1 Chronicles 23:1-32; Romans 3:23-32; Psalms 13:1-4; Proverbs 6:1-5
NT: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as the mercy seat by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be just and justify the one who has faith in Jesus… For we conclude that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law… Do we then nullify the law through faith? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:23-26, 28, 31 CSB)
There are three big theological words used here to describe God’s remedy for our sin: redemption, propitiation, and justification. One of the absolutes about God is that He is just. Ignoring our sin would go against His just nature. Justice for our sin had to be served, for God cannot be unjust. God warned Adam and Eve in the garden that sin would lead to death – and that is true. There is another absolute about God: He is merciful. Because of His mercy, He delayed the just sentence for our sin – but the sentence could not be delayed forever. In due time, God sent His Son who brought redemption, propitiation and justification. What exactly do those words mean?
Redemption (apolytrosis in Greek) means separation or liberation obtained by the payment of a ransom. The wages of sin is death, and our sin created a debt that could only be satisfied by death… not our physical death, mind you, but complete death which comes as a result from being completely separated from the Source of Life. For us to be liberated from that debt without completely dying ourselves, someone else had to die in our place. That is exactly what Jesus did. He was completely innocent of sin and could therefore lay His life down as a substitute for our death. We can either accept Jesus’ redemption through faith, or we can remain in debt and pay-up at the end of the age through eternal death.
The Greek word hilasterion, translated here as “mercy seat,” is often translated as propitiation. Mercy seat is probably a better translation than the English word “propitiation,” for the idea has more to do with expiation than propitiation. Propitiation has more to do with appeasing or doing something to regain favor. Expiation has to do with extinguishing and removing guilt – which is exactly what Jesus does for us. Every year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would approach the Mercy Seat of God and sprinkle it with blood. That blood was evidence of a life that had been sacrificed and would temporarily atone for or cover up any sins that had been committed. Jesus’ blood was not merely an atonement for sin. His shed blood was an expiation of sin. By placing our faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, our sin is extinguished and removed from us – as far as the east is from the west.
Justification (dikaioo in Greek) means declared to be just and righteous. Justification should not be confused with sanctification. Justification is a legal term and means in the eyes of the court, you have been cleared of all charges. Sanctification, on the other hand, is the process by which we are actually made righteous. Through Jesus Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, all was paid. Jesus paid it all, as the old song says. When we place our faith in Him and His completed work, we are redeemed and our guilt is removed – which results in us being declared righteous. God was just by declaring us guilty and issuing our sentence. He then, in His mercy and love for us, fulfilled all the requirements of the Law and justified us by having His Son serve our sentence in our place. Salvation and justification is offered freely to us through our faith, but it cost God everything.