance for everyone who believes the gospel. It shows me that my forgiveness is not the result of my faith or my feelings. It depends on something that happened outside me. Christ lived, died, and rose for me. That is a fact that can’t be changed. God has declared the world forgiven. That is a fact. When I don’t feel very saved or very forgiven, I can look away from myself and my feelings to Jesus’ words, “It is finished.” My good feelings do not cause my forgiveness; God’s forgiveness causes my good feelings.

No one can be saved without faith. Just as a person can squander a deposit which has been made to his or her bank account by never using it, a person can squander the forgiveness which Christ obtained for him or her by refusing to believe it. Thus an unbeliever, who is justified by God objectively (as is all mankind) is tragically not justified subjectively (has not through faith grasped the reality that really exists and forfeits personal blessing). Nevertheless, it is important to remember that our faith is not the cause of our forgiveness. It is simply the channel through which the forgiveness is delivered to us. Paul says “BY grace are you saved THROUGH faith.” Grace is the cause of forgiveness. Faith is the means through which it is received. If forgiveness is like life-giving water, faith is like the pipe through which it is delivered.


Christ offers assurance of salvation. This cannot be lost by accident. Anyone looking for assurance finds it in the gospel.

The person who has lost salvation is no longer concerned about assurance.


This sounds totally illogical…“a person who has lost salvation is not concerned about assurance”?
Isnt the point of assurance that salvation cannot be lost?


My understanding of how Lutheran theolgy differs from Catholic is largely based on the terms Christ Alone. Lutherans while they accept the Communion of Saints in the creeds they compelety disagree with the naming and intercession of saints even though it was done in the early church. Lutherans see the Catholic use of Saints as taking away from the salvation from Christ Alone. This is why Luther did not put the book with that reference in his bible. For me the Lutheran theolgy and practice seems seperated from the tipical bible protestants but lower the the high church style of the Church of England. The churches and even their services are very similar to the Catholic style. Most protestants take out the sacred style of an church and create an classroom like setting for bible reading, alot of Lutherans dont so much. In writing his thelogy Luther did not want to take away the understanding of Christ’s real preasence in Eucharist, his later followers did.

One thing I want to know is if the Catholic Church had the priest on the altar move facing the pewes only in Vactin II, have lutheran pastors always faced the people?


Assurance cannot be lost, but it can be abandoned.

“The point” of assurance is that we can be confident Christ keeps his promises.

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.
John 4:14a

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
John 6:51


That doesnt make sense…then again, how do you define assurance? I understand “assurance” to mean that you know for sure you will make it to Heaven.


Not all Protestants believe the same. The once save always saved would say that it is a one-time finite event. However most mainline Protestant now have a mainly Arminean view rather than a Calvanist view. It is still a forensic judgement where Christ’s righteous is imputed through faith, but it is an ongoing judgement that changes if faith is lost.
Protestants view justification as forensic matter whereby God imputes Christ’s righteousness and declares the believer righteous. Justification as the making a person righteous or infusing righteous is rejected because there are places where God is said to be justified. God is already righteous and cannot be made rigtheous. I will give a couple of passages as examples.

And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
(Luke 7:29)

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16)


Which specific denomination says it is NOT a one time event? I know of none. This is the classical protestant understanding. Whether any given denomination believes in OSAS or not doesnt appear to be an issue for them.

However most mainline Protestant now have a mainly Arminean view rather than a Calvanist view. It is still a forensic judgement where Christ’s righteous is imputed through faith, but it is an ongoing judgement that changes if faith is lost.

And this doesnt make sense apart from INFUSED grace because you ORIGINALLY got off the hook based on Christ’s righteousness imputed to you (the state of your soul is not considered)…how can God turn the tables and put you on trial again and this time consider your own soul?

From the talk I have been doing it appears Protestants are abandoning the classical Protestant understanding and unknowingly are shifting towards the Catholic position (which was right the whole time).

Protestants view justification as forensic matter whereby God imputes Christ’s righteousness and declares the believer righteous.

Yes, and thus it makes no sense to say this imputed righteousness can be lost. The famous analogy of how Protestants view Justification goes something like this: The sinner is like a pile of dung, repulsive in the sight of God. Jesus, through His work on the cross, is like pure snow. Upon Justification the snow (“righteousness of Christ”) covers the dung so all the Father “sees” is snow and thus ‘declares’ the dung to be ‘righteous’. To say this righteousness can be lost makes no sense because your own account is not what is considered.

Justification as the making a person righteous or infusing righteous is rejected because there are places where God is said to be justified. God is already righteous and cannot be made righteous. I will give a couple of passages as examples.
And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
(Luke 7:29)

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16)

First of all there is a serious problem with your claim, in your view being justified involves someone who is NOT righteous is said to be “declared righteous” via imputation…CLEARLY this fails with your passages provided because the one being “justified” IS already righteous. That destroys your usage/understanding right there. Your understanding would have God NOT being truly righteous YET only righteous via imputation.

The usage of “justified” in the passages you provide is God being declared what He is, righteous, where as with the context of men being justified God is making them righteous. The Catholic view says nobody is justified unless they truly are righteous (even if they have to be made righteous in the case of sinners). The protestant view says justification is calling something righteous that is in fact NOT in reality.


I am a life long Lutheran (WELS) and I will try to answer any question you have.

On Justification: We believe that we are justified by Christ alone by no deeds of our own. The same belief that is in your Catholic Catechism. Where we split is after the internal justification. You believe in your CCC that you need to do good deeds to keep this justification. We believe that it is gift from God paid by Christ’s blood and that gift is for everyone.
Now your question on how you can lose it and the answer is that you cannot. God does not give you a gift and then take it away or make you do things to continue to receive it. It is a Gift giving to you from God thru Christ death on the cross. You ask so everyone goes to heaven, no. You have the ability to reject this gift and turn away from God. To accept the gift you need to believe in the gift i.e., believe in Jesus as you savior.

If this does not answer you question please ask again or any question and I will try to answer it

God Bless


What you are essentially saying is that you DO believe in Eternal Security, in spite of the fact it is rejected in the Book of Concord?
You are not at all alone, I am starting to hear more and more Lutherans say they really do believe in Eternal Security.


God has indeed declared the entire world not guilty because of the sinless life and innocent death of his own eternal Son. That is “objective justification” (the entire world has been declared not guilty - whether they believe it or not does not change the fact of what Jesus has finished for the world). But without faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit through that gospel message, that truth will not benefit anyone now or forever. But the Holy Spirit teaches us to believe that what Jesus did for the world he most certainly must have done for me. That is what we call “subjective justification.”

But that is not the same as predestination. Predestination (or election, as it is also called) is a comforting doctrine meant for Christians who are troubled by the weakness of their faith in the face of trials and temptations. As we despair of being able to “hold on” to our faith by our own power (which indeed we cannot), Scripture teaches us a wonderfully encouraging truth. God chose us to be his own from all eternity. Therefore our faith is a gift which God from all eternity chose to work in our hearts in our lifetime through the gospel in Word and Sacraments. And not only did he choose in eternity to bring us to faith, he promises also to keep us in faith until eternity through that same gospel in Word and Sacraments. In other words, our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is certain in the grace of God from eternity to eternity. This teaching leads us to make use of the means of grace with comfort and joy as we recognize their eternal significance in our lives. Ephesians 1:3-6 and Romans 8:28-30 are two of the best places to turn in Scripture for this doctrine of our election.

“If God did not predestine any to damnation, then can we assume all were initially predestined to salvation?” Here is where we must be careful that we don’t let our reason stand in judgment of what Scripture says. It is an absolute truth of Scripture that God equally desires the salvation of all. It is also an absolute truth of Scripture that God has elected some who will through faith inherit that eternal life. However, Scripture does not allow us to teach that God in eternity elected some to be damned. We cannot grasp with our limited human reason how all these statements can be fully and equally true. But Scripture teaches them all. When such curious questions arise, then I must remember that predestination was not revealed to us to satisfy every curious question that arises in our hearts. Our election is revealed to comfort the troubled Christian. Look at Psalm 131 and be reminded that there are times we must simply tell our reason to be still!

“Faith is the result of predestination as stated above – explain.” God didn’t elect me because he saw that I would believe. God elected me to be brought to faith in his Son (Ephesians 1). The saving faith in my heart is therefore not the reason for my election. Rather, my faith is the result of God’s electing love. In eternity he elected me in Christ to be brought to faith through the message of the gospel that his Spirit would bring to me in Word and Sacraments.

“We are taught for those who reject Jesus, it is entirely that person’s ‘fault’ and they will receive eternal damnation. Is this correct? We are taught for those who believe in Jesus, they will inherit eternal salvation. Is this correct?” Both statements are correct biblical truth. No one will be able to blame God for their unbelief on the last day (Mt 23:37). Everyone who believes in Jesus will receive eternal life (Jn 3:16).

“We are taught we cannot accept Jesus by any work of our own, it is through the power of the Holy Spirit who works in us through the Word and Sacrament. But where does that initial process begin? Assuming I have not been baptized into the faith as an infant baby, did I not have to initially read the Word, or initially go to church to hear the Word and by doing so the Holy Spirit started working in my heart? Doesn’t the individual have to start the process or are we to believe the Holy Spirit just one day arrived in ones life and started working? Once the Holy Spirit is in one’s heart, great things begin to happen, but my question is how did the Holy Spirit ‘get there’ in the first place?”

God has nowhere promised us that the Holy Spirit will work faith in anyone’s heart apart from the means of grace. An unbeliever can choose to open a Bible or to attend a worship service. However, that does not mean that he has somehow cooperated in the real work of conversion. He will still reject the law’s condemnation of his sin by his own powers. He will still consider the gospel to be utter foolishness by his own reason. Only the Holy Spirit can bring a heart to sorrow over sin (contrition) and to have confidence in forgiveness through Jesus (saving faith)

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