Redemption and Propitiation: Salvation's Cost (to God)

Relief, Auch Cathedral, France: the Ark of the Covenant. Image Source: WikiMedia
Relief, Auch Cathedral, France: the Ark of the Covenant. Image Source: WikiMedia

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Rom. 3:24-26

In these verses, we come to what I consider to be two of the most important verses in this crucial paragraph. One might have asked at this point, “Okay, Paul says that God’s righteousness rescues us by justifying us by grace through faith.  What I don’t see is how God can possibly do that?  How can a holy God declare people who are actually sinful to be righteous?  Wouldn’t that make God unrighteous?  On what just basis does God remain righteous while making righteous the unrighteous?”

To see that this is what Paul is getting at here, note how the apostle ends this paragraph (25b-26).  He basically says that God has done what he has done in verses 24-25a is to show that he is just.  He has forgiven sins and shown forbearance: on what basis could he do this?

Paul answers that question here.  The basis upon which God can justify the ungodly is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  We must remember here what Paul said back in verse 21.  We must interpret the meaning of these words in light of their OT background.  The word “redemption” harks back to the Exodus from Egypt by which God delivered his people from slavery and bondage, and then to the blood sacrifices of the OT liturgy that took away the guilt of sin.  The word “propitiation” was the word used in the law for the lid that covered the ark of the covenant, the “mercy seat,” the place where the blood from the animal sacrifice was sprinkled on the day of atonement (see Lev. 16) so that God’s holy wrath was appeased and his favor secured for the nation of Israel.  

Now we know, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, that those animal sacrifices never actually took away sin.  There is just no real correspondence between the guilt of the person who sinned and the animal that took their place.  Rather, the point is that in the 1500 years of the law, God was building a vocabulary by which we could understand and interpret what took place on the cross.

What did take place?  This: on the cross Jesus became the one who redeems us from the bondage of sin and the one who, by God’s own purpose, appeases his holy wrath against us on account of our sin.  In God’s moral universe, all sin must be punished.  But if we are to be saved, it cannot be punished in us.  How then can God remain consistent with his holiness?  He does so by substituting his Son in our place.  Out of love, God sent his Son, and out of love the Son came to stand in our place and to absorb God’s wrath against our own sin.  Because of what Jesus has done, we can be free from the claims of sin upon us and declared righteous in God’s sight.  

So you see it is not about being good enough or doing enough to counterbalance the bad we have done.  For Christ has already undone all the bad we have done by purging our sin and expiating it upon the cross.  Salvation is by faith in Christ because he is the one who redeems us from our sins, and it is by grace alone because Christ has accomplished salvation for us from first to last.  We don’t give part of our sin to him to expiate – he takes all of it and purges it completely.

Now, the question before us is this: if this is true and all your sins can be completely forgiven when you believe in Christ Jesus, then why not believe on him right now?  God will not go back on his word.  God's word says that if you trust in his Son you will be certainly saved.  It is the very best news in the world, for in it eternal life by faith alone in Jesus Christ is presented to unworthy sinners like you and me.  Will you not come to him right now by faith and receive in him the forgiveness of sins?

On the other hand, if we are already believers in Christ, let us hold firm to the gospel daily.  Let God’s grace in Christ form the basis of our hope and our identity in this life.  Let it inform the way we look at our trials and the way we enjoy our blessings.  Let it flavor every aspect of our life.  Let us be gospel-centered.  And let us share the gospel with those who are yet outside the community of the saved.  This is not news to hide, it is news to share for all who will listen.

By: Jeremiah Bass