There is a difference between subjective and objective influences and responses. Subjective focuses on inward feelings and emotions. Objective focuses on outward influences that often generate subjective responses. Our emotions and thoughts are subjective influences that determine our behavior. Influences from what we empirically experience around us, or read, are objective. Objective influences affect our subjective responses, but objective influences exist separate from our subjective being as a person. Though only God can judge us according to our hearts, He does not accept subjective responses alone in reference to our salvation.
Now consider this in reference to God generating a salvational response and behavioral changes in our lives. James referred to both the subjective and objective when he wrote, “Even so faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Js 2:17). Faith is inward, and thus subjective. Works, however, are objective, for they are a manifestation of that which is within us. Works are something that can be witnessed by others in one’s life. When James said, “I will show you my faith by my works,” he was rebutting those who affirmed that their faith alone could simply be accepted because it was self-proclaimed (Js 2:18).
But James is saying that God does not accept anyone’s subjective faith without an open and objective demonstration. He does not accept anyone’s declaration that “I am saved,” without the objective testimony of obedience. And for this reason, He does not ask any Christian to accept anyone’s faith that is not objectively demonstrated through fruit bearing.
Some self-righteous disciples in Corinth sought to masquerade themselves as saints. But Paul wrote that they were Satan’s disciples among the sincere disciples. They “masquerade themselves as ministers of righteousness” (2 Co 11:15). But, Paul warned, their “end will be according to their works” (2 Co 11:5). Their inner twisted self-righteousness would be revealed to be false when they are objectively judged according to their works. Judgment will be fair, therefore, because “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Co 5:10).
Final judgment will be objective according to our works, and thus there will be no doubts as to why one is either saved or condemned. And for this reason, God allows us to make an objective judgment of others according to the witness of their works. This is what Jesus meant when He instructed His disciples, “Do not judge according to appearance [what one pretends to be], but judge righteous judgment [according to his deeds]” (Jn 7:24). We are only allowed to make judgments objectively by witnessing the righteous works of others. In this context Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16). Christians have no right to judge the subjective motives of one another. However, they are to be cautious fruit inspectors.
We learn from this something very important in reference to how God considers both the salvation and faithfulness of any person. The faith that saves is objectively manifested and witnessed by others. It is declared by God to others when others see the obedience that God objectively requires in His word in order to be saved. Paul focused on this principle in the life of the erring disciple: “For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation” (2 Co 7:10). In other words, if it is sincere, subjective godly sorrow will manifest itself objectively in a changed life of repentance, which changed life is objectively perceived by others. As God accepted no faith without an outward expression, neither does He accept any repentance that cannot be objectively witnessed through godly behavior. He expects us to do likewise.
Now we need to apply this principle to those who seek God’s approval in reference to their salvational relationship with Him. In the historical context of idolatrous religiosity, believers in Jesus in the first century sought to influence idolatrous unbelievers through the power of the objective gospel event of the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Son of God. Their initial objective statements gave direction to salvation for unbelievers: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you … will be saved” (At 16:31). This was an initial objective statement that called for a subjective inward response of faith in the resurrected and ascended Jesus. The inquiring sinner had the opportunity to subjectively respond with inward faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, in order for the sinner to come into a salvational relationship with God, the subjective response had to be manifested with an objective demonstration.
The Ethiopian eunuch is a typical example of an objective response. Philip objectively presented the means by which the eunuch could reveal any subjective faith. Beginning with Isaiah 53, Philip “preached Jesus to him” (At 8:35). Philip’s objective word about Jesus worked because the eunuch responded with a desire to objectively reveal his subjective response to Jesus. So he said to Philip, “See, here is water! What hinders me from being baptized” (At 8:36). Baptism was an objective manifestation of an inward subjective faith.
The same scenario developed on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Peter presented the objective evidence that the crucified Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (At 2:14-36). The people, therefore, subjectively responded, for they were “cut to the heart” (At 2:37). Their response was initially inward. However, they had to make an outward objective response before they could receive remission of sins. In order that they reveal their subjective “cutting to the heart,” therefore, Peter revealed to them what they must do to objectively manifest before God and man that their faith was not dead: “Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (At 2:38). A change in behavior (repentance), and baptism, were the objective responses to their subjective “cutting to the heart.”
God never asked repentant believers to trust in their own intuition, feelings, or emotions in reference to their own salvation. He has never required this of people for one simple reason: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jr 10:23). If we were allowed by God to trust in our own subjective emotions as a guarantee of our salvation, then we would become narcissistic religionists. This is the belief of man-made religionists who seek to call out to God their own terms for their own salvation.
However, as Peter uttered the mandate of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38, a God-directed objective response of faith must always be the point of reference where sins that separate us from God, are washed away in the waters of baptism (At 22:16). The objective experience of baptism into Christ is a point in one’s life where faith is objectively revealed, both to God and to those who witness the occasion.
After years of spiritual growth, the objective response of baptism is a God-ordained point of reference to which one can always know that God saved him by washing away his sins. This is not the case with the subjective declarant who would spiritually grow beyond those youthful years where he or she sought to declare his or her own salvation by a self-proclamation that is not stated in the word of God. It is God who has the right to declare when we are saved, and His declaration is made by our objective obedience to the death of Jesus for our sins, and resurrection for our hope (See Rm 6:3-6).
Immediately before His ascension, Jesus explained it clearly: “He who believes [subjective] and is baptized [objective] will be saved” (Mk 16:16). The objective (baptism) substantiates the existence of the subjective (belief). However, Jesus continued, “But he who does not believe [subjective] will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). There is no reason to mention the objective (baptism) if one does not have the subjective belief to take one into and out of the waters of baptism. If one’s subjective faith does not lead to an outward manifestation of objective obedience to Jesus’ instructions, then his faith is dead. It is dead because it is a faith that is void of objective obedience.
We must caution everyone, therefore, that faith (subjective) comes by hearing the objective word of Christ (Rm 10:17). If we do not obey what God has objectively presented through words of instruction in reference to our faith, then we are harboring a dead faith about which James said would produce only death.
God never gave man the right to declare his own salvation through his own self-proclamation that he “received Jesus,” “went forward during a ‘church’ service,” or fell to his knees. It is God, not man, who, through His word, mandates the objective conditions that must be obeyed in order that we are assured that our sins are washed away. And His declaration is actually quite simple: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16). It cannot be stated more clearly than that. Our assurance, therefore, is in the declaration of God that our sins have been washed away and forgiven at the point of our obedience to His instructions that we read about in the Bible.
[For continued study, download free and read Book 41, Obedience To The Gospel.