Having spent verse 18 of chapter 1 to verse 20 of chapter 2, telling us the bad news that there is no one righteous, not even one, and that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law, Paul starts to tell us the good news from verse 21 of chapter 3. And the good news is that there is a way for sinners to be declared righteous in God’s sight, and it’s got nothing to do with the law. There’s a righteousness, or a righteous status, that comes from God to all who all who believe in Jesus Christ. Yes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but we are justified freely by his grace, so that by grace we are pardoned and accepted by God through faith in his Son who died for us.
We began to look at verse 24 last time, but I wanted to come back to it today to say a little more about redemption. Paul wrote:
[we] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
We’re thought before about what redemption means. It’s about being set free from some kind of bondage or slavery or debt through the payment of a price. So, in Roman times, when the New Testament was written, slaves could buy their freedom by paying a ransom price. If they paid the price, then they were redeemed, or they were set free, from their slavery. Prisoners of war could be released if a ransom price was paid to the captors. The price was paid and they were set free and allowed to return to their own people. But more importantly, in the Old Testament, someone who was condemned to die as a punishment for certain crimes could be redeemed or released from the punishment they deserved on payment of a ransom price. Instead of being put to death, the offender could pay a penalty and be allowed to live. And we’re familiar with something similar today when someone may be offered the choice between serving a prison sentence or else paying a fine for the offence they’ve committed. They’re either locked up or they can pay the price to keep their freedom.
Redemption means being set free through the payment of a ransom price. And in the New Testament the word and this idea is used to describe what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us. So, for instance, in Ephesians 1:7 we read that in him — in Jesus Christ — we have redemption through his blood. In other words, by his blood — which means, by his death on the cross — he has paid for our sins and he had set us free from the condemnation we deserve. Then in Colossians 1:13 we read something similar:
[God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us in the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
Christ has redeemed us, so that instead of being condemned for our sins, we find forgiveness.
And then in Mark’s gospel, the Lord Jesus said that he did not come to be served by us, but to serve us. How does he serve us? By giving his life as a ransom for many. He gave up his life as a ransom to pay the penalty we deserve for our sins. And in 1 Timothy 2:5+6, Paul tells us that there’s only one mediator between God men, and it’s the Lord Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.
So, here we are in Romans 3:24. We’ve all sinned. We all fall short of God’s glory. But we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. In other words, by giving up his life for us on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ has paid the ransom price to free us from the condemnation we deserve for our sins.
Paul tells us that we’re justified freely. It costs us nothing. We don’t do anything to earn it or to buy it. It’s God’s gift to us. But it cost the Lord Jesus Christ his life, because the only way to redeem us and to free us from the condemnation we deserve was by giving up his life on the cross. So, in him, we have redemption through his blood.
In verse 25 Paul goes on to say that God presented the Lord Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. It’s perhaps better to put ‘in his blood’ next to ‘sacrifice of atonement’ so that the sentence reads:
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement in his blood, through faith.
In other words, Christ’s death, when his blood was shed for us, was a sacrifice of atonement. And we receive the benefits of his death through faith.
But what does ‘sacrifice of atonement’ mean? If you look at other English translations, such as the ESV, you’ll see they use the word ‘propitiation’. And a sacrifice of propitiation is a sacrifice which turns away God’s wrath. It’s about bringing an offering to God in order to appease him. And God needs to be appeased because he is justly angry with us because of our sin and guilt.
What has Paul been saying to us since verse 18 of chapter 1? That God reveals his wrath every day. God reveals his wrath, because by nature we’re sinners who sin against him continually and we are justly liable to all miseries in this life and eternal punishment in the life to come. This is true for the Jew and the Gentile, because there is no difference, because all have sinned.
Now God, who is gracious and merciful, instructed the Jews in Old Testament times to bring offerings to him in his temple to make atonement for their sins. But those Old Testament offerings were really only designed by God to remind the people that they were sinners who needed forgiveness; and believing Jews offered them with the hope and expectation that one day, God himself would provide them with the true sacrifice for sins, a sacrifice which turn aside God’s wrath so that there would be a lasting peace between them. And here is Paul, making clear to his readers in Rome and to us, that the true sacrifice has now been offered, because the Lord Jesus Christ not only laid down his life to set us free from condemnation, but the Lord Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God in our place when he offered himself as the true sacrifice for sins. God’s wrath was turned aside from us and directed to Christ who was punished in our place when he died on the cross.
And look: it was God himself who set forth Jesus Christ to be the sacrifice of atonement. Although Paul has been speaking of God’s wrath which is directed against us because of our sin and rebellion, nevertheless God is also gracious and merciful. And therefore, instead of leaving us in our sin and misery, he sent his Son into the world to offer himself as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice to turn aside God’s wrath and to make peace for us with God.
And then, we receive all the benefits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice through faith. Not by works of the law, and not by anything we might do, but solely through faith in Jesus Christ, which means we’re to rest entirely on him for peace with God. We’re to cling to Christ, because whoever clings to Christ by faith, receives from him the salvation he has accomplished for us by his death on the cross.
In the second half of verse 25, and in verse 26 as well, Paul tells us that God presented the Lord Jesus as the atoning sacrifice in order to demonstrate his justice. And he says two things about this.
First of all, he says:
[God] did this in order to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.
What does this mean? Well, ‘forbearance’ refers to God’s patient self-control. So, because of God’s patient self-control, he left unpunished the sins committed beforehand. And ‘the sins committed beforehand’ are those sins which God’s people committed before the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, because of God’s patient self-control, he left unpunished the sins his people committed before the death of the Lord Jesus. So, he’s referring to the sins of Abraham and Isaac and Samuel and David and Solomon and all the other believers in the Old Testament. God left their sins unpunished.
So, what’s Paul getting at here? Well, he means that the blood of bulls and goats, which they offered to God as a sacrifice for their sins, could not really make atonement for the sins of the people. Do you remember what I said earlier? Those Old Testament sacrifices were really only designed by God to remind the people that they were sinners who needed forgiveness. So, why didn’t God punish them for their sins? Surely that’s what God should have done? If God was really just, if he always does what is right, then surely he ought to have punished his people in the Old Testament for their sins instead of forgiving them? That’s what someone could say. That’s the accusation someone could level at God. Instead of forgiving them, when they offered their sacrifices, God should have punished them.
But here’s the thing. And this is Paul’s point. It’s not right to say that God didn’t punish their sins. He was merely putting off punishing their sins. He put off punishing their sins until the coming of the Lord Jesus. And now, with the coming of the Lord Jesus, God has indeed punished their sins in full through the death of his Son.
You see, the Lord Jesus Christ died to pay for the sins of his people who lived before he came into the world. And he died to pay for the sins of his people who have lived since he came into the world. It’s not that God has left our sins unpunished, because Jesus Christ took the punishment we deserve so that all who believed in him before he came into the world, and all who have believed in him since he came into the world, might receive the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life.
So, God presented the Lord Jesus as atoning sacrifice in order to demonstrate his justice, because when the Lord Jesus died, he was being punished for the sins of his people which they committed before he came into the world. That’s the first thing Paul says in these verses about God demonstrating his justice. The second is in verse 26:
he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Through the death of Christ, God is seen to be just in the sense that he doesn’t simply dismiss our sins. No, he insisted: someone must suffer the punishment. And the good news is that Christ has suffered the punishment. And so, God has punished our sins in his Son. He’s punished our sins, and he’s able to pardon and accept all those who trust in his Son. So, he’s just; and he’s the one who justifies his people.
So, Jesus Christ is our redeemer, the one who paid for our sins so that we can be freed from the condemnation we deserve. And Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice who bore the punishment we deserve to make peace with God. And by his death, Jesus Christ has demonstrated the justice of God, because instead of dismissing our sins, God has punished them in full in the person of his Son. And all who trust in Jesus Christ can rejoice that our sins have been paid for in full; no further payment will ever be demanded from us; and so, we have peace with God for ever.