Power in the Blood
By David Feddes
… being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood…( Romans 3:24-25 NKJV)
Heart specialists use bloody big words. Their words almost always deal somehow with the flow of blood, and their words are so big that each word sounds like a whole sentence–in a foreign language! Heart specialists discuss problems like ventricular tachycardia and atherosclerosis. They recommend procedures like defibrillation, revascularization, and angioplasty (the most common type is percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty).
Why be interested in such bloody big words? If you’re a heart specialist, you need to know them, and if you’re a contestant on a TV game show, you may need to know some big words to win big piles of money, but why would any ordinary person be interested? Well, even if you’re not a heart specialist or a game show contestant, you might still take a strong interest in these words if you happen to have one of these problems and need one of the procedures which heart specialists talk about.
If you have severe ventricular tachycardia, a runaway heartbeat, you’ll want to know about defibrillation, in which an electrode shocks the heart back into a normal rhythm. If you have atherosclerosis, a plaque buildup blocking the flow of blood in your arteries, you’ll want to hear about angioplasty, a procedure to clear out the blockage; or else you may need revascularization, bypass surgery to replace the blocked artery with one that allows blood to flow freely. Even if you’re not a fan of bloody big words, you may suddenly get interested if your flow of blood is threatened and your life is on the line.
Here are three more bloody big words: redemption, justification, and propitiation. These words aren’t quite as big as the words medical experts use, but they’re big enough to baffle many of us. Still, these are words we need to know. They deal with our most serious heart problems, and they come from the greatest heart specialist of all: the Lord God himself. At first these three words may sound too big to bother with, but once you get an accurate diagnosis of your situation, you’ll find that redemption, justification and propitiation are just what the Doctor ordered. They address the most urgent needs of every person on earth. Here’s a quick preview.
Do you ever feel guilty, knowing you’ve done wrong? Do you ever wish you could get rid of the guilt and have a clean record? You need justification. Justification is the only way a guilty person can be declared innocent.
Do you ever feel trapped by your past, knowing you can’t make up for bad things you’ve done? Do you ever wish it could be paid for so you could be free? You need redemption. Redemption is the only way for your debts to be paid and for you to be free.
Do you ever worry that you’ve offended God and made him angry? Do you want to go to heaven rather than hell? You need to know about propitiation. Propitiation is the only way God’s wrath against sin can be appeased without destroying you in hell.
Justification, redemption, and propitiation aren’t just big words. They are amazing realities that meet our deepest needs. And they all have to do with blood, Jesus’ blood.
When Christians talk or sing about the blood of Jesus, their hearts are stirred. But to some people this bloody language can sound strange or even savage. Why sing about “a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins”? Why go on and on about Jesus bleeding and dying? Why would anyone want to be drenched in someone else’s blood? Such bloody faith may sound uncivilized and downright weird. To make matters worse, the words which explain the blood often sound big and hard to grasp.
But don’t be too quick to avoid blood or big words. Just as your body needs blood in order to live, your entire self needs Jesus’ blood in order to live. And just as it sometimes takes procedures described by big medical words for doctors to make sure you’re getting the blood you need, it takes procedures described by big biblical words for God to apply Jesus’ blood to our needs. So let’s find out more about three bloody big words: justification, redemption, and propitiation. In Romans 3:24-25 the Bible speaks of “being justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood” (NKJV).
Let’s begin with justification. It’s a legal word, a word that belongs in the courtroom. Justification means that a judge rules in your favor, that he declares you innocent.
The Bible teaches that God is the Judge of all the earth and will always do right (Genesis 18:25). God is perfectly just. And as a just Judge, 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’s too “nice” to pass 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, summarized in the Ten Commandments, 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 receive its due punishment.
That thought may not bother you too much at first. You know you’re not perfect, but you figure 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 billions of people I didn’t kill.” The judge won’t be impressed.
It’s not enough to keep most of God’s law most of the time. The Bible says, “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 his law its due penalty: death.
But 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 sinners and remain just?
The blood of Jesus answers this question. God decided to take upon himself the punishment we deserve, and he did that in the person of his Son. The eternal Son of God became human in the person of Jesus in order to bear the guilt of humanity. 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 took the perfect holiness and innocence of Jesus and declared that it belongs to everyone who believes in him. “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.
Now, you may find that hard to believe. Perhaps you have a troubled conscience, and you wonder, “How can the Lord possibly declare a guilty person like me to be ‘the righteousness of God’?” Before you try to answer that question, ask yourself another question: “How could Jesus, who had no sin, be made sin? How could someone sinless become sin personified?” I don’t know how. But I know it’s true. The Bible says so. 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 merely overlook sin; in his justice he punished it. But he took the guilt and punishment upon himself, in the person of Jesus, who “bore our sins in his body” on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). God did this, says the Bible, “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 find out that your sin has been laid on Jesus, that his righteousness has been given to you, and that God therefore declares you righteous, just, right with him. This happens only through faith in Jesus’ blood. It’s not based on any qualities or deeds of yours. It’s based on Jesus’ perfect obedience and the infinite value of his blood. If you try to earn justification, if you think you can make yourself right with God, you insult the Lord, spit on Jesus’ blood, and say he died for nothing. Justification is a gift you receive, not a goal you achieve. That why Scripture speaks of “being justified freely by [God’s] grace.”
Justification is free for us, but was not free for God. It was enormously expensive. The Lord paid a huge price. And that brings us to our second bloody big word.
Redemption is a financial word. It means “payment.” Redemption can mean paying for a slave in order to liberate the person from slavery. It can mean paying for someone who has been imprisoned for not paying what he owes; redemption covers his debts and gets him out of prison. Redemption can also mean paying a ransom to free a captive. Jesus said he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Perhaps the best brief definition of redemption is: “payment to purchase freedom.”
The Bible shows over and over that Jesus’ blood is the payment that purchases freedom. 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). The apostle Paul speaks of “the church of the living God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). He says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us'” (Galatians 3:13). 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.” To redeem us, Jesus paid his blood; we don’t pay anything. It all happens “freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
We could never pay what it costs to get us out of our predicament and 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, because of Jesus’ blood, 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, 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. Should you refuse the check just because you don’t have enough money to cover the amount? No, that’s all the more reason to accept it. You’re in debt, you need the money desperately, and if a wealthy person is kind and generous enough to write you a large check, you’d be foolish to refuse it.
It would be equally foolish to refuse eternal life simply 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. Only God can purchase eternal life. And God’s promise is based not on your value, but on the value of Jesus’ blood. So instead of asking whether you can pay for eternal life, ask whether the blood of Jesus can pay for it for you. That’s redemption.
Now, although redemption is not something you have to pay for, it is something you must receive. Even if you’re given a check by someone with sufficient funds to cover it, the check won’t do you any good if you tear it up or throw it away or leave it in a drawer somewhere. You have to 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, you must endorse God’s gift to you. Trust that God’s promises are backed by the infinite value of Jesus’ blood. Sign your own name to those precious promises. In personal faith, believe that the ransom Jesus paid is more than enough to buy freedom and purchase the right to eternal life, and believe that the price he paid applies to you. Through faith in Jesus’ blood, redemption becomes yours.
Now for a third important word, perhaps the biggest and bloodiest of the three: propitiation. It’s a word we don’t often use, but the reality it describes is absolutely crucial. Propitiation means “to appease someone’s anger.” In the Bible it refers to appeasing God’s anger.
Most of us would rather not think about God’s anger, but the Bible speaks about it frequently and plainly. Scripture says,
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God …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. Nahum 1:2-3
When the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it doesn’t mean God is irritable or loses his temper for no reason. The Lord 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 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 time we sin, we offend God’s holy majesty. In fact, that’s the essence of sin: acting as though our desires and ideas matter more than God. That makes God furious.
So how can we escape God’s wrath? In the early history of his people, the Lord 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). Propitiation is a blood sacrifice that absorbs and appeases God’s wrath against sin.
The ark of the covenant represented God’s presence among the Israelites. It contained the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets God gave Moses, and the ark had a gold lid called “the mercy seat.” The high priest would sprinkle blood from a sacrifice on the mercy seat, because people who angered God by breaking his commandments could receive mercy only through the blood of a substitute. In the Bible, the word for propitiation is also used of the mercy seat. The blood sprinkled on the ark would appease God’s anger and make the ark a place of mercy.
This may sound bizarre and repulsive to some, but only to those who ignore the unchangeable truth that when somebody sins, somebody pays. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), says the Bible, so “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Whenever the blood of a sacrificed animal was sprinkled on the mercy seat, God’s people knew they could live only because a substitute had died in their place.
But did animal sacrifices really provide propitiation? No, says the Bible, it impossible for the blood of animals to take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). The sacrifice of animals could only point ahead to a future, perfect sacrifice that would propitiate God’s wrath once and for all. God provided that propitiation when Jesus poured out 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 know 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 absorb that wrath himself rather than destroy all sinners in hell. “In this is love,” says the Bible, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 NKJV).
To benefit from this, we must accept Jesus sacrifice on our behalf and count on the protection of his blood. Notice again the importance of personally believing in Christ. “God has set [Jesus] forth as a propitiation,” says the Bible, through faith, in his blood.” So trust that Jesus suffered the punishment you deserve when he endured hell on the cross. Believe that God’s wrath against sin was propitiated. Give thanks that through faith in Jesus’ blood, you receive mercy instead of wrath, and in God’s amazing love he adopts you as his child.
Justification, redemption, propitiation: these three bloody big words reveal that Jesus Christ, as substitute and sacrifice on the cross, has done what you could never do for yourself.
So if you want to get rid of 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 your debt of sin is too great for you ever to 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. Freedom and eternal life become yours by faith in God’s gift.
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.
You and I can’t add anything to what Jesus has already done to make us right with God. We can only stand in awe before the cross, believe in his blood, 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 dear 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.