The following meditation is taken from the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible published by Reformation Heritage Books; Grand Rapids, Michigan. I feel that it is a good summary of what I have been preaching the last three Sundays on Romans 3:21 – 26.
No promise of the gospel is more basic or precious than the forgiveness of sins. When our sins rise up against us, we sink under the weight of conviction, knowing the justice of the charges laid against us. We long to know that God will show us mercy and take our guilt away.
But how can a just God forgive sins? He cannot deny Himself, and therefore He cannot allow sin to go unpunished. Sin incurs a terrible kind of moral and spiritual debt. The sinner has withheld from God the love and obedience that are His due as our Creator. As a result, the sinner is held hostage to God’s justice and must perish under God’s wrath unless that moral and spiritual debt is fully repaid or satisfied.
This view of sin loomed large in Christ’s thought. He inserted it into His model prayer as the fifth petition: “Forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). He saw the people He came to save as dying under the weight of the debt they had incurred by sinning against God. He came into the world “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), that is, to make satisfaction, to repay the debt in full, and thereby to secure the debtors’ release or deliverance from punishment.
Paul works these ideas out in a compelling way in Romans 3:24–25. He has shown that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (v. 23). But he adds that believers have been “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24). Redemption means “release effected by payment of a ransom.”
But Paul is not finished. Why is Christ’s death a ransom for many? It is because God has “set forth” or fore-ordained His incarnate Son to be “a propitiation through faith in his blood” (v. 25). A propitiation is a sin offering that takes into account not only the guilt of sin but also the wrath of God against us because of our sin. God’s wrath is His justice aroused and on the move.
The fury of God’s wrath can be quenched only when the demands of His justice are satisfied or paid in full. Paul declares that God has provided such a satisfaction by sending His own Son to die on the cross. In this way God can be just and, at the same time, “the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (v. 26). Mercy need no longer be restrained by justice; justice need not be denied for mercy’s sake.
In other words, God has punished sin in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, with the bitter and shameful death on the cross. As the payment of a ransom, the righteousness of Christ is accepted as a satisfaction for the sinner’s debt, acquitting him of all guilt. As a propitiation, His righteousness covers our sin and delivers us from God’s wrath and judgment. We can receive and apply to ourselves this righteousness and satisfaction in no other way than by Spirit-worked faith in Christ. “He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).
Such was the doctrine of Christ and His apostles. Sadly, more recent generations have professed to be embarrassed by what they deem to be the “barbaric theory” of blood atonement. In fact, what has changed is their view of sin: How could mere human frailties and mistakes incur divine wrath? Would not a God of love overlook such trifles? Viewed in this light, the death of Christ seems quite literally to be overkill on God’s part.
Christ anticipated such a development by instituting the sacraments of holy baptism and the Lord’s Supper to direct our faith to His sacrifice on the cross as the only ground of our salvation. The one is a sign of the washing away of sins by His blood; the other is a showing forth of Christ’s death until He comes again. The sacraments seal to our hearts the promise of redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins.