April 5, 1992


“All who believe are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a propitiation, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25).

Justification.  Redemption.  Propitiation.  Just hearing those words may be enough to make you turn your radio off or switch to a different station before I have a chance to say anything else.  You’d rather not waste your time with words that have too many syllables.  They’re hard to pronounce, harder to spell, and probably harder yet to understand.  Besides, what do they have to do with real life?  If the people up in the ivory tower want to talk about them, fine–but you don’t have to listen.

Angioplasty.  That’s another oversized word that you can probably do without–that is, unless you’ve got a clogged artery.  Then angioplasty is suddenly the most important word in the world.  When your doctor tells you that angioplasty is a procedure that could clear your artery and prevent a heart attack, you’re all ears.  Angioplasty is no longer boring and abstract;  it’s something you want to know all about.

That’s how it is with the words I mentioned at the beginning of the program.  They may seem abstract and irrelevant–but when you get an accurate diagnosis of your situation, you’ll find that they are just what the doctor ordered.  They aren’t words from the ivory tower;  they are found repeatedly in God’s Word, the Bible, and they address the deepest and most urgent needs of every person on this planet.  So before you decide you don’t want to hear about justification, redemption, and propitiation, let me at least give you a quick preview of what each word means.

Do you ever feel guilty, knowing that you’ve done wrong and wondering how you can be innocent again?  If so, stay tuned.  Justification is just what you need.  Justification is the only way that a guilty person can still be declared innocent by God.

Have you ever felt that you can’t be really free unless you make up for the wrong things you’ve done?  If so, you’ll want to know about redemption.  Redemption is the only way for your debts to be paid and for you to be freed from your predicament.

When you hear about God’s wrath, does it frighten you?  Would you like to know how you can avoid hell and go to heaven?  If so, you’ll be more interested in propitiation than you may have thought.  Propitiation is the only way that God’s wrath against your sin can be satisfied and appeased without destroying you in hell.

When the Bible uses these words, it’s not just talking about abstract theology.  Justification, redemption, and propitiation are all connected to a very real historical event, the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and they explain why the blood poured out in that event meets our deepest needs still today.

Each of these things is an ingredient of the blood of Jesus, and when we understand them, we’ll realize that there’s power in the blood.  The blood of Jesus has the power to make us innocent in God’s eyes;  it has the power to pay the price we owe;  it has the power to turn aside God’s wrath;  and because of all this, it has the power to bring us into a personal relationship with a loving God.  When Jesus poured out his life’s blood at Calvary, he did it to accomplish all these things and more.

One of the greatest descriptions of the impact of Jesus’ death is found in Romans 3:21-26.  After showing that all of us are sinners, and that we can’t earn God’s favor by our own righteousness, the apostle Paul says,

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement or, to use the most exact word, a propitiation through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–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.

I want to highlight three extremely important words from the material I just read:  justification, redemption, and propitiation.  These are words that can change your life when you really understand them and believe them.  Paul says that believers “are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a propitiation through faith in his blood.”

Let’s begin with justification.  It’s a legal word, a word that belongs in the courtroom.  Justification means that the judge rules in your favor, that he declares you innocent.

The Bible teaches that God is the judge of all the earth and that he is perfectly just.  In order to remain just, God must give every violation of his law the penalty it deserves.

What would you think of a judge who is too soft to punish criminals, who is too “nice” to pass a sentence on a rapist or a thief or a murderer?  You’d want him to resign so that a real judge could take his place.  If a judge is truly just, he will give every lawbreaker the punishment he deserves.

The same is true of God.  God’s law expresses his perfect will for us, and it also declares punishment for everyone who breaks that law by sinning.  In God’s justice, every sin must at some point receive its due punishment.

Now, that thought may not bother you too much at first.  You know you’re not perfect, but you figure that you’ve been keeping most of God’s law most of the time.  However, I’m afraid that’s not going to help you much when you stand before God.

Imagine a murderer telling a judge, “I think I’m a pretty good guy.  Sure, I committed murder, but there are laws I haven’t broken. I haven’t raped anyone or embezzled anything.  And okay, so I killed one person.  There are at least 5 billion people on the planet I didn’t kill.”  The judge isn’t going to be very impressed.

In the same way, it’s not enough to keep most of God’s law most of the time.  You can’t say to God, “Look at the laws I haven’t broken, and the people I haven’t hurt.”  The Bible says that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).  All of us have broken God’s law in one way or another–in fact, we’ve broken it repeatedly–and the divine judge knows all about it.  Because he’s just, he must give every violation of the law its due penalty.  And the penalty for sin is death.

However, that’s not the whole story.  If it were, God would simply declare us all to be sinners and banish us to hell.  But God isn’t merely just.  He is also loving, and he is determined to somehow save sinful people and declare them innocent instead of condemning them.  But how can he possibly declare guilty people innocent?  How can he justify them and still remain just at the same time?

The blood of Jesus answers this question.  God decided to take the punishment we deserve upon himself in the person of his Son.  We can’t fully understand it, but somehow God made a great exchange:  He took all the sins of the world and laid them on Jesus his Son, and he takes the perfect holiness and innocence of Jesus and declares that it belongs to everyone who believes in him.  According to the Bible, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This means that when you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are declared innocent by God.  You are justified.  In the Lord’s eyes, you “become the righteousness of God.”

Now, you may find that hard to believe.  Perhaps you have a sin bothering your conscience, and you wonder, “How can the Lord possibly declare a guilty person like me to be the righteousness of God?”

Well, before you try to answer that question, ask yourself another question:  How could Jesus, who had no sin, be made sin?  How could someone who is perfectly holy God and at the same time perfectly sinless man possibly become sin personified?  I don’t know how.  But I know that it’s true.  The Bible says so:  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”  Now, if God could make him who had no sin to be sin, then surely he can also declare us to be the righteousness of God.

That is justification.  The Son of God took upon himself what we deserve, and by faith in Jesus, we can receive what he deserves:  a verdict of “innocent” and a guarantee of eternal life.  A just God could leave our sins unpunished only because he chose to take the punishment upon himself.  God didn’t just overlook sin;  in his justice he punished it.  But he took that guilt and punishment upon himself, in the person of Jesus, who “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) and suffered the agony of hell as a just punishment for those sins.  “God did this,” says Paul, “to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).

When you put your faith in the blood of Jesus, you realize that your sin has been laid on Jesus, that his righteousness has been credited to you, and that God, therefore, declares you righteous.  Justification is yours, not because you’ve earned it, but as a free gift of God’s grace.

It’s free for us, anyway.  But it’s not free for God.  He paid a very high price to make all of this possible.  Paul says that we “are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  And that brings us to the next word that shows the power of Jesus’ blood:  redemption.  Redemption is a financial word.  It means “to pay for something,” and it sometimes refers to paying a ransom to set someone free.

Jesus said he had come “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  The apostle Paul refers to “the church of the living God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).  In Galatians 3:13 Paul writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written:  ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'”  In Revelation 5:9 the inhabitants of heaven praise Jesus by singing, “…you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”  The apostle Peter says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from your empty way of life …, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).  All these statements from the Bible show that although redemption costs us nothing, it cost Jesus everything.

We could never pay what it costs to give us the right to belong to God and live forever in heaven.  On the contrary, all of us are deeply in debt and deserve only hell.  We can’t pay for eternal life–but we don’t have to.

When someone writes you a check for a large amount of money, what determines whether that check is good or not?  It depends on whether the person who wrote the check has sufficient funds to cover the amount.  It doesn’t depend at all on how much money you have.  If the check is for a million dollars and you have only fifty-three dollars to your name, it really doesn’t matter.  You’ll still become an instant millionaire if the person who gave you the check is able to pay.  Even if you’re in debt, it won’t invalidate the check.  You’d be foolish to refuse the check just because you didn’t have enough money.  That’s all the more reason to accept it.

It would be equally foolish to refuse eternal life because you don’t think you can pay for it.  Of course, you can’t.  That’s all the more reason to receive God’s payment for it.  Redemption means that the price has already been paid.  God’s promise is based not on your value, but on the value of Jesus’ blood.  And Jesus’ blood has infinite value.  So instead of asking whether you can pay for eternal life, it’s much wiser to ask whether the blood of Jesus can pay for it.  That’s redemption.

Now, although redemption is not something you have to pay for, it is something you must receive for yourself.  Even if you’re given a check by someone with sufficient funds to cover it, the check won’t do you any good unless you endorse it.  You don’t have to cover the amount yourself, but you do have to sign your own name, trusting that the person who wrote the check is able to pay the full amount.  In the same way, it is vital to trust that God’s promises are backed by the infinite value of Jesus’ blood.  You need to sign your own name to God’s promises, and the way you do that is through personal faith, believing that the price Jesus paid applies to you.  Through faith in Jesus’ blood, redemption becomes yours.

A third important word that shows the power of Jesus’ blood is propitiation.  It’s a word we don’t often use, but the reality it describes is extremely important.  Propitiation is a word that was often associated with temple sacrifices and rituals, and the word basically means to appease and satisfy someone’s wrath or anger.

The Bible talks many times about the wrath of God and his blazing anger.  The ancient prophet Nahum wrote:

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;  the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.  The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.  The Lord is slow to anger and great in power;  the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished…

Who can withstand his indignation?  Who can endure his fierce anger?  His wrath is poured out like fire;  the rocks are shattered before him.  (Nahum 1:2-3,6)

Of course, when the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it doesn’t mean he is irritable or that he loses his temper for no reason.  He is slow to anger, so when he’s angry, he has a good reason.  There is only one thing that enrages God, and it angers him every time:  sin.  When we sin, God is not indulgent;  he is indignant.  And when he’s indignant, it’s righteous indignation.  The Lord’s wrath is not the result of a flaw in his character.  His wrath is part of his perfection.  His eyes are too pure to look on evil;  he cannot tolerate wrong (Habakkuk 1:13).  Every sin we commit is an affront to God’s supreme majesty.

So how can we escape God’s wrath?  In the early history of his people, God provided a way that would temporarily turn aside his wrath and cover up sin.  He gave the Israelites a system of sacrifice involving the killing of animals and the shedding of blood.  He said, “I have given the blood to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar;  it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11).  It is an unchangeable truth that when somebody sins, somebody pays.  “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and therefore “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).  Whenever the lifeblood of another animal was spilled, the people were reminded that they could live only because a substitute had died in their place.

Propitiation is a blood sacrifice that absorbs and appeases God’s wrath against sin.  However, it was impossible for the blood of animals to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).  These sacrifices could only point ahead to a perfect sacrifice that would propitiate God’s wrath once and for all.  That propitiation took place when Jesus shed his blood on the cross.

God offered up his own Son as a perfect sacrifice.  God, in the person of his Son, endured his own fierce wrath against sin. We really understand God’s love only when we first realize the fierceness of his wrath against sin.  When we know how angry our sin makes him, then we know how awesome his love must be for him to turn that wrath upon himself rather than allowing it to destroy us forever in hell.  As the apostle, John says, “This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

“God presented Jesus as a propitiation through faith in his blood.”  Notice again the importance of faith.  We must accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and place ourselves under the protection of his blood.  When you believe in propitiation, you know that you never again need to be afraid of God’s wrath.  You trust that Jesus has suffered the punishment you deserved when he endured the agony of hell on the cross.  God’s wrath against your sin was spent and appeased when Jesus took your sin upon himself. That’s propitiation.  Not only is God’s wrath turned aside, but in his love, he adopts you to be his own child.

Justification, redemption, and propitiation:  these three words show that the blood of Jesus can do for us what we could never do for ourselves.

So if you want to be free from guilt, remember this:  Justification equals Jesus’ blood plus nothing.  When you put your trust in Jesus’ blood, your guilt is washed away and God credits to you the righteousness of Jesus.

If you think that your debt of sin is too great for you to ever receive eternal life, remember this:  Redemption equals Jesus’ blood plus nothing.  Forget about your inability to pay;  the price of redemption has already been paid. It was expensive for Jesus, but it is free for you.

If God’s wrath terrifies you, don’t forget:  Propitiation equals Jesus’ blood plus nothing.  When you trust Jesus as the sacrifice for your sins, you don’t need to be afraid of hell.  Jesus has already suffered it in your place.  Forget your fear and look instead to the wonder of God’s love and the joy of heaven that awaits you.

Justification equals Jesus’ blood plus nothing!

Redemption equals Jesus blood plus nothing!

Propitiation equals Jesus’ blood plus nothing!

Salvation equals Jesus Christ plus nothing!

That is divine mathematics.

There is nothing you or I can add to what Jesus has already done to make us right with God.  We can only stand in awe before the cross, and receive with joy and gratitude the free gift of eternal life.


Father in heaven, thank you for your love.  We confess that we’ve broken your laws and aroused your anger in countless ways.  And yet you did not abandon us as we deserved, but in your love and mercy, you sent your beloved Son to die in our place.

Holy Spirit, thank you for inspiring the great words of Scripture which show us the power of Jesus’ blood.  Now open our hearts and give us the faith to receive this saving power.

Lord Jesus, thank you for bearing our guilt, for paying the ultimate price, and for turning aside God’s holy wrath.  Thank you Jesus, for shedding your blood as our substitute.  Lamb of God, we love you.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.